Ain’t What ITC Used to Be

Written by Mark Simonson on October 4, 2005

ITC Avant Garde GothicITC today announced the release of ITC Avant Garde Gothic Pro. The good news is that this is a family of full-featured OpenType fonts. It has all the usual goodies that implies — extended language support and OpenType features. Even better news is that they have reinstated all the ligatures, logotypes, and alternate characters that made Avant Garde famous in the first place. They also added a bunch of new ones, though some of them are a bit questionable, like the Celtic-style E.

Overall, they did an okay job of it. I was disappointed, however, to see that they took a huge short cut on the italics: they simply slanted the upright version, in spite of the fact that ITC designed and released optically correct obliques in 1977. Ironically, ITC touts this fact on their website while displaying a simply-slanted version on the same page.

Here is what the 1977 version looked like:

ITC Avant Garde Gothic (Bitstream)

This is the version that Bitstream used to sell before ITC cancelled many of its distribution agreements after it was acquired by Agfa Monotype a few years ago.

Here is the new Pro version:

ITC Avant Garde Gothic (Monotype)

(To understand why simply slanting a font doesn’t work, see my article on fake italics.)

The ITC brand used to be one of the most respected in the type business. When they cut corners like they’ve done with Avant Garde Gothic Pro, you wonder if they understand why they were so respected.

See also: Discussion at Typophile : ITC Avant Garde Gothic from E+F with true obliques

Mark Simonson of Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a former art director and graphic designer who now makes his living designing typefaces — several of which are Typographica selections.


  1. Norbert Florendo says:

    Ain’t what Avant Garde Gothic used to be either, Mark.
    Quite unbelievable about the current slanted uprights instead of optically corrected as were Christian Mengelt’s and Erich Gschwind’s obliques of ’77.

    I’m not sure I want to see a resurgence of blantantly awful headlines set in AGG having barely survived the first onslaught during the ’70s — ’80s. Herb never really cared much for the face outside of the original magazine usage anyway.

    Nope, ITC ain’t near what it used to be.

  2. Few have used AGG as well as Lubalin and few probably ever will, I would agree. But it’s a historically significant typeface at the very least. You would think ITC would release the definitive versions of their own fonts rather than a half-baked effort like this. Especially since they have all but closed the door on competing versions of their fonts. Elsner+Flake still offer the true italic Oblique version. It seems to be as well-digitized as the Bitstream version was.

  3. Yves Peters says:

    I can’t believe how some of the big foundries are so carelessly squandering their reputation. :^/ Another one down the drain…

  4. Luc Devroye says:

    Mark and co:

    You are absolutely right. Slanting is not tilting–it is sliding the character sideways: horizontal strokes remain horizontal.

    If you take an upright rectangle, we know from high school math that the ink used in it is equal to base times height. That remains true if you “slant” it. So all mechanically slanted characters use the same amount of ink as the original ones! Haha! But since they are elongated, the strokes will mostly appear thinner (except possibly in places that are counter-angled, like the southwest and northeast corners of an O).

    Your web site explains this beautifully!

    But there is a second thing, as important, if not more so, than slanting–alignment. Look at the endings of the C and e in Mark’s word “Cage”. They should be more vertically aligned than what one would get from slanting.

    The Monotype version is just awful.


  5. John Butler says:

    Car magazine is probably the best in automotive writing. They have been using someone’s version of the Avant Garde alternates in their callouts for several months now if not over a year. (They also use some rather nice Font Bureau family for the body copy… I forget exactly which one.)

    I still have the Linotype GX CD that contained some nice GX/AAT versions of the Regular and Demi weights with obliques, as well as GX versions of the rest of the Standard Postscript 35. Including the, er, indispensible Century Schoolbook-Schoolbook.

  6. Could be they’ve been using the AG Alternates font they have over at FontShop.

  7. Hrant says:

    Guys, do you really think AG
    should even have an italic?


  8. Perhaps not. But, if you’re going to do it, do it right. The crazy thing is they already did it right years ago.

  9. Dan Reynolds says:

    Yes, I think it should have an oblique. That’s what it had before, and it was brilliant. Not that obliquing is always the solution, but it works well with such a face. Just look at other Geometric Sans Serifs, like Futura or Avenir�

  10. Wow, that oblique is horrid, that cap C looks like a byproduct of glyph abuse. :(

  11. That’s because it is a byproduct of glyph abuse. Slanting a font distorts it just as much as squashing and stretching.

  12. Terry Biddle says:

    My former professor Tony Di Spigna actually worked on the original Avant Garde (he worked at both the magazine and was a partner with Herb Lubalin). I asked him to send me the ligatures for this and he sent them to me a couple of weeks ago. It seems to me that if you’re going to make a new version of a face you should at least have the respect to contact some of the people who worked on the face in the past. Why have I had more contact than ITC?

  13. Norbert Florendo says:

    > contact some of the people who worked on the face in the past.

    Unfortunately, Terry, this is an attitude that has infected other professions and industries as well. “Out with the old school and in with the new,” has less to do with progress and more to do with personal agendas, lack in depth of understanding, and just plain cheap!

    I could say more about this, but I fear that the MIB will come and erase my memory. Huh? What was I just saying?

  14. Arden says:

    Kudos to you, Mark, and all of you who design fonts. As I wrote on my blog, you are the lumberjacks of the design industry. It is disappointing to see ITC just not care about making their trademark products look good, and I’m sure those of you with an eye for this kind of thing are roiling with disgust.

  15. Norbert Florendo says:

    I decided to give the folks at ITC the benefit of the doubt thinking the samples of AGG Pro on their website was done in haste.

    Unfortunately, all of the oblique samples on their downloadable PDF specimen sheet are just as dreadful.

    As far as I’ve checked, there is no place to Test Drive the Pro series yet. The clincher would be when someone confirms the slanted obiques in the released font.

  16. Hrant says:

    Lumberjacks? Hey, that’s not half bad – although we already have enough trouble getting more women into the field… And how did that Monty Python song go again? :-)


  17. The Lumberjack Song

    Oh I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
    I sleep all night and I work all day

    Oh he’s a lumberjack and he’s okay
    He sleeps all night an’ he works all day

    I cut down trees
    I wear high heels
    Suspenders and a bra
    I wish I’d bin a girlie
    Just like my dear papa

    He cuts down trees
    He wears…[etc]

    sung to tune of old panto.

    Disclaimer: The Lumberjack Song written by Cleese, Jones, Palin et al, and not yours truly.

    Hrant, I don’t think AG should have an italic or an oblique. Slanted forms are fundamentally antithetical to geometric linear romans. Like tits on a bull—it can be done, but how practical or useful is the result? Does anybody really care? Not enuff to protest these things being done in the first place.

    Taste is the love of beauty in all its forms.

    Not that obliquing is always the solution, but it works well with such a face. Just look at other Geometric Sans Serifs, like Futura or Avenir�

    Obliquing works okay for Futura and Avenir (itself based on Futura) due to their tall stems. Whereas Avant Garde, no, sorry, it doesn’t have enuff verticality to make any kind of slanting treatment successful.

  18. Then again, looking at Mark’s samples, I’ll concede that slanting at a reasonable angle and compensated curves worked fine for AG in 1977.

    Thanks Mark :^) The world should thank you because it needs to see the original to realise how misguided this re-release is.

    I’m just very picky about geometric fonts, since they’re my specialty.

    Shallow angles for italics make sense for geometric and modular designs, as we’ve previously discussed Hrant.

  19. Hrant says:

    A shallow angle also makes sense for
    setting a lot of copy in the Italic.


  20. Beyond question. We’re emerging from a century of overcooked italics into an era when carefully reasoned italic fonts may once again be used for sustained text.

    Make it happen.

  21. Dan Weaver says:

    The new oblique is terrible but thats not the biggest problem. The ligatures are 70’s retro, making kerning from god to dog, terrible. Designers who don’t know how to use them with discression will create a new generation of terrible logos.

  22. There is no right or wrong in fashion, only in or out.

    When tight typography was done with care, it could be quite beautiful, drawing attention to the shapes and character of the letters. You can see this looking at Herb Lubalin’s work in U&lc. during the seventies. A word could be transformed into a graphic expression. No doubt legibility took a back seat, but legibility is often trumped by style when you are trying to create a dramatic visual impression.

    I also think tight typography was a reaction to the spacing limitations of metal type. Once phototype took over, the old restrictions were gone and people went crazy, setting type in ways that were previously impossible. (I believe this same sort of thing happened again in the nineties with grunge type.)

    In the end, the novelty wore off and the fashions changed. And, because it went out of style, it has regained a certain amount of novelty appeal, so you do see it used now and then. I don’t think it will ever be as popular again as it was in the seventies, though.

  23. George Ryan says:

    Do you really think that using the Bitstream version of Avant Garde is fair? The designers at Bitstream spent a great deal of time building a library of fonts that they thought needed ‘fixing’ because of the problems created by the foundries and the restrictive proprietary technologies they used to deliver typography/typesetters to the market. The Bitstream version of Avant Garde is a result of this thinking and its not true to the original ITC release, at least not the obliques. Personally, I don’t have much use for obliquing but ‘back then’ it was considered acceptable. Remember, people didn’t search for a font on a 100 gig disk, they tried to squeeze as many fonts as they could onto an 8 inch floppy. I realize that the obliqued Avant Gardes take up as much space as the uprights but the decision to oblique had to have been colored by the times.

    I do think that the typographic community, as it exists today, owes a great deal to organizations like ITC, who paved the way for all of us.

  24. You bring up a good point about Bitstream, George. But take a look at this:

    They made the tail of the g lower, but otherwise it’s quite close. Here’s what ITC had to say about it in 1977:

    It looks to me like AGG Oblique didn’t need much fixing.

  25. Hrant says:

    Team 77: the single good thing about the 70s.


  26. Norbert Florendo says:

    > I do think that the typographic community, as it exists today, owes a great deal to organizations like ITC, who paved the way for all of us.

    I feel that’s why so many of us take issue with the decision.

    Remember, originally ITC developed and marketed typeface designs, licensed and provided font manufacturers with analog art work. It was individual font manufacturers that created film fonts and later digitized versions of ITC typefaces. That is why there had been subtle to grotesque variations of output from vendors fonts.

    ITC and the type industry in general are no longer in the same game as it was played during the early 1970s to 1999.

    ITC is now in the business of selling fonts and have a completely different market focus. They are no longer an organization that servers the entire industry.

  27. Allan Haley says:

    If you are referencing the type �industry,� you are probably correct; ITC does not provide its new designs to the traditional type foundries. I would have to argue, however, that the type industry is really more of a type �community.�

    If you mean the �industry� of graphic communicators, then ITC clearly has the same goals it did in the 70s and 80s. ITC worked with foundries and manufactures in the 70s and 80s to get its typefaces in the hands of graphic designers. They were the ultimate users of ITC’s typefaces. Providing the typefaces to foundries and manufactures was a means to an end. The more graphic communicators that used and wanted ITC typefaces, the more typehouses bought fonts containing ITC typefaces – which provided a revenue stream to ITC. It’s doing the same thing today; it’s just that the graphic designers now have the fonts.

  28. Nick Shinn says:

    The great thing about the Avant Garde typeface with all its alternates was the scope it gave to art directors and graphic designers to play around, enriching their involvement with the process of typography, making it fun to set type. That will be possible with the new OT version, I expect (haven’t had the opportunity to try it), by selectively applying different features in the OT palette, or working with the Glyph palette. Nice.

    However, OT won’t do all the work for a layout like this, some snipping splicing still required.

  29. Si says:

    Also a great set of images linked to the parallel thread going on over here..

  30. Jesse B. says:

    Well, that’s a shame. Ever since Open Type fonts were available for purchase, I’ve been wondering if ITC would ever get on the ball and release Pro versions of Avant Garde with all the ligatures and alternates, and it’s seemed like they’ve taken forever. I reasoned that maybe they were taking the extra care to polishing up the whole family of type and preparing for a major release of a legendary typeface, but it looks like they just phoned it in. It’s too bad, because I’m sure if Avant Garde were another foundry’s hands, this OTF release would not have been treated so sloppily.

  31. Si says:

    >It�s too bad, because I�m sure if Avant Garde were another foundry�s hands, this OTF release would not have been treated so sloppily.

    I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest this is true. Adobe defined the meaning of the ‘Pro’ designation and I think this release meets the relatively low bar that they defined for a re-issue of a display face. But if you can think of re-issues that go above and beyond I’d love to be proved wrong.

  32. Z� Pequeno says:

    Is it the font used in the Travis logo?

  33. Toby says:

    It seems to me that Dr Peter Karow may be in a unique position to do something about this, as he produced and licensed to ITC the software (IKARUS) that greatly aided optical obliquing when this face was produced. He may be sufficiently offended, and certainly has the contacts, to make this right.

    Anyone on this list care to point him to the problem?

    Failing that, a professional boycott of everything Linotype appears quite justified.

    Adding to the offense is that many *new* faces ship with properly designed obliques. There can really be no justification for the error here. We have already had to live with the awful PostScript cut since the LaserWriter Plus.

  34. Hans says:

    Why did they change the numbers too? They don’t fit at all. The O is supposed to be a circle!

  35. Mark Simonson says:

    The oblong zero was usually (maybe always) used when AGG was adapted for text setting machines (Linofilm, Compugraphic, etc.). The digital version probably was based on a version from one of those.

    Fear not, you can always use the cap O.

  36. Jens Kutilek cleans up some of these oblique outlines in this video tutorial.

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