Typeface Review

ATF Garamond

Reviewed by Mark Simonson on May 9, 2016

There are so many Garamonds. True Garamonds, misattributed Garamonds, modern Garamonds, Italian Garamonds, German Garamonds, American Garamonds, silly Garamonds. It’s practically a type category of its own.

Of all of them, ATF Garamond, designed by Morris Fuller Benton, is by far my favorite. I know, I know. It’s not a true Garamond because it’s really based on the types cut by Jean Jannon, blah, blah, blah.

I don’t care.

I just love how it looks. I think it’s one of the most beautiful typefaces ever. It’s filled with warmth and character. The details are irregular, almost whimsical. It feels handmade. And yet, as you build it up into words, sentences, paragraphs, it looks perfectly balanced, with that understated polish that Morris Fuller Benton brought to all of his typefaces.

Until now, there were only a few digital Garamonds that were even similar. Garamond No. 3 was the closest, based on the ATF version by way of Linotype back in the 1930s, but it’s flat-footed and crude by comparison. Then you have ITC Garamond, which is to ATF’s Garamond what Baby Looney Tunes is to Looney Tunes. Then there was Lanston’s Garamont, designed by Frederic Goudy, which cranks the quirkiness dial up to 10.

ATF Garamond, when it was released in 1917, was not an emulation of sixteenth-century type. It’s a twentieth-century creation made for modern readers and modern designers. Although the original was created for letterpress, the new digital ATF Garamond does a great job of capturing its look and feel.

It’s a solid release with an extensive character set that includes everything that was in the original and more, with OpenType features to support it, a nice range of weights, and three optical sizes (a Display version would be awesome, please).

Kudos to Mark van Bronkhorst, Igino Marini, and Ben Kiel for bringing ATF Garamond into the digital world. It’s about time.

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. Blythwood says:

    Oh, this is so nice, and I’m not even usually a Jannon fan. Those optical sizes!

    As comment, anyone who wants to see the original in extensive use should absolutely try to get a chance to look at “A Documentary Account of the Beginnings of the Laboratory Press, Carnegie Institute of Technology” by Porter Garnett (yes, catchy title, I know) – effectively a prospectus and showcase of the Carnegie Mellon printing school. Handset in richly inked ATF Garamond throughout with every swash, weird ligature and terminal form used somewhere (even ß replacing ss!), it’s an astounding piece of historicist printing. He mentions badgering poor ATF to give him matching text figures and “Qu” ligatures…

    I think 1917 may be design date not release date, incidentally. Garnett says 1920, and he knew Benton and is writing only seven years later. (I’ve put the quote in the Wikipedia article in the appendices.) But surely there must be some announcement in a period newspaper? Google Books is not giving me it, although mentions start to show up from 1922 onwards.

  2. To answer Blythwood’s question, the Cary Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology has a 1921 brochure announcing ATF Garamond. There is an image of the cover of this brochure in my book “The Bentons: How an American Father and Son Changed the Printing Industry,” on page 219. The original release of Garamond, based solely on Benton’s work, was in 1919, but several changes were made, especially to the capital E, F and L (narrowing them), and the capital J (making it a two-story letter). The subsequent 1921 brochure and ATF’s “official” Garamond type include these changes. I’m giving a talk about the Bentons on October 11, 2019, at the Ann Arbor, Michigan Second Annual Wayzgoose event, and so I’ve been revisiting all these details for the past several weeks. I prefer Morris Benton’s original E, F, and L!

  3. […] such as William Berkson’s Williams Caslon, Sergei Egorov’s Neacademia, Mark van Bronkhorst’s ATF Garamond, and František Štorm’s Jannon series, are also inexplicably […]

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