Typeface Review


Reviewed by Jan Middendorp on March 11, 2014

Much of today’s text typeface design is still heavily influenced by the revivalist move­ment of the early 20th century and the clichés it established. Tapered stems, brack­eted serifs, and softened corners have been part of the folklore of “invisible” book typo­graphy for a long time, and they won’t go away anytime soon. But the balance is shifting. More and more type designers are taking their cues from precedents that are less conventional.

Alternatives to the historicizing approach were pro­posed as early as the 1910s and 1920s. W.A.Dwiggins argued that the age of electricity deserved something more dynamic than the ubiquitous imitations of 16th- and 17th-century faces, and came up with the M Formula (“M” stands for “marionettes”). Just like in the design of puppets’ faces, Dwiggins exaggerated the features of his typefaces by creating angular shapes and abrupt transitions rather than soft curves, thereby enhancing clarity and expressiveness.

Around the same time, Czech type designers were also exploring expressive alternatives to the rather tame book faces that dominated book design. Vojtech Preissig cut alphabets into linoleum, resulting in his idio­syncratic text face Preissig Antiqua (1925); Oldřich Menhart drew soulful oldstyle faces that were historically informed but were angular, energetic, and unorthodox in their detailing.

Daniel Sabino’s spirited text family Karol references pre-1940 Czech influences, but in its striking details also shows affinity with contemporary Dwiggins-inspired faces such as Sibylle Hagmann’s Odile or Cyrus Highsmith’s Prensa.

The gorgeous detailing makes this family an excellent option for display work on posters or book covers, and (used large) on screens; I especially like the dynamic Italics and powerful Blacks for this purpose. But it’s in text sizes that Sabino’s craftsmanship really shows. Depending on whether the user prefers a lighter or dark texture, both the Regular and Semibold work well for body text. In spite of the expressive contrasts and angles, there is nothing restive or busy about the over­all text image: it is even in color, conventional in its proportions, and very readable. Both the small caps and various styles of numerals are beautifully drawn and help the face perform well in small sizes (where I would definitely recommend using the Semibold). The fractions work impeccably.

So all in all, there’s enough conventional wisdom in Karol to make it a comfortable choice for traditional book typography; observed more in detail and in larger sizes, it has a lot more personality than your average “invisible” text face.

Jan Middendorp is a type writer and page maker. He is author of several books about graphic design and typography including Shaping Text, Hand to Type, Lettered, Creative Characters and (with Erik Spiekermann) Made with FontFont. In 2018 he self-published a reprint of his succesful and sought-after 2004 book Dutch Type, which is now available again at the original price.

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  1. […] in a poised tension, wrangled with a skill and rigor also evident in both its seriffed relation, Karol, and Sabino’s tasty script typeface […]

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