Stylized cap ‘M’ set in Klim’s Maelstrom Sans.

Typeface Review

Maelstrom Sans

Reviewed by Shelley Gruendler on December 31, 2020

I appreciate and adore Maelstrom and its wacko Italian Futurist approach to reverse-stress letterforms, with the historically noteworthy (and entirely crackpot) E. But I didn’t expect to like the sans as much as, or even more than, the serif.

Type folks understand that the counter of a letter is often more the letter than the letter itself, and this is where Maelstrom Sans shines. To create a continuous horizontal movement through the counters of a reverse-stress serif form is not difficult — but in a sans it sure is.

The flip-flopping figure-ground relationship in Maelstrom Sans, particularly with the I when sandwiched between horizontally dominant letters (like H, F, E, or T) is perfectly bonkers. It is not as successful with the numerals, although I get what was attempted with the 2 and 5 and the 1 and 7. Yet the similarly formed 3, 6, 8, and 9 are all wonderful.

The fun begins when non-rectangular forms interact (see the AY and AV combinations), and the 3D effect of a VY pairing is begging to be further explored. This is where type design skill shines: though the interactions are strange, they feel strangely comfortable.

However much I delight in this typeface, it makes me seriously tense to look at. Consider the C with its pointy pincers, preparing to clamp shut that open counter. And that X! There is so much tension on those thin filaments stretching away from the mass of the primary stroke that they seem about to pop off and poke you in the eye.

Maelstrom Sans is a typeface with which to explore the possibilities of form and counterform, without the blocky horizontals of a serif. Long live the “perverse” typeface! (Thanks, Nicolete Gray!)1


  1. In Nineteenth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages, Gray famously wrote that Caslon Italian manifested “a crude expression of the idea of perversity.”

Dr. Shelley Gruendler, founder of Type Camp, is a typographer, designer, and educator who teaches, lectures, and publishes internationally on typography and design. She holds a PhD and an MA in the History and Theory of Typography and Graphic Communication from the University of Reading, England.

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