Respira Black

Typeface Review

Respira Black

Reviewed by Ricardo Cordoba on October 18, 2018

“Respira” means “breathe” in Spanish. And Respira Black is a dashing, modern-looking blackletter released by Sharp Type on Earth Day (April 22), 2017. Whether designer Lucas Sharp named it this way for its bold, uncluttered glyph design or because all proceeds are donated to the Natural Resources Defense Council, I don’t really know, but it’s an appropriate title.

This is a peculiar blackletter, boasting a twofold origin. Its lowercase was inspired by a particular style of 15th-century Spanish blackletter — somewhat similar to Rotunda — which Sharp first noticed in illuminated manuscripts of Granada, Spain. The uppercase, on the other hand, is closer to the English blackletter style of the 16th century. (Sharp writes that it “bears a closer resemblance to English Textura”.)

Like many (or most?) blackletter faces, Respira can be challenging to read when it’s set in all caps. But in upper- and lowercase, it reads wonderfully well, thanks to its tall x-height and strong contrast between thick and thin strokes. This high contrast makes certain characters appear to be almost stencil-like (have a look at the lowercase a, k, and x). Sharp later realized that the sample he had observed in Granada’s cathedral was faded and poorly lit, making the thinnest lines impossible to see. He later came across other examples, saw the previously unseen hairlines, and incorporated these to a set of stylistic alternates.

In short, Respira Black is an original and contemporary blackletter, one with a fresh approach to a style that is not frequently revived.

Ricardo Cordoba is a graphic designer based in New York City. His interests include book covers and typeface design. He was a contributor at Quipsologies between 2010 and 2017. During 2017 he worked as a freelance copy editor and fact checker for AIGA’s Eye on Design. He is a frequent contributor to Typographica.

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