Typeface Review

Sharp Grotesk

Reviewed by Kate Goad on October 18, 2018

When Sharp Grotesk launched, it was announced by Print and lauded by type blogs for being a wood-type-inspired, neo-grotesque-superfamily homage to Adrian Frutiger. Frankly, it seemed a little gimmicky to me.

Gimmicky and ubiquitous — once you become acquainted with Sharp Grotesk, you start to notice it everywhere. This may be largely because of its adoption by Dropbox and the company’s extensive billboard campaigns. (But seriously, kudos on that kind of support for a new typeface!) The family is massive, almost overwhelming in size, boasting 249 faces. It has an alternate for the uppercase I, diacritics, and carefully considered fraction glyphs. The typeface is nothing if not comprehensive, and I thought that maybe Lucas Sharp was trying to do too much with one family.

But then I looked a bit closer. The specimen locks up band names — a big nod to the similarly inspired lettering of psychedelic band posters from the sixties. Sharp Grotesk also started as hand-drawn poster lettering some five years before its release, and what once felt gimmicky began to register as quite clever instead. Even if Sharp says he doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on history or lineage, it’s that historical connection that appeals to me when I tell beginning type students about a new typeface at the Archive. And it’s also what appeals to me as a user and appreciator of type.

Let me delve a bit further into what I like about Sharp Grotesk. I dig the roman lowercase g. It’s a two-storey glyph with a quirky ear, and I really love it. It carries the face’s personality in the middle weights where the typeface can feel a little generic, even Helvetica-y (especially in all-caps uses). Extra love when that little g shows back up in the black italics. I also appreciate that the bold and black weight 20s and 25s read as wood type and that there is a Univers-like curve to the leg of the uppercase R throughout. The typeface is exactly what it promises to be — a wood-type inspired tribute to Frutiger that’s as versatile as all get out. And I didn’t really believe that last bit until I saw how Real Simple magazine applied it. (I told you it’s everywhere.)

Little by little, Sharp Grotesk won me over. My appreciation for tiny details replaced my initial concerns about the realistic versatility of the family, leaving no room for my skepticism. Seeing it used successfully in drastically varying instances (and also, of course, that lowercase g) made a believer out of me. A super family, indeed.

P.S. No, I didn’t forget about the ink traps. I just didn’t want to talk about them.

Kate Goad is the Assistant Librarian at Letterform Archive. She earned her MLIS from Drexel University, sometimes writes for the Archive blog, and occasionally gives public lectures on the impact of type and graphic design. Mostly she likes helping people find stuff.

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