Source Serif is an ideal crystal goblet: not flashy or expressive, yet characterful, rich, and sturdy. Unlike earlier types meant to fit a utilitarian purpose, like Times New Roman or Century Schoolbook, Source Serif includes enough of the eclectic and quaint touches of its inspiration, Fournier, to keep a bit of flavor.
Available in several weights, the basic weight is pleasingly dark, which is satisfying from a simple usability standpoint, and also in comparison with Fournier impressions from the original metal. Texture and character are fiendishly challenging qualities to retain. Excessive, autotraced grime reads as “antiqued” when scaled to large sizes, whereas overly cleansed revivals always look somehow vacant, like bad taxidermy. A balance between the rumpled and the carefully crafted is not easy to achieve in such a cold, conceptual, and naked format as digital outlines.
Source Serif also uses the mixed vertical and diagonal stress of Fournier, with unexpected serifs, emphatic ball terminals and dots, and a comforting moderate contrast. The large counters of ‘e a g’, and large x-height, allow this face’s confident use in screen typography at any size, without those touches souring it for use at other sizes or for print. In fact, the very qualities that improve small print sizes are being recognized as useful for strong low-res typefaces as well.
Both Source Serif and Source Sans benefit from carefully modulated, slightly industrial proportions and a staid, utilitarian character; their proportions match, but their flavors are suited to each other as well. Neither is the showy partner, and neither is the cold, mechanical one. Typefaces intended for broad distribution can have a tiresome effect if they show too much artistic flavor. Palatino and Helvetica did not make for easy partners in any setting, whereas Georgia and Verdana were more agreeable, strengthened by their plainness and reliability over time and repeated exposure. The same can be said for Source Serif and Sans. They should be brought into wide service as utilitarian, but also personable, tools for digital communication.