Typeface Review


Reviewed by Bill Troop on March 13, 2013

A complete text typeface family with an optical axis is easy to conceptualize but forbiddingly difficult to execute. I know. I’ve been working on such families since the mid-1990s, and I have yet to release any of them. All honor, therefore, to those who succeed in bringing this daunting, thankless task to fruition.

One of the most interesting achievements in this small genre is the Tramuntana family by Ricardo Santos. This is a wholly original roman with an unusual pedigree. Santos accurately describes it as derived from late Renaissance type families such as Garamond, but with decidedly later influences from the Iberian peninsula.

I have long loved the Spanish typefaces shown in Updike’s Printing Types, and I fancy that I see the spirit of the great eighteenth-century Catalonian punchcutter Pradell in the work of Santos. But that is only a small part of it. At the same time, Santos is so saturated in the functional vocabulary of the Aldine from which all usable roman text type derives, and the post-Aldine, from which all economical text type derives, that he seldom missteps.

It is interesting to compare the somewhat calligraphic mannerisms of Tramuntana (which are only noticeable at display sizes) with the mannerisms of a typeface with similar functional ambitions, Adobe Garamond Premier. In Premier, the mannerisms are mannerisms of function — they are designed to provide the more-or-less spontaneous illusion of punchcutting irregularities and inkspread in printing. They can grow wearisome, especially when you want some nice small oldstyle figures in, say, the small bold text weight, and find that the result is just too grotty to use. Tramuntana’s mannerisms, by contrast, have an exclusively aesthetic focus — there is none of the hocus pocus that’s involved in replicating old print. The small numbers are very good.

The most annoying mannerisms in Garamond Premier are what make it most look like Garamond; the most annoying mannerisms in Tramuntana are those that make it look least like Garamond. For example, Premier’s foot serifs look wobbly and pointlessly willful, and I’d say it was a particular mistake to carry the scabious glitches into the bold. In Tramuntana, the slinky angle of the ‘y’ is tiresome and is probably this typeface’s worst feature. However, I’m not denying that it’s sexy.

So Tramuntana is not without mannerism, as all work of all young designers must be. I am reminded of the position that the young Jan van Krimpen was in when he brought Lutetia to Enschedé and Monotype. Everyone could see that the type was too mannered, but its genius was recognized, too, and the powers that be realized that Van Krimpen had to be given his chance. Where will Santos go? Watch this space! I have seen enough of his yet-to-be-published work to be convinced that we have a major force in type design on our hands.

But what about the acid test: print? Most of Tramuntana’s mannerisms are not visible as such in text size. And Tramuntana compares very well to Garamond Premier, to which it is a welcome alternative. That is not to take anything away from Premier — it is perhaps the supreme achievement of one of the great type technicians of our day. But it is hampered by the desire to do full and literal justice to Garamond. It suffers from Urtext-itis. It itches with it. Tramuntana suffers no such restriction, so it is much more readable. The small eye of the ‘e’ is one of the sublimely beautiful features of Garamond, but almost any type that dispenses with this fillip will be easier to read. 

Bill Troop grew up in New York and London. He studied classical piano, type design, photography and writing. In spite of the risk to his attention span and sanity, he has been juggling these interests ever since.

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