Metal vs Digital Fonts

I seem to be on fonts now.

I just ran across an article entitled, “Why Bembo Sucks.” Intrigued–I love Bembo, I think it’s one of the very nicest of typefaces (also, see this!)–I read it, and found that it’s really about “why digital fonts (often) suck” and “why inappropriate and poorly used fonts suck.” It’s a great article; if you’re into this sort of thing, go read it now. One of the main points is that digital fonts tend to be pale and lifeless imitations of their metal originals (many of which, including Bembo, are in turn copies of much older and quirkier typography).

This seemingly superfluous dilemma [which original point size of a metal font to digitize] can only be truly understood when the original metal typefaces are seen in print. Oh, what a joyous sight! The subtle variation of letterform, the slight impression into the paper, the vibrant warmth of a page of text. It is not only beautiful, but an absolute delight to read. The effect of these typefaces is impossible to emulate with their insipid digital ghosts. Modern printing has become so perfect, so uniform and precise that the spirit of the original is crushed. It is like spending a lifetime slurping instant coffee and never experiencing a proper espresso.

That’s a well-known problem with digital typefaces. The great Edward Tufte even went so far as to design his own digital Bembo, having found Monotype’s existing digitization unbearable (there is now what looks like a better one).

Not long ago I was struck by this when reading two books, both set in Fairfield, back-to-back. Here are two examples from books I just picked up off the pile on our coffee table:

ff-old-c.jpg

 new

Maybe you can’t tell from my lousy scans, but I find the older one much livelier and more interesting. The newer one also doesn’t bother with the double-f ligatures (lazybones typesetters!).

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