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A Bodoni Is A Bodoni Is A Bodoni…Right?

by Ilene Strizver
art & design

Bodoni is Bodoni is Bodoni – right? Not necessarily. There are several reasons why your version of a font might be different from someone else’s, or even another of your own fonts. Understanding this occasional and somewhat bewildering occurrence will help head-off potential problems later on.

Similar name, different design

Multiple versions most often occur in revivals of historical typeface designs, such as Garamond, Bodoni, or Caslon. That’s because the original designs have been revived by many different type designers and foundries over the years. Each revival offers its own interpretation of the original, which makes them, ultimately, different designs.

bodoni typeface

Three distinctive Bodoni typeface designs; they have similar foundations, but are different interpretations.

A major cause for confusion is that all these different designs may have very similar names. Often, the designer or foundry creating the revival will merely add a prefix or suffix to the name of the original design to distinguish it from its competitors (and remember, two fonts with exactly the same name installed on your system will cause font conflicts). Some of the currently available Bodoni versions are ITC Bodoni, Poster Bodoni, E+F Bauer Bodoni, URW Bodoni Antiqua, Monotype Bodoni, Berthold Bodoni Antiqua, and WTC Our Bodoni. These are just a few of the Bodonis now on the market, and they’re all different from one another!

Same design, different metrics
A less frequent occurrence (but one with a more complicated explanation!) is when two fonts have exactly the same name but space differently, or have slightly different proportions.

Here’s why: years ago, finished typeface designs were created in analog format — that is, black images on white paper. When the faces were licensed to other foundries, the artwork was provided as photographic prints.

bodoni typeface

The ITC Bodoni family is a series of three size-specific designs intended to work well together. These pre-date today’s optical fonts.

Armed with these prints, each foundry then “productized” the design for its own equipment. The result could be different spacing, proportions, and even varying designs for the same character. Depending on which foundry produced it, the font might run copy shorter, longer, tighter, more open or with a varying height for the same point size than another licensed version of the same design.

For the reasons above, you should always note the complete name and manufacturer when purchasing or specifying a typeface. If this all sounds confusing, it is – but it is worth taking the time to digest and understand if you want to be in control of your type.

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Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio is a noted typographic educator, consultant, designer and writer.