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Introduction  Design   History   Family Classifications

Family Classifications of Type


These types are classified as Modern because they represent the last phase of character evolution from the pen-inspired Old Style types as well as the first effort to use the design of type to establish a contemporary visual style in written communication.

Within a few decades, the wide acceptance of the Transitional types helped to inspire a new sense of typographic style in Europe, especially France and Italy. Typographers, inspired by Baskerville, further rejected the classic Old Style tradition of pen-inspired letters and continued to refine the notion of the perfect letterform.

Modern Characteristics

  • Extreme contrast between thick and thin strokes
  • Hairline serifs without bracketing
  • Small x-height
  • Vertical stress in rounded strokes

Giambattista Bodoni: In the late 18th century, the new attitude toward type design was exemplified by Fournier and Didot in France, and most importantly by Giambattista Bodoni in Italy.

Bodoni had been hired by Duke Ferdinand of Parma, a noted patron of the arts, to establish a premiere royalty press. His concern was printing of the highest quality not for the masses, but for the aristocracy. The craftsmanship of Bodoni was superb and his attention to detail was legendary. The quality of his printing was unmatched and he came to be regarded as the finest printer of his day.

In the design of his printing types, he sought to create a unique letterform of such beauty as to be admired for its own sake and, further, he wished to bring to a logical conclusion the work of Baskerville, who was his idol. Bodoni’s desire was a type which was suitable for contemporary times rather than the age of the scribe. Instead of the stroke of the pen, his inspiration was the mathematical precision and delicate hairline strokes characteristic of copperplate engraving, which was very popular at that time.


Firmin Didot, a French typographer,was the first to cast a type bearing the engraved characteristics of the modern classification. But thiry years later, it was the Bodoni types which gained the widest popularity due to the reputation of Giambatista Bodoni.


While relying heavily on the recent designs of Didot, Bodoni created a revolutionary Roman style which was a radical departure from all types before it. His type featured bold, forceful thick strokes contrasted with hairline thin strokes, and unbracketed hairline serifs. Although the more finely-engraved Didot is thought by many to be a finer design, the types of Bodoni became more widely accepted because of his enormous prestige as the premier printer of his time.


Designed by Giambattista Bodoni in 1788

he archetypal Modern type, Bodoni's distinctive characteristics make it an easy typeface to identify:

  • extreme contrast in weight variation
  • unbracketed hairline serifs.
  • small x-height
  • vertical stress

While not very readable in small sizes or in long text passages, Bodoni lends a striking visual quality to text. It requires more generous spacing than most types, even in larger sizes.


While perhaps not the most readable of styles, Modern typefaces are most visually distinct. As Transitional designs were based heavily on technological advances, Modern designs represent perhaps the first movement toward visual expression in type. By the end of the century, the popularity of the Modern style was established and the printing industry was about to enter a period of unprecedented change.

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