Johnston (typeface)

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Johnston 2.png
Category Sans-serif
Classification Humanist
Designer(s) Edward Johnston, Eric Gill
Foundry Linotype
Date created 1916
Also known as Underground, Johnston's Railway Type
A London Underground map of the Heathrow Airport loop and Terminal 5 stub on the Piccadilly line with text in the New Johnston typeface
Johnston printing blocks

Johnston (or Johnston Sans) is a sans-serif typeface designed by and named after Edward Johnston and commissioned by Frank Pick. It has been the corporate font of public transport in London since the foundation of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, and of predecessor companies since 1916, making its use one of the world's longest-lasting examples of corporate branding. It remains a copyrighted property of the LPTB's successor, Transport for London.[1] It originated the genre of the humanist sans-serif typeface, typefaces that are sans-serif but take inspiration from traditional serif fonts and Roman inscriptions.

Johnston's student Eric Gill worked on the development of the typeface, which was later to influence his own Gill Sans typeface, released in 1928–32. As Johnston, a corporate font, was until recently not available for public licensing, Gill Sans would become used much more widely.[2]


The capitals of the typeface are based on Roman square capitals, and the lower-case on the humanistic minuscule, the handwriting in use in Italy in the fifteenth century. In this, it marked a break with the kinds of sans serif then popular, which are now normally known as grotesques, which tended to have squarer shapes . Other aspects are more geometric: the letter O is a perfect circle. The minuscule letters i and j have diagonally-placed square tittles, a motif that is repeated in the full stop, commas, apostrophes and other punctuation marks, which are also based on the diagonal square dot.


The typeface was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (also known as 'The Underground Group'), as part of his plan to strengthen the company's corporate identity, and introduced in 1916.[3] Pick specified to Johnston that he wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group's posters would not be mistaken for advertisements; it should have "the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods" and belong "unmistakably to the twentieth century".[4] In 1933, The Underground Group was absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board and the typeface was adopted as part of the London Transport brand.

The font family was originally called Underground. It became known as Johnston's Railway Type, and later simply Johnston. It comes with two weights, heavy and ordinary. Heavy does not contain lower-case letters.

New Johnston[edit]

A modern sign at Leytonstone station, using Johnston

Johnston was originally printed using wood type for large signs and metal type for print. By the 1970s, as cold type was becoming the norm for printing, Johnston had become difficult for printers to use. Signs and posters of the period started to use other, more easily sourced typefaces such as Helvetica, Univers and News Gothic.[5] To maintain London Transport's old corporate identity, Johnston was rendered into cold type.

Rather than simply producing a phototype of the original design, Johnston was redesigned in 1979 by Colin Banks and Eiichi Kono at Banks & Miles to produce New Johnston. The new typeface is slightly heavier or bolder than the original, and has a larger x-height relative to the ascenders and descenders, giving it a strong 1970s feel. Punctuation marks are now stylised to match the diamond tittle, differing from Johnston's original design. The new family comes in Bold, Medium, Light weights and condensed designs. It is still used by London Underground in their signage.

In 1990-1992 Banks and Miles, in partnership with Signus Limited digitised the first PostScript Type 1 fonts for the then London Transport under the auspices of the Corporate Design Manager, Roger Hughes. In 2002 the typeface was digitized on behalf of Transport for London by Agfa Monotype Corporation, with the addition of two further weights, Book and Book Bold, and as well as corresponding italic variants. The revised font family – not commercially available – is known as 'New Johnston TfL'.

A further change occurred in 2008 when Transport for London removed the serif from the numeral '1' and also altered the '4', in both cases reverting these to their original appearance.

Johnston Delf Smith[edit]

The petit-serif variation of the font, as seen at Sudbury Town tube station

This variant was commissioned by Frank Pick as a petit-serif variation of the organisation's standard sans-serif Johnston face and was designed Percy Delf Smith, a former pupil of Edward Johnston. The typeface was originally used for the headquarters building at 55 Broadway, SW1. It can still be seen on some signs at Sudbury Town and Arnos Grove on the Piccadilly line.

In early 2007, a digitisation of the typeface was developed by TfL under the name Johnston Delf Smith for its own use on historic signs. It remains the property of TfL.[6] Designer Matthieu Cortat has released an unrelated implementation of the design commercially, under the name Petit Serif.[7]

ITC Johnston[edit]

An early sign for Tufnell Park station, not using Johnston.

International Typeface Corporation released a variant in 1999 called ITC Johnston, produced by British type designers Richard Dawson and Dave Farey. It originally included three font weights like New Johnston. However, it does not include the hooked 1 and uses side-pointed 4.

In November 2002, the typeface was rereleased in OpenType format, which also expanded the font family to include italic fonts in all weights. Character set was expanded to support ISO Adobe 2 character set. OpenType features include alternates, case forms, small caps (romans only), old style figure. Separate small caps (romans only) and old style figure faces were also released for each weight in TrueType and PostScript formats, for a total of fifteen typefaces.

ITC Johnston Pro[edit]

Released in March 2009, this version includes support of Adobe CE character set.

P22 versions[edit]

Johnston Underground[edit]

In 1997, London Transport Museum licensed the original Johnston typeface exclusively to P22 Type Foundry, available commercially as Johnston Underground. Johnston Underground included Regular, Bold, and Extras weights, with the Extra containing only ornamental symbols.

Underground Pro[edit]

P22 later had Paul Hunt add to their version of the Underground typeface to create the Underground Pro (or P22 Underground Pro) family. The full Underground Pro Set contains nineteen Pro OpenType fonts and 58 Basic OpenType fonts, covering extended Latin, Greek, Cyrillic character sets. Weights are expanded to six: Thin, Light, Book, Medium, Demi, Heavy. However, there are no italic styles in P22's designs. Underground, Underground CY, Underground GR support extended Latin, Cyrillic, Greek characters respectively. The Latin sub-family contains medium weight Titling fonts, which feature underscored and/or overscored Latin small letters. Pro fonts include extensive OpenType features, including eleven stylistic sets: Petite Capitals, Dryad Cap Alternates, Humanistic Alternates 1, Humanistic Alternates 2, Geometric Alternates, Round Points, Diamond Points, Alternate Tilde, All Under commas, All cedillas, Alternate Eng.

London 2012 wayfinding signage at Glasgow Central railway station.


Its use has included the Tube map, nameplates and general station signing, as well as much of the printed material issued by the Underground Group and its successors; also by the nationalised British Road Services in the immediate post-war era.

It was also used for wayfinding signs at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games,[8] including venues outside London.[9] It is also used in the overlays of the BBC TV show Sherlock. New Johnston is used for signage in the fictional Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in the Fox TV show House, although in later seasons the similar font Gill Sans was used, most noticeably on Wilson's door during season 8. It is also used in the way finding signage at Westfield London.

Comparison between Gill Sans and Johnston
Johnston (upper) and Gill Sans (lower), showing some of the most distinctive differences between these similar typefaces.

Similar fonts[edit]

  • Gill Sans, a different, related typeface by Johnston's disciple Eric Gill
  • Railway Sans, an open-source interpretation [10] of Johnston's original by Justin Howes and Greg Fleming.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Copyright and Licensing". London Transport Museum. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Font Designer - Edward Johnston". Linotype GmbH. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  3. ^ Green, Oliver; Rewse-Davies, Jeremy (1995). Designed for London: 150 years of transport design. London: Laurence King. pp. 81–2. ISBN 1-85669-064-4. 
  4. ^ Barman, Christian (1979). The Man Who Built London Transport: A Biography of Frank Pick. David & Charles. p. 43. ISBN 0-7153-7753-1. 
  5. ^ Lew, David. "No Smoking sign in Helvetica". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "Johnston Delf Smith". Transport for London. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Cortat, Matthieu. "Petit Serif". MyFonts. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  8. ^ "London 2012: the look of the Games". CreativeReview. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "Weymouth and Portland Olympic sailing venue". 6 August 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Johnston’s ‘Railway’ Sans

Further reading[edit]

  • Howes, Justin (2000). Johnston’s Underground Type. Harrow Weald: Capital Transport. ISBN 1-85414-231-3. 
  • Banks, Colin (1994). London’s Handwriting: the development of Edward Johnston’s Underground railway block-letter. London Transport Museum. ISBN 1-85476-098-X. 

External links[edit]

Johnston Delf Smith[edit]

New Johnston[edit]

ITC Johnston[edit]