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Category Serif
Classification Old Style
Designer(s) Jan Tschichold
Foundry Monotype, Stempel

Sabon is an old style serif typeface designed by the German-born typographer and designer Jan Tschichold (1902–1974) in the period 1964–1967. The typeface was released jointly by the Linotype, Monotype, and Stempel type foundries in 1967.

Tschichold lived in Leipzig and in the 1920s had devised a "universal alphabet" for German, improving its non-phonetic spellings and promoting the replacement of the jumble of fonts with a simple sans serif. He was a modernist, and after the war, from 1947 to 1949, played a hugely significant role in British book design, creating timeless modern layouts and fonts for Penguin Books. For the German printers, he crafted Sabon as a font that modernized the classics and honed each letter's fine details, particularly the evenness of the serifs. In doing so, Tschichold took careful account of the added weight needed to form a strong impression on modern paper, with mechanized machines subtly "kissing" the surface with ink rather than stamping or rolling it.[1]

Design of the roman is based on types by Claude Garamond (c.1480–1561), particularly a specimen printed by the Frankfurt printer Konrad Berner. Berner had married the widow of a fellow printer Jacques Sabon, the source of the face's name. The italics are based on types designed by a contemporary of Garamond's, Robert Granjon. The typeface is frequently described as a Garamond revival.

A distinguishing feature of the typeface was that the roman, italic and bold weights all occupied the same width when typeset, a -- presently—unusual feature, that was a feature due to the lead casting Linotype: for each Linotype-matrix can cast two different characters: roman or italic, roman or bold. And the italic a has in this way the same width as the roman a. It also meant that the typeface then only required one set of copyfitting data (rather than three) when compositors had to estimate the length of a text prior to actual typesetting (a common practice before computer-assisted typesetting).[2]

Distinctive Visual Identifiable Characteristics[edit]

Characteristics of this typeface are the following:

lower case: double storey a.

upper case: the capital Q's tail is centered under the figure, the uppercase J has a slight hook, and there are two versions of uppercase R, one with a straight tail and one with a curved tail.



Sabon was developed in the early 1960s for a group of German printers who were complaining about the lack of a "harmonized" or uniform font that would look the same whether set by hand or on a Monotype or Linotype machine. They were quite specific about the sort of font that might fit the bill, rejecting the modern and fashionable in favour of solid 16th century tradition - something modelled on Garamond and Granjon. They also wanted the new font to be five per cent narrower than their existing Monotype Garamond, in order to save space and money.[3]

The result was Sabon, and as a new typeface it was issued jointly by Germany's three main type foundries (Linotype, Monotype and Stempel) and became hugely popular in book and magazine printing.

An early first use of Sabon was the setting of the Washburn College Bible in 1973 by the American graphic designer Bradbury Thompson. All books of the King James biblical text were set by hand in a process called thought-unit typography, where Thompson broke the lines at their spoken syntactical breaks.

Sabon was also used as the typeface in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (United States), as well as all of that church's secondary liturgical texts (such as the Book of Occasional Services and Lesser Feasts and Fasts).

Sabon was used in 2000s as the official logo typeface of Stanford University until 2012.[4] It is also used by Örebro University, together with the typeface Trade Gothic.[5] It remains a favourite among the discerning and it looks particularly good the bigger one uses it, which is why magazines like Vogue and Esquire use a slightly modified version of it for headlines.[6]

Sabon Next[edit]

Sabon typeface designed by Tschichold, and jointly released in 1967 by the Linotype, Monotype, and Stempel type foundries.

Jean-François Porchez designed the revival of Sabon known as Sabon Next. Sabon Next is based upon Tschichold's 1967 Sabon design for the Stempel foundry and Porchez' study of original Garamond models. The family consists of 6 weights, without Greek and Cyrillic support. It supports ISO Adobe 2, Adobe CE, Latin Extended characters.

OpenType features include Small caps (except in Black weight), Ligatures, Special ligatures, Alternates, Caps figures, Oldstyle figures, Tabular figures, Fractions, Superiors, Ornaments, Swash, Proportional Lining figures.

Sabon Next Display[edit]

It is a variant of Regular weight Sabon Next designed for 20pt or above.

Sabon Next Ornaments[edit]

It is a collection of printers' ornaments and dingbats. The glyphs can also be found in the OpenType Sabon Next (except in Black weights) fonts.

Sabon Infant[edit]

This version of the typeface has single-story versions of the letters a and g, and is used in children's books but is very rare.

Sabon eText (2013?)[edit]

It is a version of Sabon optimized for screen use, designed by Steve Matteson. Changes include increased x-heights, heavier hairline and serifs, wider inter-character spacing, more open counters, adjusted thicks to thins ratio.[7]

The family includes 4 fonts in 2 weights (regular, bold), with complementary italics. OpenType features include case-sensitive forms, fractions, ligatures, lining/old style figures, ordinals, superscript, small capitals.


  1. ^ Cf. S. Garfield, Just My Type, Profile Books, London (2010), pp.251-253.
  2. ^ Cf. A. Bartram, Typeforms: A History, British Library & Oak Knoll Press, London (2007), s.v. Sabon.
  3. ^ Cf. S. Garfield, Just My Type, p.251.
  4. ^ Stanford University Identity Toolkit, [1]. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  5. ^ Örebro University Design Guidelines, [2]. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
  6. ^ Cf. S. Garfield, Just My Type, p.253; B. Willen & N. Strals, Lettering & Type, Princeton Architectural Press, New York (2009), Sabon and Its Current Usage.
  7. ^ eText Typefaces: Typefaces for High-Quality e-Reading Experiences


  • Friedl, Friederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An encyclopedic survey of type design and techniques through history. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface. Godine: 1990. ISBN 978-0-87923-333-4.
  • Meggs, Philip B. and Rob Carter.Typographic Specimens: The Great Typefaces. Wiley: 1993. ISBN 0-471-28429-7.
  • Meggs, Philip B. and McKelvey, Roy.Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces. RC Publications: 2000. ISBN 1-883915-08-2.
  • Meggs, Philip B. History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons: 1998. ISBN 0-470-04265-6.
  • Perfect, Christopher & Rookledge, Gordon. Rookledge's Classic International Typefinder. Laurence King Publishing: 2004. ISBN 978-1-85669-406-3.

External links[edit]