The Blackletter typeface (also sometimes referred to as Gothic, Fraktur or Old English) was used in the Guthenburg Bible, one of the first books printed in Europe. This style of typeface is recognizable by its dramatic thin and thick strokes, and in some fonts, the elaborate swirls on the serifs. Blackletter typefaces are based on early manuscript lettering.
They evolved in Western Europe from the mid twelfth century. Over time a wide variety of different blackletters appeared, but four major families can be identified: Textura, Rotunda, Schwabacher and Fraktur. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into each one, but if you look at the letter “o” in the chart below you will see the difference.
Image Credit: Wikipedia (with small change by the author)
While Gutenberg used blackletters for his bible and books, this signaled a new era in typefaces used for printing. Blackletters are difficult to read as body text and Roman and Italic faces were easier to print with movable type. For these reasons, in the 1500’s, blackletter became less popular for printing in many countries except Germany and the German speaking countries.
Gutenberg Bible Image Source: Wikipedia
Germany continued to use Blackletters until the early twentieth century. In the 1920’s it was considered to be antiquated by German designers and publishers and fell out of favor and was replaced by the “New Typography” of sans serif typefaces. In 1933 Hitler declared the new typography to be un-German and declared Fraktur to be “Volk”, i.e. the people’s font. The Nazis continued to use Fraktur extensively until 1941 when it was replace with more readable fonts. Some people associate all blackletters as Nazi fonts but this is clearly an uneducated view and wipes out several hundred years of the typefaces’ history. Check out the Eye Magazine article on the meaning of type for more on this topic.
Blackletter In Action
As already mentioned, these typefaces are not easy to read in body text so they are best used for headings, logos, posters and signs. If you’ve received a certificate, diploma or degree there is a strong chance some or all of the text was set in Blackletter. Other familiar sightings include newspaper nameplates where it may be considered the font lends gravitas to the publication.
Blackletters have more recently become associated with beer labels, heavy metal bands, gangsta’ rap and oh, Disneyland.
Corona Beer Labels
Motorhead Album Cover
Snoop Dogg Album Cover
The Disneyland Sign
If you’d like to lend a medieval look to your design, there are now a huge number of free blackletter fonts available to download.
I love typography has a nice article about Moyenage, a blackletter typeface for a modern age.
Creative Pro discusses Amador, a new blackletter font.
Typeoff have an excellent Blackletter resource page.
Have you seen any recent designs using blackletters? Have you seen any websites using them? Are these typefaces that you would consider using in your own work?