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Zapfino: An Elegant Script Font

If you’re like most professional graphic designers, you’re hesitant to use any font (or, more correctly, typeface) that comes preinstalled on your computer. However, if you use Mac OS X and are looking for an elegant calligraphic font, there’s one that’s worth a second look. After all, it has been literally decades in the making.

Calligraphy, defined as “the art of beautiful handwriting” (from the Greek kallos—“beauty”—and graphein—“to write”), is nearly as old as writing itself, but it was only after the advent of printing that elaborate script lettering, distinct from everyday handwriting, began to appear. The word calligraphy itself didn’t enter the English language until 1613. But while calligraphy was revered as an art, in general use, it began to decline as writing became increasingly mechanical and typewritten.

In the late 19th century, calligraphy saw a revival, primarily as a reaction against the mechanization of writing. English author and artist William Morris was one of the chief influences on the renewed interest in calligraphy, and soon he had legions of followers, such as Stanley Morison, William Addison Dwiggins and Frederic Goudy. These students of calligraphy—who examined the structure and beauty of letters—became designers of typefaces, revolutionizing type design, which had until then been predominantly the purview of engineers and technicians.

One of these calligraphic artists and type designers was Hermann Zapf (b. 1918). Zapf designed some of the most famous typefaces, such as Palatino and Optima. Zapf was a typographic pioneer and an early proponent of computerized typography. He had been interested in a calligraphic typeface since the 1940s, but hot-metal type was ill suited to the delicate reproduction of fine strokes and swashes. But with digital typography, it might be possible.

In the early 1980s, Zapf worked with David Siegel, a recent Stanford graduate, who had an interest in creating a typeface based on Zapf’s own calligraphy. So Open up your glyphs palette to find unique characters like these in Zapfino. Zapf and Siegel—using sketches of alphabets Zapf had made in 1944—began developing the software to create such a typeface. Alas, before they had made much progress, Siegel’s girlfriend left him, leaving him listless and despondent, and he quit the project. 

The calligraphy project thus languished until Zapf mustered up the courage to present it to Linotype, who were enthusiastic, and helped Zapf complete it. The result was four alphabets complemented by various ornaments, flourishes and dingbats. Linotype released Zapfino in 1998. 

Apple includes a version of Zapfino in OS X to showcase the Mac’s advanced typographic capabilities. The Apple version of Zapfino comprises 1,400 individual glyphs, and features larger letters than the commercial Linotype version. Zapfino has continued to evolve, with new versions— such as Zapfino Extra—appearing in the years since. a calligraphic typeface since the 1940s, but hot-metal type was ill suited to the delicate reproduction of fine strokes and swashes. But with digital typography, it might be possible.

Whether it’s the OS X version or any of Linotype’s packages, Zapfino is an elegant script—and creative experimentation can add a touch of class to any design project.

As always, be sure to supply exact copies of the fonts you use—whether it’s Zapfino or any other font—to us. Subtle differences can reflow text and cause layout errors. Consult with us if you have any questions about font usage.

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