Before we jump into slab serif fonts, let’s go back to where it all started. The early 1800s were a time of great change. Frederick Koenig improved the printing press in 1810. In 1814, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the very first photograph with a camera obscura, a process that took an entire eight hours to complete, and George Stephenson designed the first steam locomotive. John Walker came along and invented modern matches in 1827. In 1829, William Austin Burt patented the predecessor to modern typewriters, a machine that was known as the typographer.
Speaking of typographers, the early 1800s were also a period of change in the world of typography. The era witnessed the birth of slab serif typefaces, those heavy letterforms that would go on to grace countless posters, billboards, and pamphlets throughout the nineteenth century.
Back in those early days, the Industrial Revolution was blazing hot and bright, bringing with it the mass production of consumer goods. Print media rose to even greater importance at that point because, just like today, the best way to advertise products and services was through the use of a strong, solid typeface.
Slab serifs were designed to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing. Given that printing presses and the publishing industry as a whole were largely focused on books and other publications at that time, slab serifs certainly stood apart from common typefaces by leaps and bounds.
While there were examples of woodblock lettering with slab serif letterforms as early as 1810 or so, the first slab serif made commercially available was called Antique, designed by Vincent Figgins and released around 1817 in London.
Slab serifs took off like wildfire and type foundries rose to meet the demand for their striking letterforms. Never before had there been such a strong type style for commercial purposes, although perhaps the world hadn’t really needed one until the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. The slab serif was indeed considered to be the first display type, as its strong characteristics didn’t lend its use to anything other than bold signage, posters, and advertising – applications for which it became the industry standard.
Typography of The Late 19th Century
The late nineteenth century was when slab serifs really developed into what is probably their most familiar form. The “Italienne” or “French Clarendon” model, also known as reverse-contrast type, features serifs that are typically way heavier than the stems, creating a really dramatic visual effect. This style is something you’d instantly recognize from old western movies (like those iconic “Wanted: Dead or Alive” flyers) or old-timey circus posters. French Clarendon slab serifs practically scream “WELCOME TO THE WILD WEST, THE CARNIVAL IS THAT-A-WAY” and they persisted in their popularity for quite some time.
The 1867 invention of the typewriter witnessed the development of monospaced, fixed-width slab serifs. Back in the day, every character (regardless of its size) took up the same amount of horizontal width on a typewritten page. To this day, Courier is probably one of the most recognizable typewriter model slab serifs.
Finally, as geometric typefaces became popular in the early twentieth century, slab serifs became available in geometric models. Locked in a competition of sorts with the rising favor of geometric sans serifs, slab serifs of the 1920s carried a similar monoline structure and featured stems and serifs that were equally weighted. Adapting to modern times, slab serifs began to lose some of the drama and flourish of their predecessors.
Slab Serif Fonts at YouWorkForThem
The evolution of the slab serif is long and varied, and to this day it remains a popular choice for bold displays, particularly those that want to capture the atmosphere of bygone eras. YouWorkForThem offers a number of fantastic slab serif typefaces and we’d like to highlight a few of our favorites down below.
Rival Slab from Mostardesign is a modern slab serif family of 16 fonts that was designed to be versatile and highly legible. Rival Slab offers a host of useful OpenType features, including arrows, symbols, and circled figures, proportional, tabular, and oldstyle figures, fractions, small caps, and stylistic alternates for amazing flexibility. If you’re looking for a contemporary slab serif, Rival Slab is a great choice for design projects of all types.
If you were waiting to see a more traditional, wood type style of slab serif in this list, Rama Slab brings all of the antiquated beauty of 1800s slab serifs into an updated digital form. This family of 23 fonts offers a variety of weights and also comes with five sets of “Gothic Extras” that include icons, banner pieces, ornaments, frame tiles, and decorative lines. Between its versatile lettersets and graphic accents, Rama Slab gives designers a lot to play around with.
“The heaviest typeface in the world,” Black Slabbath is indeed ridiculously solid. Wickedly thick letterforms are beautifully juxtaposed by razor-thin white space, which gives Black Slabbath a tangible sensation of weight and drama. Created by Stefan Kjartansson, this type design is a perfect addition to any project that needs a strong and intense slab serif, including album covers, posters, book covers, advertising, and even headlines.
Download Fonts Today at YouWorkForThem
YouWorkForThem offers hundreds of slab serif fonts and they’re all easily found through our search tool, located in the upper right corner of our website. When you’re checking out fonts, give our built-in type tester a whirl; it’s easy to use and it allows you to see exactly how a font will look written in your own text before you commit to a purchase.
With more than 150,000 fonts and web fonts currently available in a wide variety of font styles, we make it easy to find the perfect font for your next design project!