In typography, grotesque fonts (or grotesk) are roughly synonymous with “sans serif.” Serif typefaces feature short, decorative lines that extend from a character’s body, like Times New Roman, Palatino, or Garamond. In use since the 1460s, serif fonts were the publishing norm until the 1800s. By contrast, grotesques do not have these decorative lines, hence “sans serif” or “without serif.”
The Birth of Grotesque Fonts
The first sans serif font is attributed William Caslon IV in 1748. In 1816, a fourth-generation Caslon, William Caslon IV, developed the first sans serif printing type, an uppercase design named “Egyptian. It isn’t clear whether Caslon IV cut the sans serif for a client or for art’s sake. Caslon IV was naturally innovative: he developed a method of casting wedge-shaped letters for cylinder printing, and he crafted two-part matrices for casting large letters. Perhaps it was pure creativity that led him to cut a sans serif typeface.
Caslon’s innovative uppercase sans serif did not catch on. Three years later, Caslon IV sold the foundry his great-grandfather had begun 90 years earlier for just over two-thousand pounds.
Nonetheless, Caslon IV’s failed sans serif left its mark on typography despite its “radical” appearance. Hence the name grotesque: compared to the fashionable and familiar serif fonts, sans serifs were considered crude, plain, and artless.
Evolution of Grotesque Typefaces
While contemporary sans serifs have a sleek, polished architecture, the initial sans serif grotesque fonts were more eccentric. They flaunted their unorthodox styling, purposely contrasting simplicity against their elaborate and sophisticated predecessors.
Grotesque fonts typically feature uncomplicated, geometric letterforms. They also appear somewhat informal, at least compared to roman and modern serifs.
The German spelling “grotesk” is used interchangeably to describe grotesques. By the late 1800s, sans serif typefaces had become popular in Germany. Berthold Type Foundry’s Akzidenz Grotesk is a family of sans serif typefaces released in Berlin in 1898. Designed for trade printing, its name translates to “Commercial Grotesque.” Azkidenz Grotesk influenced countless iterations and generations of grotesque fonts, including the neo-grotesque Swiss-style fonts of the 1950s, like Helvetica.
Grotesque Fonts in the Digital Age
Relevant for over a century, grotesque fonts have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with the advent of electronic type. Their simplicity makes them highly legible on mobile devices and websites. Grotesque fonts are modern and typically neutral in their architecture, making them a great choice for corporate projects, web design, mobile apps, infographics, digital publishing, advertising, text, and more.
YouWorkForThem offers countless grotesque sans serifs, and we’re excited to share some of our favorites with you.
Designed by the internationally respected designer Connary Fagan, Greycliff CF is a classic grotesque sans serif. Modern and attractive, Greycliff is a solid choice for any design project that needs a fresh and contemporary sans serif with high legibility. Like everything from this remarkable designer, Greycliff is incredibly versatile and user-friendly. If you are not sure how to choose between grotesques, choosing one from world-renown Fagan guaranties an excellent choice.
Released by Horizon Type, Acherus Grotesque is a grotesque sans serif masterpiece. Softly rounded edges add an element of approachability to the powerful architecture of Acherus Grotesque, conveying messages with confidence and friendly authority.
Kapra Neue Pro from Typoforge Studio is a superfamily of 96 grotesque fonts. This is a long, artsy grotesque, super modern and eye-catching. Featuring a range of weights and widths from condensed to expanded, Kapra Neue Pro is a brilliant choice for branding, visual identity, web design, product packaging, displays, signage, posters, publishing, logos, headlines, editorials, and more.
Oakes Grotesk from Samuel Oakes introduces a corporate feel to the traditional grotesque design. Clear legibility is a key characteristic of Oakes Grotesque, a modern sans serif type that works well in both large and small point. This clean sans serif is excellent for corporate communications, letterhead, white papers, web copy, presentations, e-publishing, headlines, editorials, product packaging details, package inserts, and advertising.
Explore Grotesque Fonts with YouWorkForThem
YouWorkForThem has innumerable grotesque sans serif fonts available for licensing, easily found through our search tool! Don’t forget to check out our type tester so you can see first hand how a font will look before you make a purchase. With more than 160,000 fonts and web fonts available, you’re sure to find the perfect typeface for your next project!