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Font Friday: Ten of the best letterpress, stamped and printed fonts for authentic vintage design

As designers we spend a long time trying to make things look authentic, and nothing says ‘authentic print’ like worn, weathered, irregularly-inked type…

We don’t all have access to letter-press machines or screen-printing facilities, and the effect can be time-consuming to create digitally from scratch. Fortunately there are many many typefaces that perfectly capture the rough, inky, tactile look of hand-printed lettering. Thanks to the power of OpenType many automatically vary their textures as you type to keep things organic, while others come packed with alternative shapes, shadows and effects which when layered with colours can give some satisfying print effects

I’ve rounded up ten of my favourites here, which between them should cover every eventuality and satisfy even the most demanding hand printing fans!

Brandon Printed

Brandon Grotesque has been something of a runaway success for designer Hannes von Döhren since it was launched back in 2010, so its no surprise he should consider creating a hand-stamped version of the font. Not to say HvD hasn’t got previous form in this area of course, as the foundry behind the equally successful Cheap Pine, the 2011 wood-block effect font so beloved of craft breweries and wood-fired pizza restaurants up and down the land.

As you might imagine then, Brandon Printed is an expertly produced, detailed and stylish example with loads of extras, ornaments, lined options, shadows thrown in to the mix.



Ryan Keightly is a fairly new addition to the type world, but he proved himself to be bang on-trend with his warm and endearing Sparkle Script, released back in September. He’s added to this with his latest font “Butternut“, which takes a hand-drawn old-style italic serif font and passes it through all manner of print processes. Butternut’s hand-finished style would make it perfect for packaging, and works well with chalky colours on a darker background.



Roper from Andrew Footit is a Western-influenced font, with crossbar spurs giving it that distinctive American feel. Available in both serif and sans serif versions, each has a solid and letter-pressed style. The solid versions are nice enough, but to my mind the font really comes alive with the letter-press alternatives. While not as flexible in use as some of the others here, sometimes that Wild West look is the only thing that will fit the bill!



Yellow Design Studio are another foundry with a solid track record in producing weighty, ink-heavy stamped fonts. Their Veneer regularly gives HvD’s “Cheap Pine” a run for its money, and their iconic Thirsty script family fast became the professionals’ preferred “Lobster” alternative.

Lulo is a new offering from the designers and takes a slightly different approach to some of the alternatives, with a fabric-based texture giving more of a screen-printed effect to the lettering. A subtle difference, but one that changes the feel of the characters completely. Clever layering options and well-realised shadows give a great 3D effect when combining colours across the full font family, and a good value combined price for the full set makes it a commercial font worth adding to the toolkit.



Appareo has been featured here before, but worth including here again since it gives a different take on things to many of the others featured here.

Where most are clearly display fonts – that is, fonts that are really only intended for small blocks of text and headlines – Appareo takes a lead from period book-type and vintage printing presses. This makes it perfect for slightly longer passages of text, labelling, menus, and works perfectly when going for a more “antique” style. The font does an expert job of reproducing the quirks and ink-flows of vintage mechanical printing, and some advanced OpenType trickery means textures are automatically varied as you type to keep things looking authentic.



Microbrew from Jay Hilgert of Albatross is one of my favourite fonts to have been released this year. With 16 font styles, extras and quirky retro ornaments at under £30 it represents great value for money and the combination of shadows, inline versions, different textures and different printing techniques makes it far more versatile than might be expected for a type family like this.

The condensed shape of the characters also gives a nice contrast to the wider letter shape of the likes of Brandon and works well alongside other families, and the canny font buyer could always download some of Jay’s free alternatives from the complementary “Signyard” font to further extend possibilities!


Nexa Rust

Fontfabric’s Nexa Rust is a vast, sprawling font family of scripts, slabs, ornaments and sans serif faces, all designed to work alongside each other in a cohesive, structured way. With over 80 fonts in the family, acquiring the whole set is an eye-watering prospect and probably best left for commercial projects. But individually there are some great options in there not found in other families, and Fontfabric’s professional expertise guarantee an excellent finish, flawless execution and high detail at large sizes.


Gist Rough

Back to Yellow Design Studio and their increasingly popular 2014 Gist font… Gist Rough is the printed, textured version of the typeface, and retains the monoline, swirling, late 70’s/early 80’s-influenced aesthetic of the original. While the texturing is a bit on the rough side compared to some of the other fonts featured, the distinctive shape, ligatures and style of the lettering makes this ideal for poster design, packaging, T-shirt logos and anywhere you fancy a blast of retro-contemporary chic!


Emblema Headline

Corradine Fonts have taken a slightly different approach to many of their peers with their Emblema Headline font. Where most have gone down the 1800’s wood-block route with simple shapes and uniform dimensions, Corradine have opted to take the Deco path. The now-standard layering, shadow and inline effects are all present and correct, but paired with elegant proportions, 20’s-style vintage curves, small caps and a range of aesthetic quirks that set it apart from many of the alternatives.

Emblema is currently on offer with the full family of 52 for under £10, which represents outstanding value!


Core Circus Rough

Lastly (but my no means leastly) we have Core Circus Rough from the consistently innovative S-Core foundry. S-Core have taken layered font combos to new heights with their ‘Core’ font systems, with a sense of fun and playfulness not always obvious elsewhere. Core Circus is no exception, thriving on colour, packed with entertaining alternatives and options, and perfect for bold, celebratory designs.



Fonts: Brandon Printed (HVD Fonts), Microbrew (Albatross), Roper (Andrew Footit), Nexa Rust (Fontfabric), Lulo (Yellow Design Studio), Gist Rough (Yellow Design Studio), Emblema Headline (Corradine Fonts), Core Circus Rough (S-Core), Butternut (Ryan Keightley), Appareo (Kimmy Design)

Helpful Things

Type tips Pt 1: Getting uptight with ligatures, and other OpenType fun

OK, so you’ve got got hold of a fancy new font, and you know there are all sorts of slick and swirly delights hiding within it. But when you try to use it, it all just looks a bit… well… plain. So how the heck do you make the most of these extra typographic features?

If you’ve read any of the font friday posts elsewhere on the blog you may have seen mention of OpenType, or references to using “OpenType-aware software”. OpenType fonts (.otf files) are the key to unlocking the extras buried within a font, since they allow type designers to bundle additional characters and features in the typeface, along with a set of rules on when to show them.

Not all OpenType fonts are created equal of course – the extra time and effort needed to make these fonts generally mean you’re unlikely to find advanced type features in most free fonts. And even then, not all paid fonts contain extra typographic features, although most font libraries (such as will make it quite clear if they do.

There are some great free fonts out there though, such as the immaculately produced “Calendas Plus” from Atipo which is available to download for just the cost of a Tweet of Facebook Like from their website. Also, if you’ve installed any Adobe software in the past few years you’ll have had a few feature-packed fonts automatically added to your system. Keep an eye out for any with the word “Pro” in their name – this is usually a dead giveaway that they’ve got some interesting extras hiding underneath the hood.

The most common of these extras are ligatures, where two or more letters are combined into a single shape. Chances are you’ve used one of these several times already this week without even realising it…


The ampersand is a ligature originating from the latin “et”. You can still clearly see the original letters in the ampersands of some fonts, but over time this shape has become abstracted and simplified into the more common “&” shape.

The ampersand originated from hand-written script, and has become commonplace enough to earn its own place on our keyboards. To discover most other advanced type features however, we need to dig a little deeper. This is where we need our OpenType-aware software, as not all software supports these extra features. The list of apps is unfortunately fairly limited, although many will have a copy of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign installed, all of which support OpenType. Oddly, Photoshop Elements still doesn’t have OpenType options. Boo… For anyone who doesn’t have access to Adobe’s professional software, Microsoft Word may fill the gap. Users since 2010 have had access to an “Advanced” font panel with all the extra type features you need.

Photoshop’s OpenType options are available from the Character palette menu:


Illustrator has a dedicated OpenType palette:


Word gives users access to advanced type options through its font panel:


Ligatures in action

So we’ve got hold of some sort of OpenType-friendly software, and selected our font of choice. Lets see how things actually work in practice. (N.B I’m using Calendas Plus here as mentioned above – other fonts may handle their ligatures slightly differently).

It’s handy to have a test phrase when scrutinising fonts for Opentype features – one which contains the right combinations of characters to let the typeface best show off its wares. The phrase I tend to use is a nonsensical sentence, but it contains most of the letter pairings commonly combined in OpenType fonts. Let’s start by taking a look at how it looks without any extra type features activated…


At first glance it seems OK, but after looking at it a bit more closely there’s something annoying about that letter ‘f’. Lower-case ‘f’ has always been a problem for printers… It looms over the lower-case ‘t’, it squares up aggressively to stare out the ‘i’, it invades the personal space of the ‘l’, and just stands plain awkwardly next to its twin.

Problems with ‘f’, ‘l’, ‘t’ and the like were taken so much for granted in the past that most metal type was produced with ligatures for these as a matter of course, with single blocks or stamps containing a combined character that could used in place of the sets of letters. These common stand-in characters became referred to as “standard” ligatures. So lets try that phrase again with standard ligatures activated in our software:


The font has replaced these problem letter groups for the appropriate ligature – the ‘fi’ with a wider loop at the top of the ‘f’ to also provide a cap to the ‘i’, the ‘ft’ shares a common crossbar, the ‘ff’ now look like a much more comfortable pairing and the ‘fl’ are now linked at the top. Much neater.

Even iOS and Android have started to embrace standard ligatures, with the latest versions of each operating system making these substitutions automatically. This makes the type a lot more elegant, particularly on small screens where text can seem cramped at the best of times.

That’s standard ligatures then, but some fonts go a step further and have a secondary set of ‘discretionary’ ligatures. These tend to be more decorative in nature, and are intended to be used at your discretion… Hence the name. Activating discretionary ligatures on our sentence below gives the following:


Some discretionary ligatures combine frequently occurring letter pairs (like ‘ck’ or ‘st’) into a single elegant design. In some cases these reflect a historical usage, while in others the type designers are purely having a bit of typographic fun – you quite often see this in script fonts such as Cantoni Pro, where applying discretionary ligatures to the word ‘and’ replaces the characters with a much more ornate alternative.

I’ll be looking at some of these more creative type features in the next Type Tips post, including contextual alternates, titling alternates, and of course those swooping, swirling swashes.


Fonts: Calendas Plus (Atipo) – Free download / Pay with a Tweet

Design Work · Helpful Things

Font Friday: Appareo

Font Friday is a series of posts showcasing new or interesting fonts that have caught my eye this week. This week it’s the vintage-influenced Appareo, a typeface straight from the pages of an antique book…

Appareo is the latest font family from the hand of Kimmy Kirkwood, owner of boutique design studio Kimmy Design. Kimmy offers an eclectic collection of typefaces, from the on-trend retro serif of Station to the hand-drawn whimsy of Lunchbox. All are executed to perfection, with multiple weights and textures, OpenType alternates for a human touch on the hand-drawn characters and regularly come with complementary ornaments and extras.

For Appareo Kimmy has turned to vintage books and the pages within, creating an imperfect, worn serif. The family consists of a range of weights (with italic options), each having a varying degree of distress. The fully set Black has the press and ink fully set into the page while Medium, Light and Extralight are progressively lighter in print, with more obvious textures.

As with Lunchbox, each character has several OpenType variations. This means no two same letters will ever be found adjacent, creating the appearance of an aged printing press. A selection of arrows, banners and flourishes complete the family, making this an ideal package for design-based work rather than simply setting text.

The high level of detail means that Appareo wouldn’t really be suitable for large blocks of small-size text or use as a webfont, but it would be perfect for anyone looking to give a touch of vintage authenticity to invitations, menus, labelling or other print design.

Inspiration this week is an attempt to coax the weather back to the sunny excess of previous weeks, with the promise of long drinks and classic cocktails…

More examples of Appareo in use can be found on Kimmy’s MyFonts store, where the entire font family is currently available for the discounted rate of $21.


Fonts: Appareo (Kimmy Design)

Design Work · Helpful Things

Font Friday: The Luxx

Font Friday is a series of posts showcasing new or interesting fonts that have caught my eye this week. This week it’s The Luxx, a bold Deco with a twist

I’d not come across the Valencia-based Resistenza Studio before now, but I’m wishing I had. The duo of Giuseppe Salerno and Paco Gonzalez have been producing some outstanding work for several years now, flitting effortlessly between crafted vintage typography, effortless brushwork and exquisite hand lettering.

The Luxx is an update of a font the studio first released back in the 2010, inspired by Italian Art Deco posters and advertising of the 1930s. The original ‘Luxx’ incarnation of the typeface was true to the authentic form of the era – all perfect geometrics, even weights, truncated descenders and a flat serpentine ‘S’. The simple 2013 addition of ‘The’ to the name however has heralded a whole host of OpenType extras with extra language support, bold ligatures, in-filled letters and lots of edgy alternates. These additions bring things right up to date meaning The Luxx is equally at home in retro or ultra-modern designs, and perfect for print and design work at all sizes.

Musical soundtrack this Friday is courtesy of 80’s hip-hoppers Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, who managed to combine an admirable sentiment with one the most niggling earworms of all time.

More examples of The Luxx in use can be found on Resistanza’s MyFonts store, where the font is currently available at a discounted rate.


Fonts: The Luxx (Giuseppe Salerno / Resistenza)

Design Work · Helpful Things

Client Work: Utterly Wow Logo & Website Design

Setting up your own company can be quite a handful, with lots to organise and plenty of decisions that need to be made before you introduce yourself to your future customers.

It would take either a particularly organised or totally bonkers mind to try and do that at the same time as arranging something as involved as a wedding, right? Particularly one packed with as many carefully crafted personal details as this. Fortunately Sama Hemsley is in the former camp (I think). Doubly fortunately the business she was working on was Utterly Wow, a boutique wedding planning & design company, so amazing organisational skills are sort of essential!

Sama had already found a voice for her brand with her popular blog, so had a clear idea of her audience and how she wanted the business to look and feel. After a few Pinterest sessions and some design reviews we came up with a clean, modern logo and a fresh, peachy colour palette. Following a brief interlude while wedding plans stepped up a notch, we got to work on the website.

The website itself is a bespoke WordPress theme, with custom post types for Sama’s featured couples and lots of feed-packed widgets and slideshows to keep the homepage interesting and fresh. Webfonts are used in key areas to give a bit of typographic interest, while the summery tones are complemented by the whitewashed wooden page background, preventing the palette from overwhelming the colourful photos to be found in the Show + Tell section.

Take a look at some details from the project below, or swing by the Utterly Wow website yourself to see things first hand!


Website: Design and WordPress custom theme development
Fonts: Lato (Łukasz Dziedzic / Google Webfonts), Amarelinha (PintassilgoPrints), Cocobella, Brandon Grotesque