Slab Serif Fonts: Most Popular Typefaces, Best for Webfonts
The early 1800 saw the birth of the Egyptian typeface, technically known as Slab serif. The term Egyptian was deemed by others as a misnomer, in which it was derived from the craze the country made after the 3 year expedition of Napoleon. It seemed like it was the most convenient term and because of its popularity, has become the nomenclature for the typeface. The birthplace of Slab Serif was Britain in which print advertising was still very popular. The radical advances in advertising strategies inspired this bold new typeface.
Typeface was initially geared towards long stretches of texts like in newspapers and in books, but with the changes in innovation as well as increase in the prevalence of advertising; the need for a typeface that shouts at the person and stands out amongst the crowd became essential. Posters have to shout and billboards have to scream. Even if slab serif was a young innovation compared to other typefaces, it also is one of the constantly changing and innovating typefaces, adapting to consumer need and changes in aesthetics.
Defining the form
Slab serif carries a very prominent form: slab-like, bold, and square cut fonts. In the first few decades of the 19th century, radical developments in typography would result to three prominent typeface varieties including sans serif, fat faces, and the slab serif. The actual origins of this typeface are hard to determine but experts agree it came from signwriting. Based on an analysis by James Mosely, it wasn’t until Figgins’ first Egyptian printing type appeared that a true slab-serif typeface existed. The first iteration was in upper case letters only and the serifs are thick as the main letter strokes.
Based on an 1823 specimen by Figgins, experts believed that slab serif was indeed based on fat faces. The capital letters may carry consistent modulations but with small letters, the modulations were varied, loosely based on the fat faces. Like many other revolutionary and unique typographies, the slab serif met disdain and callous remarks from critics. Even those from typefoundries felt that it may be too much.
Figgins continues development of slab-serif in which italics on capital letters were introduced in 1821 while further developments of the small letters have been introduced in 1825. A few years on, the slab serif has become commonplace as emphasis for typographic data such as headings or as bold type within texts.
Slab Serif began gaining traction in the industry. By 1845, the Clarendon, a sub-category of the Slab-serif has emerged and carries a distinct appeal due to its gentler form. The modulations between thick and thin are present as well as bracketed serifs and stress on verticals. Another popular version was the Ionic which carries a robust appeal which is why it was preferred for news printing.
At the end of the 19th century, there has been a considerable disuse and unpopularity towards the use of Egyptian Slab serif. During the early 20th century especially the 1920s, sans serif became the typeface for its no-nonsense, utilitarian appeal. It was until the 1930s when slab serif would become visible again.
The Golden Type by William Morris can be attributed as the seed that would reincarnate the slab serif. While Morris claim that the roman type from Jenson was its basis, the slab serif was very much present on the typeface.
In 1929, Eric Gill would create Solus which would firmly plant Slab serif revival. While the creation of Solus was to try and balance readability and design issues of Slab serif, the advertising market still snubbed the said typeface since it did not carry that Egyptian blackness and it was not able to fully transfigure the 19th century form for 20th century needs.
Compared to the 19th century ones, the 1930 Slab serifs have modulating thin and thick strokes with more humanist proportions. Sadly, since the focus of Gill’s work were for readability, they tend to be more ideal for texts compared to advertising.
If Gill did not appease the advertising market, the Germans would have a profound interest in it. With a different approach, particularly of a modernist kind, Slab serif would enter a different type of type with the Memphis, created by Stempel. This style is monolinear in form but with slight curves along the adjoinment to prevent the areas from becoming too black. This unique approach to slab serif made it successful. During the 1930s, the Germans dominated in reviving the slab serif with Britain and America following suit. The new slab serif styles were designed for both continuous and display texts. However, their popularity was still overshadowed by prominent sans serif because of the popularity of modernistic design.
Monolinearity and geometric forms present in slab serif were more reminiscent of the machine age than contemporary age and that is why some consider that it cannot be relevant for continuous text.
Most Usable Slab Serif Fonts
PF Centro Slab Pro
Lab Slab Pro
Today’s take on slab serif
One of the best slab serifs used today is the Archer which is good enough for extended texts. The Officina serif also carries a robust appeal that would look well on paper. A very popular one, used by Milton Glaser, was the ITC American Typewriter, used in the iconic I Heart New York Logo. The great thing about these types is that they work well even on poor quality paper.