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Reverse Contrast

The reversal of the contrast in a typeface opens up a host of uncharted letter-drawing possibilities.

Yves Peters
Last edited September 16, 2014

Reversed-stress typefaces occupy a funny little corner of the world of typeface design. While most genres have grown organically, these faces intentionally flip conventions on their head, with jarring, amusing, and sometimes even useful results.

These faces can offer more to typography than the novelty of gunslingers and swinging saloon doors. On his website Backasswards David Jonathan Ross explores the history of the genre, taking a closer look at some particularly interesting specimens, and detailing the drawing challenges that arise when the thick parts get thin and the thin parts get thick.

One of the hardest parts of drawing a typeface is finding a new approach to the same old alphabet. This Fontlist demonstrates how the reversal of one little attribute is enough to open up a host of uncharted letter-drawing possibilities.

Fontlist and copy by David Jonathan Ross.

You never must sausage a place

Developed over a ten year period, FF Balance is an experimental sans serif that subverts the conventions of the style. Its horizontal strokes are heavier than the verticals and its top strokes appear slightly heavier than the bottom. Another unusual feature is the family’s uniwidth metrics. All weights and numerals of the family... Read More

Survivors will be shot again

Figaro is a very condensed slab serif design of the kind associated with nineteenth century advertising. The Figaro font has considerable weight contrast in the strokes, with a marked weight emphasis on the horizontal elements, including the serifs. Use the Figaro font for display and advertising and for 'Wild West' style posters.

Let us do the birds friend

Westside™ was designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1989 and can be classified as a "wood type." It is reminiscent of dusty streets, Wild West heroes and swinging saloon doors. The origins of wood types are found in the early nineteenth century, when such types really were cut in wood, and printed on hand presses. Westside has big fat serifs and heavy horizontals that are much thicker than the skinny... Read More

Move fast and break stuff

Tony Wenman designed the display typeface Bottleneck in the early 1970s and its figures reflect the spirit of the times. Its distinguishing characteristic is the extreme heaviness of the serifs in the lower third of the characters, a trait which the viewer could associate with the plateau shoes of the 1970s. Bottleneck is a carefree, playful typeface which can be found even today on... Read More

Careful tiny grass is dreaming

Designed by Dave West and released in 1960, the name Barnum associates this face with the famous nineteenth-century traveling American circus and showman P.T. Barnum. The wood-cut influence of the letter makes the PL Barnum Block font ideal for posters, signage and creative titling and packaging.

Never put a sock in a toaster

Zipper is a striking font designed in 1970 by Phillip Kelly for the Letraset dry transfer sheets and it shows itself as a true child of the 1970s. The most distinguishing characteristic is the markedly robust horizontal stroke, heavier by far than the verticals. In a line of text, the figures present a close, stripe-like line, strongly dominated by the horizontal. Zipper is meant exclusively... Read More

Evert Bloemsma
FontFont 1993
Robert Harling
Monotype.Design Studio

Adrian Frutiger
Linotype 1989
Tony Wenman
ITC 1972
Dave West