by Thomas Phinney
Here’s another really first-rate type family that is quite versatile but little seen: Penumbra (available in 16 fonts, four styles x four weights). This 1994 all-caps design by Lance Hidy is based on his own poster lettering. The letter proportions are in turn based on the classical Roman lettering of 2000 years ago, most frequently seen today in serifed form in Adobe’s Trajan.
The unusual thing about Penumbra is that it has a continuum of four designs from sans serif to fully serifed, with two steps in between Sans, Flare, Half-Serif and Serif sub-families. Penumbra was originally created as a Multiple Master typeface, a technology which is being phased out, but is still interesting enough that it will doubtless be the subject of a future blog posting.
Here are four of the sixteen Penumbra fonts:
Penumbra Sans Light
Penumbra Serif Regular
Penumbra Sans Semibold
Penumbra Serif Bold
In its pure sans serif form, Penumbra almost recalls Futura or other geometric sans serifs, while in the pure serif form it has the versatility of the previously mentioned Trajan, while being more robust. I think one can use Penumbra for titling/display work anywhere one might think of using Trajan or all-caps Futura, which is saying a lot: book and magazine covers, posters, flyers and headlines are all fine candidates for Penumbra.
I must confess I owe a personal debt to Penumbra: it was the typeface that made me rethink the relationship between classical roman forms and geometric ones, and showed me how well those classical proportions could be used in a sans serif (though of course it was not the first to do so). My own upcoming typeface, Hypatia Sans (of which more later), represents my own take on this issue, among others.