Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Fabbrica: A sans serif typeface with a utilitarian aesthetic (cinetype.com)
135 points by kmckiern on March 13, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

The font is beautiful. The license is unworkable.

How should an organization keep track of the number of users working with a font? It's an expensive and practical problem that's outside the core business of any company. Even with the most expensive package, there is still a cap and that's a at 1500 USD which is a steep price considering the competition is free.

Then we have the license agreement. First it's too long. Yes seriously. Getting company lawyers involved makes sense when doing something risky, expensive or complicated like hiring from abroad. Not for using a font or buying a cup of coffee. There is nothing complicated about these transactions. It's made complicated by the agreement.

Skimming through the contract...

> you undertake to keep all copies of the Font Software secure and to maintain accurate and up-to-date records of the number and locations of all copies of the Font Software

Expensive and practically difficult in a small organization and even worse in a bigger one.

> These terms are governed by English law and you can bring legal proceedings in respect of the products in the English courts.

Well that's great, now we need an _English_ legal team.

This is a fantasy.

I used worked for a relatively well known type foundry. Font licensing still has a hangover, pretty much all foundries license by user number or organisation size. Having designed and/or mastered quite a few families, my opinion is the sense of worth most designers attach to their own work is usually severely inflated, and pricing tends to reflect that.

Cutting type used to require a huge amount of skill of course, but it is relatively easy to design well drawn type with modern software these days. It takes time to draw multiple weights and styles, but it's certainly not as skillful as most would assume. The number of new "foundries" that have popped up over the past few years is telling.

The amount organisations used to pay for custom type jobs was insane, given how much work it actually was to deliver them. The value attached to the aesthetic of the particular designer being hired is also debatable in my experience, very rarely did clients reject or amend what they were presented with. I've also drawn fonts that have been attributed to other designers, and nobody seems to notice.

I think things are changing slowly as the market becomes more saturated, but licensing like this is outdated in my opinion.

Luckily this is nowadays easily worked around with free type faces (like from https://fonts.google.com). I don't find many type faces that are so amazing I'd want kilometers of red tape around my project for them.

> The font is beautiful. The license is unworkable.

For anyone looking for a beautiful geometric sans-serif with an open source license, I can highly recommend Inter: https://rsms.me/inter/

Inter appears to have broader language support, has a variable font version, and is also now available via Google Fonts (for anyone who cares about that). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_font

Agreed. Inter is one of my favorites to use on web stuff.

> you undertake to keep all copies of the Font Software secure and to maintain accurate and up-to-date records of the number and locations of all copies of the Font Software

That's an interesting clause given that everyone can just download the font files from the linked web page. Or do the original font files contain information that isn't in the WOFF format?

I have a pet peeve about font licensing.

Typographers struggle to make a living in most cases, but yet they don't offer better font licenses. I don't understand why they don't make it simple single license term for all usecases and make a sale. It's masochistic.

Selling typeface licenses by number of seats / CPUs is pretty standard in the industry. Take a look at the pricing on one of Hoefler’s typefaces for example: https://typography.com/fonts/operator/style

I thought about buying Hoefler fonts because they have some extra features and e.g. engraved style but the licensing is just too much work for me. How do I know how many computer's I'll have or how many page views? I'm looking for a "pay money -> use font" type of deal.

Thankfully there are some quite nice SIL or OTF licenced fonts available.

You might not like it, but this is routine for commercial font licensing. Whether it seems outdated by wider licensing standards isn't particularly relevant.

Similarly, all the people saying the competition is free aren't the target market for a good quality font with a degree of exclusivity. You aren't going to find that combination from sources like Google Fonts.

Meanwhile, the kind of customer who is going to value this kind of work and actually pay for it is probably going to accept the licensing conditions. They might not like them either, but since almost everyone offering something to this market is doing so on similar terms right now, it's a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal.

Standard form contracts saying they are governed by the laws of the place where the supplier is based are also completely routine. US companies frequently even specify an individual state favourable to them for this purpose. And yet, business still happens.

I owned an ad agency for a a decade. We treated licenses like this as unusable and I even had our legal team draft up a white paper we would share with our clients about these kind of licenses and the hidden expenses and difficulties using them would create. I can only imagine trying to figure out how many cpus in even a modern small business...

How often did you use commercial fonts in your client work? Almost every major foundry has had terms along similar lines for a long time. I've never seen one offer a completely unlimited licence for their fonts, other than for private commissions. Well, not openly and at a price they're willing to advertise in public, at least.

Regularly. We'd probably have opted to not license from this foundry because of this clause in the license:

"9.6 Cinetype Limited reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace this Agreement at any time. If a revision is material we will provide at least 30 days' notice prior to any new terms taking effect."

This is an unneeded Darth Vader clause.

I know these things can be easily misleading, and I tried my best with the IP lawyer to make the EULA intelligible and simple as much as possible. This particular clause shouldn’t be seen as potentially damaging for the customer. I want to be absolutely clear about this: you buy the font now, and the EULA included in the package that you get will be valid forever.

But as a business, I cannot tie myself to a document that is published and that in two years’ time could be obsolete. I understand some people think it’s already obsolete, but it’s not. With one license you have what most commonly requires three licenses: Desktop, Web and App.

Regarding the tiers, the principle is simple: the font is a value for a business, either in terms of brand value or product value, and a business pays according to the value that the font brings.

A startup with little investment has all what it needs to adopt the font throughout the entire range of usages and assets (in Print and Digital).

Going back to the ‘Darth Vedery’ clause. If there will be any change to the EULA, this will apply to the fonts distributed from the time we will publish the new EULA (this is also why EULAs come with a version number and a publication date).

The new EULA won’t work retrospectively. That would be beyond evil, I totally agree. No fear of “Luke, I am your father” kind of situation. If previous customers will find the new EULA a better fit for their needs, they will be free to comply to it, if not, they will refer to the original EULA attached to the font they bought. In simple words, older customers will always have the best of what comes next.

Imho, the licensing agreement creates a barrier for purchase while likely providing little protection because much of it is likely not enforceable in practice.

I agree such clauses are absurd. Of course whether it has as much legal weight as the paper it is never going to be printed on is another matter.

I thought the objections to the licensing in this case were more about the limitations like having a maximum number of users covered, but perhaps I misunderstood what at least some people were upset about.

When I worked at a design firm we used different fonts for almost every client application. We had clients in Europe and Asia so all our fonts had to support whatever language was needed for the client. If the font the client wanted was under a license we didn’t support, we would reach out to the creator and negotiate a single application license. These license are more flexible, not limit usage, and often expensive. But that cost was paid by the client. We also offered a variety of in-house sdf fonts that supported many features like: circular kerning, character morphing, font blending.

Most of the applications we did where built off of our custom interactive engine and the font renderer was very flexible and rivaled browsers at the time as well as supporting emergent tech like dynamic sdf fonts.

I think the key point there is that you were dealing with individually negotiated licences. Obviously when enough money is involved, there may be deals to be done privately. I doubt any of those deals involved price tags as low as the licences we have been discussing today, though.

The $1500 license for this font isn’t too far off from the single use licenses; also, I didn’t see any usage info about marketing material. It depends on the application/game/font with prices from $1000-$5000.

$1000 for the rights to incorporate a font in a specific application you're selling is one thing, but that's still a limited scope. Surely you weren't paying so little for unlimited use and redistribution rights for a full, professional-quality font family?

Edit: Sorry, I missed the reference to single applications in your earlier comment. In that case, what you were saying makes a lot more sense.

What are the hidden expenses in this case?

And a note, the license applies to users, not CPUs. If I have two computers, one tablet and one mobile phone, I'm still one user, and I can use the font on as many devices as I want.

I’m in the game industry and we use a lot of different fonts. I have never seen a game company buy one of these obtuse licensed fonts. I started my career in the design industry and I quickly steered my peers away from these licenses. The licenses just aren’t designed for modern applications. Often, as well, is that these fonts haven’t been tested on rendering systems other than browser/OS level and need a lot of work and adjustment to work.

Where do you see game companies sourcing their fonts? It's not my field, but I had the (possibly incorrect) impression from some past discussions that a lot of fonts used in games are created for individual titles much like other artwork. I doubt many game studios are trying to license fonts like Gotham for unlimited use.

In my experience Game companies buy giant font packs (unlimited license) and then use them as needed. You’re right that a lot of fonts are custom made or heavily modified in game, but not all fonts are. A lot of game text is shared between games so they use common fonts.

Also the requirement for wide characters like Russian or Chinese make a lot of “toy” fonts unusable.

The target market for any product is people who buy the product. However much they value the work, want exclusivity etc doesn't factor in.

However much they value the work, want exclusivity etc doesn't factor in.

Of course it does. Someone who doesn't see value in a work is never likely to buy it. Promoting the work to that person is a waste of the seller's time. Offering more generous terms to try to squeeze out an extra sale to that person reduces the benefit of all other sales, and it might not get that extra sale anyway. As a business strategy, it doesn't make sense.

The licensing is a nightmare, I agree. I immediately fall in love with the font and then I saw the licensing! Number of users????

Don't get me wrong, I'm a typehead. But, how does a commercial font end up on the first page of HN?

+1 on that. It's a really beautiful font, and I'd love to make it my new default. ...but I'd never pay for a font on a per-user basis.

1. I love it. I'll probably be buying it. 2. I'm a little surprised a font, and more specifically, a commercial, variable width font, made to the front page.

I thought it was an absurd post until I saw the shape of the lowercase T and L and immediately fell in love.

But genuinely, I think it's because the post is really quite well written and on a subject that's probably a bit esoteric to most people.

Great font, it seems like IBM Plex Sans's cousin.

Also kudos to the Cinetype. I believe more foundries should offer licenses in package (1-3 user install, 10-20k web, maybe even 1 book).


Hi everybody! Fabbrica designer here. If you have any question, or if you have any feedback, I would be super happy to hear.

I love not only the aesthetic of this font, but the presentation of the rationale and ideas behind it.

Licensing is tricky, as others have already commented - I'd personally like to see a simple, affordable license for small biz.

Any chance of single-seat pricing? I would like to buy the font pack exclusively for personal use in editors on a work laptop, for myself only, on only one computer. It seems like the cheapest license is $50 for one font, 5 seats, and a limited amount product usage (not exactly sure what that is).

I understand if it's not practical to offer a smaller/cheaper license. This is the first set of fonts I've ever been interested in paying money for, so great job!

Hello, I'm glad you like the font. Would you DM me so I can come back to you? You can find my contact at cinetype.com .

Quick answer about the product usage: the font can be embedded in a limited amount of products (defined in the License chosen). Products can be, for example, apps, softwares, video games, ebooks, dashboards, mobile devices.

Hi! Are there any monospace fonts which go well with this? I found JetBrains Mono to be a good choice: https://www.jetbrains.com/lp/mono/

I'm not the OP but I think IBM Plex Mono would be good companion for this typeface.

I found the argument about balance within individual characters interesting: the direction of stems and the white space between them. As an example, N is shown. However, I it feels top heavy to me, almost unstable - which is not something I expected for a utilitarian font. Any comment on that design choice?

You are definitely right. The slightly, almost out-of-balance feeling is an integral part of the design. The white areas within letters are not of equal weight, and this creates the internal dynamism that I’m referring to. B is a good example. The lower mass of white is bigger than the upper one and this gives the feeling that is pushing upwards, while the upper mass of white is contrasting it. There is not a perfect equilibrium between the two areas, and this creates a tension that I was looking for.The overall stems construction holds in place the two forces.I still find the font utilitarian in its nature. It is quite easy to use, and flexible; I would define it as a workhorse, but with its personality. Its features become more relevant at bigger sizes, but they are toned down enough to work well at smaller sizes. I have to say that possibly the N is one of the more border-line cases, and I’m considering keeping the more traditional one as default, and use this as stylistic alternate. It’s been a while since I’m thinking about it, and some comments here confirm it might be a good idea.

B definitely triggered the OCD in me for it to be symmetric. The rest of the font looked so balanced and the B kept screaming to me for help

If you look at B in most fonts: it is not meant to be symmetric. The bottom is usually heavier, providing stability, on which the top sits. The bottom also needs to align somewhat with the x-height of lowercase characters to not look out of place - hence be taller than the upper half. Pure symmetry is not the correct measure in fonts.

Personal questions:

What initially attracted you to crafting typefaces? And what continues to fuel your attraction to this specific area of design?

Uh! This is a good question. I studied Graphic design & Visual communication, and I wanted to work on film titles for my final dissertation, a topic that I’m particularly fond of. Of course, typography is one of the key ingredients of a film title, so I’ve started to study type and typography, and I basically never stopped. After several books, I pivoted and focused exclusively on typefaces. My final dissertation became designing a typeface for film subtitles (still hanging around cinema but from another perspective : ).

I guess today I’m still doing this for three primary reasons:

– It allows me to discover and learn new things daily. Letters are everywhere and with so many forms and functions that I won’t get never bored and as society and culture develops, so design does, including type design.

– It gives me full control of the design and production processes; I can make a typeface from the first sketches to the final delivery with no need of a print-shop, or a factory, or anything else. This also means that I’m fully responsible of all the problems you will see in my typefaces. But it’s ok, I like to be accountable for what I do : )

– It is a sort of monastic, iper-focused specialty that requires a lot of attention and discipline, and somehow fits pretty well with my designer persona. I find it to be a pretty zen activity.

What are the tools and how did you get started? I'm a typography enthusiast and digital designer myself, but the intricacies of creating fonts has always eluded me.

Started with FontLab around 2003. Nowadays, my primary tool for development is Glyphs. It’s very easy to use, it’s pretty quick to learn how to use it, and it has quite an active forum/community open to help. Also, you can find plenty of tutorial around. Production wise, apart Glyphs, I use OTMaster quite a lot, fontmake and fonttools (these two are command line tools). VTT (Visual TrueType) for hinting.

My first experiments with fonts were pure trash, bad under many respects. Either super modular and stiff, or completely unaware of letterform construction (how the weight distribution works, proportions, etc.). Most useful thing for myself is to have a brief in mind and to give a sense to the shapes I draw.

I would study letterform, trying to reverse-engineer the design, looking at patterns within each letter but also among the whole alphabet. For example, how the shape of the curves is implemented across the glyph set (if you go for squarish curves, you would expect to get a similar personality wherever you have a curve).Feel free to drop me a line if you need more advice. There are also few good books that can help to focus on the important bits of letterforms construction.

I really like this! It has a wonderful balance of strength and warmth. Small question: the lower left part of the bowl on lower case b seems to get a bit thin. At least on my phone it almost looks like there is a missing pixel. Is this something you've looked at?

Thanks a lot. The balance between strength and warmth is really something that I think identifies the typeface.

I haven’t noticed anything in the lowercase ‘b’, but I’m running further rasterisation tests as we speak, and I’ll push out an update that hopefully addresses the issue. Thanks a lot for the feedback. Much appreciated.

Love the writeup, which had the inadvertent side effect of sending me shopping for DIN, in which the letter tails use less % of letter shape. For me it’s faster reading while just as (more?) industrial. Thanks for your work, and for showing DIN 2014!

The "N" is too distracting. It makes me always look twice to see if is I+Y.

Totally agree. It looks like there's an alternate version available via OpenType, which is much more traditional.

I'm floored by how good this looks! I'd buy a license if it wasn't so restrictive (as others have mentioned).

I love the balance you struck between "rationality" and "warmth". Fabbrica is beautiful!

Some problems:

a has a larger aperture than c, s, C, S, e, etc.

f, t have unusually sharp overhangs but that's the style you're going for. I am not a fan of IBM's Plex's sharp corners either because it ruins the texture of the font. Either make all corners tight or not. Their argument is "Machine + Humans" or "Tight corners + Soft curves" but your eyes don't give a shit about those things.

a's tail is too long

A, V have a massive opened corners (usually done for small size readability) but Z, X, Y's crotch doesn't. You need consistency here.

Double-story g is hard to justify in a font based on drafting templates and generally doesn't feel like it fits into this type of a typeface. However, its ok to take some liberty here.

Fitting needs work first. S's side bearings need to be cut down by a lot. o, c, e's fitting is much larger than it should be.

There is a lot of work to be done here. I am pretty grumpy generally so don't take this too seriously. Have fun and hope you're enjoying the process!

Looks nice in headings, but I found the text on this page difficult to read. As in, it actually irritated my eyes. I wouldn't use this in running text (for which serif fonts are better in any case, as most books on typography recommend).

To the contrary, serif fonts irritate my eyes. This font was quite pleasant to read in. Which book on typography recommends serif fonts, and based on what studies?

As a general rule, I recommend eschewing one-size-fits-all rules with fonts. Let the users customize. Some dyslexic people find Comic Sans more readable than most other fonts.

The recommendation for serif fonts is standard, although the research on legibility is inconclusive. But pull a book at random from your shelf and open it up: what do you see? Right.

Serif fonts were worse for reading on the blurry screens that we all used to have. But now that print-like resolution on phones and laptops is commonplace, the classic rules for typography have reasserted their relevance on the web. Nevertheless, because of fashion and force of habit, sans-serif fonts still predominate.

The recommendation is not standard. They usually go with their personal biases and recommend sans for websites and serif for print. I can pull plenty of books from my bookshelf that have pages with a little too much ink (and some c's look like o's) or too little ink (and some e's look like c's, d's look like cl's, etc.) For these reasons, most serif fonts are defective even if we don't compare them to sans-serif fonts.

Fashion and force of habit do play a role. And that's why most newsprint websites have reverted to serif fonts. Responsive websites that help to get a job done, like GMail, Protonmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. all sans, whereas NYT, WaPo, LATimes, etc. all serif. I really can't sympathize with a thought-process that motivates them to make their websites look like century-old newspapers. Screenplays are strictly in 12pt Courier. Nothing else will do, not even Courier New. Basically, century-old industries tend to be set in their ways. And the book-printing industry is even older. Small blessings, at least Courier has the benefit of being one of the dyslexic-friendly fonts.

Amazing work. The character* of the typeface really holds up in the thinnest and heaviest weights and the deliberate open mortising and rounded corners ooze the Rotring vibe.

(Typo in final para; “Fabbrica is a solid typeface”.)

Did I miss where the name comes from?


“Fabbrica” is Italian for “factory”.

> only Latin script

I don't want to make a flippant comment, but yeah, get with the times and stuff.

There is something wrong with the weights or maybe the hinting, at least on the web version. Rendering on windows is thin and spotty at the 300 weight used on the page text, and changing it to 400 makes it semi-bold instead of normal weight.

Great design though.

I also think it is quite attractive. The only character which jumped out at me as discordant and jarring was the capital N. It looks like an Old Norse rune, which looks out of place to me in context.

There's an alternate N in there!

Nice work! What are some resources you would recommend for someone interested in learning how to design a typeface?

FontForge is probably a nice place to start https://fontforge.org/en-US/

Wow, this is an amazing resource!

I like the stroke on the lowercase l. IMHO every good typeface should clearly distinguish between l and I.

Someone please help me understand terms like 'warmth' in regards to a font. Is this measurable? Is it predictable? Would such a description hold up to a randomized trial? Is it real? artist puffery? total BS?

I will assume good faith that you are not trolling.

It is none of the above. It’s an expression that people use to subjectively express how something makes them feel. In this case, there are certain characteristics to this typeface that lead people to say they feel “warmth”.

Just like when you go to a really happening party and say, “it feels alive in here”. Would it hold up to a randomised trial? Probably, or probably not. It doesn’t matter. The point is about how it made someone feel, and we now know. How would it make you feel? Whatever the answer is, is your perspective and your truth.

There’s a time and place for predictable, measurable results from randomised trials. This is not one of them. None of the great art from history were the result of scientific rigour.

It behooves one to observe reality through multiple perspectives, and question what the meaning of “real” is. I sense that randomised trials would not yield measurable and predictable results for this either.

The latent space of type design choices is large but very much finite, and concepts like "warmth" consistently refer to features like large curves, low stroke contrast, deliberate imperfections (that evoke physical reproduction) etc. I'm very confident that this would hold up to a randomized trial.

In this case, "warmth" refers mostly to the rounded corners and unique design quirks, which are meant to imply "I was crafted in analog by a seasoned master draftsman, not merely constructed from sterile geometric shapes by some hipster on a Macbook."

It doesn’t mean anything about the font, it’s how it makes someone feel. To me, I don’t “feel” anything from a font. The article does explain what they mean from warmth, but it’s is very subjective.

I have never made a font, but I have a implemented many text rendering systems over the years and worked with thousands of fonts.

Are you human? Do you have emotions? Can you quantify them?

I do find some warmth in their typeface.

Where is the warmth coming from? The description said they intended it to be industrial like steel tubing... Seems more like they chose random words from a list of words with positive connotations. Then I saw the classic artist-statement nonsense word: juxtaposed. It might be a nice type face, but the nonsense description doesn't help the cause.

The typeface looks sloppy and unrefined on my 4k windows machine running chrome. Certainly not functional, utilitarian, or elegant. The stems are of inconsistent width and glyphs are generally of inconsistent weight. I'm picking up no 'manufactured' vibes from such an organic look.

This is a face that really appeals to me. Nice, nice work. It reminds me of my father's precise lettering on his technical drawings from the 50s, especially the uppercase N.

I am pleased that this font uses a lower case l that is clearly distinct from an upper case I. Too many sans serif fonts have l and I that are nearly indistinguishable.

Looks very nice. I’m not versed in typography but it has a nice mix of mono space and San serif.

Might consider it for our company font. Currently use the roboto family

The weight is all off for me and kerning is too wide.

I don't find the kerning beautiful in the direct comparison with DIN. It looks to wide for my taste.

That’s just … spam? Posting a link to a page that tries to sell me a typeface?

I think it’s lovely.

Many many thanks!

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact