A Guide to the Basic Characteristics of Old Style Fonts

Old Style Fonts Embraced the Transition from Hand-Lettering to Print

Keys on antique typewriter keyboard
William Andrew/Getty Images

In typography, Old Style is a style of serif font developed by Renaissance typographers in the 15th century. It replaced the Blackletter style of type that was in popular use in hand-lettered writings of the day. Many of the letterforms were based initially on pen-drawn strokes.

Characteristics of Old Style Fonts

Old Style fonts are based on ancient Roman inscriptions and typically are characterized by:

  • Low contrast between thick and thin strokes
  • Wedge-shaped serifs
  • Left-leaning axis or stress
  • Small x-heights
  • Lowercase ascenders taller than the height of capital letters
  • Numerals have ascenders and descenders and vary in size

Types of Old Style Fonts

There are two groups of Old Style typefaces:

  • Venetian (Renaissance): Venetian Old Style fonts enjoyed a revival in popularity in the 20th century. Venetian fonts read well in large sections of type making them good choices for books. Characterized by obvious diagonal stress and a slanted bar on the lowercase "e," some type classification systems put Venetian into its own class apart from Old Style. Bembo, Centaur, Jensen, and Berkeley Oldstyle are examples of Venetian Old Style fonts.
  • Garalde (Baroque): With a horizontal bar on the lowercase "e," more wedge-like serifs, slightly less diagonal stress than the Venetian Old Style, and a little more contrast between thick and thin strokes, this style is divided further by country of origin—Italian, French, Dutch, and English. Garamond, Goudy Oldstyle, Century Oldstyle, Palatino, and Sabon are examples of Old Style serif fonts. The term "garalde" is a mashup of the names of two prominent typographers of the period: Claude Garamond and Aldus Manutius.