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Delights of Sweden

Bold colors and Rosewood Fill add flavor to a Scandinavian staple that is normally quite stale.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Mar 16th, 2011.

Rosewood is a chromatic typeface of two fonts meant to be overlapped for a multiple color effect.

It’s easy to chide people for using Rosewood Fill on its own, apparently ignorant of its intended purpose as a background layer for coloring Rosewood. I’ve engaged in more than my share of pretentious mockery: “There’s a reason that thing looks so wonky. Read the font name, bub!” Fonts that require more than simple keystroking will always be misused. Just as alternate glyphs are overlooked, OpenType features ignored, and scripts tracked, chromatic typefaces, like Rosewood, will be torn apart and used separately.

Carl Crossgrove, one of the designers who worked on Adobe’s Wood Type collection, has this to say about Rosewood’s (mis)use:

The project focused so much on the chromatic aspect that I don’t think anyone really considered how much use any of the separate parts would get. In order for the chromatic effect to work, the separate layers had to have the same spacing, which was determined by the visual fit of the ornamented overlayers. Those included shadows, inlines and heavy borders, and without those added effects, the fill shapes look unevenly proportioned, inexpertly drawn, badly spaced, and stiff. I think it’s exactly those traits that attract people to Rosewood Fill. It looks like something “old-fashioned”, clumsy and awkward, like a weathered relic of the wild west.

Once I get over my typographic elitism, I’m inclined to agree with Carl’s take. The prevalence of Rosewood Fill has less to do with uninformed font users as it does the lack of wood type inspired digital fonts with just the right amount of uneven, imperfect character. Those in this genre usually go too far, rendering themselves either illegible or cartoonish.

So when a brand of Swedish crisp bread called for an eye-catching package that was modern but not sterile, Stockholm firm A-B-D went with Rosewood Fill. The font’s numbers dominate the Delights of Sweden boxes, each one depicting a unique flavor of what is traditionally a very plain staple food. A-B-D created their own stencil octothorp. Rosewood’s math characters and related symbols seem to be generic additions, having nothing to do with the design of the typeface.

Paired with Snell Roundhand, the type evokes a sense of handcrafted quality, even while it’s obvious this isn’t your grandmother’s cracker. I would have opted for the Black weight of the script, though — the fine lines of Snell get lost in some of these color combos.

More about chromatic fonts: Woodtyper, Paul Gehl talk at Hamilton, Rob Roy Kelly Wood Type Collection, chromatic typefaces at MyFonts


16 Comments on “Delights of Sweden”

  1. Adam says:
    Mar 16th, 2011  2:02 pm
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    Well, now I know what a chromatic font is. Very cool.

    Rosewood Fill looks great for the big, bold numbers. I can't help but feel that it starts to look just wrong (and not in an intentional way) when used for those notoriously long Scandinavian words. Letters like the A, E and V look like they're from a different typeface than the K and R. And that K looks a little awkward and top-heavy.

  2. Sarah says:
    Mar 16th, 2011  4:12 pm
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    Weird, but "wrong" will often work. Thanks for the lovely article!

  3. Matthew says:
    Mar 16th, 2011  7:12 pm
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    I love the color combinations and type when they are extra-large as numbers but the smaller type and similar hues in the palette get muddied and lost.

  4. Colin says:
    Mar 17th, 2011  7:00 am
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    I love the Rosewood Fill asterisk. The small gaps are very subtle, but look great.

  5. Lukas says:
    Mar 17th, 2011  9:42 am
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    It’s not an asterisk and it’s not from Rosewood. Quote: "A-B-D created their own stencil octothorp." But I like it, too. Reminds me a bit of these stacks of bread.

  6. Luke Jones says:
    Mar 20th, 2011  8:01 am
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    Wow, I was a victim of naivete when using Rosewood. Then again, I am an amateur lover of typography, so that kind of makes sense. On the other hand, I know what a chromatic typeface is now, so I'm happy about that.

  7. Isaac B2 says:
    Mar 23rd, 2011  1:21 pm
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    I'm one of those guys that likes the rough wrong-ness of Rosewood. But wtf is up with Snell Roundhand here? *That* is the real type crime going on in this packaging, as it's virtually illegible at small sizes in long blocks of text.

  8. Nick Sherman says:
    Mar 23rd, 2011  1:54 pm
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    I'm gonna have to agree with Isaac. The colors and boldness with Rosewood are great, but Snell Roundhand is almost the antithesis of that feeling. It would have been better as something sturdier, like Miller or Sentinel. Or if they were limited to only using fonts that came bundled with other software (as their choices suggest), maybe Franklin or Clarendon.

  9. Mar 23rd, 2011  2:49 pm
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    I think a formal script was chosen for perhaps the same reasons as Garamond italic was used on the All About Tea packaging. It softens the starkness of the design, reinforces the idea that while this is a fresh, modern kind of product, it still has ties to traditional, handmade goods. Of course, like I say above, Snell falls apart here, and while there are heavier options (Ballantines, Tangier) they too have fairly thin hairlines because this style of script just doesn't work without stroke contrast.

    But it's not completely fair to judge a box by a screen-res JPG. Need to see it in person to know if it works on the shelf. Any Swedes out there seen these in their local market?

  10. M J McGregor says:
    Mar 24th, 2011  8:34 pm
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    Good bold elegant scripts are hard to find.

  11. Linh says:
    Mar 27th, 2011  10:11 am
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    I admit it. I am ignorant. Had no idea about Chromatic typefaces and have always liked Rosewood Fill by itself.

  12. Scott Bentley says:
    Mar 30th, 2011  6:43 am
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    Reminds me of the Dorset cereals boxes, great colours and strong type.

    Thanks for the education on chromatic font - learned something new today

  13. Jacob says:
    Apr 5th, 2011  11:13 pm
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    Wow, I always wondered why it was called "regular" and "fill." I just assumed it meant one was filled in, and they were sort of a mashup of different designs.

    I agree the ugliness is what makes it so interesting. It looks more authentic as old fashioned hand set wood type since it's so awkward and weirdly spaced. The same people who use Grotesque and Farao would probably be drawn to this type.

    But, what has been seen cannot be unseen. Whenever I see these fonts being used elsewhere I'm going to remember that it's being used wrong. Damn you, but thanks.

  14. Jacob says:
    Apr 6th, 2011  12:59 am
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    I also want to note that setting Rosewood on top of itself in both weights will line up if kerning is set to "auto" but adobe's "optical" kerning unaligns the letters. The font's native kerning must have been painstakingly worked out, which is why it lines up so perfectly

  15. Apr 6th, 2011  1:38 am
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    The font’s native kerning must have been painstakingly worked out

    Well sure, consistent kerning between the two fonts is the only way to build them so they overlay reliably. "Optical" spacing in Adobe apps ignores everything else and just looks at each pair of glyphs in a single line. It's always a good idea to start with a font's built-in kerning anyway, especially if it's coming from a reputable foundry. "Optical" is really a last ditch method.

  16. Mike says:
    May 4th, 2011  5:13 pm
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    I would have never thought of these typefaces to go together as well as they do. Along with a nice color pallet. Excellent work!

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