Both the packaging and contents of tương ớt sriracha hot chili sauce bottles from Huy Fong Foods, Inc. have become condiment icons in recent decades. Sometimes referred to as “rooster sauce” because of the rooster on its label (the illustrator of which is unknown), the chili sauce features a chaotic jumble of elements on its packaging in multiple writing systems.
The most prominent Latin text elements are rendered in a variety of informal script typefaces released by American Type Founders in the 20th century, namely Balloon and its shaded counterpart, Balloon Drop Shadow, as well as Brody. Smaller text on the back of the bottle is set in Impress and Tekton.
Unfortunately my skills with recognizing fonts for Chinese text aren’t good enough to identify those used on the label. Any insight is welcome.
It is hard to identify that bubbly sans, mainly because it might very well be the result of rasterization, scanning and vectorization for multiple times. The bubbly sans style used to be very popular in East Asia in the early days of PostScript.
The Chinese serif (“匯豐食品公司”) is definitely set in PMingLiu (新細明體), perhaps even with some faux stretching. The character “新” corresponds to the “P” suffix, since it is an updated version of the original “MingLiu” (細明體). The name, “MingLiu”, might be the Cantonese pronunciation of “明瞭”, meaning “clarity”. “明瞭” pronounced in Japanese is spelt “Meiryo”, which is also the name of a Japanese grotesque typeface bundled with Microsoft Windows.
In the West, PMingLiu has become a prominent component of what some might call the “Asian diaspora aesthetics”. In East Asia, it is seen as the signature for those typographically unenlightened. The Taoyuan International Airport (桃园国际机场) in Taiwan used to use PMingLiu for its wayfinding, attracting much criticism.
Despite its infamy, PMingLiu has a good origin. Its ancestor was Honran Minchō (本蘭明朝), a photocomposition typeface developed by the famous Japanese foundry, Sha-ken (写研). Honran Minchō's stroke edges are slightly rounded, inheriting metal type’s appearance while also anticipating the rounding effect of the photocomposition machine. More importantly, because it was optimized for book typesetting, it had an intentionally feeble design in anticipation of ink spread. Honran Minchō only had a light weight (本蘭明朝L) at first, and its popularity prompted Sha-ken to complete the family all the way to ultrabold. Below is Honran Minchō, printed:
In the 1990s, Microsoft seeked to expand the Asian market. It commissioned a Taiwanese foundry, DynacomWare (华康科技), to design a traditional Chinese typeface to be included in Windows 3.1. DynacomWare unscrupulously (as many Taiwanese foundries also have been) copied Honran Minchō. Without proper type design training and judgment, DynacomWare kept almost all of Honran Minchō's design features as is, and let Microsoft ship it with the name MingLiu.
DynacomWare did not take much care in cleaning up character morphology either. Since it was a blatant copycat, many stroke orders followed Koki Standard / Kangxi Standard (康熙字典体), which many Japanese typefaces still follow. Kangxi Standard is neither one officially recognized by the Taiwanese government, nor the mainland Chinese government. In the updates, Dynacomware included some characters redesigned using the Taiwanese standard, but they were mapped to new unicode codestops instead of replacing the original ones, making it still difficult to use in many daily situations. The morphology standard problem was solved until much later (PMingLiu 5.03).
The more significant problem was MingLiu & PMingLiu’s aesthetic malaise. Because of bad digitization and blind copying, PMingLiu’s overall appearance is considerably feeble, no matter it is on screen or on signage. Also because Honran Minchō was designed to be used in very small sizes, the original characters have quite lenient and open zhonggong (中宫; the central white area Chinese characters). Similar to x-height variations with Latin fonts, this legibility trick quickly becomes unsightly when type is enlarged, creating a dull and dissociated grey—for example, when used on plane livery:
For East Asian designers, PMingLiu was probably as despicable as Papyrus. Many have publicly voiced their disdain for PMingLiu, and some even see the elimination of PMingLiu from public sight as a career goal. Julius Hui, then consultant for Commercial Type, exclaims:
PMingLiu inhibits the type business, maims the public’s aesthetic judgment, and puts a bad face on the Minchō genre. As long as the public have not harbored a deep hatred against PMingLiu, it is futile to completely eliminate it from the world.
Thanks for all the detailed info! My knowledge of Asian fonts is admittedly limited so this is all interesting stuff.
Seconded — thank you for your insightful comment, Peiran! It’s most welcome.
Contributed by Stephen Coles
Contributed by Chris Purcell