Hermann Zapf


Hermann Zapf is considered one of the great lettering artists of modern times. Born in Nuremberg in 1918, Zapf was interested in technology and science early in his youth. He read voraciously to learn about inventions that changed the world.

Zapf's first foray into the world of typeface design was an experiment in the 1930s when he developed a secret writing system so that he and his brother could exchange private information. “It was some kind of cross between Germanic runes and Cyrillic and could only be deciphered if you knew the code, ” Zapf says. “That's over 70 years ago now, and I suppose this secret writing system constituted my first alphabetic creations.”

Zapf had wanted to become an electrical engineer, but the oppressive political climate in the early 1930s in Germany did not allow him to study engineering. He had to start an apprenticeship in a photo retoucher. His search for an apprenticeship led him to training as a photo retoucher in 1934.

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In 1935, a memorial exhibition was held for Nuremberger Rudolf Koch, who had recently died in 1934. Koch's work heightened Zapf's interest in lettering. He bought books by Koch and the British lettering artist Edward Johnston. Using the books for reference, Zapf taught himself calligraphy using a broad-edged pen.

When his apprentice master discovered Zapf's gift for calligraphy, he put the young artist to work retouching lettering. He was also asked to improve the work of his less able colleagues, often toiling late into the evening.

After completing his apprenticeship, Zapf went to Frankfurt and spent time at a workshop run by Paul Koch (son of Rudolf Koch). Printing historian Gustav Mori introduced Zapf to Stempel and Linotype, where he designed his first printed typeface for the companies in 1938, the Gilgengart™.fraktur design.Page 2

On April 1, 1939, Zapf was called to military service. Unaccustomed to the rigors of military life, he developed heart trouble and was sent to a more suitable office environment, where he wrote camp records and sports certificates instead of working in the trenches. He later moved to the cartography unit, where his skill with drawing and lettering helped him survive. Zapf was captured by the French and held prisoner near the end of World War II. His captors, however, respected his artistic talents and did not mistreat him or send him to coal mines in Northern France.

After the war ended, Zapf was sent home to Nuremberg, where he taught calligraphy. In 1947, he was hired as the artistic head of the in-house print shop for D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt. He continued to teach calligraphy and worked in book design for publishing companies.

Zapf designed many typefaces in the late 1940s and 1950s, including the Optima® and Palatino® typeface families. He continually honed his calligraphic skills.

In the 1960s, Zapf became interested the rapid changes of the printing industry. His ideas for streamlining production through computer-aided typesetting were scoffed in Germany. He turned to America; and gave in 1964 his first lecture on typographic computer programs at Harvard and was teaching at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1977 through 1987. Zapf became familiar with computers from contacts at IBM, Xerox and other high-tech companies.

His interest in technology led to the digitization of a calligraphic script from drawings in his 1944 sketchbook. The end result, the Zapfino® type family launched from Linotype, has been designed with many stylistic alternates and ligatures, making use of the advanced typesetting features of the OpenType® font format. The modernized script has become one of the most popular typefaces in use today.

Zapf has partnered with other innovators over the years, including Aaron Burns, Herb Lubalin and the renowned mathematician Donald Knuth. Zapf has worked for Microsoft, Stanford University, Hallmark Cards and many other clients. He has recently collaborated extensively with Linotype's type director, Akira Kobayashi, in extending and reinterpreting some of Zapf's classic designs.

Hermann Zapf

Information about the font designer Hermann Zapf and his typefaces.

Hermann Zapf was born into a turbulent time in 1918 in Nuremberg, Germany. On the same day a worker's and soldiers' council took political control of the city, Munich and Berlin were in revolution, and the following day Kaiser Wilhelm fled to Holland. In addition to the political unrest, there was an epidemic of Spanish flu which is estimated to have killed some 20 million people. Zapf lost two of his siblings to the epidemic.

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He joined the Karl Ulrich and Company printing firm, as an apprentice, in 1934. After this apprenticeship he worked with Paul Koch in Frankfurt. During this period he gained experience of working with handpress type and producing lettering for musical notation. However, his work was interrupted by the second world war and he worked as a cartographer in the German military. After the war Zapf worked at the Stempel AG typefoundry as artistic director.

In 1977 he was made Professor of Typographic Computer Programming at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and his fonts Palatino, Optima, Zapf Chancery, and Zapf Dingbats are now familiar designs found on all personal computers. Optima, Zapf's personal favourite font, was selected for the engraved names on the Vietnam War Memorial.

From his first typeface designed when he was just 20 years old (Gilgengart), through more than 200 others right up to the present day, Zapf's work has achieved an unmatched popular success, while maintaining an aesthetic level which has earned him praise from professionals throughout the world. Several of his most popular type designs, such as Palatino, Optima, ITC Zapf Chancery Italic, and , are resident on most home computers. Other fonts, such as Michelangelo, Zapf International, and Zapf Renaissance - among numerous others - are the mainstay of many of the finest graphic designers of today.

Hermann Zapf is married to the type designer and lettering artist Gudrun Zapf von Hesse.

Hermann Zapf was born in Nuremburg, Germany in 1918.He designed some of the greatest typestyles of the 20th century.His greatest inspiration came from Rudolph Koch's work at an exhibition in Nuremberg in1935.Using texts from Koch and Edward Johnston he taught himself calligraphy at home.In 1938 after his apprenticeship was completed he went to Frankfurt without a journeyman's certificate and found a position working for Paul Koch(son of Rudolph Koch)at his workshop. It was in 1938 that he designed his first type called "Gilgengart" for the D. Stempel AG Type Foundry.

After the war the political climate was such that it was hard to get work, especially in teaching.He taught his first calligraphy lesson in Nuremberg in 1946 and under primitive conditions.In 1947 he went back to the Stempel Foundry as the head of the inhouse printshop.In 1951 he met and married his wife, Gudron von Hesse, also a noted type designer and calligrapher in her own right.

His main work over the years was as a graphic artist involved in book design and out of principle did no advertising art. Throughout the 1960's and 1970's he was a freelance graphic designer.In 1972 he created the Macaroni typeface, designed specifically for digital use.During the 70's and 80's he taught ten years of special sessions at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y..His most important areas of expertise came in the development of different types, such as Palatino, Optim, Optima, Michaelangelo, Melior, Zapf Chancery,etc..., alphabets for hot metal composition, then for phototyping, and finally the digital revolution.He was a genius in solving technical problems along side engineers and provided a standard of typographic excellence for the next generation of type designers.


Hermann Zapf (born November 8, 1918) is a German typeface designer who lives in Darmstadt, Germany. He is married to calligrapher and typeface designer Gudrun Zapf von Hesse.

Zapf's work has suffered the double-edged sword of veneration, as his designs, which include Palatino and Optima, while widely admired, are perhaps the most egregiously plagiarized of the twentieth century. The best known example may be Monotype's Book Antiqua, which shipped with Microsoft Office and was widely considered a "knockoff" of Palatino. In 1993, Zapf resigned from ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) over what he viewed as its hypocritical attitude toward unauthorized copying by prominent ATypI members.

Early life

Hermann Zapf was born in Nuremberg, into turbulent times, marked by the German Revolution in Munich and Berlin, the end of World War I, the exile of Kaiser Wilhelm, and the establishment of Bavaria as a free state by Kurt Eisner. In addition, the Spanish Flu Pandemic took hold of Europe in 1918 and 1919 and killed two of Zapf's siblings. Famine later struck Germany, and Zapf's mother was grateful to send him to school in 1925, where he received daily meals in a program organized by Herbert Hoover, who would later become President of the United States. In school, Zapf was mainly interested in technical subjects. One of his favorite books was the annual science journal Das neue Universum ("The New Universe"). He and his older brother experimented with electricity, building a crystal radio and an alarm system for his house. Even at his early age, Zapf was already getting involved with type, inventing ciphertext alphabets to exchange secret messages with his brother.

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Zapf left school in 1933 with the ambition to pursue a career in electrical engineering. Unfortunately, his father had become unemployed. Zapf's father experienced trouble with the newly established Third Reich, having been involved with trade unions, and was sent to the Dachau concentration camp for a short time.

Introduction to typography

Zapf was not able to attend the Ohm Technical Institute in Nuremberg, due to the new political regime. Therefore, he needed to find an apprenticeship. His teachers, aware of the new political difficulties, noticed Zapf's skill in drawing and suggested that he become a lithographer. Each company that interviewed him for an apprenticeship would ask him political questions, and every time he was interviewed, he was complimented on his work but was rejected. Ten months later, in 1934, he was interviewed by the last company in the telephone directory, and the company did not ask any political questions. They also complimented Zapf's work, but did not do lithography and did not need an apprentice lithographer. However, they allowed him to become a retoucher, and Zapf began his four-year apprenticeship in February 1934.

In 1935, Zapf attended an exhibition in Nuremberg in honor of the late typographer Rudolf Koch. This exhibition gave him his first interest in lettering. Zapf bought two books there, using them to teach himself calligraphy. He also studied examples of calligraphy in the Nuremberg city library. Soon, his master noticed his expertise in calligraphy, and Zapf's work shifted to lettering retouching and improvement of his colleagues' retouching work.


A few days after finishing his apprenticeship, Zapf left for Frankfurt. He did not bear a journeyman's certificate and thus would not be able to get a work permit at another company in Nuremberg, as they would have been able to check on his qualifications. Zapf went to the "Werkstatt Haus zum Fürsteneck", a building run by Paul Koch, son of Rudolf Koch. He spent most of his time there working in typography and writing songbooks.

Through print historian Gustav Mori, Zapf came into contact with the type foundries D. Stempel AG and Linotype GmbH of Frankfurt. In 1938, he designed his first printed typeface for them, a fraktur type called Gilgengart.

War career

On April 1, 1939, Zapf was conscripted and sent to Pirmasens to help reinforce the Siegfried Line against France. Not used to the hard labor, he developed heart trouble in a few weeks and was given a desk job, writing camp records and sports certificates in fraktur.

World War II broke out in September, and Zapf's unit was to be taken into the Wehrmacht. However, due to his heart trouble, Zapf was not transferred to the Wehrmacht but was instead dismissed. But on April 1, 1942, he was summoned again for the war effort. Zapf had been chosen for the Luftwaffe, but instead was sent to the artillery in Weimar. He did not perform well, confusing left and right during training and being too cautious and clumsy with his gun. His officers soon brought a premature end to his career in the artillery.

Zapf was sent back to the office, and then to Jüterbog to train as a cartographer. After that, he went to Dijon and then Bordeaux, joining the staff of the First Army. In the cartography unit at Bordeaux, Zapf drew maps of Spain, especially the railway system, which could have been used to transport artillery had Francisco Franco not used narrow-gauge tracks to repair bridges after the Spanish Civil War. Zapf was happy in the cartography unit. His eyesight was so excellent that he could write letters 1 millimeter in size without using a magnifying glass, and this skill probably prevented him from being commissioned back into the army.

After the war had ended, Zapf was held by the French as a prisoner of war at a field hospital in Tübingen. He was treated with respect because of his artwork and, due to his poor health, was sent home only four weeks after the end of the war. He went back to Nuremberg, which had suffered great damage because of the air raids.


Zapf taught calligraphy in Nuremberg in 1946. He went back to Frankfurt in 1947, where the type foundry Stempel offered him a position as artistic head of their printshop. They did not ask for qualifications, certificates, or references, but instead only required him to show them his sketchbooks from the war, and a calligraphic piece he did in 1944 of Hans von Weber's "Junggesellentext".

One of Zapf's products was a publication named "Feder und Stichel" ("Pen and Graver"), printed from metal plates designed by Zapf and cut by punch cutter August Rosenberger during the war. It was printed at the Stempel printshop in 1949.

From 1948 to 1950, Zapf taught calligraphy at the Arts and Crafts School in Offenbach, giving lettering lessons twice a week to two classes of graphics students. In 1951 he married Gudrun von Hesse, who taught at the school of Städel in Frankfurt.

Most of Zapf's work as a graphic artist was in book design. He worked for various publishing houses, including Suhrkamp Verlag, Insel Verlag, Büchergilde Gutenberg, Hanser Verlag, Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, and Verlag Philipp von Zabern.

Type design

Zapf designed types for various stages of printing technology, including hot metal composition, phototypesetting (also called "cold type"), and finally digital typography for use in desktop publishing. His two most famous typefaces, Palatino and Optima, were designed in 1948 and 1952, respectively. Palatino was designed in conjunction with August Rosenberger, with careful attention to detail. It was named after 16th century Italian writing master Giambattista Palatino. Optima, a flared sans-serif, was released by Stempel in 1958. Zapf disliked its name, which was invented by the marketers at Stempel.

Zapf was not given many jobs in calligraphy. The largest one was writing out the Preamble to the United Nations Charter in four languages, commissioned by the Pierpont Morgan Library in 1960 for $1000.

Computer typography

Zapf has been working on typography in computer programs since the 1960s. His ideas were considered radical, not taken seriously in Germany, and rejected by the Darmstadt University of Technology, where Zapf lectured between 1972 and 1981. Because he had no success in Germany, Zapf went to the United States, where new ideas were more likely to be accepted. He lectured about his ideas in computerized typesetting, and was invited to speak at Harvard University in 1964. The University of Texas at Austin was also interested in Zapf, and offered him a professorship. However, Zapf's wife said that she would never go to Texas, having only seen it from the air, and Zapf's dreams of Texas ended.

Because Zapf's plans for the United States had come to nothing, and because his house in Frankfurt had become too small, Zapf and his wife moved to Darmstadt in 1972.

In 1976, the Rochester Institute of Technology offered Zapf a professorship in typographic computer programming, the first of its type in the world. He taught there from 1977 to 1987, flying between Darmstadt and Rochester. There he developed his ideas further, with the help of his connections in companies such as IBM and Xerox, and his discussions with the computer specialists at Rochester. A number of Zapf's students from this time at RIT went on to become influential type designers, including Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes, who together created the Lucida type family. Other prominent students include calligrapher/font designer Julian Waters and book designer Jerry Kelly.

In 1977, Zapf and his friends Aaron Burns and Herb Lubalin founded a company called "Design Processing International, Inc." in New York and developed typographical computer software. It existed until 1986 with the death of Lubalin, and Zapf and Burns founded "Zapf, Burns & Company" in 1987. Burns, also an expert in typeface design and in typography, was in charge of marketing until his death in 1992. Shortly before, two of their employees had stolen Zapf's ideas and founded a company of their own.

Zapf knew that he could not run an American company from Darmstadt, and did not want to move to New York. Instead, he used his experience to begin development of a typesetting program called the "hz-program", building on the H&J system in TeX.

During URW's financial problems and bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, Adobe Systems acquired the hz patent(s), and later made some use of the concepts in their InDesign program.


Main article: Zapfino

In 1983, Zapf had completed the typeface AMS Euler with Donald Knuth and David Siegel of Stanford University for the American Mathematical Society, a typeface for mathematical composition including fraktur and Greek letters. David Siegel had recently finished his studies at Stanford and was interested in entering the field of typography. He told Zapf his idea of making a typeface with a large number of glyph variations, and wanted to start with an example of Zapf's calligraphy, that was reproduced in a publication by the Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago.

Zapf was concerned that this was the wrong way to go, and while he was interested in creating a complicated program, he was worried about starting something new. However, Zapf remembered a page of calligraphy from his sketchbook from 1944, and considered the possibility of making a typeface from it. He had previously tried to create a calligraphic typeface for Stempel in 1948, but hot metal composition placed too many limits on the freedom of swash characters. Such a pleasing result could only be achieved using modern digital technology, and so Zapf and Siegel began work on the complicated software necessary. Siegel also hired Gino Lee, a programmer from Boston, Massachusetts, to help work on the project.

Unfortunately, just before the project was completed, Siegel wrote a letter to Zapf, saying that his girlfriend had left him, and that he had lost all interest in anything. Thus Siegel abandoned the project and started a new life, working on bringing color to Macintosh computers, and later becoming an Internet design expert.

Zapfino's development had become seriously delayed, until Zapf found the courage to present the project to Linotype. They were prepared to complete it and reorganized the project. Zapf worked with Linotype to create four alphabets and various ornaments, flourishes, and other dingbats. Zapfino was released in 1998.

Later versions of Zapfino using the Apple Advanced Typography and OpenType technologies were able to make automatic ligatures and glyph substitutions (especially contextual ones in which the nature of ligatures and substituted glyphs is determined by other glyphs nearby or even in different words) that more accurately reflected the fluid and dynamic nature of Zapf's calligraphy.

List of typefaces

Zapf has created the following typefaces:

* Aldus

* Aldus nova (with Akira Kobayashi)

* AMS Euler

* Aurelia

* Comenius (named after Czech theologian Jan Ámos Komenský, aka Comenius)[1]

* Edison

* Hunt Roman (titling font for the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation of Pittsburgh [2]

* Kompakt

* Marconi

* Medici Script

* Melior

* Michelangelo

* Noris Script

* Optima

* Optima nova (with Akira Kobayashi, 2002)

* Orion

* Palatino

* Palatino nova (with Akira Kobayashi)

* Palatino sans (with Akira Kobayashi, 2006)

* Palatino sans informal (with Akira Kobayashi, 2006)

* Palatino Arabic (with Nadine Chahine)

* Saphir

* Sistina

* Vario

* Venture

* ITC Zapf Book

* ITC Zapf Chancery

* ITC Zapf Dingbats

* ITC Zapf International

* URW Antiqua

* URW Grotesk[3]

* Zapf Essentials

* Zapf Renaissance Antiqua

* Zapfino

* Zapfino Extra