The History Of Typography History Essay

1327 words (5 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Typography is the study of design of typefaces and the way in which the type is laid out in a page to achieve the desired visual effects and to convey the meaning behind the words. Typography is used by typographers, graphic designers, type setters, compositors, art directors, comic book artists, graffiti artists and many others and is being used in a wide range of areas such as movies, movie posters, mini booklets, video games, advertisements, etc.


A pictogram is a picture or symbol which represents an object or event by illustration. It is a form of writing where ideas are conveyed through drawing. Early written symbols were based on pictures (pictures which bear a resemblance to what they signify) and ideograms (pictures which denote ideas). It is generally assumed that pictograms appeared earlier than ideograms. They were used by numerous ancient nations all over the world since 9000 BC and started evolving into logographic writing systems around 5000 BC. Pictograms are still being used as the main means of written communication in some uncivilized nations in Africa, The Americas and Oceania. It is also the foundation of cuneiform and, to some degree, hieroglyphic writing, as they also require drawings as phonetic letters or determinative rhymes.


An ideogram is a symbol or picture representing an idea, rather than a group of letters arranged according to the fundamentals of a spoken language. Examples include airport signs, direction notations, Arabic numerals and mathematical notations used worldwide despite of how they are pronounced in various languages. Ideogram as a term is usually used to describe logographic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese characters. But, symbols in logographic systems represent words or fundamentals rather than simple ideas.


Hieroglyphics was a writing system used by the Ancient Egyptians which contained a combination of logographic, alphabetic and ideographic elements. Hieroglyphs developed from the preliterate artistic civilizations of Egypt. Early hieroglyphs were logograms which represented words by the use of graphical figures such as animals, man, woman, etc. Engraved hieroglyphics were all more or less picturesque: representing real or imaginary features sometimes stylized and simplified, but completely distinguishable in most cases. During the era of Old, Middle and New Kingdom, around 700 hieroglyphs were in existence. By the Greco-Roman period, their number had increased over 5000. When writing developed and became more well-known among Egyptian people, simplified glyph was formed, resulting in formal and colloquial scripts, which eventually formed the foundation on which the Phoenicians designed the modern alphabetic system.

Phoenician Alphabets

In 1200BC, the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet functional and free of decoration. It was quick to write and was easy to read. It was a set of symbols representing spoken sounds. It was a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia. It became one of the most extensively used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was adapted by many cultures and developed.

Greek Alphabets

The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use since about 750 BC. It was developed from the Phoenician alphabet and the order and names of the letters are derived from Phoenician. The original Canaanite meanings of the letter names were lost when the alphabet was adopted for Greek. The Greek alphabet was modified to make it more efficient and accurate for writing a non-Semitic language by the addition of several new letters and modification or dropping of several others. Due to the addition of symbols for the vowel sounds, the accuracy and legibility of the writing system greatly increased for non- Semitic language.

Roman Alphabets

The Roman alphabet was developed from a western variety of the Greek alphabet known as the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome. The Etruscan alphabet was in turn adopted and further developed by the ancient Romans to write the Roman language.

Uncials and Half Uncials

The Romans were the first to put written documents into major production. Due to the sheer volume of work required, a faster way of writing was needed. Therefore, 2 new writing styles – uncials and half uncials were created which were more round and quicker to produce. Uncial is a majuscule script which was commonly used by Roman and Greek scribes from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD. Uncials were used in the writing of Roman, Greek and Gothic. Half uncials were a cut down version of Uncials and were easier to read. They are often classed as lower case letters.

Caroline miniscules

Caroline miniscules is a script which was the result of Charlemagne (leader of the Holy Roman Empire) so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by educated classes across various regions. It was used by Charlemagne’s empire roughly between 800 to 1200.

Gothic/ Blackletter

Gothic script, also known as Blackletter, was a script used all over Western Europe from approximately 12th century to 17th century. It was influenced by local styles and the letterings became more angular. They were very decorative and calligraphic.

History of tools and letterforms

Earliest writing materials known which were used in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC were clay and a triangular stylus with rounded end used for writing numerals. Some of the first drawings were also drawn in clay. Egyptians also used a thick paper-like material called papyrus. They were made from the pith of papyrus reed beaten together and then were written on using a pen. Papyrus is known to have been in used in ancient Egypt at least as far back as the First Dynasty. In China, earliest tools used for writing were turtle shells and animal bones. Later on, scripts were written on with bamboo strips with a sort of “fountain pen”. The characters were written with a hard brush or stick on the bamboo surface. A wax tablet engraved with a stylus was often used by Romans.


Pens were the preferred instruments used for writing and ranged from those made of reed and feathers to the later metal types. It dates back to ancient Egyptian times when a type of brush-pen was replaced by a pointed and more flexible stylus and is then carried on until today’s ball point pen.

Quill pen

A quill pen is made from a flight feather of a large bird. They were used as instruments for writing with ink before fountain pens and the ball point pens came into use. A hand cut goose quill is still a superior calligraphy tool which provides a sharp stroke and is unmatched in steel pens.

Reed pen

Reed pens were made by cutting and shaping of a single reed straw or length of bamboo. They were used to write on papyrus and were stiffer compared to quill pens. Since they couldn’t retain their sharp point for a longer period of time, they got replaced by quill pens. A reed pen still remains an important tool in calligraphy as they can make bold strokes.


To carve Roman capital letters onto a stone, a chisel was used. It gave clear cut classic inscriptions in stone and also created the illusion of form created by shadow.

Engraved block printing

The invention of paper and ink gave rise to the stamper, an early tool used in engraved block printing, which became popular. The text was written on a piece of thin paper and it was then glued face down onto a wooden plate. The characters were carved out to make a wooden block printing plate which was used to print the text. Wood-block printing required more time since a new block had to be carved for every page in a book.

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