Finding just the right typography for a project is a classic conundrum for a designer. Do you go all out for something unique to give the piece real character, or is it better to opt for something neutral and classic that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the design?
In order to be both versatile and consistent within a project, without becoming repetitive, it helps if a typeface includes an extensive family of fonts that cover different styles, weights and widths - this also takes the sting out of pairing complementary typefaces.
The notion of an extended, organised type family (or 'superfamily' if it contains different classifications too, such as a serif and a sans serif) is a relatively new concept, and has only been around as we know it today for just over a century - but nowadays there are plenty to choose from. We've rounded up 20 of the best to help with all manner of design projects.
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01. FF Meta
Originally developed by Erik Spiekermann for the Deutsche Bundespost (West German Post Office), Meta was released commercially in 1991 on the FontFont label. Intended to be the "antithesis of Helvetica", it comes in serif, sans serif and headline versions, and hairline, thin, light, normal, book, medium, bold and black weights.
Renowned New York foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones likes its metaphors. Knockout is available in nine boxing-themed widths, from flyweight to sumo - and its four weights are themed too, ranging from junior to ultimate. If the full range of styles is overwhelming, they're split into seven 'series' packs to fulfil different creative needs.
Another wonderfully versatile type family, ITC Franklin Gothic supplements the standard book, medium, semi and heavy weights with both condensed and compressed weights too. The typeface boasts plenty of impact when used large for display purposes, and has been used extensively both in advertising and for newspaper headlines.
Despite being designed in 1990, Adobe's elegant serif face Minion was influenced by Renaissance era typography. It takes its name from the traditional naming system for type sizes: ‘minion’ is a measure in-between ‘nonparell’ and ‘brevier’. Other multi-weight varieties include Minion Expert and Minion Pro.
Okay, so technically two separate typefaces - but as their names imply, it's a marriage made in heaven. Designed by Zuzana Licko for Emigre in 1996, delectable serif Mrs Eaves is named after John Baskerville's wife, while its sans serif partner followed thanks to popular demand in 2009. Both also come in an XL display variety.
Designed by Sebastian Lester for Monotype in 2007, Soho is a relatively rare beast: a hugely versatile slab serif. Its enviable range of weights - including thin, extra light, light, regular, medium, bold, extra bold, heavy and ultra - are supplemented further with condensed, compressed and extended varieties.
Lucas de Groot of LucasFonts developed this typeface between 1994 and 1999. Within the Thesis superfamily are TheSans, TheSans Mono, TheSans Typewriter, TheSans Hair, TheSerif, TheMix, TheMix Mono and TheAntigua, each in various weights. Each comes in three collections, ranging from Classic - seven varieties in eight different weights - to the more pared-back Basic and Office versions.
08. FF Scala
Another FontFont superfamily, this time by Martin Majoor, FF Scala was originally developed for use by a Dutch music venue and later released commercially. The serif version came out in 1990, followed by the sans serif in 1992 - both feature true small capitals, a broad range of ligatures, and both lining and non-lining figures.
One more from the masters of versatility, Hoefler & Frere-Jones: Gotham is a practical workhorse typeface that's influenced by and celebrates the urban typography that surrounds us, from neon signage to hand-painted lettering on trucks. It comes in eight weights, as well as narrow, extra narrow and condensed varieties, all with complementary italics.
10. ITC Century
This is Tony Stan's 1970s interpretation of a typeface originally designed for The Century magazine at the end of the 19th century as a more practical, scalable alternative to the popular Bodoni-style faces popular during that period. It comes in four weights - light, book, bold and ultra - plus a condensed version.
Designed by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly for Adobe, Myriad is perhaps most famous for its role as Apple's corporate font. The Pro version has wider language support, featuring five weights each of four widths - including condensed, semi-condensed and semi-extended - all with complementary italics of course.
12. Base 9 and 12
Another Zuzana Licko creation for Emigre, Base 9 and 12 is a superfamily with both serif and sans varieties, as well as a monospace version. It's designed to harmonise the relationship between screen fonts and printer fonts, designed for use at the two most popular sizes - 9-point and 12-point - and multiples thereof.
Named after the place he lived, Otl Aicher's pioneering hybrid typeface superfamily was completed in 1988 - three years before his tragic death in a motorbike accident. Rotis was unique at the time for including semi-serif and semi-sans varieties alongside the traditional serif and sans versions, making it particularly versatile.
Coming in an impressive 54 font styles, Greg Thompson's Agenda type family was designed for Font Bureau in 1993 as a stylish alternative to the ubiquitous Swiss sans serif. It comes in thin, light, regular, medium, semi-bold, bold and black, with condensed, extra-condensed and ultra-condensed varieties.
Developed by Typotheque's Peter Bil'ak, Fedra is a superfamily that boasts two different serif varieties alongside the original sans, plus a mono-spaced version too. It was first commissioned in 2000 for an insurance company, followed in 2004 by serif A - which matches the proportions of the original - and serif B, which is proportioned differently.
16. FF Quadraat
The third FontFont representative on the list, designed by Fred Smeijers, is another superfamily. It includes display, headline, sans, sans display and sans mono versions under the same Quadraat umbrella - all in six weights, from regular through to bold. It's particularly well suited to editorial and publishing applications.
This Hoefler & Frere-Jones' newspaper typeface is a sterling example of the Scotch Transitional serif, so named after 18th century Scottish type founders Alexander Wilson and William Miller. Chronicle Text comes in four 'grades' to allow for different paper stocks, while the display is more expansive - three widths, six weights and a 'deck' version for sizes in between display and text.
18. ITC Officina
There's an impressive range of fonts in this superfamily that Erik Spiekermann designed in the '90s for ITC. Based on the premise that photocopiers, fax machines and poor-quality printers can deteriorate type, Officina has open counters and strong slab serifs, and is available in five weights, from book up to black.
There's a pleasing sense of symmetry to Cyrus Highsmith's creation for Font Bureau, with strong emphasis placed on the repeat and variation of counter shapes within the spacing between letters. The sans serif comes with seven weights in four widths, including compressed, condensed and extra condensed.
Finally, Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes designed this hugely varied typeface superfamily in 1985. Uniquely for this list, as well as serif (Lucida Fax and Lucida Bright) and sans serif (Lucida Sans, Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Grande and Lucida Sans Typewriter), there are also several scripts - including blackletter, calligraphy and handwriting variants.
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Have we missed out your favourite typeface family? Let us know in the comments below!