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Monday, 27 July 2015 | By Gerry Mulvaney


By Gerry Mulvaney, European Sales Manager, Landa Digital Printing

I doubt many users of computers and tablets will have heard of Hermann Zapf, yet his legacy is to be found in all versions of Windows and Apple operating systems in the form of the typefaces which are used every day.

Zapf, who died aged 96 in Darmstadt, was a hugely influential figure in the world of typeface design and counted the typefaces Palatino and Optima amongst his creations.

Born in Nuremberg Germany in 1918 at the end of the Great War, as a child Zapf was interested in technical subjects. His father was a trade union official who fell foul of the Nazis as soon as Hitler came to power and was sent to Dachau for a period. Zapf’s education was curtailed somewhat as a result and he was apprenticed to a printing company as a photo retoucher.

Hermann Zapf portrait

Hermann Zapf, prolific designer of more than 200 font designs for hot metal type and digital

His interest in typography was stimulated by a visit to an exhibition of the work of another Nuremberg born type-designer, Rudolf Koch. Zapf taught himself calligraphy before completing his apprenticeship and then moving on to the Stempel Type Foundry in Frankfurt. It was here that his career as a type designer was to begin when he created his first font for the company – Gilgengart, aged just 20.

When the Second World War began he was to spend his time in France making maps for the German army. But after the war he went back to Stempel where he was appointed as the artistic director of their in house print shop. He left Stempel in 1956 to devote his time to freelance typographic design and to lecture on the subject, continuing his output of typefaces and honing his calligraphy skills.

Whilst his first typeface designs were for hot metal type, the advent of the computer and computerised typesetting gave him the opportunity to adapt the design for the new technology. He recognised that computer technology would create a demand for digital typefaces and when Rudolf Hell introduced the first phototypesetter – the Hell Digiset in 1966, Zapf saw the opportunity to create a typeface specifically for the machine. His Marconi typeface was the first to be produced specifically for a digital machine.

Dingbat fonts by Hermann Zapf

Zapf Dingbats – the inspiration for current Emojis?

Hermann Zapf’s Legacy Lives On in Today’s Printing Industry

His output was prolific, more than 200 font designs in a variety of language alphabets! But those of you who spend your time on a Mac keyboard will be most familiar with his Zapf Chancery typeface – which simulates joined up handwriting – and also Zapf Dingbats, surely the inspiration for the current crop of Emojis. Euler was another Zapf creation – a mathematical typeface commissioned by the American Mathematical Society.

Chancery and Euler fonts by Hermann Zapf

The handwriting style Chancery font and the mathematical Euler font by Hermann Zapf

Millions of people around the world are using his designs every day. Most advertising and branding contains elements of Zapf’s work and he even found time to use his calligraphy skills to create the preamble to the United Nations charter. Zapf was a colossus in the printing industry, bridging the gap between hot metal and digital printing and whose influence will be felt for many years to come.

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