Fundamentals of Chinese Typography: #1 Fonts Styles (Songti, Fangsongti, Mingti, Heiti, Kaiti)

Most of our Chinese typefaces tend to be few and far in between, apart from the random file names, type names, we find it often a baffling task to make sense of Chinese type. To open this new series of posts about Chinese type in greater detail, allow me to explain to you how Chinese typography is classified. This will help you to recognise, identify and be more precise when it comes to typeface selection. Here we go! 🙂

Let’s define some important concepts I’ll be using here first:-

A. KEY CONCEPTS

Font Styles 字型格式: These are NOT to be seen as typeface / font. No, they are called STYLES, because they represent a tone, if you will, of how a typeface looks like. For instance, Garamond is a TYPEFACE, and it falls under the category of ‘Old Style’, for instance.

Fonts aka Typeface 字體: Arial, Comic Sans, Helvetica. These are what we like to call (the names of) fonts, and typefaces.

Typeface Style 字體樣式: Bold, Italic, Oblique, Thick, Extrabold, Bold Italic, etc. These apply to a specific typeface, and its variety depend entirely on the typeface itself.

It’s much easier to see it from the perspective of English typography. For instance, there are a few broad categories that typefaces can fall into:-

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In the same manner, Chinese typefaces can also be classified into a few broad categories known as font styles.

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B. HOW TO UNDERSTAND CHINESE TYPEFACE  NAMES

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As you may be immediately aware, Chinese typeface names usually carry much more info than English. In the typeface selector menu, you can instantly tell what font AND font style it is.

In the case of Fangzheng and Hiragano type face, we can see the specifications listed directly in each typeface name.

A Chinese typeface name is made up of the font name + font style + typeface style (if any) + language specification.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 4.19.21 PM

In other words, should you have the complete set of a particular typeface, you will have, literally, several very similar names in the menu. Unless you look carefully, you may even think that they are duplicates of each other!

Unlike English typeface where you basically use ‘Times”  then go to select “Bold”, for example, each typeface style (Bold, Italic etc) is completely redrawn and recognised as a separate typeface name listed on your computer. This can be confusing for many people, but know that its the same thing.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 4.24.31 PM

And of course, there are also bigger typeface families that have much more specific typeface styles as well.

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Thankfully the classifications don’t get too much more complex from here. To understand the various classifications, we need to understand the Chinese writing system.

C. CHINESE FONT STYLES 

1. SONG TI

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You can tell a songti very easily by its relatively thinner horizontal lines compared to its vertical strokes. There also ‘triangles‘ at the end of each stroke. This is to compensate for any possible ‘wear and wear’ that may occur during printing of that era.

2. FANG SONG TI

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Some characteristics of Fangsong include a uniform thickness of stroke width throughout the character, and are visually narrower and taller than its original song ti.

3. MING TI

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The main differences between Song Ti and Ming Ti lies in the way the characters are written, as shown below:-

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4. HEI TI

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Hei Ti has a standard, uniform thickness in stroke width throughout, and and looks much fuller and has stronger optical weight compared to other typeface styles.

5. KAI TI

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Kai Ti can be easily recognised as its strokes mimic the fluidity of the calligraphic brush, with varying stroke width throughout the typeface.

I have covered the 5 main types of Ti (Font Styles) that you will commonly encounter. But of course, there will always be more styles for us to discover.

D. SUMMARY

Chinese fonts behave similarly to English fonts, in that they can be classified into broad categories known as font styles. Understanding this is crucial to making sense of Chinese typography.

Within the typeface itself, there are also typeface styles, aka bold, italic, etc. In Chinese type, this may be seen as 小標、中標、大標、幼線、粗體etc.

Chinese fonts are more specific in their taxonomy; every listed font will only have one variant of each typeface (e.g. bold, light, regular will appear as SEPARATE listed fonts), unlike English ones where you can simply ‘select’ the typeface style within that same typeface.

The usage of different font styles suit different purposes (I’ll be discussing this in more detail in days to come).

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