Here's How to Classify Modern Font Types

The style of the day in the 19th century

What to Know

  • Look for a vertical axis, high contrast between thick and thin strokes, and flat, hairline serifs.
  • Some later variations have bold, square serifs, less contrast, and softer, rounder shapes.

This article explains how to classify modern font types using common characteristics.

Characteristics of Modern Fonts

In typography, Modern (aka Didone and Neoclassical) is a classification that was developed in the late 18th century and continued in use through much of the 19th century. It was a radical break from the typography of the time.

Characterized by a vertical axis, high contrast between thick and thin strokes and flat, hairline serifs, the Modern classification fonts are harder to read than previous and later type styles developed for text. However, they are more distinctive than the transitional fonts that preceded them. 

Some later variations of Modern fonts include the slab serifs with bold, square serifs (sometimes considered a separate classification altogether) and the related Clarendon style with less contrast and softer, rounded shapes. One style of slab serif, the Fat Faces, may be described as Didone (or Modern) on steroids with fattened strokes that make the flat, hairline serifs appear even thinner and more extreme. Bold, Ultra or Poster styles of some Modern fonts push them over into the Fat Face slab serif category.

Uses for Modern Fonts

The Modern fonts are striking for use as headlines or titles. They often work well in logos as well. Where they don't work well is in body copy. Modern fonts are hard to read at small sizes and their thin strokes can disappear. The other place to avoid using Modern fonts is as a reversed type in a print project. Because ink on paper spreads slightly, the extremely thin strokes of the Modern fonts may fill in and be lost in an area of reversed type.

Example Modern Fonts

Well-known fonts of the Modern classification include: 

  • Bodoni
  • Didot (the first Didone font)
  • Bernhard Modern Roman
  • Aster
  • Century Schoolbook
  • Fenice
  • Kepler

The classification name "Didone" is an amalgamation of the names of the two most distinctive Modern fonts in use at the time: Didot and Bodoni.

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Bear, Jacci Howard. "Here's How to Classify Modern Font Types." ThoughtCo, Jan. 4, 2022, Bear, Jacci Howard. (2022, January 4). Here's How to Classify Modern Font Types. Retrieved from Bear, Jacci Howard. "Here's How to Classify Modern Font Types." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).