When they say everything’s already been invented, they’re exaggerating a bit. But not much. When we design new typefaces, whether we like it or not, we have in our memories the historical legacy and invention of our predecessors. That’s also true for more detailed work on optical sizes, intended for the largest or the smallest typesetting. Although for display sizes we give room for fantasy and elegance when shaping fine serifs or smooth drawings full of refined details, for styles designed for footnotes and other small texts we do the exact opposite – pragmatically and rationally, with knowledge of the optical properties of small text. And that’s precisely the case for the Tabac Micro subfamily, a sans-serif typeface derived from Tabac Sans.
At small sizes, legibility is often harmed by high contrast, small x-height, tight spacing, lacklustre diacritics and punctuation. Problems also happen in darker weights where the type has a tendency to trap ink, primarily in the connections between strokes, where dark spots and clumps are created. The development of Tabac Micro kept to the guides governing micro typography – a methodology for good legibility of small texts. It is above all a raised x-height that optically enlarges the image of the typeset text, looser side-bearings, a broader basic space, or a substantially higher punctuation that does not disappear, even in a tiny nonpareil. We condensed all letters to prevent the typesetting from occupying more space than other font styles. Tabac Micro also contains basic shape variants of selected characters that prevent confusion with similarly constructed characters.
A characteristic of such a type family not to be overlooked is the rigorous use of ink traps – pronounced notches to the bodies of the letters at the places where the strokes join. We use this proven principle in every connection of two straight strokes, in the contact of a rounded stroke with a stem and in joining a diagonal. This ensures that in footnotes the typeface will not spill over into an amorphous typographic mass. Quite the opposite – the setting is always sharp and clean. This characteristic morphology, which evidently often tempts typesetting in headline sizes, suddenly disappears and starts to serve its purpose when shrunken. The open drawing of the humanist Tabac, which allows enough light into the characters, is somewhat predestined to good legibility under difficult conditions.
At a time when the purpose of a typeface is not given in advance, because it is based on the graphic designer’s inventiveness, it may seem that the existence of optical sizes lacks meaning. But it’s just the opposite – a trained typographer who knows which style to reach for at a given moment is always a step ahead, has a lead and the advantage. Because they can extract the maximum from individual typefaces, styles and weights. Its headlines are always elegant, its text sizes sparing and small footnotes unreservedly legible.