In search for suitable typefaces for cartography, I have recently made a study of which font characteristics to look for when choosing typefaces for maps. I though I might share a summary of my findings with yall.
An important source of my research has been Felix Arnold, the designer of the Cisalpin typeface which is a font designed exclusively with cartography in mind. You may find a summary of his study which lead to the design of Cisalpin here: http://www.linotype....6/cisalpin.html
The major differences between type in maps, and in running text can be summarized as follows:
- Whereas running text consists of known words and are read word by word, map labels consists of unknown words and are read letter by letter.
- Map labels are often set in much smaller sizes than text in other reading material. Often in sizes less than six points.
- Map labels are often placed on a background of different colours and textures, whereas other text may be placed on a white background or a background giving good contrast with the text.
- Map labels compete with other map elements, and in some areas, space may be limited.
It is therefore important that the typeface has legible, simple and distinct characters; a humanistic sans serif font is desirable.
Here are some of the characteristics to look for:
- A large x-height (relative to the Cap height) is desirable.
- The text should not run too wide to avoid conflicts and collisions.
- Open counters in letters like "a", "e" and "c" are preferable.
- One or two storey a? Many typefaces have a one-storey a in italics. This is not desirable as it may be confused with the "o" in the smallest labels.
- One or two story g? Whereas the one storey "g" is simpler in design, the two-storey g is more distinct from the other characters. This is a matter of personal taste, though. Interestingly, the Cisalpin font was originally designed with a two-storey g, but the version provided by Linotype has a single-story g.
- Square or circular dots. I'm in favour of square dots. Although a square dot may be confused with a building symbol in some maps, a square dot in i and j look more connected with the main part of the character. This is not the case of round dots, particularly if the distance between the dot and the main part is large. Round dots are also common symbols in maps. Interestingly, the Cisalpin font is designed with round dots.
- Weight selection: I believe that a wide selection of font weights is desirable. This helps you bring out a sensible text hierarchy. In addition, it helps you distinguish between different feature type in map. A typeface suitable for cartography should have both light, regular/roman, semibold, bold and black variants.
- When mapping internationally, it is desirable that the typefaces contains characters used locally in different nations. In Norway, the Northern sami language provides a particular challenge as many of the characters (like "eng") is not implemented by most typefaces.
Conclusively, despite the wide selection of typefaces available on the market today, I have yet too find a typeface that satisfies all my desires. It is not my intention to provide a list of typefaces that best matches my criteria here; I just want to provide some help in deciding on a typeface.