Typography trends for 2018, 5. Colour fonts


What typography trends are forecast for 2018 and how can you use them?
Trend 5. Colour fonts
By Sarah Hyndman

Part 5 in a series of posts looking at typography trends that we predict will influence graphic design in 2018, and explaining how you can incorporate each trend into your work.

1. Vernacular2. Neutral & universal3. Personality4. The return of flares & serifs5. Colour fonts6. Variable fonts7. Fashion / 8. Trend forecasters


5. Colour fonts

HOW TO USE THIS TREND: Incorporate layers and colour to add depth, dynamism and innovation to your work. Experiment with type to create dynamic designs that push boundaries.

The rise of the emoji has pushed technology to evolve and enable these colourful symbols to be included in running text. Excitingly, this innovative OpenType-SVG technology now means that it is also possible to place multiple colours, layers and gradients into font files creating colour (or chromatic) fonts on the web. Each layer is assigned its own colour, resulting endless combinations within flowing text. This is technology in its early days, not yet supported across all platforms, but it will evolve quickly as designers explore the possibilities. Typographer and writer Nicole Arnett Phillips (http://www.typographher.com) says, “I think we are in for radical changes (and hopefully some exciting new experimentation/innovation) ahead with these formats”.

“Each new technology emulates preceding ones; only after a period of habituation it manages to detach itself from the past” explains author Jan Middendorp. An exciting example of this is Novo Typo’s Bixa, which was originally designed as wood type for letterpress, and is now transformed into a multicolour font for web. Bixa Color by Mark van Wageningen & Roel Nieskens has 12 layers in a single font file, each of which can be assigned a colour of your choice, and also jumps from analog to digital.

Below is Popsky, designed by Igor Petrovic, with 80s-style colours and shapes, and Megazero, designed by Alex Trochut. Read more about colour font technology from Typekit or the I Love Typography blog.

Some of the experimental colour fonts are reminiscent of the experimental typography of the 1980s and 1990s, many of which were created for the experimental publication Fuse from 1991. This was a boundary-pushing era for typography and graphic design that started with the launch of the Apple Mac in the mid 1980s, which gave designers direct access to typography (rather than briefing a typesetter to create it). They were now able to see on-screen what they were creating and were empowered to explore the possibilities offered by these developments in technology.

New experimental typography

The geometric shapes and bright colours of the 1980s were highly popular last year and are still in vogue. However there is another theme reappearing from the 80/90s as technology enables web typography to come into its own and question conventions in the way that print designers were empowered to do thirty years ago. We predict that this year we will see more experimentation with typography, similar to the wave of boundary-pushing innovation in print design that led to debates about ugliness and aesthetics.

Neville Brody’s design work for The Face magazine (1981–86) paralleled the experimental ideas of the early 20th century of Constructivism, Dada and Bauhaus. Variable and colour font technology gives a platform for a new wave of experimentation into deconstructing letterforms and legibility.

The Face masthead and an alphabet by Josef Albers of Bauhaus from SF Moma.

Chromatic type
Chromatic type first appeared in the 1800s, it was made of wood to accommodate the large scale of the letters (large metal type would be too heavy to work with). Each glyph in the typeface is created as two or more printing blocks that are designed to be printed over the top of each other in different colours, often creating a third colour where they overlap. For example a three-colour print in blue, purple and pink could be achieved by overprinting just blue and pink.

Chromatic type used in a circus playbill from the Leeds Play Bills archive.

Sign writing influence
Traditional sign writing has undergone a huge resurgence in popularity, as a result its influences can be seen across graphic design from print to screen. One example is the plethora of 3D effect chromatic lettering with flat shadows that has been so popular recently and has preceded colour fonts on the web.

Above sign writers Ashley Bishop and Mark Josling painting layers of 3D-effect lettering, photo by Brilliant Signs. We’ve also been seeing stunning examples of chromatic signage reverse painted on glass, which would have been commonplace on every high street later in the nineteenth century. The piece above is by Alex May Hughes.


Post 6 will look at variable fonts.

Would you like to learn more about typography? Get in touch with Sarah here to book a Type Tasting workshop or event that teaches you about type trends through history and the psychology of typography with lashings of interaction, games and activities.

Sarah Hyndman is the founder of Type Tasting, she is a regular public speaker, researcher and the author of both Why Fonts Matter and How to Draw Type and Influence People.