Eight years in the making and with 70 fonts in its family, Grilli Type releases GT Alpina

Refining the typeface over tens of thousands of drawings, the independent Swiss type foundry has perfectly aligned its latest typeface, now available as a variable font.

3 February 2020

As It’s Nice That entered a new era last month with the launch of our new website, we sadly said goodbye to a core feature that’s served us well for the past five years, GT Walsheim. A reliable friend that was constantly by our side, the typeface is the product of renowned Swiss type foundry, Grilli Type, best-known for its retail and custom typefaces.

For the last eight years, the independent type foundry has been working away on its latest release, a workhorse serif named GT Alpina, designed by Reto Moser.

With over 70 fonts in its family, GT Alpina covers a wide range of width, weight, contrast and proportionality. Utilising the variable font format, it started off as a one-off typeface back in 2011, custom-built for a book celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research. Hence its name, GT Alpina, and its visible design roots in classic book typography. As the last eight years rapidly unfurled, so did the countless redrafts for this distinct typeface. Reto tells us of this lengthy creative process: “It’s exciting when ideas are taking shape and solutions become visible. But at the same time, type design is about perseverance and going steady.”

In creating the 70 styles that make up GT Alpina’s comprehensive family, Reto was tasked with drawing tens of thousands of different characters. Each character then needed to be checked and modified, then checked and modified again until everything aligned perfectly. “The larger the typeface family,” adds Reto, “the more of this work needs to be done.” With the variety of widths, weights, strokes, monospaced companions – “don’t even get me started on italics” – Reto worked on countless rounds of the design to ensure all aspects of GT Alpina fit together. As a result, the typeface brims with personality in every detail of its efficient strokes while the relationship between the thicks and thins is gratifying in its fluidity.

While some typefaces are based on examples from history, others are founded on strict visual concepts. In the case of GT Alpina, explains Reto, “the process was more about the search itself rather than reaching the destination immediately.” A lover of reading books and newspapers, the type designer often looks to such documents to inform how his work can perform in different environments. Then, one day, Reto questioned: “Why are serif typefaces made for extended reading always so boring?” He evaluated that a good reading experience is primarily down to the rhythm of a typeface’s shape and the text colour it creates. For Reto, the way we comprehend language is wholly informed by how letters shape words, and, how words shape sentences.

Within this delicate design system, there is “so much room to experiment,” and GT Alpina is an example of the delicate balance between playfulness and historical accuracy. “I embraced experiments in historical typefaces as a design feature for GT Alpina,” Reto reiterates. “That’s what the typeface is all about; a very calm, steady rhythm with a lot of character in the details.” Built to be a workhorse serif without giving up any of its personality in aid of efficiency, the new typeface exemplifies its various modes of expression by using the variable font format. “New technology of this kind is just the cherry on top,” says Reto on variable fonts, “the design has to be super solid and well done, otherwise technology can be more of a hindrance than a help.”

A variable font “allows the bundling of multiple widths, weights and other variants of the typeface within a single file,” he continues. It enables users to morph between a spectrum of shapes and experiment with an exact width, weight and stroke contrast to suit all needs. Above all, it allows designers to experiment with all aspects of the design, creating a bespoke outcome to reflect its purpose or communicate a new feeling altogether. It’s a freedom of expression that designer Reto greatly looks forward to. He rarely anticipates the way different designers from across the globe use his typefaces, finally going on to say: “It’s amazing to see the tools I create lend their personality to designs created by others.” So although GT Alpina might be a little zanier than your average go-to serif, embrace its personality – your copy doesn’t have to be mundane.

GalleryGrilli Type: GT Alpina

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Grilli Type: GT Alpina

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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