The R Story

September 2021

Every issue we ask a graphic designer to create a new R (or Rs) for our Research + Realities section and to explain the process behind their work. Sarah-Camille Malandain, a student in the MA graphic design programme at the ENSBA in Lyon, France, tells us the story behind her ‘Rs’.


Before the invention of the printing press and movable type, texts were handwritten by scribes in Scriptoriums. By repeating the ductus, or prescribed number, order and direction of strokes, of everyday writing, their natural gestures were tamed and the written characters and forms stabilized so that they often looked like printed text. This led to the first printed letters strongly resembling handwriting.

At the height of the 15th Century Italian printing industry, printers often used typefaces inspired by Italian handwriting of the period. One of these was called Chancery-hand, named after a Renaissance handwriting style that was adapted for use in the early printing of official papers. These typefaces were mostly used as part of the transition between handwriting and typography: the thick and thin strokes are those of a pen, and the running text is slanted but the capital letters remain straight.

Unlike chancery typefaces, script typefaces have slanted capital letters and can be defined as being somewhere between typography and calligraphy. The first cursive italic capital letters appeared on a 1538 print by Sebastien Gryphe in Lyon. This “modernization” would be the first step towards the creation of Italic typefaces and a step “away from the chancery hand”[1], a style in which the capital letters were still Roman.


Designing a typeface closely based on historical models may fall under the term revival[2]. The designs are reproduced in various ways to harmonize the letters. Having stabilized the forms of the serifs and the thickness of the strokes, the goal is not always to be perfectly faithful to the original design but to rework it digitally so that it corresponds to the needs of contemporary text composition and legibility.

The Rs for Research and Realities are revivals of their own based on the chancery model of printed letters for the first one, and script letters for the second. Those letters were found in inserts printed in Stanley Morison’s essays “The Chancery Types of Italy and France” and

“On script type”[3]. They are both a take on how printing techniques adapted handwritten characteristics.

The designs were hand-drawn using different pens until I found the right strokes that matched the original design as faithfully as possible. Then I stabilized the shapes using a font editor software, trying different types of serifs and attempting to create a coherent ensemble within which printed lead characters have different shapes according to the amount of ink used (thinner where there’s less, thicker where there’s more).

My interest in the typefaces of this transitional period emerged from the work I have done for my MA dissertation. This research deals with the presence of handwritten text (in the form of notes or photos of manuscripts for instance) in printed books and looks at where handwriting and typography coexist and what is created when these two types of text meet. It has led me to observe and analyse the role of handwritten gestures in the editorial process.

As told by Sarah-Camille Malandain

[1] Stanley Morison, “The Chancery Types of Italy and France”, 1924, p. 44.

[2] According to the definition of a revival by John Downer in his article “Call It What It Is”, first published in 2003 in the type specimen booklet for Tribute.

[3] Stanley Morison, “The Chancery Types of Italy and France” (1924) and “On script type” (1925), in Stanley Morison · Selected essays on the History of Letter-Forms in Manuscript and Print, edited by David McKitterick, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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The chosen R's. Left: Research Right: Realities.
RR Sarah Camille Malandain, Sketch
RR Sarah Camille Malandain, Sketch
RR Sarah Camille Malandain, Sketch
Stanley Morison, Selected Essays on the History of Letter-Forms in Manuscript and Print Volume 2, The Chancery Types of Italy and France followed by On Script Types, Cambridge University Press (2009).
Stanley Morison, Selected Essays on the History of Letter-Forms in Manuscript and Print Volume 2, The Chan- cery Types of Italy and France, Cambridge University Press (2009).
RR Sarah Camille Malandain, Sketch
This article appeared in DAM79. Order your personal copy.