BC Orion

Grotesques today are among the most popular typefaces across all font categories. Their certain hegemony, dominance and trendiness on the type and graphic market is evidenced by their massive overuse by multinational brands and the stylish offerings by all type foundries correspond to this. But what would a typical Czech grotesque look like next to the tuned Swiss and precise German grotesques? Has anyone ever tried to design one?

One such designer was Stanislav Maršo, the type designer at Grafotechna, the national type foundry. Over two decades of work, he had a direct influence over which typefaces were produced and he himself designed typefaces for book, scientific and newspaper setting. The typefaces produced by Grafotechna could not only be found in most printing houses in Czechoslovakia, and therefore into many printed materials, but they automatically gained the label of “typical Czech (typeface)”, although this was simply due to the fact that other, primarily foreign typefaces were not really available in our country and in our printing houses. So we can talk about Stanislav Maršo as one of the few typographers able to imprint a Czech appearance onto letterforms, which then in the form of ubiquitous printed matter defined our everyday presence and were stored in the memory of our national aesthetic. With a bit of exaggeration, we could consider him the personification of “Czech type production”. Maršo designed several grotesques which were heavily used in our country. Briefcase will gradually digitise all of these grotesques. As the first of “fantastic four” typefaces, we bring you a retro period piece – the grotesque Orion.

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Orion’s promotional typeface specimen published by Grafotechna. 

Orion is the first of Stanislav Maršo’s four grotesques which we have decided to digitise due to its timeless juiciness and attractiveness. Orion is a distinctive and idiosyncratic grotesque which will captivate with its sturdy drawing. It was designed in a single boldness as a wide title cut intended especially for headlines, which corresponds to its very high x-height as well as shortened baseline. Orion was adapted to the low-quality printing industry and the difficult conditions for newspaper setting at the time, when the typeface’s depiction was squeezed and deformed by high printing speeds, high roller pressure, thin paper and inks that were too thin1. It is precisely the modelling of the typeface according to the difficult technical requirements at the time that makes Orion into a timeless font. Stanislav Maršo drew it four years after the publication of the Public typeface in 1956, probably as a supplement to that newspaper typeface, which existed only in Regular, Italic, Bold and Bold Condensed weights. 

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Compared to Public, Orion is a sans-serif and unrounded, but from Maršo’s drawings of a sans-serif version of Public which was never produced, a similarity in drawing can be perceived.

Due to the fact that period samples were not preserved, we created prints of the metal letters of the Orion typeface set cast by Grafotechna in a four cicero size (48 point) in 1960 as the starting point for digitisation2. The typeface set included uppercase, lower case, numbers and several punctuation characters including the ampersand and Czech diacritics. We based it on a promotional typeface specimen book published by Grafotechna, in which Orion is presented in four sizes: 16, 20, 24 and 28 points. The letters in each of these five sizes differ in just a little details such as the width of the stems, the size of the inner eye and the shape of the instrokes. After a careful redrawing of the typeface and sensitive adjustments, we unified the proportion of the typeface: The width of the main stroke and outstrokes were stabilised, the shape and manner of connecting the counter to the stem, the overshoots and angles of diagonal strokes. Orion is distinctive for its dark ductus, humanist proportions and pronounced stroke shadowing contrast. Also the very nicely modelled and strengthened digits draw their shape from Public, Maršo’s newspaper typeface. We left Orion in its most individual position: In one weight only supplemented by a genuine Italic.

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We would like to thank Jaromír Štoural, head of the UMPRUM book printing workshop for arranging the prints of the typeface on the FAG Control 525 proofing press...

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...and Mr. Pavel Pohlreich, the head of the National Technical Museum’s Printing and Writing Technology collection, for lending the typeface for test prints.

While Orion had all of the prerequisites to become a typeface for multiple Czechoslovak magazines in the 1970s, its creation came far too late. At the beginning of the 1970s, a new technology of typeface production started to be used – phototypesetting, for which designers started to design different forms of typefaces with new energy. It may have been due to this insufficient usage that Orion gained the hallmark of a rare and undiscovered typeface, one which only today is fully gaining strength.

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Diacritics are a special detail of the “new” Orion – the original carons and acutes are slightly bent on the rounded strokes so that the gap between the accent and the character is sufficiently pronounced. This element seemed too archaic, so we omitted it and on the contrary enlarged the accents and designed two sets of diacritics. The first are proportionally adequate darker accents; the second alternative set of very thin accents is based on the aesthetics of the time and the use of light accents that contrast with the dark mass of the character as a stylistic element on posters and book covers and acts as a welcome variation.

diakritika orion4

Diacritics are a special detail of the “new” Orion – the original carons and acutes are slightly bent on the rounded strokes so that the gap between the accent and the character is sufficiently pronounced. This element seemed too archaic, so we omitted it and on the contrary enlarged the accents and designed two sets of diacritics. The first are proportionally adequate darker accents; the second alternative set of very thin accents is based on the aesthetics of the time and the use of light accents that contrast with the dark mass of the character as a stylistic element on posters and book covers and acts as a welcome variation.

diakritika orion5

Diacritics are a special detail of the “new” Orion – the original carons and acutes are slightly bent on the rounded strokes so that the gap between the accent and the character is sufficiently pronounced. This element seemed too archaic, so we omitted it and on the contrary enlarged the accents and designed two sets of diacritics. The first are proportionally adequate darker accents; the second alternative set of very thin accents is based on the aesthetics of the time and the use of light accents that contrast with the dark mass of the character as a stylistic element on posters and book covers and acts as a welcome variation.

diakritika orion6

Diacritics are a special detail of the “new” Orion – the original carons and acutes are slightly bent on the rounded strokes so that the gap between the accent and the character is sufficiently pronounced. This element seemed too archaic, so we omitted it and on the contrary enlarged the accents and designed two sets of diacritics. The first are proportionally adequate darker accents; the second alternative set of very thin accents is based on the aesthetics of the time and the use of light accents that contrast with the dark mass of the character as a stylistic element on posters and book covers and acts as a welcome variation.

1/ Tomáš Brousil, RePublic, Suitcase Type Foundry, Praha 2007
2/ National Technical Museum, Collection of Printing and Writing Technology 

Author: Stanislav Maršo
Digitised by: Briefcase Type Foundry 
Published: 1960-62 Grafotechna n.p. Prague, 2019 Briefcase Type Foundry
Specimen design: Matyáš Bartoň

Number of fonts in a family: 2 (Regular, Italic)
Number of glyphs per font: 463
Release date: 2019

Opentype features:
Glyph Composition (ccmp)
Localized Forms (locl)
Superiors (sups)
Fractions (frac)
Ordinals (ordn)
Lining Figures (pnum)
Tabular Figures (tnum)
Case-sensitive Forms (case)
Discretionary Ligatures (dlig)
Standard Ligatures (liga)
Slashed Zero (zero)
Stylistic Alternates (salt)
Stylistic Set (ss01)
Stylistic Set (ss02)