The pairing superfamily: Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow

Designed by Radek Łukasiewicz, this font-pairing superfamily is a new resource for publishing and branding. Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow are intended to communicate with individual, yet complementary voices. Available separately, they can be purchased all together at a nice price

Interview by Massimo Gonzato

Jantar Flow and Jantar Sharp are two individual but complementary type families. Designed for continuous text, they have a lot to share, starting with the name chosen by their designer Radek Łukasiewicz for his first project with CAST Foundry.

Where does the Jantar project come from? 

In the old Polish language, ‘jantar’ stands for ‘amber’. The world’s leading source of amber is located in Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian enclave lying on the Baltic Coast between Poland and Lithuania. Kalisz, my hometown, located in central Poland, is a place that historically was developed thanks to its location on the amber trade route towards southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Amber is a fossilised tree resin that is robust and organic. These qualities are reflected in some way in the feeling behind the Jantar families, ‘Sharp’ and ‘Flow’.

Inspiration for these two faces came from the most popular pairings of text faces of the digital age like Helvetica and Times or Verdana and Georgia. Unlike Times or Georgia, Jantar Sharp is not a real seriffed face, but this comparison with such pairings of text faces helps to understand the challenge of the Jantar superfamily: to build a pair of type families rather than create a predictable superfamily.

Could you introduce us to the similarities and differences between Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow? 

They are two distinct typefaces, but they can live together harmoniously. As part of the Jantar superfamily these two families are perfectly paired. Though they are not based on the same skeleton, Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow share several design parameters – such as vertical metrics (but not the x-height and descenders), general proportions, weight ranges, OT features – and the same character set, but each one works independently with its peculiar features.

Designed for publishing, both for print and web, as well as for branding applications, Jantar Flow and Jantar Sharp communicate with individual yet complementary voices, just like two trained acrobats who can perform alone but also know well how to perform together.

Whereas Jantar Flow can be described as a humanist sans serif with low contrast and a large x-height, Jantar Sharp’s personality lies in its hooked terminals which make it a kind of hybrid; neither a sans nor a seriffed face, these terminals bring an organic touch, aligning the typeface to the reading process.

Could you please give some examples of these details of Jantar Sharp? How do they influence the reading process?  

I was hinting at Jantar Sharp’s hooked terminals you can find on the left of letters like n, m, r, p, and on the right of letters like a, u, d, l. Moreover in both the type families, proportions of letters change across weight range. This is most evident in uppercase, with Imperial Roman proportions in the lighter weights (narrow B, E, S and wide C, G and M) and overall modern proportions in the bolder weights (more uniformity of widths). In many cases during the design process I chose performance rather than logic, e.g. contrast treatment of different groups of glyphs. I wanted to maintain some minor characteristics of a specific group of letters. To some extent the drawing for lowercase, uppercase, brackets and figures is slightly different in order to keep some liveliness of the paragraph, rather than to achieve a perfectly uniform text — there are already a number of type families designed for evenness. 

In Jantar Sharp the above-mentioned hooked terminals create a much more lively pattern of black and white as well as weight and contrast treatment; and this departs from a rational stiffness that is typical of many sanserifs or rationalised typefaces of the photo-composition and digital era. Personally I believe that the reading process is very unstable and dynamic, and this can be answered by designing type aligned with this kind of irregular rhythm. 

There is an inspiration from music, where artists like J. Dilla or the Jazz masters proved that rhythm, which usually is defined by mathematics, does not always have to be perfectly mathematical to work well. Both musicians and designers use maths to support the creative process, though this doesn’t have to be a validator. Type design is a funny discipline of extreme precision where the ultimate measuring tool is an eye. I can specifically feel that kind of irregular rhythm when I’m reading books typeset in metal. Prints from the metal type era have a certain warmth and an ability to engage the reader because they weren’t as clinically perfect as modern printing and high-resolution rendering. I always wanted to tackle the challenge of recreating such a liveliness. Finally, this is also an aspect that opens lots of possibilities in the context of multiscript typography. 

What about the italics? 

Both Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow to some extent follow a slanted-roman design; besides the double-storey a, many other letters have roman construction and proportions, so that the italics work better in the context of paragraph reading rather than as a pure highlighting device. Jantar Flow italic really brings the fun side to the appearance of the Jantar Flow family. It tackles the challenge of constructing a secondary style for a humanist sanserif. Rather than following models established by typefaces like Gerard Unger’s amazing Flora, I’ve tried to make it more informal. It can be immediately distinguished from the roman, which helps in smaller sizes.

In short, which qualities make the whole Jantar superfamily suitable for publishing and branding purposes? 

The weight range and the whole set of styles as well as OT features like various sets of figures. Other useful characteristics are the relation between upper and lower case as well as slight differences between proportions across weights. In their DNA Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow are definitely text typefaces. However thanks to the above qualities, they can be used across large size ranges without being repetitive.

When did you start the Jantar project?

Jantar, the name I chose, tells a story. On the Baltic Coast near Kaliningrad  pieces of amber are torn from the seafloor and cast up by the waves, while elsewhere, amber is mined. Nonetheless the ‘jantar’ must be also cleaned off in revolving barrels containing sand and water. The process is a long one but it produces great results. The same was for my project, that took some time. I started to design both typefaces in the autumn of 2019 as an MATD project at the University of Reading. I was thinking about a project with market potential as well as a good vehicle for learning. That kind of balance can be tricky to achieve, but luckily I had enough time and support from people like Gerry Leonidas and Fred Smeijers to keep me on my toes. I also owe lots to my friends: Catalina Zlotea, Geneviève Cugnart, Jose Carratala and Jeremy Johnson who kept me motivated and encouraged and inspired me all the way.

Why did you release Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow through CAST foundry? How much your design and production choices have been influenced by this decision?

No surprise. I just followed the direction of the amber/jantar trade route from the Baltic Coast to southern Europe. Jokes aside, CAST was on my radar for a long time as I was following their articles and I used some typefaces, such as Zenon or Valnera, as a reference point. Having their library in mind, I thought the Jantar superfamily might be a right fit. I was very happy to receive positive responses from Riccardo Olocco and Luciano Perondi. They shared with me a certain vision for Jantar as a part of the CAST type collection. 

All the feedback and comments we exchanged during the design process, made the Jantar superfamily much more refined and attractive as a type product. Especially in a typeface which doesn’t follow a certain historical model, it is extremely important to have support. Otherwise, it would be very easy to get lost in the visual cacophony. 

Any tips for users?

Jantar Sharp and Jantar Flow can work alone, so you can buy them separately. But since they were designed to perform together, CAST set a nice price for buying both typefaces, as with Sole Serif and Sole Sans.