Gill Sans

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Gill Sans
Designer(s)Eric Gill
Date created1926
Date released1928 (Monotype)
Re-issuing foundriesMonotype, Adobe Systems, ITC
Design based onJohnston
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Gill Sans
Designer(s)Eric Gill
Date created1926
Date released1928 (Monotype)
Re-issuing foundriesMonotype, Adobe Systems, ITC
Design based onJohnston

Gill Sans is a sans-serif typeface designed by Eric Gill.

The original design appeared in 1926 when Douglas Cleverdon opened a bookshop in his home town of Bristol, where Gill painted the fascia over the window in sans-serif capitals that would later be known as Gill Sans.[1] In addition, Gill had sketched a design for Cleverdon,[2] intended as a guide for him to make future notices and announcements.

Gill further developed it into a complete font family after Stanley Morison commissioned the development of Gill Sans to combat the families of Erbar, Futura and Kabel which were being launched in Germany during the latter 1920s. Gill Sans was later released in 1928 by Monotype Corporation.

Gill Sans became popular when in 1929 Cecil Dandridge commissioned Eric Gill to produce Gill Sans to be used on the London and North Eastern Railway for a unique typeface for all the LNER's posters and publicity material.[3]

Gill was a well established sculptor, graphic artist and type designer, and the Gill Sans typeface takes inspiration from Edward Johnston’s Johnston typeface for London Underground, which Gill had worked on while apprenticed to Johnston. Eric Gill attempted to make the ultimate legible sans-serif text face. Gill Sans was designed to function equally well as a text face and for display. It is distributed as a system font in Mac OS X and is bundled with certain versions of Microsoft products as Gill Sans MT.[4]


The uppercase of Gill Sans is modelled on the monumental Roman capitals like those found on the Column of Trajan, and the Caslon and Baskerville typefaces.

The capital M from Gill Sans is based on the proportions of a square with the middle strokes meeting at the centre of that square. The Gill Sans typeface family contains fourteen styles and has less of a mechanical feel than geometric sans-serifs like Futura, because its proportions stemmed from Roman tradition. Unlike realist sans-serif typefaces including Akzidenz Grotesk and Univers the lower case is modelled on the lowercase Carolingian script. The Carolingian influence is noticeable in the two-story lowercase a, and g. The lowercase t is similar to old-style serifs in its proportion and oblique terminus of the vertical stroke. Following the humanist model the lowercase italic a becomes single story. The italic e is highly calligraphic, and the lowercase p has a vestigial calligraphic tail reminiscent of the italics of Caslon and Baskerville. Gill Sans serves as a model for several later humanist sans-serif typefaces including Syntax and FF Scala Sans. An Infant variety of the typeface with single-story versions of the letters a and g also exists.

The basic glyph shapes do not look consistent across font weights and widths, especially in Extra Bold and Ultra Bold weights, and Extra Condensed width. However, even in lighter weights, some letters do not look consistent. For example, in letters p and q, the top strokes of counters do not touch the top of the stems in Light, Bold, Heavy fonts, but touch the top of the stems in Book, Medium fonts.


The letter a was originally developed with straight tail, followed by diagonal tail (which can be seen on early specimen sheets), then the hooked tail. The diagonal tail eventually was found in Extra Bold, Bold Extra Condensed; a modified straight tail was later found in Ultra Bold.

The original Gill Sans lacked distinctions between numeral 1, uppercase i, and lowercase L, so alternate version of Gill Sans was made that included an alternate 1 that could be used for numerical setting, such as shop window prices and timetables.[5] In the Adobe version, such alternate figure is not included, even in the OpenType version of the font.

Eric Gill removed terminus endings of the vertical stroke in b, d, p and q, but Monotype drawing office revised the forms so that they were preserved in the medium weight, which can be seen on early samples of the series 262. In Gill Sans Pro, the restored endings can be found in Gill Sans Light (in d, p, q only), Bold, Heavy, Extra Bold (p only), Ultra Bold (p only), Condensed, Bold Condensed, Ultra Bold Condensed (p only), Display Bold, Display Extra Bold (p only), Display Bold Condensed, Bold Extra Condensed (d, p only), Shadowed Light (d, q only).

Variants and other versions[edit]


Gill was commissioned to develop a typeface with the number of allographs limited to what could be used on Monotype or Linotype machines.

The typeface was loosely based on the Arabic Naskh style but lacked even the most basic understanding of Arabic script. It was rejected and never cut into type.

See: S.S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, p. 606, fig. 13.7


Versions of Gill Sans exist in display, condensed, outlined (Monotype ser. 290[6]), ultra bold (ser. 442), among others, and also Greek and Cyrillic letters. A schoolbook/infant edition also exists.

Monotype released in August 2005 a collection of 21 fonts including Book, Book Italic, Heavy, Heavy Italic, Display Bold, Display Bold Condensed fonts of Gill Sans. It adds support of Eastern European characters but not Greek and Cyrillic.[7]

Similar fonts[edit]

Granby from Stephenson, Blake was a contemporary variant based on Gill Sans.[8] Jeremy Tankard's Bliss and Volker Küster's Today Sans are also contemporaries.[9][10] Gill Sans also shares several humanist sans-serif characteristics with Charlotte Sans: a double storey roman a and g, and a single storey lowercase italic a. Toronto Subway is based on Johnston and is often confused with Gill Sans.


A type similar to Gill Sans sign on a heritage railway: the letterforms are subtly different.

First unveiled in a single uppercase weight in 1928, Gill Sans achieved national prominence almost immediately, when it was chosen the following year to become the standard typeface for the LNER railway system, soon appearing on every facet of the company's identity, from locomotive nameplates and station signage to restaurant car menus, printed timetables and advertising posters.

When British Railways was created by nationalisation in 1948, Gill Sans was used in much of its printed output, including timetables. Specially drawn variations were developed by the British Transport Commission for signs, but these characters are not authentic Gill. The corporate rebranding of BR as British Rail in 1965 introduced Rail Alphabet for signage, and Helvetica and/or Univers for printed matter. Other users included Penguin Books' iconic paperback jacket designs from 1935, and Gill Sans became Monotype's fifth best selling typeface of the twentieth century.

The BBC logo

The typeface continues to thrive to this day, often being held to bring an artistic or cultural sensibility to an organisation's corporate style. Monotype themselves use it in their corporate style, and the typeface was prominently used by many public service organisations. These include Railtrack (and now Network Rail), which used Gill Sans for printed matter, the Church of England, which adopted Gill Sans as the typeface for the definitive Common Worship family of service books published from 2000, and the British Government, which formally adopted Gill Sans as its standard typeface for use in all communications and logos in 2003. The BBC adopted the typeface as its corporate typeface in 1997. Until 2006, the corporation used the font in all its media output; however, the unveiling of its new idents for BBC One and BBC Two has signalled a shift away from its universal use, as other fonts were used for their respective on-screen identities, but the BBC logo still uses the typeface.

Since 2001, Gill Sans is the official corporative typeface of the Spanish Government, (Gobierno de España).

SEPTA's Regional Rail lines use Gill Sans (or a very similar font) for most signage at Market East and Suburban stations in Center City Philadelphia; other signage uses Helvetica.

On the business side, Saab Automobile adopted the font for almost all of its advertising and marketing communications.

Edward Tufte, the information design theorist, uses Gill Sans on his website[11] and in some of his published works.[12]

Zedelgem, a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders uses Gill Sans in its annals and letters.

The closing credits of The Bold and the Beautiful used Gill Sans from 1992 to 1997.

Legal aspects[edit]

Because Gill died in 1940, in most parts of the world the typeface became part of the public domain in 2011. In countries where typefaces are not copyrightable (like in the US) this is not important but in other parts of the world this makes it possible to freely use the original design for any purposes, including creating digitised versions of the typeface. New digitized versions based on the original design may or may not have copyright protection (depending on the given country's view on creative works, and whether they consider visually exact lookalikes "creative" or not), often possessing their own copyright terms.

The name "Gill Sans" is trademarked (No. 1340167 in the US and No. 0950970 internationally, filed in 1983 by Monotype Corporation) and may not be used to describe the font created.


  • Carter, Sebastian. Twentieth Century Type Designers. W.W. Norton, 1995. ISBN 0-393-70199-9.
  • Johnson, Jaspert & Berry. Encyclopedia of Type Faces. Cassell & Co, 2001. ISBN 1-84188-139-2.
  • Ott, Nicolaus, Friedl Fredrich, and Stein Bernard. Typography and Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Throughout History. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. 1998, ISBN 1-57912-023-7.


  1. ^ Paul Townsend (20 October 2009). "Douglas Cleverdon Book Publishers". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  2. ^ "Eric Gill & The Cockerel Press". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  3. ^ East Coast Joys: Tom Purvis and the LNER
  4. ^ "Gill Sans MT in Microsoft products". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Archer, Ben. "Eric Gill got it wrong; a re-evaluation of Gill Sans". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis, Friedrich Friedl. Creative Type: A Sourcebook of Classic and Contemporary Letterforms. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-51229-6. Retrieved 7 January 2011. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Gill Sans Pro". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  8. ^ Millington, Roy (2002). Stephenson Blake: The Last of the Old English Typefounders. Oak Knoll Press. ISBN 1-58456-086-X. 
  9. ^ "Speak Up Archive: Saab or Dodgeball?". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  10. ^ « Previous Next » Commentary. "Questioning Gill Sans - Typography Commentary". Typographica. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^

External links[edit]