Thursday, October 7, 2010

THE OTHER WEEK, I discovered (just as many of you did, I'm sure) that a "brilliant" is a traditional term for a type size of 3.5 points. The threshold of legibility for the human eye is around 7 points. Perhaps this is how the 7.3 point "minion" or 7.6 "brevier" came to be? These amusing group of words quickly reminded me of one of my favorite typographic endeavors, "Minuscule". The purpose of Minuscule is exactly what one might suppose. This typeface was created to be typeset at small point sizes, specifically below the usual legibility threshold. In fact, five versions have been developed (italics were also added, recently): Minuscule Six, Minuscule Cinq, Minuscule Quatre, Minuscule Trois, Minuscule Deux for six, five, four, three and two point type, respectively. Two point type, you say? Yes! Don't believe me? Print out of copy of the .pdf sample on the website (link posted below) and see it for yourself. I must admit that reading French set at 2 points is a little difficult, but that is only because I can't read French… not because I can't make out the letters!

This set of fonts are probably the most intriguing to me of any that I have ever come across because of the research behind them. Under the "About" section on the website, you can read a brief section about the 19th century ophthalmologist, Dr Émile Javal, whose work inspired Minuscule. If there is an ounce of curiosity or love for typography in you, I would highly recommend spending a few minutes perusing the other categories that follow, as well. Here is a snippet from the section "The Word Outline" if you need more coaxing than that: "The eye first reads the words outlines. We do not read by deciphering one letter after the other, but by identifying, at once, already memorized word images. This point favours the use of lower cases." It is just plain fun knowing the "why" behind why we do what we do.

Now, we all know that a "minikin" is a traditional term for a type size of 3 points. Thanks to Minuscule, we can read one. The only question I have is, "What do you call a type size of 2 points?"


  1. I wanted to see how small the "minuscule" really was, so I printed out a few of the pages on the link that was mentioned. Page 9 and 10 have two 3 pt versions of minuscule, though one appears much smaller than the other. Anyway, the smaller version of the 3 pt reminds me of the printing on dollar bills. When I was little, I loved looking for all the words and numbers hidden within the designs of the various dollar bills. I think it's quite fun how small type can get yet somehow still be readable.

  2. I believe that the last "3pt" header is a typo. The smallest version is 2 points in size. An ironic error for their sample pages, for sure.

  3. This is wicked cool (I almost stated that it is brilliant then I realized that that could be seen as an attempt at a bad pun, but I guess I made the pun anyways). You really can read it, and it is tiny and I am blind.