Today I will focus on a typeface that was once featured in a webcomic by one of my most highly esteemed people, Randall Munroe. This particular installment he portrays a typography geek as being instantly revulsed by a greeting card written in the typeface Papyrus. I’m sorry, Mr. Munroe, but as a professionally diagnosed (^^) typophile, I can say that you are wrong. A shame, since one of the things I usually like about xkcd is how I usually agree.
Papyrus is a widely available typeface designed by Chris Costello in 1982 and released through the foundry Letraset. It is designed to mimick a pen and therefore has strong humanistic undertones. It resembles the types of calligraphy that would have been written on papyrus in the middle ages or The Renaissance.
Really, nobody seems to not like Papyrus in an objective manner. I found some e hate websites like PapyrusWatch, but those all focus on a supposed overuse of the font, which pails in comparison with the way people overuse the sacred cow Helvetica (c.f. my review). I do not find any credence to this claim.
In fact if people want to measure success by number of uses, like they do for Helvetica and Times New Roman, then I should give Papyrus a full score and a gold star sticker that says GREAT! If it’s used a lot, don’t you think that maybe this has to do with (a) sheer aesthetic value, it is a decent font, (b) it has a traditional gothic look, which for some types of business (or greeting card!) conveys the meaning that you want it to, and (c) availability.
This last factor, availability, is important. While there are many other fonts satisfying criterias (a) and (b), how many of those have been included with Microsoft Office for years? Availability can tip otherwise undecidable problems one way or the other, it has decided VHS versus BetaMax and is now deciding HD DVD versus Blu-Ray. There is no shame in having an effective marketing strategy!
To sum it up, Papyrus is a well-designed font that meets all the goals it should. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but not really unique or remarkable. It is used a lot, but that is not something we can reasonably hold against it. 4/5