Courtesy Typotheque/Peter Bil'ak.

Name: Typotheque Hebrew Programme
Designers: Peter Bil’ak and members of the Typotheque in-house team, plus Israeli type designers Michal Sahar, Yanek Iontef, Daniel Grumer, and Daniel Berkovitz
Foundry: Typotheque
Release Date: October 2017

Back Story: The project builds on a decade of Typotheque’s founder and internationally renowned typographer Peter Bil’ak’s work designing Arabic type, and resulted in Hebrew versions of all of Typotheque’s fonts that already featured Arabic support. The design team didn’t set out to create a particular style or typeface family, but rather to execute a complete Hebrew type program offering both high-contrast (based on Greta Text Latin), low-contrast (based on Greta Sans Latin) and display typefaces. Bil’ak notes that out of hundreds of existing Hebrew typefaces, 99% can be characterized as quirky display typefaces not meant to be used at small sizes and that nearly all of them had just one or two styles. “This was one of our motivations to produce authentic, modern, respectful, well-researched fonts that embrace the traditions, but are designed for contemporary communication,” he says. Better yet, these fonts also support Latin, Arabic, and Cyrillic scripts commonly used in Israel, so they allow for a more fluid cultural exchange.

Courtesy Typotheque/Peter Bil’ak.

During the course of the project, Bil’ak (who doesn’t read or speak Hebrew) interviewed several Israeli graphic and book designers for guidance. They pointed out that there are just three fonts used in Israeli newspapers and books, and these fonts—Frank Rühl, David, and Hadassah—all originated in the 20th century. The information gave Bil’ak a useful starting point for a process that included consulting with New York typographer Misha Beletsky, professors Adi Stern and Michal Sahar of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and type design students Daniel Berkovics and Daniel Grumer, together with extensive research studying books on Hebrew typography and its various calligraphic styles.

In a blog post on ilovetypography.com, Bil’ak wrote, “Of course, an outsider has to work harder to learn a script’s history, traditions and conventions…I knew that in the process of exploring Hebrew type I would make silly mistakes that would never even occur to a native designer, that coming to understand the historical models, references and writing tools would be a long journey…I thank all my collaborators for their patience and their contribution and in making those typefaces what they should be.”

 What are its distinguishing characteristics? Hebrew script seems simple at first glance: there are just 22 characters, free of upper/lower case distinction, ligatures, and contextual shapes. But the apparent simplicity can be misleading: as he worked, Bil’ak quickly learned that the relatively consistent structure of Hebrew letters required him to vary the terminals slightly in order to keep a lively texture in large blocks of text, and that the individualized terminals also helped increase legibility and differentiate the glyphs.

The system includes 21 full typeface families and over 200 individual fonts, several of which are firsts on the international market—Greta Sans Hebrew and Greta Text Hebrew offer a wider selection of options for width and weight, and Parmigiano Hebrew is the first digital Hebrew type system available in four optical sizes. It also correctly renders the cantillation marks required for setting religious texts. Greta Sans Hebrew won the Type Directors Club 2016 Certificate of Excellence prior to its wide release.

What should I use it for? Since it is not one standalone typeface, but an entire system meant to cover all possible uses for text at varying sizes and varying media, the possibilities are limitless. Consider it an entire type library.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? The project is basically a self-contained ecosystem, making it a snap to create harmonious pairings in both Latin- and Hebrew-based texts by choosing amongst the 21 type families in varying balanced weights, widths, and styles.