Cartridge by SimpleBits

Name: Cartridge
Designer:  Dan Cederholm
Foundry: SimpleBits
Release Date: November 2021

Back Story: Type designer Dan Cederholm was obsessed with the Atari 2600 console when he was a kid growing up in the ’80s. It seems his interest hasn’t waned, but it has taken a different slant. “Over the summer, I was in a local shop with my son, Jack, and they were selling old video games,” Cederholm explains. “There was a wall of Atari cartridges, and I was immediately drawn to the type on the labels.”

He was particularly drawn to a gamed called Stampede, which involved lassoing cattle, and its all-caps lettering. “The S was much skinnier than the other letters, and the T has a wider left stem than the right,” says Cederholm. “Even though it’s set in a very humanist, geometric face, it still had some quirky characteristics that I loved.”

SimpleBits, Cartridge

And so the idea for Cartridge was born. Cederholm decided to create a typeface based on the unusual features of Stampede’s lettering, aiming to “capture the spirit of those game labels, while not completely copying what was there.” The designer deliberately rooted Cartridge in the days of pre-computer-drawn type, namely that from the ’70s and ’80s, since its handmade qualities were usually pretty subtle.

Whys it called Cartridge?

The name is simply because Cartridge was inspired by the label art on old Atari 2600 cartridges. One of the main draws of those game fonts is how versatile they are. As Cederholm points out, they had to be since they were essentially advertising everything from cattle ranching to alien invasions, sports, jungle adventures, and more.

SimpleBits, Cartridge

What are its distinguishing characteristics?

Cederholm describes Cartridge as “friendly and utilitarian at the same time.” Like the gaming fonts that inspired it, Cartridge’s humanist forms are simple and geometric, yet with certain quirks that make it unique such as a “skinny S and deformed T.”

The font comes with three “Easter egg Bit Monster character” alternates, as he describes them. Years back, Cederholm had created some pixel art characters he dubbed Bit Monsters, which graced prints and t-shirts.  “It seemed like the perfect opportunity to resurface those little rascals in the font, so I made them random alternate characters,” he says.

The lowercase lettering looks to capture the vibe of other Atari cartridges that used all lowercase for their titles, with features like an e that slopes backwards, as well as alternate t letters “where you can create fun ligatures,” says Cederholm. “The slanted capitals of A, V, and W make some really neat lockups where the letters feel custom and retro. Like a 1980s Olympic branding that never was,” he adds.

What should I use it for?

Cartridge is punchy enough to use for things like posters and logotypes—particularly those going for a retro feel—but also legible and subtle enough for more pared back, text-heavy uses. Cederholm suggests that it might make a “nice alternative to something like Futura, in all caps with generous letter spacing.”

Cartridge seems a no-brainer for sleeves or posters for retro-leaning genres like synthwave, vaporwave, or New Wave.  But just because Cartridge’s roots lie in arcade-based nostalgia doesn’t mean it should only be used in applications that lean retro. “It’d be neat if it was used for something super cutting edge, technology-wise—some VR game where it’s the year 3032 and everyone can talk to each telepathically,” says Cederholm. “Or something tasty like a pizza shop that serves sci-fi themed pies.”
The distinctive letterforms seem a good choice for titles, too, where a designer might be looking for a more friendly alternative for something like Helvetica, or where they want to be a bit more daring than a predictable, safe sans-serif.
SimpleBits, Cartridge

What other fonts should I pair it with?

Again, its versatility means that Cartridge goes well with pretty much anything. But Cederholm advises that thinking about Cartridge in terms of a geometric sans “probably helps find pairings.” As such, a condensed gothic such as Trade Gothic, or a friendly rounded serif like Cooper Medium. “If you’re using the lowercase in Cartridge, something like a Neue Haas Grotesk would be cool for that ’70s/’80s corporate signage vibe,” he adds.

SimpleBits, Cartridge