Name: GT Zirkon
Designer: Tobias Rechsteiner
Foundry: Grilli Type
Release Date: September 2018
Back Story: “This typeface may sparkle like a gem stone—but we think of it more like a heavy-duty tool with exquisite utility,” promises Grilli Type. And it certainly does sparkle: likely thanks to having been polished for a whopping nine years (on and off) by designer Tobias Rechsteiner.
In the process of creating the typeface, Rechsteiner dabbled with using it in his own design work, allowing him to make constant adjustments and iterations as he went. “Its high contrast required visually balancing the characters again and again,” says Grilli Type, partially explaining that nine year genesis.
GT Zirkon is inspired by the “quirkiness” of a number of different 19th- and early 20th-century gothic typefaces. Rechsteiner began work on the typeface while working at the University of the Arts in Bern, where he studied (and met the Grilli Type founders). “At the university we had to worked with Helvetica Neue 45, as that was the corporate design,” he says. “I felt that in Helvetica the letters are too wide for me.” As such, he was keen to create a sans serif font that was narrower. He started using the Internet Archive’s archive.org, and discovered “beautiful type specimens from the Industrial Age.” These historic fonts, combined with his drive to create a new sans, were the origin of GT Zirkon.
“I like that it has a high stroke contrast, but that’s not immediately obvious,” says Rechsteiner. “When you first look at it, you think it’s just another sans serif, and you see the small differences.”
Why’s it called GT Zirkon?: As the gorgeous animated illustrations on the font’s microsite bring to life, it’s about a mixture of the organic and the artificial. “Zirkon is the the second hardest crystal there is,” Rechsteiner explains. “Diamond is the hardest, and Zirkon is usually used as a fake diamond. I liked that history.” The illustrations by Grilli Type were first used on posters promoting an earlier version of the typeface in around 2011, and now form a mesmerizing, generative pattern of strange monochrome elements.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? The typeface boasts a narrower-than-usual character width, and a higher contrast between thin and thick strokes than most gothic typefaces. Standout characters are the C, G, and S, which sport lovely little inward curls.
GT Zirkon is available in eight different weights categorized into three sections. “Unlike more modern sans serif designs, the light weights don’t aim for neutrality but instead embrace the stroke contrast from the heavier weight, leading to an elegant look,” says Grilli Type. “GT Zirkon’s design expresses itself in different ways across different sizes and weights. Its ink traps aid rendering at text sizes and become an expressive element in their own right when the typeface is used larger.”
The influence of the 19th-century gothic typefaces is seen in the angled terminal strokes that slightly curve inward. “Across the typeface, traditionally wide letters are more narrow and narrow characters are wider, which leads to relatively uniform character widths and a very regular rhythm,” says Grilli Type. “This differs markedly from more common sans serif designs that allow for much more variety in their horizontal proportions.”
What should I use it for? GT Zirkon mixes the traits that optimize it for body copy sizes with the more “exuberant details” you’d expect in display type. So in short: pretty much anything. “I don’t think typefaces have a particular use case,” says Rechsteiner, who says he uses Zirkon “all the time” as his own design studio’s corporate font. “It’s quite utilitarian for me.”
What other typefaces would you pair it with? While GT Zirkon works well with serif fonts–the designer recommends Times New Roman, thanks to its narrower letterforms—he reckons you should steer clear of using it with another sans. “Zirkon’s contrasts mean that if you were using it with something like a regular Helvetic, it looks kind of off,” he says.