Designer: The typeface was originally designed by Ed Benguiat in the 1960s. In late 2019, Montage’s letterforms were shaped into five compatible widths by type designers Jess Collins, Mitja Miklavčič, Ben Kiel, and House Industries type director Ken Barber.
Foundry: House Industries
Release Date: November 2019, in its updated version
Back Story: Montage was originally designed for Photo-Lettering, the New York-based company that pioneered photocomposition in 1936 and lasted until desktop publishing took over the type design industry. According to House Industries, it’s uncertain when exactly Benguiat created it—the designer can’t quite recall himself—but it’s somewhere between 1960 and 1965. Once you recognize Montage’s distinctively charming spaces, its brazen quirks like the perfect circle that rounds off the “J,” and its distinctive contrasts, you’ll realize you’ve seen it everywhere—from book jackets to album covers, posters, and logos. “When you see Montage in action, you know right away the role it has played in some of the most influential pop culture mediums to date,” says House Industries.
Since the typeface was initially created for Photo-Lettering, that meant it was never a metal typeface, but rather was typeset for film only. Andy Cruz, co-founder and art director at House Industries, and Ken Barber, the foundry’s type design director, had been longtime fans of the font. “We fell in love with it seeing it in the Photo-Lettering catalogs—they were a graphic designer’s bible before computers really hit,” says Cruz. “Every agency had the thesaurus on their shelf, and we’d always reference it in the early days when we started in around 1994.”
Barber had a first chance interaction with the catalogs when he happened upon a discounted, second hand edition of Volume 2 in Mercer Street Books in New York while still at art school. “I just gravitated toward it,” he adds. Ten years later, as part of House Industries, the team interviewed Benguiat as fanboys, and “developed a mentor relationship with him,” says Cruz.
When an opportunity arose to acquire the Photo-Lettering alphabet rights, House Industries jumped at it, but it’s only now that Montage has been beaten into shape for the modern type designer into the form of a robust, digital font family.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Aside from its bold weight, high contrast, and crisp contours, Montage is mostly distinctive in its ligatures, which are bold and hugely expressive. The numerals are particularly playful and charming, once you spot all their little nuances and peccadilloes. In order to ensure that Montage maintains that sense of presence in a variety of text settings, the designers added a set of pre-drawn letter combinations. “When enabled, the Ligature feature identifies problem pairs like—fl, fi, ff, and ffl—and substitutes them with glyphs optimized to enhance font performance,” the foundry explains. House Industries also added a handful of alternate characters.
Barber points out that Montage “comes from an interesting period of typography,” emerging around the same time as Swiss Modernism. “It took hold at the dawn of Helvetica, so there was a shift in typography, but film typography was almost a backlash to Swiss Modernism. It’s ‘tight not touching’ as Ed would say, so the prevailing idea was that film typesetting allowed designers to do things with type that metal physically didn’t allow them to do, like alter the texture, as they didn’t have the constraints of [metal type] spacing.” As such, fonts like Montage could be incredibly bold, while still maintaining a tightness that meant the letterforms could almost overlap—something metal typesetting simply couldn’t accommodate unless it was hand-drawn.
“With the rise of advertising and marketing, expressive typography has become an element of our culture. People realized the medium and message could be one in the same thing—the style could be the content.”
“Before then, type was primarily for books or long passages,” Barber says. “With the rise of advertising and marketing, expressive typography has become an element of our culture. People realized the medium and message could be one in the same thing—the style could be the content—so readability might have suffered, as it might take an extra moment to parse the meaning, but it grabbed attention. Benguiat translated that ideal masterfully.” Indeed, Montage proves just that: in its design, he pays as much attention to the negative space as the letterforms to create what Barber aptly describes as “a unique rhythm.”
Why’s it called Montage? Well, no one is quite sure. According to Cruz, “Ed had a habit of naming his typefaces after girlfriends, wives, and ex wives, his children… we never learned why it was called Montage.” However, its origins as one of more than 10,000 alphabets in the Photo-Lettering catalog might have something to do with it. Benguiat, as the catalog art director, had a hell of a lot of naming on his hands. “At that point they were happy to find any name suitable for their offerings,” Barber suggests.
What should I use it for? While Montage is very much a product of the 1960s, its roots are in the Fat Face style fonts of the 19th century when advertising posters and billboards were first taking off. This means its primary goal is not legibility, but it allows designers using it for larger applications to “emphasize small details that people might not even pay attention to,” says Barber, such as the striking contrast between thick and thin strokes. Its impact also lies in those delicious ball terminals: “It creates these beautiful delicate spaces,” says Barber. “It’s so weighty and beefy, you don’t expect these surprisingly delicate moments.”
This means it’s the perfect font for impactful poster designs, logotypes, record sleeves, book covers, mastheads—anything that wants you to sit up and take notice, really. House Industries has already used it for projects including its forthcoming Lettering Manual, where it appears in section headers, as well as in a collaboration with Uniqlo.
What should I pair it with? The sheer strength and impact of Montage means it should stand proud, and not be overshadowed by other display-like fonts. Cruz reckons it would be wise to pair it with something more “vanilla and simple” such as the straightforward sans serif Neutraface. “Because Montage has such high contrast, it might also work well with a bold high contrast script,” Barber adds. “There are a number of ways you can put together a broader typographic palette with it.”