Marian 1554, courtesy Commercial Type.

Our weekly look at a favorite new typeface. Share yours with us on Twitter and Instagram @AIGAdesign with #TypeTuesday.

Name: Marian

Designers: Paul Barnes, Miguel Reyes, and Sandra Carrera

Foundry: Commercial Type

Release Date: 2012,Marian; 2014, Marian Text

Marian is a crazy quilt of an idea that should never work, but somehow it does. Conceived by designer Paul Barnes as “part history lesson, part conceptual art, and part loving tribute to the great punchcutters of the past who continue to inspire contemporary type design,” Marian revives nine serif styles throughout history, from 16th-century Renaissance up to the early 19th-century Scotch Roman. It strips the letterforms down to skeletal structures, rendering them as hairline slab serifs of nearly uniform weights to reveal their underlying bone structure.

Its first release in 2012 was meant only for headline use, and in 2014 Reyes and Carrera collaborated with Barnes to create Marian Text, a font family comprised of an old style, a transitional, a modern, and a blackletter for use at smaller sizes. A carefully conceived mathematical ratio of 100:26 means that text set in 100pt Marian matches 26pt Marian Text in stroke weight, though the designers recommend a 100:20 ratio for maximum optical harmony.

Why’s it called Marian? For this eclectic typeface Barnes wanted a name with multiple historical and musical references, from Robin Hood’s Maid Marian, to the national symbol of the French Republic, to Marianne Faithfull and various songs by Leonard Cohen, the Human League, and Sisters of Mercy. 

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Marian’s paper-thin strokes reflect the feel of her historical predecessors, while also lending a strange otherworldly quality of their own. With styles that vary widely in appearance, the type family nevertheless holds together beautifully as a unit. 

What should I use it for? Marian is the double black diamond trail of type. Even its designers allow that it might pose a challenge for the uninitiated, but in the hands of a skillful typographer it creates stunning effects. Try it as an airy headline or a pull quote to add some breathing room to a densely set page. Marian Text uses the same overall guiding design principles to provide variety within the same slightly historical feel.

Who’s it friends with? Ultra thin Marian looks good next to sans serif pals with a little meat on their bones, like the heavier weights of Graphik or Gotham. And of course it looks great paired with the serif typefaces that inspired each family: Marian 1571 with Granjon or Matthew Carter’s Galliard. Mix and match at will.