It’s About Papyrus – Again

by Allan Haley

It is abundantly clear that the cognoscenti of the type and graphic design communities love to hate the Papyrus™ typeface. While not as reviled as the Comic Sans® typeface, Papyrus receives more than its fair share of bad press.

Sure, it’s overused, but that doesn’t make it a bad design – just popular. And Papyrus does tend to show up in less than stellar graphic design solutions – but, if this is the reason for supposedly sophisticated designers reviling the design, it smacks of elitism.

Would I, use the Papyrus? Probably not – but not because it’s a bad design. If I wanted to make a distinctive graphic statement, I would use a typeface with a little less “face time” – one that really would stand out from the crowd.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this. I saw the movie Avatar™ last weekend and was blown away. While the story was little more than a rewriting of “Dances With Wolves,” the cinematography, animation and special effects were virtually beyond belief. Like the original Wizard of OZ™, Gone With the Wind™ and Star Wars™ movies, Avatar has set a new benchmark for film making excellence.

So why are the subtitles for the Na’vi people, the alien protagonists of the film, set in Papyrus? It is the only unimaginative visual aspect of the movie. If the choice were mine, the subtitles would have been original calligraphy. (There are times when custom handlettering is the perfect answer.) One would think that, in the $300,000,000+ budget for Avatar, there would have been some room for hiring a lettering artist or calligrapher. If there was only $30 allotted to the subtitle typeface (which appears to be the case), designs like ITC Noovo™, ITC Tempus™ Sans, Briem™ Script or Carolina™ would have carried off the alien and beautifully exotic demeanor of the Na’vi quite well – and would not have reminded the audience of a restaurant menu.

Script Font Samples

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.

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38 Responses to “It’s About Papyrus – Again”

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  4. Chris says:

    Good point about typographic “elitism”. Comic Sans and Papyrus are both well designed fonts. It’s not their fault they’re popular and distinctive.

  5. Ryan says:

    I disagree with the elitist aspect of ridiculing certain fonts. Comic Sans is not designed for making signs or writing essays. It’s designed for use in comic books. It’s overuse in the wrong situations, from menus to break-room signs to 40-point email headlines, is ugly and distracting and deserves all the mockery we can lay upon it.

    The same goes for Papyrus, though to a lesser extent. Though I did see an intern use it for body text in a memo one time.

  6. Mark says:

    No comic book letterer who ever wants to be hired would use Comic Sans in a book. Unless of course the scene was making fun of a printed page or website that was using Comic Sans. And even then, that letterer would probably feel dirty in his or her soul.

  7. Michael says:

    Actually, given that we have to believe that the subtitles are an accurate and neutral translation of the Na’vi people, surely Helvetica would be the ideal font to just do the job and get out of the way.

  8. Jenny says:

    it’s not about how it’s overused. It’s the lack of aesthetics that are implied when using the font. It’s just an easy way to get a certain look; like a native, cultural look that people just assume they’ll achieve with applying papyrus on microsoft word.

    I think papyrus deserves that hate…seriously, people who are not design/art majors need to understand this. avoid comic sans and papyrus! quality control.

  9. The Wolfman says:

    In werewolf folklore, like vampires, they are known to have an animlistic allure. Perhaps this what attracted her to him once he was bitten.

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