Type News

FF DIN: The First Condensed Arabic FontFont

February 24, 2016 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

The release of Yanone’s FF DIN® Arabic marks the addition of the first Arabic type family with condensed weights to the FontFont library. To a layman like me the concept of a condensed Arabic seems like a real challenge. Because the script still has strong ties to its calligraphic roots – more so than Latin-based alphabets – you may get the impression that compressing the generous horizontal pen strokes and comparatively small counters would break up the natural proportions and make it hard to read. Yet this is not necessarily the case. I asked my dear friend Dr. Nadine Chahine, award-winning Lebanese type designer and UK Type Director & Legibility Expert at Monotype, to enlighten me.

The first three FontFont families available in both Latin and Arabic – FF Seria, FF Amman and FF Amman Sans.
The first three FontFont families available in both Latin and Arabic – FF Seria, FF Amman and FF Amman Sans.

FF DIN® is the second FontFont family to receive an Arabic companion, making FF DIN Arabic the fourth Arabic type family in the FontFont library. FontFont’s first foray in Arabic grew out of the Typographic Matchmaking project, organised by the Khatt Foundation. Lebanese type designer Pascal Zoghbi designed Sada, a metaphorical echo of Martin Majoor’s FF Seria® typeface. The FontFont Type Board was so impressed by the quality of Majoor and Zoghbi’s collaboration that they chose this design to be the first Arabic typeface released under the FontFont banner. It was added to the Serif version in 2009. Pascal wrote a guest post on The FontFeed about its development.

When it arrived on the market one year after FF Seria Arabic, the bi-script type family FF Amman™ was one of the largest Arabic–Latin typeface families designed to date. Instead of adding an Arabic counterpart to a Latin typeface, both script versions were simultaneously designed by one single person, German type designer Yanone, in Serif and Sans styles. It also was the first family of its kind to offer true Arabic italics instead of oblique versions. Jürgen Siebert reported about the type family and its mini-documentary for The FontFeed.

And now FontFont introduces FF DIN Arabic, the fourth Arabic FontFont family, also designed by Yanone. FF DIN Arabic was commissioned in 2014 by FontFont to further expand the range of Albert-Jan Pool’s immensely popular FF DIN family that already supports the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets. Even though it can be considered as an extension of the character set of both the regular and the condensed weights, it is a separate set of fonts. David Sudweeks interviewed Yanone about its development for FontShop News.

Arabic proverb with translation, set in (top to bottom) FF DIN Arabic Condensed Thin, Light, Medium and Black, with Stylistic Set 1 activated (round dots).
Arabic proverb with translation, set in (top to bottom) FF DIN Arabic Condensed Thin, Light, Medium and Black, with Stylistic Set 1 activated (round dots).

Condensed Arabic typefaces

Arabic type families don’t normally have a design of a regular width paired to a condensed design; traditionally condensed Arabic typefaces are standalone families. Of course, now that they are combined with Latin typefaces or form integrated families supporting multiple scripts, Arabic typefaces start adhering to their conventions. For example when Nadine Chahine created the Arabic expansion for Adrian Frutiger’s seminal humanist sans serif Frutiger®, Arabic character sets were designed to match both the regular and the condensed styles.

Nadine Chahine | “It’s not the first thing on our mind when we discuss Arabic typography. At our point of development we are currently in our infancy. All of these complementary styles, like extended and condensed and so on, are things to aspire to. It’s not something that naturally comes up when you start developing a new Arabic font family. The gap in the ‘regular’ typefaces is so big that we need to fill these gaps before we start doing extensive families with many variants. There are a few, obviously, but not that many yet.”

So how does the Arabic script lend itself to condensed typeface designs? The first important thing to know is that there is not one single Arabic style; there are different kinds of Arabic designs. Some of them lend themselves better to condensed font styles.

The same text set in the [Tanseek™](/families/tanseek) typeface, an Arabic script in Naskh style (right), and in [Tanseek™ Modern](/families/tanseek-modern), the companion font in Kufi style (left).
The same text set in the Tanseek™ typeface, an Arabic script in Naskh style (right), and in Tanseek™ Modern, the companion font in Kufi style (left).

Condensed Kufi styles

Let’s first look at what is commonly referred to as Kufi styles in absence of a more accurate term. They are inspired by ornamental lettering in patterns, tiling, architecture, and so on. In general Kufi styles are geometric in nature and usually have open counters, which means their character shapes can handle more compression. They are squarish in design, with a very strong horizontal and a very strong vertical aspect, so condensing them is pretty straightforward. There are many historical references for condensed Kufi styles that demonstrate you can play with the proportions in a flexible way. This present very few problems: because they are so squarish it simply boils down to turning a square into a rectangle. A number Kufi typefaces already exist that have quite narrow proportions, and can be considered condensed designs. One example is Isra™, a gorgeous font intended for display use whose glyph shapes are very compressed. Yet the geometric structure of Kufi doesn’t lend itself well to immersive reading and cannot sustain long texts.

All weights of FF DIN Arabic are available in three variants – with (top) the default square dots and (middle) the circular dots in Stylistic Set 1, both from the original FF DIN, as well as with (bottom) the traditional rhombus-shaped dots in Stylistic Set 2.
All weights of FF DIN Arabic are available in three variants – with (top) the default square dots and (middle) the circular dots in Stylistic Set 1, both from the original FF DIN, as well as with (bottom) the traditional rhombus-shaped dots in Stylistic Set 2.

Condensed Naskh styles

In contrast with these geometric designs, the Arabic script also has cursive styles like Naskh or Thuluth. They are characterised by more organic, flowing shapes that are better suited for longer texts. When we look at (historic) calligraphic references there are no condensed or compressed versions. Some styles may feel wider than others: some calligraphers wrote wider, but generally speaking the proportions are quite set. However not all of these styles can be described as ‘calligraphic’ – simplified Naskh for example, commonly used for newspaper headlines and so on, does not look calligraphic at all. As space is of essence in newspaper typesetting, these simplified Naskh designs often are compressed in order to fit as many words as possible in headlines.

Arabic proverb with translation, set in FF DIN Arabic Condensed Bold.
Arabic proverb with translation, set in FF DIN Arabic Condensed Bold.

Drawing condensed versions of Naskh typefaces can be very tricky, so you really need to know what you are doing. The counters are quite small – similar in size of the ones found in the lowercase ‘a’ and ‘e’ in the Latin alphabet. Because the horizontal thickness is quite heavy due to the very nature of the script, those counters tend to close up when the horizontal proportions are reduced. This can make the typeface look weird and impede its readability. Yet it is far from impossible, as Yanone has proven with this latest addition to the FF DIN super family. He explains how he approached its design.

Comparison of FF DIN Regular and Condensed in Latin and Arabic.
Comparison of FF DIN Regular and Condensed in Latin and Arabic.

Yanone ”The regular weights of FF DIN Arabic originated from handwriting and are explicitly based on a simplified Naskh skeleton. To create the Condensed I started with those glyph shapes and applied the shape language of the Latin DIN Condensed to it. I did so without really changing any of their construction, except for one single glyph: as the ح needed to be simplified it acquired a Kufi-like shape. The result is much more upright and rectilinear compared to the Normal, yet there is no intentional Kufi influence. Apart from that single glyph any resemblance with Kufi is coincidental, and I’d like to see it more as a Naskh derivative than an actual hybrid.”

All the upright weights of FF DIN have been expanded to support the Arabic script.
All the upright weights of FF DIN have been expanded to support the Arabic script.

Compared to Linotype’s Arabic DIN Next – Nadine Chahine’s character set extension that is very popular in the Arab world – the new FF DIN Arabic offers a different approach that is perfectly complementary. Whereas you could argue Linotype’s version has more of a Kufi flavour, Yanone’s design is meant to be Naskh-based. But more than that, FF DIN is the only currently available DIN with Arabic character set that has a full range of condensed weights, expanding the typographic palette in exciting new ways. And it comes in three variants – with square, circular, and rhombus-shaped dots. FF DIN Arabic hopes to contribute to a wider (and also narrower ;) ) range of stylistic expression in Arabic typesetting.

Comparison of FF DIN Medium and Condensed Medium in Latin and Arabic.
Comparison of FF DIN Medium and Condensed Medium in Latin and Arabic.

Buy FF DIN Arabic now
Buy FF DIN Condensed Arabic now

Trademark attribution notice
Seria and DIN are trademarks of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Amman is a trademark of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Frutiger is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Isra is a trademark of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Tanseek is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

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