This post made me realise I have been writing for FontShop for a decade now. Three-and-a-half months after I published my first post on May 22, 2006 on Unzipped, my blog on the old FontShop BeNeLux website, I wrote a piece celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. The first episode of the original television series was aired on September 8th, 1966 on NBC. And here we are, ten years later, almost at the half-century mark for one of the most popular science fiction franchises, with Star Trek Beyond opening in the United States tomorrow.
What’s interesting about Star Trek is that it has a number of typical alphabets that are immediately recognisable, and have become an integral part of pop culture. While many fan-made fonts exist based on the logos and title sequences of popular movies and television series, Star Trek is one of the very rare franchises which at one point had officially released fonts. In 1992 Bitstream introduced the Star Trek Font Pack featuring four digital typefaces – Star Trek, the signature face of the original television series; Star Trek Film, used for the credit titles of the Star Trek movies; Star Trek Pi, a collection of Star Trek insignias and Klingon symbols; and Star Trek Bold Extended, the lettering of the name and registration number on the hull of all Starfleet space ships. The Star Trek Font Pack has been discontinued long ago – possibly over licensing issues – yet individual typeface designs are still available under different names. We will run into them in this article, plus some others.
The typographic history of Star Trek starts with the original television series. It ran for three seasons from 1966 to 1969 until it was cancelled due to a combination of poor ratings and disappointing advertising revenues, and rescheduling of the third season to a ‘death slot’. The series went on to become a cult classic thanks to subsequent syndication, and spawned a legion of fervent fans dubbed ‘Trekkies’. Instead of using an existing typeface, the studio had a custom retro-futuristic alphabet drawn for the logo and title sequences.
The all-caps straight-sided sans serif is constructed out of straight lines and circles in a style reminiscent of Russian Constructivism in the early 1920s. Its identifying traits are oblique midstrokes, and lowercase forms for the ‘M’, ‘N’, ‘W’ and ‘Y’. The Star Trek logo was drawn in an oblique version of the letters. Because the original design only had capitals, Bitstream had to create a lowercase from scratch and expand the character set for their digital font. It was available only in the upright style. Originally named Star Trek, the typeface was rechristened Horizon when it was integrated into the Bitstream library proper.
The box office triumphs of Star Wars and Close Encounters of The Third Kind in 1977 convinced Paramount to halt the development of a follow-up television series tentatively named Star Trek: Phase II, and instead produce a feature-length movie. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979. The posters and title sequence introduced a new, particularly striking custom alphabet.
Star Trek Film, currently known as Galaxy, embodies many of the ideas people had about futuristic typography in the late ’70s. The monoline display face plays with the simple geometry of the square and the circle, combining surprising straight lines with generous arcs. The letter forms are adorned with tiny triangular serifs and triangular cuts at the joints where strokes meet.
Iconic illustrator Bob Peak designed the poster for the first movie, enhancing the letters in the Star Trek movie logo with a chiseled effect reprising the rainbow motif. “The Motion Picture” is lettered in a simplified version of the custom alphabet.
And there is a typographic connection between Star Trek and its competing franchise Star Wars: the typeface of the tagline is the exact same ITC Serif Gothic that was used for the tagline on the poster for the first Star Wars movie. It was the starting point for my examination of the typography of Star Wars last December.
Bob Peak would go on to create the main theatrical posters for the first five films: the aforementioned Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. They all featured the lettering that was to become the Galaxy font for the movie logo, and ITC Serif Gothic for the tagline.
John Alvin designed the poster for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the sixth and final movie in the series featuring the cast of the original series. Alvin switched to ITC Bolt for the film title, with a compact sans serif for the tagline. By then the original movie logo had gone through several rounds of small tweaks, losing some of its charm in the process. Gone are the quaint abrupt contrast in the ‘R’ and the interruption in the middle stroke of the ‘A’ and the ‘E’, and the tiny serifs have almost disappeared.
The next era in the Star Trek television series was aptly called Star Trek: The Next Generation, and ran from 1987 to 1994, starting between the fourth and fifth movie. Taking place one century after the original series, it featured an entirely new cast of characters on the starship Enterprise. The series also introduced a new alphabet for its logo. The slanted display face is a riff on Aldo Novarese’s Stop™ typeface, a design that is often customised because its geometry lends itself to tinkering. Even though they were not part of the Star Trek Font Pack, both the versions with and without the horizontal ‘cut’ running through the letters were also turned into a font family under the name Sonic, this time without added lowercase.
The supporting typeface in the title sequences for Star Trek: The Next Generation is Letraset Crillee™. Personally I find this a peculiar choice, because the design looks more disco than science fiction to me.
The spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returned to the lettering of the first movie series for their logos. It had Handel Gothic as supporting typeface in the title sequences, the version with the straight diagonal leg on the ‘R’. The technical letter forms constructed with mostly straight lines and circle arcs fits the science fiction style a lot better. In recent years Nadine Chahine and Rod McDonald expanded the design into the ITC Handel Gothic™ type family of five weights with matching italics, with an extended character set including alternates and support for the Arabic script.
The other spin-off Star Trek: Voyager consistently used Galaxy for both its logo and the titles in the opening sequence.
The last television series to date – Star Trek: Enterprise, a prequel to the original series – adopted the Microgramma™ font (or maybe Eurostile® Wide). This was the first time a typeface resembling the lettering on the exterior of the Starfleet vessels was used for the logo and the title sequence. Originally digitised for the Star Trek Font Pack and renamed Millennium, the wide square sans serif with rounded corners and a double outline is based on Aldo Novarese’s typeface design. The opening sequence also featured ancient maps with gorgeous examples of the lettering that served as an inspiration for Alan Dague-Greene’s MVB Sirenne.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation television series spawned a second wave of Star Trek movies, featuring the new cast. These abandoned the recognisable typographic vocabulary in favour of off-the-shelf typefaces. On the poster for Star Trek Generations, the first film in the new series released in 1994, the Star Trek logo is simply set in the Serpentine™ and Univers® Ultra Condensed typefaces. Serpentine shares the (almost) monoline aspect and the tiny triangular serifs with the original movie lettering, but its squarish structure projects a far less elegant, more brutish image.
This typographic combo saw some minute variations in the posters for the subsequent films. For example on Star Trek: First Contact Agency was used for the tagline; the movie logo for Star Trek: Insurrection had another ultra condensed sans serif, similar to the Mekanik™ typeface; and Star Trek: Nemesis opted for a digitally stretched Handel Gothic-like font.
The title sequences for the Next Generation films didn’t feature the typical Star Trek fonts neither, but more conventional typography. Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact had the ITC Benguiat® typeface, Star Trek: Insurrection used the ITC Elan™ typeface, and Star Trek: Nemesis Exocet.
Just like Star Wars: The Force Awakens reintroduced ITC Serif Gothic on its posters, the new Star Trek movies reinstate the lettering from the original television series. The typography proves to be very efficient in branding the collaterals. This allows the teaser poster for Star Trek Beyond to rely simply on the word ‘Beyond’, without even having to mention Star Trek anywhere on the canvas.
The new movie also pays tribute to the iconic poster of the first motion picture. To announce the special fan event held on Friday, May 20th in celebration of the upcoming release of Star Trek Beyond and the 50th anniversary of the franchise, Paramount had a poster created that mirrors Bob Peak’s beautiful artwork. It thoughtfully updates all the elements, simplifying the rainbow and substituting the film lettering for the alphabet from the television series. I kind of miss the grainy texture of the original and its slight naiveté (those rainbow effects on the chiseled edges of the movie logo!), but other than that a job well done. The circle is closed. Yep, I even managed to sneak in a Star Wars reference at the very end!
In the comments below Ale Valentini asked about the logo for the new CBS television series Star Trek: Discovery that is launching in the US in January 2017. After some sleuthing I discovered that the Horizon-inspired logo is a customised version of Redrail Superfast by Glenn Parson’s a.k.a. Astroluxdesign. Mystery solved.
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