GarageFonts is known to font lovers as one of the flagship independent foundries from the early nineties. At the height of deconstructed graphic design, it offered some of the most exciting grunge typefaces. But GarageFonts is so much more than that.
Its origins can be traced back to Phil’s Photo, the reputable headline typesetting service in Washington, DC. Phil’s emphasized quality and attention to detail, and published the grand specimen book Homage to the Alphabet, a compendium of headline and display faces from the pre-desktop publishing days. Ralph Smith, who worked as a headline setter at Phil’s, learned the ins and outs of the type industry from its owner, Phil Baldus. While the digital boom in the late eighties quickly made proprietary typesetting businesses obsolete, it opened up a new market of type users hungry for fonts. Smith took the reins at the redubbed Phil’s Fonts in 1995, establishing his place as a pioneer of digital font distribution.
Smith soon gained a solid reputation for being a proponent of independent type designers, heavily promoting work from small foundries like P22, Red Rooster, T-26, and Three Islands Press alongside collections from the big legacy type makers. By the time things started kicking into gear for other resellers, Phil’s already represented over seventy foundries. Smith went out of his way to shine the spotlight on independent designers with print ads, catalogs, specimen books, and a website constantly updated with typeface showings. This set him apart from other distributors, especially at the time, and earned him the admiration of many in the industry. When the people who owned GarageFonts wanted to sell, Smith was the perfect candidate to buy and promote the indie concern.
Although he never was a type designer himself, David Carson founded GarageFonts in 1993. Because he was arguably the most influential graphic designer of the grunge movement, type designers kept sending him typefaces to use in Ray Gun, the iconic music magazine that made Carson a household name. GarageFonts was established as an outlet to distribute those fonts, launching with an initial portfolio of a dozen or so that quickly grew. After Smith acquired the foundry, submissions from independent type designers from all over the world kept pouring in. While most of the early typefaces were very grungy, GarageFonts started receiving typefaces that were more versatile and better made. Those included designs from Pieter van Rosmalen—now half of Bold Monday—who produced some of the best GarageFonts entries from that period.
Since the two brands were polar opposites, running Phil’s Fonts and GarageFonts in tandem put Smith in an unusual situation. Phil’s Photo had been known for high-quality historic typefaces; GarageFonts stormed the font market with wild, trendsetting grunge designs that favored visual impact over technical proficiency. This led Smith to use GarageFonts for publishing his “own” typefaces: digitizations of existing styles from Phil’s Photo’s legacy, like Homage. In later years, the release that polished GarageFonts’ résumé was Joshua Darden’s Freight.
So it’s fitting that GarageFonts launches on Type Network with this family. When it was released, Freight not only put Darden squarely on the map; it also helped GarageFonts gain acceptance from more classically-minded typographers and designers. Without being a revival, the design shows influences from Nicholas Kis and Johann Michael Fleischmann—the latter a source of inspiration that Freight shares with Christian Schwartz’ Farnham.
The core of the family consists of Freight Micro, Freight Text, and Freight Sans. Rather than completing one and then moving on to the others, Darden moved back and forth between the designs, developing all three concurrently. The most striking of the trio is Freight Micro. To improve its legibility in even the tiniest sizes, its features were exaggerated, making the letters seem as if they were forcefully hewn in wood or stone. Interestingly, its idiosyncrasies catch the eye when the typeface is used big, turning Freight Micro into an unexpected display asset.
Freight Text is an economic, contemporary text face in the Dutch/English tradition: warm, balanced, and dependable. On the large end of the scale, Freight Display and Freight Big—the first expansions of the family—are refinements of Freight Text. They exhibit an increased contrast (reaching a staggering 1:100 ratio in Freight Big Black), a tighter fit, and more delicate features. While the upright styles have a more reserved yet distinct personality, the daring italics reprize some of Freight Micro’s angularity. These formal traits serve a dual purpose: they make the letterforms clearer in body copy and cause the italics to stand out when set at large sizes.
Freight Sans is built on the same skeleton as Freight Text to guarantee a harmonious appearance when the two faces are combined. This versatile sans serif with humanist traits has a confident appearance and pleasant features, making it an all-purpose workhorse. Freight Sans Condensed provides a space-saving option for text, titles, and headlines.
While they all perform admirably as standalone typefaces, the Freight suite of coordinated families is a formidable typographic tour de force. This publishing powerhouse, fit for a multitude of uses ranging from editorial, branding, and corporate to display, titling, and wayfinding, can be deployed in both print and digital media. Freight exhibits a modern yet timeless quality and has enjoyed a prolonged popularity, making it a sound investment and an excellent addition to any discerning type user’s library.
“The Freight superfamily offers designers an incredible range of options for all kinds of applications,” said General Manager Paley Dreier. “It’s wonderful to welcome GarageFonts and Freight to Type Network. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
All GarageFonts releases are available for print, web, applications, and ePub licensing. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days. To keep current with GarageFonts and other foundry partners, subscribe to Type Network News, our occasional email newsletter featuring font releases, foundry happenings, type and design events, and more.