FF Scala | FontFont Focus


In the type specimen
FontFont Focus No.1, published by FSI FontShop International in 2000, I wrote about the genesis of FF Scala and FF Scala Sans. 

Robin Kinross edited the text and Wim Westerveld, my old class mate from the Arnhem School of Arts, designed a beautiful  type specimen, the first one in a whole series of FontFont Focus.

At the time I wrote the text for this type specimen OpenType wasn’t available yet, so some text phrases in this text refer to Caps fonts or Expert fonts. Since all versions of the FF Scala family have been released as OpenType fonts, all of these features (caps, expert sets &c.) have been integrated in one font.

Some passages and images below have been added or changed.
Read the full text below or download a PDF 
of the original type specimen at the bottom of this page.



Scala & Scala Sans: two typefaces, one form principle

FF Scala is named after the Teatro alla Scala (1776–78) in Milan. There were two reasons for this name: FF Scala was made especially for a concert hall, the Vredenburg in Utrecht, and the design has it roots in around the time Teatro alla Scala was built, the mid-eighteenth century.

Furthermore the word ‘scala’ has the meaning ‘a whole range’, which FF Scala certainly is: from a to z and from serif to sans serif, from light to black and from formal to decorated. As first released (1991) FF Scala had only four styles: regular, italic, bold and small caps. Since then FF Scala has grown to 28 styles.  

FF Scala and FF Scala Sans are two different typefaces sharing a common form principle. The character of a seriffed typeface mainly arises from the form principle and from elements such as serifs and contrast of the strokes. A sans serif design depends almost entirely on the form principle. FF Scala Sans was made simply by cutting the serifs off from the characters of Scala and by adjusting their contrast. So the skeletons of both FF Scala and FF Scala Sans are identical.

The skeletons (the thin black line) of Scala and Scala Sans are identical 

FF Scala

The form principle of FF Scala find its roots in the first vertically-stressed typefaces of the French typographer Pierre Simon Fournier (mid-eighteenth-century). But there are also influences from the humanist model as found in the first printing types, such as the late-fifteenth-century type that inspired the design of Bembo.



Although FF Scala is clearly influenced by elements from other typefaces, it has managed to keep a style of its own. The slab serifs were originally made to print without jaggies on a 300 dpi laserprinter. The dark colour and low contrast worked to prevent the thin parts from breaking up (most of the early PostScript fonts are too thin). For the same reason FF Scala Italic has strong serifs. The almost exaggerated length of its serifs gives Scala italic a very strong rhythm.


Robin Kinross: “As usual with the Dutch, the italic has a strong, insistent rhythm, perhaps to an extreme.” 


The form principle of FF Scala Italic is clearly influenced by the chancery cursives of the sixteenth-century Italian writing masters like Arrighi and Palatino. However the look is far from ‘written’. In some details (mostly in the serifs) the italic is much more closely related to the roman than one sees in most other typefaces.

Some related details in the roman and italic 


The bold weights (including the Bold Italic) have the same character widths as the normal weights, so changing a text from normal into bold does not affect the set width:

Regular weights and bold weights have the same set width 

FF Scala Condensed

The condensed versions of the Scala family can be mixed perfectly with the normal versions. The stem widths of the Regular Condensed and of the Regular are the same: which makes it a real condensed. FF Scala Regular Condensed could be used for texts, for example in narrow columns. FF Scala Bold Condensed is a good display face, suitable for book covers and posters. Again the stems of the Bold Condensed and of the Bold have the same widths. Compressing FF Scala Bold to 84% would give the same set width but the stems would be too thin.

FF Scala Sans

FF Scala Sans is directly based on FF Scala, simply by cutting off the serifs and by lowering the contrast. Using black marker and white paint is all it takes to create a sans serif typeface from a seriffed one.

FF Scala Sans is directly based on FF Scala 


The first attempt to make a sans serif to accompany a serif design was made in 1931 by the Dutch typographer Jan van Krimpen with his typeface Romulus. Four weights of ‘Romulus Sans’ were cut, but unfortunately they were never released.

Jan van Krimpen’s Romulus (left) and Romulus Sans (right), and a superimposition of both (middle)  


In 1995 Emily King analyzed the serif-sans connection as follws: “The design of sans serif faces which have their roots in seriffed form has been a theme of type design since the late 1980s, with several faces including Dutch designer Martin Majoor’s Scala Sans and his compatriot Luc(as) de Groot’s Thesis falling into this category. That this kind of type design has recently become a preoccupation might be seen as the outcome of a broadly post-modern belief that it is possible to reconcile apparently incompatible historical chapters into a positive whole.” 

Since FF Scala Sans is based on FF Scala it is indirectly based on the vertically stressed old-face model. This is rarely seen with sans serif designs (Gill Sans [1929] and Syntax [1968] are notable exceptions). Many of the modern sans serifs (Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica, Univers) are based on eighteenth-century classical designs such as Walbaum. Their basic forms are rather ‘closed’ while the same elements in FF Scala Sans are ‘open’. This improves its legibility, especially in smaller point sizes.


The ‘open’ forms of Scala, compared to the ‘closed’ elements in Walbaum and in Univers 


Also the italic of FF Scala Sans is based on the seriffed form: so it is a real italic, not a sloped roman. This means not only that its slope is different to that of the roman, but that its form principle is clearly different too, unlike in most sans serifs today.

FF Scala Sans Italic (top) has a ‘real’ italic, not a sloped roman like in for instance ‘Syntax’ (below) 

FF Scala Sans Black and Light

A difficult thing to deal with in sans serif designs is the ‘justification’ or natural spacing of characters. In most sans serifs the justification is too narrow. In FF Scala Sans much attention has been given to this problem, and perhaps even more attention has been given to the Black and the Light versions of FF Scala Sans. This makes the Black and the Light not only suitable for display purposes, but they are also excellent for longer pieces of text. 

FF Scala Sans Light and Black  

FF Scala Sans Condensed

To add different condensed versions to sans serif designs is much more common than it is with seriffed typefaces. FF Scala Sans comes with a Regular Condensed and a Bold Condensed. FF Scala Sans Regular Condensed is perfect for use in captions or as a text face in narrow newspaper columns. Of course it can also be used for headings. FF Scala Sans Bold Condensed is both a display face and a text face.

FF Scala Sans Bold Condensed and Regular Condensed 

Old style figures ⁄ small caps ⁄ ligatures

In the both FF Scala and FF Scala Sans non-lining or old style figures are, as a matter of policy, provided in the standard character set and in the Caps set. The special Lining Figures fonts (LF fonts) provide the lining figures.

The Caps sets have some special features. The normal capitals are included in the Caps set, so for example when typing a name in small caps with starting capitals, one does not have to change the font. Some characters in the Caps set ( & ? ! ¿ ¡ ) are specially designed to match the size of the small caps. 

The italic small caps are again real italics, which can be seen clearly in some characters. 

The common f-ligatures ( fi fl ff ffi ffl ) are added in a special Expert set. There is even an fj-ligature.

Special characters ⁄ special signs

A number of special characters are added to most of the styles of the Scala family: such as squares, circles, stars and arrows, both in solid and in outline.

The Euro symbol comes in two versions: as capital letter in the Lining Figures fonts and as lowercase letter in the regular fonts.

Another special character is the Van Krimpen comma. It is based on the commas in Roman inscriptions and it s meant to be used in lines of capitals or small capitals. The Van Krimpen comma is one of the few new typographic signs of last century.

The Van Krimpen comma, one of the few new typographic signs of the last hundred years 

FF Scala Jewels

FF Scala Jewels is a set of four decorated all-capital typefaces, to be used in combination with FF Scala. The basic form of the Jewels (Crystal, Diamond, Pearl and Saphyr) is derived from the capitals of Scala Bold. Diamond and Saphyr are original designs, while Crystal is based on Remy Peignot’s Cristal of 1955 and Pearl is based on Fry’s Ornamented, originally designed by Richard Austin in 1796.

Every Jewel is provided with a small set of border elements. To set the borders correctly, without gaps, the value of the word space (which is 1/4 of the border elements) should be set to 100 %.

FF Scala Hands

Probably the first two ‘signes d’indication’ (in English they have the name of hand, printer’s fist, pointer or index) were made by Claude Garamont in around 1530.

In the eighteenth century, Pierre Simon Fournier made some lovely hands (pointing right and left) and in 1933 Bruce Rogers designed the book Aesop’s Fables, in which he used a harlequin hand to point the moral of each fable. 

Most of the hands provided in FF Scala Hands (a selection is shown below) are based on those employed by Bruce Rogers.

There are serif and sans serif hands, right and left, right-pointing and left-pointing, solid and outline, male and female, thumbs up and thumbs down and many more. 


FF Scala OpenType

There are two OpenType versions of FF Scala: OpenType Standard and OpenType Pro.

The OpenType Standard version contains accented characters for Western, Southern and Northern European languages, like:

The OpenType Pro version also contains accented characters for Central and Eastern European languages like:

Supported languages in OpenType Standard:
Albanian, Breton, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, Swedisch.

Additional supported languages in OpenType Pro:
Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Kurdish, Latvian (Lettisch), Lithuanian, Moldavian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Sorbian Lower, Sorbian Upper, Turkish.

Both OpenType Standard and OpenType Pro support the following layout features
Standard ligatures, Discretionary ligatures, Historical forms, Small capitals, Small capitals from capitals, Case-sensitive forms, Capital spacing, Oldstyle figures, Lining figures, Proportional figures, Tabular figures, Fractions, Numerators, Denominators, Ordinals, Scientific inferiors, Superscript, Subscript, Mathematical Greek, Acces all alternates, Stylistic alternates, Ornaments.

Supported Unicode ranges in OpenType Pro:
Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B, Spacing Modifier Letters, Greek and Coptic, Latin Extended Additional, General Punctuation, Superscripts and Subscripts, Currency Symbols, Letterlike Symbols, Number Forms, Arrows, Mathematical Operators, Geometric Shapes, Misclellaneous Symbols, Dingbats, Alphabetical Presentation Form

Martin Majoor  

FF Scala | FontFont Focus    
Download the specimen  (PDF  4,8 Mb)

©  Martin Majoor. First published in FontFont Focus No. 1, FSI FontShop International, 2000.