Type Talks: Trajan

Designer: Carol Twombly

Style: Serif, Display

Date: 1989

Background: The Trajan typeface is respected as the oldest lettering system with no known designer dating back to the 1st century. Carol Twombly, an Adobe employee, digitized and made missing characters which released in 1989 through Adobe. Trajan is actually named after the 13th emperor of Rome who built many public buildings circa AD 110. It was custom at the time to honor those who built the buildings with a stone-chiseled plaque. Because of this, you’re sure to see many buildings bearing his name in traditional Roman lettering. Of these, Trajan’s Column is the most iconic sculpture dating back to AD 113 with pictures and lettering meticulously sketched and carved into stone to honor him.

Carol Twombly took her research from building plaques and Trajan’s Column to help her create and reform the Trajan typeface. The goal was to stay faithful to the original, so few things changed. Also staying true to the culture and research, Twombly kept Trajan as an all-capitals typeface since the Romans did not use lowercase letters.

The most noticeable modern change is the addition of stronger and more assertive serifs and forming characters to be more squarely uniform. The “N” became more narrow and the “S” was widened. Following the style, she then created modern punctuation like the copyright and euro symbols to make the typeface more useable for design and copyright needs.

Typeface Talk: With a history spanning 2,000 years, it would be an understatement to say that Trajan is a timeless typeface. No, it doesn’t have it’s place in just any application but if used strategically can be very effective in conveying the intended message. With only small caps as lowercase letters, the spelled message must be ambitious and convey importance.

Commonly, Trajan can be found heavily throughout Hollywood movies and Universities logos. Not many companies use the Trajan font for their logo branding since it can make the company come off as classic and dated.

Recently, Yankee Candle updated their logo from Trajan to a playful sans-serif font for an entire company rebranding. This move by Yankee took them out of the classic and established company view previously created by them and turned their candles into something you’d see in a modernly designed house rather than a dust collector at grandma’s.

Trajan Says:

  • Established
  • Important
  • Grand
  • Oldschool
  • Classic

Trajan-based Logos: