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More than Just Another Papyrus Rant

posted by Matt Ward on Sep 12, 2009.

Like so many others, I can’t stand the incredible prevalence of the Papyrus font. In this post, I get into a bit of a rant, but I also try to consider three different questions that are raised by this font.

Let’s just get it out in the open right now: I hate the Papyrus font. No, let me rephrase, I strongly dislike the vast over saturation of that particular font in countless designs. Everywhere I go, it seems waiting for me, lingering like a mocking gremlin and laughing as I inevitably groan, either to myself or whoever is with me, over the fall of another designer (amateur or otherwise) into the deep, dark Papyrus pit!

Melodramatic enough for you?

But seriously, this is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I’m not alone. In his article “F is for font”, Travis Estvold writes:

I, myself, hate when people use Papyrus—the font, that is, not the plant or the paper. I’ll be the first to admit it’s a strange thing to detest but whether it’s justified, this loathing is my constant companion. Surely, if someone proclaims the most bothersome part of his day is unearthing new and terrible ways in which locals have used and displayed a particular typeface, he must also be a designer. This is true… I’m not sure when my obsession with the font began, but my poor girlfriend, who has been a party to most of my Papyrus sightings over the past two years, can tell you it’s been building for some time.

This is pretty much exactly how I feel, however irrational it may seem. It’s kind of like a few years ago, when I couldn’t seem to escape images of Jessica Simpson. Every time I walked into the drug store or the grocery store, there she was on some magazine or tabloid. And don’t even get me started on that ProActive commercial…

Papyrus is everywhere. Need proof? Go take a gander at iheartpapyrus.com, a site which actively archives various sighting of Papyrus. Notice just how any entries there are. But, I don’t want this to degenerate into another designer’s rant about how much they hate Papyrus. Instead, let’s take a look at some questions that are raised by the prevalence of Papyrus.

Why is Papyrus Everywhere?

First of all, I have to admit – though it pains me to do so – taken on its own, separated from its overwhelming omni-presence, Papyrus is not really a bad font. Actually, if it wasn’t everywhere, I might have even liked it. So, it only stands to reason that a well designed font would achieve a certain level of success, especially if that success is measured primarily by the degree of its use.

But, as we surely know, there are a lot of really well designed fonts out there, and none of them seem to have achieved the same notoriety as Papyrus.

Well, I think that the second reason that this font has permeated so many designs is the fact that it comes bundled new systems. Both my Toshiba Satellite notebook, Acer Aspire and MacBook all have Papyrus preloaded. This means that the font is immediately accessible to pretty much anybody with a computer and some sort of desktop publishing package. Because of this, and the fact that Papyrus is one of the more unique pre-installed fonts, it only stands to reason that it would be popular.

Of course, this is only conjecture on my part, but it makes sense to me. Unfortunately, it has also all but destroyed Papyrus’ status as a credible font, especially among professional designers.

What Alternatives to Papyrus Exist?

Okay, so let’s assume that we’re going to cut Papyrus from our arsenal entirely, simply because it is so overused. Are there any alternatives? Yes, there are few different things you can do.

First, check out the article “Papyrus Alternatives” over at fontshop.com. This article features a variety of different fonts that share some of the properties of Papyrus. Some are a little playful, others more traditional, but they provide some excellent options for you to use in place of Papyrus. Who knows, maybe one of these fonts will be even more appropriate than our dreaded font-in-question.

In addition, here are five other fonts that I tracked down at dafont.com, which share some features with Papyrus, and could easily be used in its place.

font-carolus-roman

Carolus Roman

Frank Black

Frank Black

Lilith

Lilith

Livia Medium

Livia Medium

Timeless

Timeless

Another option is always to create your own typeface, either from scratch or by heavily modifying an existing font. I am currently at work on a project involving the design of five different logos, and of the five concepts that I’ve created, four of them have either a typeface that I created myself, or which I heavily modified.

When creating a typeface myself, I started with pencil and paper, sketching out the basic design. Then I turned to Illustrator and created the shapes of the letters. Of course, since I was designing a logo and not an actual font, I only designed the letters that I needed.

In one of the other logos, I started with the Georgia font. Then, when I was certain that everything was right, I created outlines and, using the pencil tool, reworked the outlines to create a more ragged edge, and to soften the font’s very strong serifs. When I was finished, the typeface had a very different and unique look.

You can do the same thing to create an effect similar to Papyrus, if that’s what you want. Better yet, you could create something entirely different. There’s really no limit to the degree of your creativity with this technique. Go ahead and experiment, see what you can come up with.

Are There Any Other Overused Fonts?

Papyrus is by no means unique in terms of being overly used. Let’s take a quick look at some other fonts that are used so frequently that I have started to recognize on sight.

Bleeding Cowboys

Bleeding Cowboys

Bleeding Cowboys is certainly a cool font, with trendy gunge and decorative swirls. Unfortunately, this same trendiness also makes the font extremely recognizable, which means it doesn’t take long for people to start recognizing it, asking “hey, isn’t that the same font use by…?” Keep an eye out for it. I’m sure you’ll see it popping up all over the place.

Birth of a Hero

Birth of a Hero

I haven’t seen this one nearly as frequently as I have seen Bleeding Cowboys, but it’s still one that I’ve seen around a lot. Again, with it’s grunginess and unique, AvantGarde inspired letters, it is easily recognizable.

Green Piloww

Green Piloww

I’m not entirely certain about this one, but I’ve seen either this font or another very similar font, in a lot of sketchy, retro based designs.

Basically, what I would suggest, is to be vary wary of the top 100 at dafont.com. Obviously, these are some of the most popular fonts out there. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use any of these fonts. I’m just saying that you should be careful.

Then, of course, there are all those pre-installed fonts – Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, Trajan Pro, Impact, Futura, Brush Script and the muchly contested Comic Sans. Like Papyrus, the usage of these fonts is probably directly connected to them being pre-installed on so many machines. Again, this isn’t to say that they should not be used. It’s just something to be aware of.

So there you have it, some things to think about, inspired by my strong dislike of that inescapable font called Papyrus. I hope you found this interesting!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Comments

Jan 13, 2010

Travis Morgan says:

Ha! Finally another that shares my pain. I see Papyrus used all the time even in ads and designs for large franchises and companies. I remember when I first started designing and I found that that font stood out, but I would never dare overuse a font, and I seen how often it was used, it just started to make me sick. Every time I see it used now, I put my head in my hands and sigh. You are not alone in this misery. :)

Jan 13, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Thanks for the comment Travis! I’m glad someone else feels the same way. I actually saw several more instances of Papyrus being used just this week.

Jan 30, 2010

Murlu says:

I remember being asked to use Papyrus once on a site design, I flat out told them no.

It was a corporate website!

Loved the article, sharing our pains, it’s like group counselling.

Jun 15, 2010

Fern says:

YOU SHARE MY MATT!

Papyrus = the son of satan
(ok maybe not that, but you know what I mean)

Jul 12, 2010

Alma Hoffmann says:

Hi,

I ended up here from another post you wrote today for DesignMag regarding Papyrus. I need to clarify something in your list of overused fonts. Birth of a Hero is a blatant copy of Avant Garde, which was designed by Herb Lubalin studios for a the masthead of the magazine Avant Garde in the 60s or 70s. The public liked it so much that they decided to design the whole alphabet. Anyone can type something in Avant Garde, run some filters to make it look grungy, give it another name, and voilá!, we have a new font? No. The answer should be no. just because we can, does not mean we should. I know the font in question has not been done by you, but I feel important to clarify that it is a copy, not similar, to the original Avant Garde design.

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