Today, a free font doesn’t necessarily mean a bad one. Sadly, browsing Cyrillic fonts is still like walking in a minefield; but there is also some good news. Our critique and our advice do not have a monopoly on the truth — that’s just an expert review by three professionals sharing the same values. Plus, you always have to remember that there is no such thing as forbidden means and tools in design. Any bug can be turned into a feature in the hands of a daring, confident typographer, — only before taking risks, you should figure out what this bug actually is.
What is a geometric sans?
Geometric sans serif typefaces are those that employ basic geometric shapes — rectangle, triangle, and circle. First of all, these are the likes of 1920—1930s German grotesks — e.g. Futura, Kabel, — they usually have a circular О. The second subgroup are typefaces with simplified, geometrically stylised shapes which initially had to do with industrial production — e.g. DIN, Bank Gothic, Eurostile. Some of them are sometimes classified as square sans.
The author drew inspiration from traditional posters and street signs of Monserrat neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Montserrat is relatively informal, with open forms and spacious proportions. Its regular style is rather airy — strokes are light, and lowercase glyphs are quite large, therefore having much white space inside.
Hands-on The typeface has little kerning and optical compensation, curves are not entirely perfect — apparently, this helps Monserrat preserve its street character. Equipped with one set of proportional figures, several fractions with complete sets of numerators and denominators, a basic punctuation set, minimum amount of currency symbols.
Styles 9 weights from Thin to Black fitted with italics:
The italic version, except for the letter а, repeats the character of the upright style — so, all things said apply to it as well.
The typeface has two additional sub-families, allowing for expanding its use: Alternates with vintage display forms, and Subrayada, consisting of uppercase characters with integrated underline — the latter only in Regular and Bold weights.
Cyrillic Montserrat’s Cyrillic is of acceptable quality: balanced, with natural shapes, — including the decorative sub-family Alternates with lots of Bulgarian forms.
Stroke width modulation is not always the best: for example, Лл leg’s end is too heavy. The б’s tail is too light, and broken in italics. In м and я, vertical strokes are thinner than those in other glyphs (diagonal ones are also better to be redefined). Apparently, the typeface was not adjusted after interpolation.
In some styles, the thick diagonals in Ии appear to have reverse contrast.
The typeface’s personality implies use in headlines and display texts — substantially, Cyrillic Montserrat is OK for those purposes.
Philipp Hubert, Sebastian Fischer
The typeface was designed for the Chrome Cube Lab project, a showcase of web technologies, developed at Google. The display Rubik Mono One was first used in design of the exhibition Beyond Rubik’s Cube.
Hands-on A sans serif with simple forms, referring to rounded faces of Rubik’s cube — it’s visible in both the shapes of terminals in f, t, and the rounding of terminals. Ovals are vice versa, squared, which is the most pronounced in the uppercase characters. The crumpled counter of а is rather questionable, visibly standing out of the general geometric character of the typeface.
Styles 5 weights with italics. An additional display face is called Rubik Mono One. Each letter is designed to fit the square, which often ruins the form: monstrous У, condensed Ф, lots of shared issues — for example, rounded glyphs are not compensated height-wise, which makes them look too short.
Rubik is equipped with a set of proportional figures, sets of super- and subscripts, numerators, denominators, multiple ready-to-use fractions, popular currency signs.
Cyrillic Acceptable quality. Generally, the forms comply with what we expect from DIN-ish sans serifs.
Кк’s diagonal strokes have reverse contrast. Kerning is not ideal: one can see holes in АЧ, ТА.
Counters in Чч are trying to play the rounded square card — doing no good to the stroke joint, which is too different in upper- and lowercases.
Lowercase м’s diagonal strokes are excessively dark, the uncompensated bowl in ю makes the glyph excessively wide.
As the weight increases, б becomes awkward; plus, heavier styles have a very wide ы, a narrow ш, counters of в are too tight (while the middle stroke turns out to be the thickest one), as for я, its left side is visibly lighter than the right one.
Зз: the joint of the two bowls is a bit too dark, the glyph leans to the left slightly.
Be careful when typesetting in Ukrainian using the densest styles — it might be too tight for the accents.
Rubik Mono One can be of use in display setting, while for body text it might be better to choose any proper-quality version of DIN, in which letterforms don’t mimic the faces of Rubik’s cube.
Jost (pronounced ‘Yost’) is an homage to German grotesks of the 1920s, with Futura expressly stated as the source of inspiration. The author was planning to design a powerful and up-to-date typeface, while using a Futura-like approach to the forms.
Hands-on Very tall ascenders and descenders, explicitly proportional forms, which is usual in Modernist geometric typefaces. The forms imitate Futura, except for the а — in the standard set it’s two-pieces, while the one-piece is available as an alternate. Long ascenders and descenders comply with a roomy spacing and the general lightness.
Jost has tabular and proportional figures, sets of super- and subscripts, lots of ready-to-use fractions, a minimum set of currency symbols. Cyrillic is covered poorly: besides Russian, it offers several glyphs from Macedonian alphabet, but you won’t be able to type in Ukrainian or Belarusian.
Styles 9 weights with oblique styles plus a variable font. .
Cyrillic Jost’s Cyrillic is an explicit failure. Proportions, structures, implementation — nothing here reaches suitable quality.
Wide Ии with a very thick diagonal stroke — in fact, it is a horizontally flipped latin N. У leans on its right, the lowercase у has excessively thick ascending diagonal, the joint is placed higher than necessary. The high waist of the lowercase к would be appropriate in the Latin glyph with ascender — but it appears irrelevant in Cyrillic set. Overly light, broken tail in б. Both the ascender and the descender of ф are too short.
The bowl joint in Зз is unfortunate — the letter looks like a three. The triangular д is irrelevant as the main form: excessively wide, with reverse contrast in diagonals. The жд pair has a visible spacing problem. Лл is too wide, has an awkwardly vertical leg with an abrupt cutoff.
More issues with spacing — there is always a hole after ь. Wide Юю with an uncompensated counter width.
In Чч, the arch is welded to the vertical mechanically — it desperately needs an angle.
Jost is a mediocre take on Futura with poor Cyrillic, no reason to use this typeface whatsoever.
A geometric sans serif with simple forms that are used for teaching kids to write in primary school — exactly what the typeface was designed for.
Graphics and proportions in uppercase are very different from lowercase characters — they are narrower, appearing to be borrowed from another typeface.
Hands-on In spite of pure geometry, bowls are horizontally condensed, and lowercase glyphs in general are placed rather tight. Uppercase glyphs, however, are quite tall and prescribe extensive line spacing.
There is just one, upright style. An extensive glyph set in Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek scripts, quite a lot of currency signs, one set of proportional figures with math symbols and a limited amount of fractions.
Cyrillic Cyrillic uses concise structures, corresponding to the Latin script in terms of its character. Though, there are still several local oddities and inaccuracies.
Дд and Лл: the left stroke is too sweeping. Ж — uncompensated excessive width. And, for some reason, the Greek letter Tau instead of a lowercase т.
As for kerning, not ideal: a hole in АЧ. Vertically oblate breve in Й. A bizarre, squared shape of the Ч’s counter.
Lowercase б has a short, too high tail.
Cyrillic is somewhat weird and of poor quality — it won’t be a problem to find a replacement for the typeface.
A typeface with squared forms, Eurostile-like, and rounded stroke terminals. The author was inspired by the shapes of Kayah Li script, from which he borrowed a number of distinctive graphic tricks.
Hands-on Quality of the design is rather low. No optical compensation: horizontal and vertical strokes have the same width, which gives you an impression of a slight reverse contrast. The strokes in lower- and uppercase letters are also of the same width — this results in the uppercase appearing lighter. And both cases have the same letter spacing: this way uppercase setting looks tighter. Glyphs have various vertical position in relation to the baseline.
One set of proportional figures, basic fractions, sufficient amount of currency signs and math symbols. The typeface covers Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, and Kayah Li scripts.
Styles 5 upright styles, from Light to Bold, plus a variable font.
Cyrillic The Cyrillic set is even more unfortunate, both in terms of forms and technical implementation.
One of the most visible oddities is different proportions and forms of glyphs that should be the same in Cyrillic and Latin:
If we consider each Cyrillic symbol separately, we will have a problem with nearly all of them.
One can define groups of issues: twisted outlines — Сс, Зз, е have an open mouth, while а and е have roughly bent stroke endings.
Poor forms: ф is an old-fashioned, separate-bowl one, yet poorly made, к also has the old-fashioned, curly structure, with wide branches.
Other design problems: У is falling to its right, Ф is too narrow, Пп, Дд, Цц, Ии and others have acutely angular parts. Swollen arc-to-vertical joints in а, р, and others.
Jura is a typeface with a poor-quality Latin set and a Cyrillic which can only be used in radical design: so bad, it’s good.
An open-aperture sans serif with all glyphs based on о — that is, a rectangle with rounded angles.
Hands-on Open apertures, simple structures, tall lowercase, plenty of white space thanks to the squared forms — all that ensures good readability. There is no kerning — but that does little damage, due to the general squareness.
The implementation raises a number of questions: О appears lighter and narrower than Н, having overly thin vertical strokes, and looks too short because of an insufficient height compensation — this results in a disbalance of straight and round glyphs all across the typeface. Lower- and uppercase symbols also vary in contrast and character.
The typeface is fitted with sets of regular and old-style figures (both tabular and proportional), sub- and superscripts, plenty of ready-to-use fractions, mathematical symbols. Symbol set: expanded Latin (equipped with small caps), Cyrillic set, Greek script.
Styles There are just two of them, Regular and Bold.
Cyrillic Design of lower- and uppercase glyphs is not always consistent: K and к have different structures — and both would have benefited from the use of Latin form. The uppercase И is too wide, too light, and more contrast than the lowercase letter. Too high and too contrast a tail in б.
Жж and Юю are excessively wide: uncompensated, they were constructed of Кк and Оо.
Once again, we see difference in the character, proportions, weight of lower- and uppercase Жж, Чч, Зз.
Too round, not geometric at all, left leg of Лл — the letter, in general, is too narrow.
Play is a simple typeface with a clear idea, but a non-ideal implementation. The problems in its Cyrillic symbol set are typical, but make it hardly suitable for use.
Matt McInerney, Pablo Impallari, Rodrigo Fuenzalida
A display geometric sans serif, half-closed apertures, distinctive curved tails (a, u). It is claimed to be inspired by neo-grotesques — that said, Raleway is equipped with true italics, which is more typical for humanist designs.
Hands-on The more conventional geometric forms are hidden within alternates — with those, the typeface immediately gets stricter and more brutal.
In italics, the slant is often mechanical: widths are not sufficiently compensated, rounded glyphs are skewed. Italic has poorer outlines than Regular — with the latter also not being irreproachable.
See the basic pair НО (which affects the designs of all straight and rounded glyphs): О looks lighter and shorter — it definitely would have benefited from stronger optical compensation. The lowercase ho are somewhat better, yet they are darker than uppercase glyphs — stroke widths are almost equal, whilst the counter volume is quite different.
Small (within a few points) dissimilarities in metrics, widths, and symmetry of strokes are apparently the result of interpolation Interpolation is estimating a third value between two established values. For example, we have designed weights Regular and Bold, meaning we can get any weight between them by calculating an intermediate value. If Regular is 0, and Bold is 1, then Medium would equal, for example, ½ — this figure called the interpolation factor to create intermediary weights, which was not manually adjusted afterwards.
The lightest style, Thin, also looks as if created automatically, through extrapolation Extrapolation is estimating a third value which is beyond the interval between two established values. For example, we have designed styles Regular and Bold, and we want to get Thin — the result can be calculated, but it would be less predictable and correct than if we had used the interpolation method, — and was not adjusted either. This is indicated by the distribution of widths: the joints of arcs and vertical strokes are typically dark (n, u and others), and there’s a reverse contrast in certain glyphs (especially those with diagonal strokes).
Raleway uses old-style figures by default — it is also fitted with standard proportional figures, sets of sub- and superscripts, numerators and denominators, ready-to-use fractions, math symbols, currency signs. Extensive symbol set in both Latin and Cyrillic, with the latter equipped with Bulgarian, Serbian, Bashkir, and Chuvash glyphs.
Styles 9 weights in upright and italics versions, from Thin to Black:
The typeface is available as a variable font with a weight axis.
A light display style called Raleway Dots can be downloaded as a separate file, it only has Latin set.
CyrillicIn terms of structures the Cyrillic set looks rather natural, without any downright failures, stylistically corresponding to the Latin one. However, there are problems with widths, lack of compensations, and other flaws resulting from automatic generation.
Кк‘s diagonal strokes form a reverse contrast — the ascending stroke is thicker than the descending one; the same is true for А and У. Outside vertical segments in Ф are clearly too short.
Overly light, drastically straightened tail in б. Short, broken tail terminal of У matches the Latin lowercase y, but not the Cyrillic у — those, for some reason, are not same in Raleway (both are too light).
Uppercase У, besides its reverse contrast, has a wildly varying tail terminal — it is different in upright and italic styles, plus also in extreme weights.
Lowercase ф is not very confident in terms of its structure — the ears are a bit awkward.
Narrow З, light А with a reverse contrast in its diagonals. Too sweeping and light an ending of the left leg in Л — in Д, this element is not perfect either.
Italic ш lacks a tail on the right, like one that и or а have. й has a very light breve. Curved tail in italic б — it is fundamentally different from the form in upright styles.
Typical for a Ukrainian set, there are problems with accents in dense weights.
Overall, Raleway seems rather solid, its Cyrillic part included. The general picture is overshadowed by poor implementation and inattention to details. The typeface should be used with caution, and you need to avoid the Thin weight at all.