Bus-spotting meets font-spotting
June 8, 2011 3:09 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know what font is used on these vintage bus blinds? I know of a London Underground font but these look quite different. Any similar ones out there, preferably free?
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Trying What The Font gives me this but it seems off somehow. If there's an exact match, it'll be 1950s/60s or earlier.
posted by mippy at 3:18 AM on June 8, 2011

There are several fonts in there, and I think even some hand-painted ones. The newer ones are Johnston, like all TFL signage. Some are compressed Johnston variants. Johnston is not free.
posted by caek at 3:29 AM on June 8, 2011

It was the older ones I'm most interested in, with the shallower (sorry, I'm mot a type expert, but it looks closer to a zero than a round O) letter O. I never knew Johnston was the TFL font, though - I always thought it was a custom design as with the Waitrose/John Lewis fonts.
posted by mippy at 3:36 AM on June 8, 2011

They are mostly compressed (i.e. horizontally "shallower"/narrower) versions of Johnston.

The exact version of Johnston used internally at TFL is likely not one of the publicly available versions like ITC Johnston Pro, but the differences if you're looking for free fonts are not significant.
posted by caek at 3:52 AM on June 8, 2011

If this is the one, is there somewhere where I can see a compressed version to compare? How would one compress this font?

There are some further examples here. If anyone knows what the 'Herne Bay'/'Portsmouth' fonts are similar to then that would be useful information!
posted by mippy at 3:56 AM on June 8, 2011

Ooops - I meant here. Stupid work IE.
posted by mippy at 3:57 AM on June 8, 2011

These are all one font family – Johnston Sans – the original version of the London Transport typeface which was redesigned in 1979 as New Johnston.

Different weights – regular, condensed & bold – have been used & have been exttended or condensed to fit.

The closest you'll get without the real thing is with Gill Sans (designed by Eric Gill who worked on Johnston Sans & was a pupil of the designer Samuel Johnston) which is very similar to the untrained eye. The main differences between Johnston Sans & Gill Sans are: curves at the bottom of the y & l; diamond shaped dots for i, & j; b, d, p & q have a spur where the bowl meets the upright & in general, JS has wider letterforms with less variety of stroke width.

It is possible to acquire New Johnston around the internet I hear...you can alter the width of your type in most applications that deal with type, either the pro ones like Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, QuarkXPress etc. or more common ones like MS Word & Open Office.

(For MS Office, you need to burrow into Format > Font > Advanced tab > Scale)
posted by i_cola at 4:08 AM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

only actual typefaces i know of like this are very well made, but pricey. you'll want to at least look at relay and Agenda from font bureau. that'll give you a staring point to finding cheaper copies and versions.
posted by patricking at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2011

Agenda Medium is very close indeed, but is actually several times the price of one of the original blinds which is disappointing. If I could find a decent res pic of one of them that would be enough but there doesn't seem to be enough around - I want to make something based on bus blinds and it will suffer if the lettering is off.
posted by mippy at 9:56 AM on June 8, 2011

I never knew Johnston was the TFL font, though - I always thought it was a custom design as with the Waitrose/John Lewis fonts.

It was custom designed. Johnston was created specifically for London Underground by Edward* Johnston in 1915 and originally called "London Underground Railway Typeface." It was an act that almost single-handedly brought about the modern rebirth of the Sans-Serif.

The earlier bus blinds on that site (and the ones I'm guessing you like most) look to me to be in the condensed version of Johnston that Edward Johnston himself created for London Buses in the 1920s. If I remember, he called it "London Underground Condensed Bus Typeface" at first, at least in the early letters I've seen. Eddy was a genius, but he was rubbish at naming things.

Sadly you won't find original Johnston Sans as the typeface became known (and certainly not the condensed version) on the web, for the simple reason that they don't exist anymore - they predate even photo printing.

Indeed the version currently in use at TfL isn't even New Johnston that Eichi Kono put together for London Underground in 1979- it's TfL New Johnston, which was the digital version created using Kono's original designs in the 90s and modified slightly and subtly many times since. It's not publically available and likely never will be (TfL are rightly incredibly precious about its use).

ITC Johnston is the closest you'll get to a publically available "official" version (which has has always looked to me like it was based off of New Johnston) and until recently even featured on a couple of actual station signs due to some enthusiastic but ill-informed work by one of the PPP Maintenance companies that thankfully no longer exist.

Personally though, I'd say that London Tube is actually closer to "proper" Johnston in many ways (and free). It's the one I use whenever I need to fake up maps or diagrams.

As i_cola says, a final option is to use Gill Sans. Gill was indeed a pupil of Edward's and was actually out with him when Johnston got one of his inspirations for bringing back the Sans-Serif (a good bit of block lettering on the back of a London trader's cart).

Gill loved Johnston (the typeface), hence why he based the typeface that bears his name on it and why many people mistakenly assume that Gill Sans is the typeface the Underground uses. It's obviously not, although - pop fact - I think it may still be the official typeface of Ofsted, the UK schools and childcare inspectorate (which always amused me given Gill's rather nasty past).

Anyway, whichever of the above you decide to use, be warned, you'll never quite get it to look entirely like the bus-blinds. As usual, Johnston's work there is more subtle than you'd think and there are various little touches to the condensed version that make it more legible - touches that simply squishing the non-condensed typeface up a bit won't replicate. Further evidence (if needed) that the man was a wee bit brilliant.

Also, on a final note, if you like bus blinds like these (or old London railway signage) then if you ever find yourself in East London pop into Jan's Bar in Stoke Newington. It has a whole bunch on the walls and ceilings for reasons no one has ever managed to explain to me, and does a lovelly line in Belgian beers. Hell, if you're really unlucky you might even find me proping up the bar...

*not Samuel, just to nitpick
posted by garius at 10:01 AM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Gill Sans is the BBC typeface, as well - all internal documents are set in it.
posted by mippy at 3:08 AM on June 9, 2011

And there's a reason for that...Eric Gill did the sculptures at Broadcasting House.

(Can't believe I wrote Samuel instead of Edward ;-(
posted by i_cola at 9:37 AM on June 10, 2011

« Older Looking for online tools for guitar practice when...   |   How digital are you? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.