I started writing this thinking that there were enough distinctions between Gothic and Grotesque typefaces to answer with confidence. However with their contemporary counterparts, there are too many exceptions to discern any strong difference between the two. Effectively, Gothic and Grotesque seem to have become diluted to mean nothing more than sans-serif, where heirs of the ‘Neo-’ prefix are concerned.
According to The Geometry of Type¹, Grotesque Sans typefaces appeared in the mid 19th century and were dubbed “grotesque” as they were so strange and novel at the time (“grotesk” for German-speakers).
They have similar properties to Transitional and Rational serif faces:
- Regular proportions
- Relatively static forms
- Based on oval-shapes
- “fairly closed apertures, with some strokes turning inward”
Older Grotesque faces like Bureau Grot have more irregular forms than newer grotesques, giving them an organic character. Neo-Grotesque Sans faces are more rationalized, modeled forms, and are more familiar to us. Examples include: Univers, Helvetica, Acumin & Akkurat.
Gothic Sans typefaces refer to:
“some English and American variants of the Grotesque style”
Often the difference is merely in the name alone, however the following characteristics are usually notable:
- Large x-height
- Simple & static forms
- Very low contrast
- “Often a condensed width with an upright stance derived from flat-sided rounds”
¹ Coles, S. (2013), The Geometry of Type, 1st Ed., London: Thames & Hudson