Making Fonts: GT Sectra

GT Sectra is a serif typeface combining the calligraphic influence of the broad nib pen with the sharpness of the scalpel. This sharpness defines its contemporary look.

The GT Sectra subfamily was originally designed for the long-form magazine Reportagen, a publication with interesting stories from all around the world. The Zürich-based studio Moiré designed the magazine and since it was text heavy, the typography was central. In order to convince possible investors, they first designed a pilot issue of Reportagen. For that purpose, Times Bold was used for headlines and a typewriter typeface for texts. After receiving funding, form was given a higher role and a first beta of GT Sectra was designed and implemented in both text and headlines, giving the magazine a distinct and consistent look.

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Development process.

Primarily, the typeface serves the content, but on another level also serves as the base of the magazine’s visual identity. This is especially apparent on the cover, which is purely typographical, accompanying a single small illustration.

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Reportagen: From mockup to final design. The mockup of Reportagen of a serif typeface for headlines and a monospaced for text. The final design features the first beta of GT Sectra.
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Examples of covers and spreads from Reportagen.

One of the first visual inspirations for Sectra was blackletter. A lot of the design features that make the drawing edgy were incorporated in the typeface’s design.

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Examples of covers and spreads from Reportagen Comparison with a Blackletter typeface.

The idea was not to reproduce any historic typeface, but to translate those ideas into a new contemporary design. The proportions of the letters are more pragmatic than with classic serif models, with the x-height and weight of the capitals closer to a Grotesque than a classic serif typeface. The capital letters are also kept relatively narrow to better integrate them with the lowercase in body copy. The weight of the Regular style is relatively dark, preempting contemporary offset printing technology, which adds only minimal weight in the printing process.

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Comparison of the x-height and the caps with classical serifed typeface.

The design idea was to begin with truly calligraphic letters, but then transform those into simpler, more straightforward shapes. The cuts in the curves add tension and emphasize the feeling of sharpness of the typeface. The arch in the “n” for example is not rounded but cut. The drop of the “a” also has a square shape and cut curve.

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Comparison of the letter “n” rounded and cut and the letter “a” rounded and cut.

Taking a closer look at the paths of the individual glyphs reveals how the sharpness of the design was achieved: Straight lines and kinks at the extreme points give the typeface its distinctive look and character.

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The eye-catching and distinctive cuts also inspired the typefaces name: Sectra is derived from the Latin “Secare” meaning to cut off slice or carve.

Since its inception in 2011, the typeface went through many iterations. After creating the first beta version, Dominik Huber and Marc Kappeler of Moiré joined forces with Noël Leu from Grilli Type to sharpen the concept of Sectra. The typeface was improved upon with every issue of Reportagen. At first the design had a softer and more traditional feel. Bit by bit, curves were replaced by cuts, forcing the design into having a clearer attitude.

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Changes from beta to final version.

The italic emphasizes the calligraphic influence. Traces of continuous handwriting with a broad nib pen are even clearly visible in the uppercase letters. An interruptive stroke was used to prevent the typeface from looking too humanistic and to further emphasize its strong angular lines.

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Italics from beta to final.

During the creation of the original version the team felt there was still space to explore a more versatile Sectra. The first version of Sectra, with its very low contrast, lacked some dynamism. Its text color is rather dark and the low contrast combined with ink traps enables it to perform well even at very small sizes. But there was indeed room for further variants.

Sectra Fine, on the other hand, has a higher contrast and brings some elegance to the design. It serves as a well-matched headline companion to Sectra but can just as well stand on its own.

Sectra Display takes all the design features to their most extreme, removing curves wherever possible. The lowercase “r” for example is purely angular containing no curved forms. Combined with a very high contrast and a more condensed design, this subfamily functions particularly well at larger sizes. The weights of the Display designs are also more polarized, with the extreme Light and Super weights not found in the other subfamilies.

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Family Features.

All Sectra Families with 10 weights and various OpenType features. A compact ascender and descender feature was added for when very tight line spacing is used – for example in headlines.

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Compact extenders feature.

This all comes together to form a large, coherent family suitable for a wide variety of uses. A serif typeface, more than any other, has to be a tool that performs in large and small sizes, on coarse paper or the dense pixel grid of mobile devices. The GT Sectra family, with its three distinct but related subfamilies is, we believe, a very versatile typeface, and we’re excited to see how and where it will be used.