Grotesque Type

Grotesque is one of those terms which can mean different things in different contexts.

In the 1800’s pretty much all the type in existence was serif type. There was a new requirement for type with more impact for posters. This is when the serifs were removed to create sans-serif designs. The new designs were called Grotesque, as in deformed, misshapen, mangled, etc… Compared to serif faces, they were initially seen as vulgar.

Today, Grotesque can be used as a synonym for sans-serif. The term is also used as a sub-category of sans-serif families.

So, in one case a Grotesque is a synonym for sans-serif. In the second case, it’s used more specifically for the name of one of the sub-categories of sans-serifs. Those categories are Grotesque, Neo-Grotesque, Geometric, and Humanist. So everything that’s sans-serif and not Geometric nor Humanist. It’s best to use sans-serif for the general term and keep Grotesque for the specific sub-category of sans-serif type. Franklin Gothic, named after famed printer Benjamin Franklin, is the definitive Grotesque design. The term Gothic also referred to sans-serif type back in the day.

Franklin Gothic Grotesque

These are some grotesque faces on Adobe Fonts:

These are the various categories of sans-serif type. We move forward in time as we go down the list.

Classification Sans variants

As we move forward in time, the type becomes more fluid and friendly. When type has organic or hand-drawn lines, it’s usually called humanist.

You can read more about type classification categories here.