P22’s Johnston Underground fonts

Whilst researching the Johnston feature in the current London Underground 150 special issue of CR magazine, we spoke to Richard Kegler at type foundry P22 about their 1997 digital revival of Johnston’s original Underground font designs, licensed in an exclusive agreement with the London Transport Museum…

Whilst researching the Johnston feature in the current London Underground 150 special issue of CR magazine, we spoke to Richard Kegler at type foundry P22 about their 1997 digital revival of Johnston’s original Underground font designs, licensed in an exclusive agreement with the London Transport Museum…

“There are really two different P22 Underground font sets,” Kegler explained to us when we asked about the foundry’s relationship with Johnston’s eponymous typeface. “First there’s the original Johnston Underground set released in 1997 as a standard P22 packaged font set and sold via the museum gift shop market that we’ve cultivated since P22’s inception in 1994, and second, the newer P22 Underground Pro set which we released in 2007 as an expanded revision of the basic set.”

P22 Johnston Underground regular weight

“The original set was licensed in an arrangement with the London Transport Museum,” Kegler continues, “and this version attempted to capture the true original design by Johnston with minimal alternations and interpretation. The source material was primarily actual printed specimens from the type in the collection of the Museum. The book by Colin Banks: London’s Handwriting presented various sizes of Johnston’s type printed from wood type. These mpressions, as well as various ephemera from the decades of countless uses by TfL, presented a clear picture of what needed to be done.

“The premise was to keep it as true to the original as possible and not to reference the revised Banks and Miles New Johnston (by Eiichi Kono) which was then the current in-house type family  for TfL. Two of the most obvious differences were the figures 1 and 4 which were made more conventional with New Johnston.”

P22 Johnston Underground, bold

“The original Johnston design did not feature a lowercase design for the bold, so we decided to be true as possible and not include a new lower case in the bold font (shown above).”

Above, the punctuation in Johnston Underground remains true to Johnston’s original designs (below), unlike the diamond shaped full stops, comas and colons in Eichi Kono’s New Johnston

“For both the regular and bold digitizations, there was some thought about how to handle the real-life experience of a work-horse typeface that would, over time, show signs of wear via presswork and careless handling of the type,” explains Kegler of the attention to minute detail. “Some specimens showed perfect points on the corners while others were clearly dinged. These dings and dents give a certain character (as often is the case with old wood type) but can be conspicuous with digital repetition.

“An approach that used perfect clean shapes would be almost as conspicuous as a hard and sharp, ‘perfect’ digital face. The decision was made to make the corners softened by digitally ‘dinging’ the corners. The dings vary slightly to give a very subtle softening to the face. Other than that, the proportions and details were kept true to the source material.”

“For our Underground Pro family of fonts, a much more comprehensive approach was undertaken to make a flexible sans serif family that was still clearly Johnston’s typeface but with additional weights and extensive language support. Some optical adjustments were made to some characters, but the bones were the same. The corners were still softened but in a more more regular fashion than the irregular corners of the first P22 Johnston Underground fonts.”

“In addition to Greek and Cyrillic options, there were also two sizes of small caps, alternate shapes for a few letters and optional round dots to tone down the distinctive diamond shaped dots should a designer care to do so. These options can minimize the obvious cultural baggage that come with using this font for anything that is not directly related to London.”

Above, just some of the alternate characters available in P22’s Underground Pro

“At its heart, Johnston’s typeface is a humanist sans that most others are judged by or looked towards as an exemplar of the form,” says Kegler. “It does seem funny that Edward Johnston, who was an adherent to the ideal of the Arts and Crafts movement and its anti-industrial stance, essentially created one of the first and longest lasting corporate identity branding systems by developing the TfL types and standardization of the TfL roundel.

“As far as sales, the Underground types are one of the better and more consistent sellers in the P22 catalog. As with some of the other iconic type styles we offer, the Underground fonts are a part of the DNA of design history and designers can use with these historic letterforms in contemporary design. Using it, in some ways is a knowing wink to other design geeks.”


Read more about Edward Johnston’s eponymous design classic and the secrets of its enduring appeal in the new special March issue of CR which celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. More info below:

CR in print
The March issue of CR magazine celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. In it we introduce a new book by Mark Ovenden, which is the first study of all aspects of the tube’s design evolution; we ask Harry Beck authority, Ken Garland, what he makes of a new tube map concept by Mark Noad; we investigate the enduring appeal of Edward Johnston’s eponymous typeface; Michael Evamy reports on the design story of world-famous roundel; we look at the London Transport Museum’s new exhibition of 150 key posters from its archive; we explore the rich history of platform art, and also the Underground’s communications and advertising, past and present. Plus, we talk to London Transport Museum’s head of trading about TfL’s approach to brand licensing and merchandising. In Crit, Rick Poynor reviews Branding Terror, a book about terrorist logos, while Paul Belford looks at how a 1980 ad managed to do away with everything bar a product demo. Finally, Daniel Benneworth-Grey reflects on the merits on working home alone. Buy your copy here.

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