An open source version of Edward Johnston’s Timeless Typeface for London Underground
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readme.md

Railway-Sans

Edward Johnston’s gift to Legibility and our Modern Typographic Legacy

About This Version

RAILWAY SANS was a previously unpublished work originally digitised by my late friend and partner, the typographer Justin Howes.

This is a faithful rendering of the original London Underground typeface (OpenType and TrueType format), working with Macs, Linux and Windows computers to provide enthusiasts with typographic authenticity when recreating London Underground signage.

No copyright infringement is intended. This free version, Railway, is rendered entirely from proofs done by Johnston himself at the time the face was commissioned and is not derived from the Banks and Miles New Johnston Sans (brilliantly realised by Eiichi Kono, 1979), nor is it a copy or facsimile of any existing commercial typeface, such as P22’s excellent and extensive version, Underground.

As a display face, it is nominally intended to be used at ≈72 point or larger and currently there is no italicised version. When used at display sizes the font will be the correct optical balance for optimum legibility, as it was intended.

Railway Sans

Methodology

In 1994, using a Crosfield drum scanner to capture the type outlines as high-resolution TIFF’s, these were then converted into vectors on an old SPARC station, using some basic bitmap-to-vector software which I had written at the time. This data was then converted to PostScript Type 1 format using Fontographer version 3.0. I’ve since maintained it using FontForge on Linux and MacOS.

Rationale

Justin had originally wanted to capture and build an experimental digital version drawn directly from Johnston’s original artwork of 1913–1915 as part of the book he was writing, Johnston’s Underground Type, on Johnston himself and other Johnston-related research. In 2012 I decided to release an open version based on that work, changing very little, except to:

  • minimally adjust kerning
  • add a few pictorial glyphs
  • extend/add some composite accented forms
  • add new OpenType lookups and ligature tables for alternate forms
  • add proper superior and subscript numbers (not really necessary in a display face but they’re now included)

Updates, October 2017

  1. The Railway Alternate font has been removed from this repo as all the glyphs it contained are now rationalised into the main Railway OpenType version.
  2. The Railway font is now properly OpenType compliant with alternate characters and special sorts, accessible from within OpenType-aware applications.
    Where the application is not fully OpenType aware, these characters can still be inserted using the application’s ‘insert special characters’ menu (see the Alternate and Extended Characters document included with this repository for more information).
  3. An incomplete heavier, semibold version (N12) now included. I’m still working on this, but it’s perfectly useable.

Contextual and Alternates in Illustrator

Railway is licensed under the terms of the SIL Open Font License (OFT).

Updates, December 2017

  1. Adjusted/improved the optical spacing of numbers 0-9.

The History of Railway

What we call the London Underground typeface was originally commissioned between 1913 and 1915 by Frank Pick (1878–1941), the Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), also known as ‘The Underground Group’, as part of his plan to strengthen the company’s corporate identity.

Frustrated at the diversity and endless variations of poor, unsuitable, botched nineteenth-century advertising typefaces that were at that time in use across the transport system, one of Pick’s first key actions was to introduce a standardised approach to advertising and lettering; in short, to introduce a Corporate Identity.

Pick’s brief to Johnston was essentially that he wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements; it should have, he requested, the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods … and yet … belong unmistakably to the twentieth century.

Johnston’s new sans face first appeared in a poster of July 1916. Inspired by the proportions of classical Roman lettering, based on square and circular forms. Standing then, as it remains today, a vehicle of bold clarity and a perfect example of typography as a powerful, authoritative information tool for the unambiguous dissemination of information.

Used almost unchanged in its essence, continuously and timelessly in signage, posters and publicity for over a century, it still appears as fresh as if it were the epitome of recent modernity.

The Underground Group was absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, with Johnston’s type being adopted as part of the London Transport brand. Originally named Underground, it became variously known as Johnston’s Railway Type, then later, simply New Johnston Sans.

Today, Transport for London uses an extensive range of updated and re-drawn versions in many weights and styles, derived from the original typeface and this is known collectively as New Johnston.

In July 2016, The Monotype Corporation announced a recently ‘remastered’ new version, Johnston 100 reflecting the characteristic features and uniqueness of the original, to meet the demands of presentation across a range of new formats and media.


Further Reading


Revised: December, 2017