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Onions, Leeks, and Garlic

Cyrus Highsmith • design

Allium, a new sans serif from Occupant Fonts, marks a change of pace.

Maybe I’m getting soft as I grow older, but lately, I’m less inclined to draw the sort of brash mechanical forms I used to favor.

Earlier in my career, I was interested in drawing typefaces that spoke in a loud voice and could get big things done. Series like Dispatch and Stainless were made for heavy lifting. Scout and Antenna have a similar industrial flavor.

By contrast, my latest series is a new humanist sans serif. It’s a calm—maybe even quiet—design, drawn for headlines and deck sizes. I call it Allium, after a genus of flowering plants that includes onions, leeks, and garlic.

Harmony and balance sound like high-minded goals for a type designer. They can be achieved in many different ways and I don’t claim to have them figured out. However, these were the themes I was exploring in Allium.


An o is made of two shapes—a black circle and a white circle. In Allium, the only other significant difference between those shapes is size; the white shape is smaller. Otherwise, the black and white shapes are as similar as possible.

Harmony can refer to the pleasant effect resulting from a combination of different elements. Harmony can also refer to an agreement or unity between similar elements. In a typeface, either kind of harmony comes from the relationship between the black and white shapes.

While drawing Allium, I was thinking about the second kind of harmony, in terms of accord. I drew the interior white shapes to be as similar as possible to the exterior black ones. My goal was to make their relationship calm and quiet. No tension between the inside and outside.

Harmonizing the black and white shapes in this way can produce a very comfortable and satisfying effect. In my head, I hear a nice hum when I look at the Medium especially. It’s got that warm sound.


Small adjustments to the shapes of the o give it a natural sense of direction. When Allium’s o is flipped so its shapes fight against the flow of the other letters, the adjustments become noticeable.
A symmetrical o, in perfect balance with itself, looks a bit stiff in comparison with Allium’s o. Though subtle, these sorts of decisions have a cumulative effect.

Like harmony, balance also comes from paying close attention to the white shapes. Their proportions influence how we perceive a letter’s stability and sense of “correctness.” However, a stable letter doesn’t need to be a stiff letter.

It’s subtle, but I weighted the inside and outside shapes somewhat differently to create a slight sense of motion. The letters in Allium have forward momentum. They are drawn to keep your eye moving. Painters think about eye movement when they compose. The letter drawer can, too. Motion can create a kind of balance, like what happens when riding a bicycle.

I confess I might be the only one who cares about or sees this effect when looking at letters in isolation. But in a word or line of text, I think all these kinds of adjustments add up. In addition to balanced letters, my intent is for Allium to have a kind of natural flow in its movement across the page.

Allium is ready for the world

Allium’s character set is pan-European with support for western, eastern, and central European languages.
It also contains Greek.
Last but not least: Cyrillic glyphs for Russian, Ukrainian, and other languages.

Since the initial release of Allium, we have added additional versions optimized for smaller text sizes and screen use. Marie Otsuka also drew a rounded version. Try them if you need a clear, calm tone of voice but don’t want to put your readers to sleep.

Like all Occupant Fonts releases, Allium is available for print, web, applications, and ePub licensing on Type Network. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days.