Chapter 16: Athene

Posted on October 28, 2019 | Updated on September 13, 2023

Athene font features a unique look that is a cross between serif and geometric patterns. This is one of those fonts you may not have run across before. It doesn’t come bundled in the Microsoft Suite of products, nor is it listed as a Google font. That means you may not have run across this particular style before, and it won’t be nearly as commonly used as fonts such as Times New Roman or Helvetica.

The unique appearance of Athene font makes it instantly recognizable. However, it also is different enough that it is best used only as an accent rather than for the main body of a design. If you have big blocks of text, Athene probably isn’t the best choice for your creation.

Fonts are known for evoking a particular mood or emotion, and Athene font accomplishes this masterfully. The letters are short and fat with bold strokes, but the serifs are tapered and thin, giving it a mix between a youthful and regal look. There are many eccentricities to Athene font that make it stand out, which we’ll talk about below.

The Origin of Athene Font

One of the original typefaces created for Apple’s Macintosh computers was Athens, originally designed by Susan Kare. All of Kare’s fonts were named after major cities around the world. However, because a TrueType of it wasn’t created, when System 7 emerged, it disappeared and was nearly forgotten.

Athene font is a similar-looking style rendered for today’s machines. There are actually a couple of different options for Athene. One was created by Rebecca Bettencourt and is a TrueType very similar to the original Athens. The other, more interesting Athene font was created by designer Matt Ellis. It’s a cross between a serif and decorative design with some geometric additions to make it truly stand out from others. It’s free to use both for personal and commercial projects.

The Mechanics of Athene Font

Some have described Ellis’s font as a slab serif font, which means there are thick, block-like serifs and the terminals are very blunt, such as you’d see in Rockwell. However, some slab fonts have more rounded features, such as Courier New. With Ellis’s Athene font, there are shades of both angular and rounded serifs. The typeface has thin lines on some of the edges and then serif idiosyncrasies.

The transition from thin to thick and from angular to rounded makes it ideal for large-scale design projects, as the letters show up clear even in larger sizes. For example, the capital A has angular serifs, while the capital C has a rounded serif at the top point of the letter and an angular serif on the bottom. The variation in line width creates a very distinctive look that draws the eye to the top of the letter. The capital Q also offers an embellished tail that almost looks more like a script or decorative type font. Sharp-edged glyphs and accents over some of the letters round out this free commercial or personal style. However, all the letters mesh into a distinctive look that provides a personality all its own.

What Does the Font Imply?

One can easily imagine the Athene font on a billboard or front of a playbill for a theater production. It has a traditional edge but some modern elements with the script-like features that make it fun and give it a touch of whimsy. The lowercase letters have a fat appearance that might even work for anything related to children’s events. The lowercase K is very blocky and reminds one of a child just learning to print their letters and doing so on the lines as perfectly as possible.

The other letters follow suit with exacting proportions. However, the whimsy shows up in the letter G, which has a bottom that looks almost like a cursive letter S and in the thinner lines that add a bit of punch. Athene doesn’t follow the rules and is not really traditional, even though it does have conventional elements. It’s more of a modern font with a very distinctive look.

Where It’s Commonly Found and Used

Athene font is most commonly used in headlines. Because the lowercase letters are wide, it may not be as well suited for body text where there isn’t enough whitespace to break up the bolder strokers. You’ve likely seen Athene font used in program flyers, possibly on billboards, as part of a logo or even on websites in the headings. As mentioned before, Athene isn’t nearly as commonly used as styles like Helvetica and Times New Roman.

It doesn’t have the flexibility of Arial or Courier. However, it has a distinctive look you’ll immediately recognize when you stumble across it. Keep in mind that a slab serif like Athene font is going to stand out within a sentence or display. While slab serifs date back to the 19th century, today, they are used quite frequently to highlight specific words or create logos. Some places you’ve likely seen slab serifs in is store signs and magazine headers.

A Comparison of Athene to Other Fonts

When considering using Athene in your designs, having other fonts in mind is always important. This way, you know what fonts may be more suitable for another project. Or, you might need something complementary to create a balanced look in your design:

  • Futura: This highly geometric font is known for its clean and stylish look. On the other hand, Athene has organic flowing lines. Its serifs evoke tradition, while Futura’s sans-serif design captures the modern spirit.
  • Garamond: Athene’s contemporary design contrasts with Garamond’s old-style serifs. Garamond is timeless and elegant, ideal for lengthy text, whereas Athene suits creative displays.
  • Montserrat: Montserrat’s geometric shapes differ from Athene’s more rounded features. Both are sans-serif, but Montserrat leans towards a modern urban feel, while Athene retains a classic touch. 
  • Proxima Nova: Proxima Nova combines geometric and prominent styles, presenting a versatile look. In comparison, Athene’s curves and serifs give it a distinct identity — perfect for branding.
  • Avenir: Avenir’s clean and forward-looking design contrasts Athene’s classic aesthetic. While Avenir looks toward the future, Athene captures an artistic past. 

Tips for Using Athene Font Effectively

To Athene effectively in your designs, consider implementing the following tips:

  • Use in headlines or titles: Athene’s unique character looks best in larger sizes. Use it for website headings, display text for graphics or wherever you want to make a bold statement. Athene is a great font for capturing the user’s attention.
  • Limit extensive text: While Athene is undeniably captivating, it’s not ideal for long-form content. For body text, pair it with a more readable font and save Athene for highlighting important messages.
  • Pair with complementary fonts: When using Athene, pair it with simpler sans-serif fonts to avoid visual clutter. This enhances readability and ensures Athene stands out. 
  • Respect white space: Given its distinct style, Athene benefits from generous white space. This prevents designs from feeling overcrowded and allows the font’s unique attributes to breathe.
  • Color considerations: Athene pairs well with light colors that are less overpowering. Yet, when you use it in logos or headlines, it’s ok to go after bold color choices.
  • Avoid overuse: As with any statement font, moderation is key. Overusing Athene can make a design feel overwhelming. Use it sparingly to maximize its impact.
  • Experiment with kerning: Adjusting the space between letters can positively affect Athene’s appeal. Play around with kerning to find the best fit for your design. 

Incorporating Athene requires a balance of boldness and restraint. When used thoughtfully, it can elevate any design, providing a creative flair that captivates viewers.

How Do Viewers Perceive Athene?

When people see the Athene font, they often perceive it as a contemporary style with a classic touch. Athene’s serifs allow for a softer and more approachable feel, even though they are distinct. Its curves embody a slight calligraphic look, giving it a feeling of elegance and sophistication.

While Athene carries some age-old traditional feel, it remains fresh enough to feel modern. For many, it may bring to mind a high-end brand or a freelance artist. However, the font’s character also means it can stand out strongly in a design. This type of distinction within the font may ensure memorability but demands careful consideration.

Overall, Athene has a classic but modern appearance. Therefore, it’s a versatile choice for designs, whether using it for customary or innovative designs. 

What Should It Be Used

The common uses of Athene font and what you can use it as may be a bit different. Of course, you can use it the same way other designers have on billboards, for store signs and magazine headlines. However, Athene could arguably be used for a whole host of other things. It could create a banner for a website, grab attention in a program for the local high school play by highlighting the name of the leads, or be part of the typographical hierarchy of a website.

Keep in mind that Athene font doesn’t translate very well in smaller print. It also may be particularly troublesome on mobile devices. As long as you stick to using it for accents and headings, you should be fine. Adding Athene to your arsenal of fonts gives you another edge in your designs that helps you stand out and meet the needs of each client. 

The Font Series Guide: Introduction
Chapter 1: 15 Google Fonts You Should Be Using
Chapter 2: Times New Roman
Chapter 3: Roboto
Chapter 4: Georgia
Chapter 5: Verdana
Chapter 6: Helvetica
Chapter 7: Comic Sans
Chapter 8: Didot
Chapter 9: Arial
Chapter 10: Tahoma
Chapter 11: Garamond
Chapter 12: Century Gothic
Chapter 13: Brody
Chapter 14: Bromello
Chapter 15: Savoy
Chapter 16: Athene
Chapter 17: Calibri
Chapter 18: Proxima Nova
Chapter 19: Anders
Chapter 20: Monthoers
Chapter 21: Gotham

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

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