Designerly’s journey through various fonts has probably taught you the importance of knowing the background of the font you’d like to use. Proof of this can be seen in the money laundering scandal involving Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Nawaz sent out a document “proving” she disclosed her ties to a company. The letter was dated 2006 but used Calibri font, which didn’t release to the public until 2007.
Of course, the wisest thing would have been not to forge a document in the first place. However, the font choice didn’t help her either. If Nawaz had done her due diligence and researched the typeface, she might not have brought so much scandal down on her father. For most people, the worry over getting caught in a lie because of the font they used is a non-issue.
However, there are still many good reasons to know the history and details of a font before choosing it. Fonts bring personality to your work, and each has its unique stamp. You can use a typeface to tap into your users’ emotions and lend a new attitude to your design. Calibri is one of the better-known fonts, but you may not be as familiar with its beginnings.
The Origin of Calibri Font
Lucas de Groot is a Dutch type designer who created Calibri between 2002 and 2004. The goal of creating the Calibri font family was to highlight the attributes of Microsoft’s ClearType technology. This typeface rose to popularity in 2007 with Microsoft Office, and it became the default font as a replacement for Times New Roman.
Lucas de Groot’s job was to create a new sans serif font. He didn’t have access to ClearType technology, so he worried whether the subtle rounding of the curves would look the same on the screen. He went ahead and designed two versions — one with less of a curved look — and sent both to Microsoft for testing. Much to his surprise, Microsoft chose the original, more rounded version.
The softer look of Calibri over Times New Roman was a welcome change for many users. Those with poor vision sometimes have a hard time deciphering the serifs on Times New Roman and similar serif-based fonts.
Many of the typefaces for ClearType were meant for text settings and did not include special features. However, Lucas de Groot’s Calibri was created for both text and display settings, offering variations and extra characters throughout.
The additional features may be part of the reason why the face became so popular quickly. However, Microsoft making it the default font likely contributed the most to its popularity, making it instantly recognizable. People seemed to like Calibri better than Times New Roman or Arial.
The Mechanics of Calibri
Calibri has a tight layout that allows it flexibility with different text sizes without losing resolution. It contains two-story As and Gs, similar to other humanist sans-serif fonts. Another unique characteristic of Calibri is the shorter tail on the letter Y.
The font isn’t as wide as one might think, given the roundness of the characters. The font has subtly rounded stems and corners, which are most visible in larger sizes, and includes characters from Greek and Cyrillic scripts. You’ll find small caps, subscripts, superscripts and extra ligatures within this font. Like most modern typefaces, it also contains italic type abilities.
The font comes in a variety of weights, including Regular, Bold and Light plus italics for each. The darker lines of Bold are well suited for headlines and logos.
Although Calibri is sometimes used as a replacement for the more common Times New Roman, there is still some debate amongst font aficionados about whether it is the best option. For example, the U.S. Department of State switched to Calibri for their official documents as of February 6, 2023.
However, not everyone is a Calibri fan. Microsoft utilized Calibri for around 15 years before commissioning typographers to create five new fonts for their default options. The winner was Aptos because of its sharp points and uniformity. With more assets in digital format, the need for the shift was apparent.
With screen pixel density no longer an issue, Calibri has simply lost some of its advantages to other, more recent fonts.
Some of the things people like about Aptos over Calibri is the distinctive lowercase “l” having a tail and a slight variation in the way the numbers six and eight appear, making the new font more user friendly for those with visual impairments.
What Does the Font Imply?
The designer has stated that Calibri has a soft and warm character to it. It is one of the most flexible font families available, easily used for both casual and formal designs. It has an open appeal that attracts people of all ages.
While it is suitable for a number of things, it is a bit more modern and casual looking than some formal events and luxury brands prefer.
If you’re looking for a friendlier tone, choosing Calibri helps you achieve a warmth you don’t always find in less rounded designs. The font appears welcoming thanks to its rounded edges, especially in bigger sizes. The typeface’s scalability makes it equally suitable for headlines and body text.
It is readable at both small and large sizes but does lose some sharpness at lower resolutions. Since angular serifs on fonts such as Times New Roman can create reading issues for some users, Calibri is a font of choice for many designers.
Because the font has a clean look, it can fade into obscurity and become unforgettable. While such a mild personality works for business documents, it might not be well suited for a marketing or designer’s website, for example.
Where It’s Commonly Found/Used
Calibri is a popular font but exists on only 21,688 sites, according to Font Reach. Some of the sites currently using the font include TechRepublic, Aetna and the University of Phoenix.
Ken Adams, a contract lawyer, often uses the font in his documents and defends the use of it on his website. It is a default body text font and commonly used in paragraphs. However, the font’s rounded features make it equally pleasing as a heading or subheading on a website or in printed text.
The font is very scalable and flexible, allowing people to use it anywhere — whether as a title or the body of a message. Calibri has come under some criticism by a few designers who feel it is an ugly font. Their aversion is likely because Calibri is the default in Microsoft Office, and thus they encounter it quite often. Designers tend to like new and unique looks rather than overexposed or overrated appearances.
Interestingly, people don’t tend to feel too strongly one way or the other about Calibri. The announcement that Microsoft would replace it with a new font brought about little criticism. While other fonts Microsoft announced as defaults were given a hard way to go, Calibri seemed to escape seemingly unscathed.
For example, Times New Roman is often snarled at by font experts. Arial and Helvetica were compared and Arial drew a ton of criticism. Every designer has heard how awful Comic Sans is and to avoid it. Calibri seems to have escaped all the hype many default Microsoft fonts experience and may remain a favorite among creators across the spectrum.
De Groot told Wired his goal with Calibri was to make it neutral. His favorite of the five new designs commissioned by Microsoft was Seaford. However, he realized the font has a strong design voice and many might not appreciate it.
When Should Calibri Be Used?
Keep in mind that Calibri is going to stand out from serif-based fonts. The design’s rounded elements give it a slightly modern look. If you’re going for a traditional appearance, such as a wedding invitation, you might be better off with one of the many serif fonts out there. However, if you want a more contemporary impression, Calibri is a perfect choice.
Calibri pairs well with Chap, Acta Display and Raleway. Look for other fonts with rounded edges for a smooth transition between typefaces. Stay away from geometrical and harsh edges. If you want to find something with a similar look to Calibri but not quite as popular, you could try some lesser-known but worthy choices. Fonts with round, open signatures include Linotype Textra, Arial, Hanseat and Revalo Modern. Note that each font has a different heaviness to it, so choose the one that works best for your project.
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.