Get to Know a Typeface! Brush Script

In the heart of the famous Las Vegas Strip, nestled among extravagant, enormous themed casinos like the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, Paris, and the Venetian, sits the unassuming Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. It sounds grand, but compared to the bigger, newer, more expensive casinos around it, the Imperial Palace is often overlooked.

Once, during a cross-country road trip with friends, I stayed at the Imperial Palace with about 11 other people in the same room. It’s an experiment I am not anxious to repeat, though on the plus side, I think I ended up paying about $8 a night for the stay. Apart from its location and management’s willingness to overlook the fact that we could have fielded a baseball team with three reserves with the number of people we had staying in the room, the main advantage of the Imperial Palace is its “Dealertainers.”

Dealertainers perform three distinct functions: 1. Look like celebrity musicians, 2. Sing very loudly, and 3. Deal blackjack. And while most visitors to the Imperial Palace are simultaneously watching the performers and enjoying “free” beverages as they lose $5 at a time at the blackjack tables, there I am, commenting to my friends that the “Dealertainer” typeface (as seen on the banner behind Billy Idol) is our old friend Brush Script. This may be why my friends have stopped telling me when the annual trip to Las Vegas is happening.

(Note: The photo above is distributed by AccessVegas.com for promotional purposes only. So I will promote Las Vegas: Come to the 2010 NAI National Workshop, November 16-20, in—guess where—Las Vegas!)

When Brush Script was designed by Robert E. Smith in 1942, you could hardly have predicted how pervasive it would someday become. In its heyday, it was used widely in advertising and for other commercial purposes, as in the words “A” and “Release” in the end credits for the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon pictured here.

Brush Script is designed to evoke lettering crafted by hand with a brush and ink. It is informal but refined, more calligraphy than scrawl, not so much handwriting as artfully hand-crafted.

Of course, like many good typefaces, it ended up as a default computer font and became widely reviled because of overuse. You can see it everywhere from a sign welcoming you to Intercourse, Pennsylvania (the words “Welcome to”—thanks to Jeff Miller and the Towns with Strange Names Facebook page for the photo) to the phrase “Rich & Sassy” on sauce packets from Famous Dave’s barbecue to the milk cooler on my front porch.

When people who write blogs about graphic design get bored, they write top 10 lists of typefaces that they hate. Almost invariably, these typefaces are not inherently bad (except Comic Sans; that one is bad), but they are defaults that become overused. This is how Brush Script ends up in posts like 10 Most Overused Fonts in Design, Typobituaries, and A Plea from 16 Most Overused Fonts. These blogs are annoying because they all seem to list essentially the same typefaces, though when they discuss Brush Script, they usually make the good point that it should never (ever!) be set in all caps.

I argue that Brush Script is not a bad typeface, but that it has been subjected to both overuse and misuse. As handwriting typefaces go, it is well crafted and has stood the test of time. You frequently see Brush Script used to evoke a certain 1950s-ish feeling. The television network ESPN has one of the most carefully crafted visual aesthetics out there, and it’s not by accident that it used Brush Script effectively in promoting the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby last week. ESPN used the typeface in conjunction with a Vegas-style starburst (somehow they pull it off) and neon signage to evoke a drive-in movie theater or old-school diner.

As with any typeface, the fact that Brush Script is well-designed and can be used effectively does not mean that it can be used at any time for any reason. It has its time and place. Used effectively, with intent, and with other design elements that contribute to an overall effect (as with ESPN’s drive-in movie theater/diner), it contributes to a playful, fun atmosphere. Used carelessly and without thought, as it is on countless fliers and signs and T-shirts and whatnot, Brush Script is just another default font that’s going to end up on some annoyed blogger’s Top 10 list.

9 thoughts on “Get to Know a Typeface! Brush Script

  1. Thanks for the shout out and promotion Dude. You rock!!

  2. You still get milk delivered? Wow. Those were the days. My parent’s house had a milk chute, basically a small hole in the wall with doors on either side. I used to break in through it when I forgot my keys. Good story.

  3. Okay, if you dislike all the fonts that are available on the standard computer, and insist that we interpreters don’t use them because they are so passe and overused, then what are we supposed to use? Suppose we don’t have a budget that allows us to purchase new fonts, or have them specially designed for us? Shall we simply revert to writing it all by hand, since our own handwriting is bound to be unique (even if illegible)?

    I recently made up some business cards for myself and scrolled through the fonts to find one whose look I liked. This was prior to reading your anti-Papyrus post, and yes, that was the font I used (just for my name – the rest of the card is a different font). Now I feel embarrassed to hand out the cards (and I printed a lot of them)! I must say, though, that it does look nice, even if it is overused.

  4. Hi Ellen,

    That’s a good point. I actually agree that Papyrus is not a bad typeface, and that people react against it because it used so much (unlike Comic Sans, which is a bad font and also overused). I do avoid using it for that reason, though.

    To your point about budgets, last year we wrote a post called Free Fonts! – http://www.interpretationbydesign.com/?p=484 – in which we identify some sites where you can download fonts for free (or n some cases a minimal cost). I’ve used these sites frequently myself, for instance in the logo for the NAI National Workshop (http://www.interpretationbydesign.com/?p=1906) and in the identity of the NAI International Conference (http://www.interpretationbydesign.com/?p=2409).

  5. Thanks, Paul. This was meant to be light-hearted, but rereading it, I can see that it does sound a bit snarky. Oops! Ah – the downside of the written word.

    I will check out the free fonts you suggested. Cheers. 🙂

  6. Hi Ellen, I certainly didn’t take your comment as snarky. I think it’s a good question to ask. Is a typeface inherently bad just because you see it used a lot? We pick on Comic Sans and Papyrus, so I wanted to write this post about Brush Script, an overused typeface that I do like.

    And don’t hesitate to hand out your cards. If you’ve used Papyrus correctly, it will look like it was meant to be there all along.

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