Get to Know a Typeface! Papyrus


This post is more for me than you. I’m sorry but I must use this platform to get this off my chest. Please avoid Papyrus.

The post could have ended there, but as usual, I say too much and end up needing to apologize for something I’ve written. If I have or will offend you with this post, including Chris Costello (the type designer who created the monster known as Papyrus), I am sorry. I guess I could have taken Paul’s post on Comic Sans and inserted his comments here to cover Papyrus. You know, that’s not such a bad idea.

Here we go: “The problem with [Papyrus] is not only that it is used a lot. It’s that it’s almost always used inappropriately, which has caused its original intent to be lost. It was designed with a specific use in mind, but now it is ubiquitous.”  Well said, Paul. Costello agrees and says on his blog titled “Papyrus…Love It or Hate It?” that “Dude, Papyrus is ubiquitous because it was bundled with OSX and Windows operating systems, plain and simple… I had nothing to do with that decision.” I like his honesty and use of the word “dude” in the post.

Costello goes on to say in another post, “I cringe when I see Papyrus so poorly executed…and so often. But again, like any licensed software, what people do with it is out of my hands.” I think that it is awesome that Costello’s blog provides a place for people to rant or rave about his creation. Some of the comments provide insight into his creation and its original use, while others are just hilarious. There is even is a post from Costello’s mom, who has a take on Papyrus.

Much like Comic Sans, Papyrus in and of itself is not that bad of a typeface. It is the users of Papyrus who over use and abuse it.  It can be seen everywhere. I see it most commonly in restaurant menus (primarily Italian restaurants) and in signage or advertisements for day spas (primarily the type found in strip malls). I have even seen it on a sign for a dentist’s office. Which was an effective use considering the cavities found within each letter form. But really, please avoid Papyrus.

To learn more about Papyrus or Chris Costello check out his website at Costello is also collecting comments and displaying his newest type creations known as Driftwood, Costello, and Sheriden’s Letters. Will one of those be the next Papyrus? Only time will tell.

For those who love Papyrus, and I know you are out there, check out

Do I need a hobby or something else to care about? I want to hear from the herd, what is the typeface that really bugs you? For me it is Papyrus, for Paul it is Comic Sans, what is it for you?

12 thoughts on “Get to Know a Typeface! Papyrus

  1. Seven years ago I used Papyrus on my own wedding invitations. I knew it was overused even then, so I put it in a line-up with several other fonts to present in comps to the client–my wife. Papyrus came to be the winner in each scenario. I have to admit, I think they turned out nice. And we’re still married.

    It was fun to work with, and was easy to kern. If it’s any consolation, the text was printed on handmade paper which so consistently choked the printer that I may as well have lettered the invitations by hand. I found little frilly bits in the machine for months. Penance, I suppose.

  2. Excellent point made in the Comic Sans link discussion — we are not normal. Seriously. We aren’t. Good visitor studies are needed to find out, ideally off of prototypes, and not final products that can’t be changed, how most visitors/viewers respond to fonts or layouts.

    For many of us, large quantities of text in Helvetica are heaven, and we stand and read the whole block. But we are not normal — a great point to keep in mind.

    And as for obsessing about fonts this way, most people . . .

  3. Wikipedia has some good background information at One interesting point is that “Costello described his goal as a font that would represent what English vernacular would have looked like if written on papyrus 2000 years ago.”

    What he achieved, I think, is a typeface that represents what English vernacular looks like when promoting organic aroma therapy massage clinics on coffee shop bulletin boards.

  4. Tim, that is sage wisdom involving Papyrus.

    Life Lesson #1: If your wife wants you to do something that goes against your better design judgment, you probably should do it anyway. Especially if it involves her wedding invitations.

    I’m guilty of using Papyrus too. It was around that same time that I began noticing how much it was being over used too.

    One thing that I find interesting is how connected people are to Papyrus and Comic Sans. They really like them and I’m not sure why. It is much like Apple fanatics (letting this one go now). They defend their choice whole heartedly. I don’t find myself exclusively connected to any one typeface. Perhaps that’s the hunter/gatherer in me. I’m always looking for good fonts.

    Life lesson #2: Don’t apply the hunter/gatherer approach to marriage.

  5. I just finished a student project designing an interpretation for a 1930s era reservoir with connections to Art Deco and Robert Burns. I tried Greyhound and Mainstreet to echo the period feeling of the site, but it got kicked back as hard to read. I ended up using Arial, which I think is incredibly boring BUT readable. Seems like all the interesting looking fonts just don’t translate too well to interpretive media.


  6. Well said Carol. Arial and Helvetica are pretty boring, yet beautiful in their function. If the intent is for the product to actually be read, those are good options. It sounds like you made a good decision.

    I really like the style of Greyhound. A decorative typeface, like Greyhound, has to be used in small doses.

  7. Folks, this is just a rant (a good one though). Simply saying it’s overused means nothing. The same thing can be said for Times New Roman and Arial, to the nth degree as they are ubiquitous.

    To say it’s used inappropriately adds nothing. What about its use is inappropriate? This is where the discussion of typefaces needs to go.

    For example, Papyrus is a very poor choice for signs as the thickness of the characters is simply too thin for a quick–they way signs are read–read and the “cavities” simply exaggerate this simple fact.

    Papyrus certainly has the feel of the ancient western world. To use in a modern or native sense would be “innapropriate”.

    Rants are fun, but let us make this one meaningful and educational.

  8. Scott, your point is well-taken, but I have to say I disagree. I think that for decorative or expressive typefaces, the fact that they are overused is enough reason not to use them. Given that their primary function is to evoke a certain sense or emotive quality (rather than specifically for legibility), the fact that you see them used frequently for widely varying purposes diminishes their effectiveness.

    I believe that classical typefaces like Times New Roman and Arial (which is essentially Helvetica) are different because their function is different. These typefaces have been crafted and tested over time for utilitarian purposes, and designers whose aim is to accentuate legibility are best served using them rather than a lesser imitation.

  9. We are in agreement that overuse diminishes the distinctiveness of the typeface. Witness Algerian. As soon as Microsoft bundled it with Office, it was everywhere. I hated the typeface the first time I saw it and my despise of it has only grown.

    Still, why choose a typeface for your purpose? Most don’t. They simply look through their collection (I have over 50,000 in mine) and find one that strikes their fancy withought any real thought of what about it they want to communicate with their choice.

    Typeface selection is really about communication: which one matches my objectives to reach my reader and make a connection with them? This question is rarely asked. It needs to be asked each time a typeface is considered.

    So back to my original question, if a choice in innapropriate, why????

  10. Scott, I think yours is a great comment and gets at the heart of what we’re trying to communicate. In the book (on page 29, for those scoring at home), we say this:

    “It is tempting and all too easy to leave the selection of typefaces to your computer’s default selections; however, it is essential that you seize control of this decision. The typefaces you choose are your visual voice. They determine the personality of the finished piece, set the tone for design decisions still to come, and are the first step toward creating legible communication.

    Think of some words that describe the voice you want to establish (organic, bold, elegant, etc.) and use this list to guide your selection. Be ready to defend your choice if you’re asked what it says about the organization or site you’re representing. It’s best to know what sort of typeface you’re looking for before you even turn on your computer.”

  11. Thanks for saying what needed to be said about this tragic font!

    I consult with small businesses and nonprofits, folks with little design or marketing background, and once they see this blight of a font I am hard pressed to convince them otherwise.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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