In typography, italic type is a cursive font based on a stylised form of calligraphic handwriting. Owing to the influence from calligraphy, italics normally slant slightly to the right. Italics are a way to emphasise key points in a printed text, to identify many types of creative works, or, when quoting a speaker, a way to show which words they stressed. One manual of English usage described italics as "the print equivalent of underlining".
The name comes from the fact that calligraphy-inspired typefaces were first designed in Italy, to replace documents traditionally written in a handwriting style called chancery hand. Aldus Manutius and Ludovico Arrighi (both between the 15th and 16th centuries) were the main type designers involved in this process at the time. Different glyph shapes from Roman type are usually used – another influence from calligraphy – and upper-case letters may have swashes, flourishes inspired by ornate calligraphy. An alternative is oblique type, in which the type is slanted but the letterforms do not change shape: this less elaborate approach is used by many sans-serif typefaces.
Manutius intended his italic type to be used not for emphasis but for the text of small, easily carried editions of popular books (often poetry), replicating the style of handwritten manuscripts of the period. The choice of using italic type, rather than the roman type in general use at the time, was apparently made to suggest informality in editions designed for leisure reading.[a] Manutius' italic type was cut by his punchcutter Francesco Griffo (who later following a dispute with Manutius claimed to have conceived it). It replicated handwriting of the period following from the style of Niccolò de' Niccoli, possibly even Manutius' own.
The first use in a complete volume was a 1501 edition of Virgil dedicated to Italy, although it had been briefly used in the frontispiece of a 1500 edition of Catherine of Siena's letters. In 1501, Aldus wrote to his friend Scipio:
We have printed, and are now publishing, the Satires of Juvenal and Persius in a very small format, so that they may more conveniently be held in the hand and learned by heart (not to speak of being read) by everyone.
Manutius' italic was different in some ways from modern italics, being conceived for the specific use of replicating the layout of contemporary calligraphers like Pomponio Leto and Bartolomeo Sanvito. The capital letters were upright capitals on the model of Roman square capitals, shorter than the ascending lower-case italic letters, and were used at the start of each line followed by a clear space before the first lower-case letter. While modern italics are often more condensed than roman types, historian Harry Carter describes Manutius' italic as about the same width as roman type. To replicate handwriting, Griffo cut at least sixty-five tied letters (ligatures) in the Aldine Dante and Virgil of 1501. Italic typefaces of the following century used varying but reduced numbers of ligatures.
Italic type rapidly became very popular and was widely (and inaccurately) imitated. The Venetian Senate gave Aldus exclusive right to its use, a patent confirmed by three successive Popes, but it was widely counterfeited as early as 1502. Griffo, who had left Venice in a business dispute, cut a version for printer Girolamo Soncino, and other copies appeared in Italy and in Lyons. The Italians called the character Aldino, while others called it Italic. Italics spread rapidly; historian Hendrik Vervliet dates the first production of italics in Paris to 1512. Some printers of Northern Europe used home-made supplements to add characters not used in Italian, or mated it to alternative capitals, including Gothic ones.
Besides imitations of Griffo's italic and its derivatives, a second wave appeared of "chancery" italics, most popular in Italy, which Vervliet describes as being based on "a more deliberate and formal handwriting [with] longer ascenders and descenders, sometimes with curved or bulbous terminals, and [often] only available in the bigger sizes." Chancery italics were introduced around 1524 by Arrighi, a calligrapher and author of a calligraphy textbook who began a career as a printer in Rome, and also by Giovanni Antonio Tagliente of Venice, with imitations rapidly appearing in France by 1528. Chancery italics faded as a style over the course of the sixteenth century, although revivals were made beginning in the twentieth century.[b] Chancery italics may have backward-pointing serifs or round terminals pointing forwards on the ascenders.
Italic capitals with a slope were introduced in the sixteenth century. The first printer known to have used them was Johann or Johannes Singriener in Vienna in 1524, and the practice spread to Germany, France and Belgium. Particularly influential in the switch to sloped capitals as a general practice was Robert Granjon, a prolific and extremely precise French punchcutter particularly renowned for his skill in cutting italics. Vervliet comments that among punchcutters in France "the main name associated with the change is Granjon's."
The evolution of use of italic to show emphasis happened in the sixteenth century and was a clear norm by the seventeenth. The trend of presenting types as matching in typefounders' specimens developed also over this period. Italics developed stylistically over the following centuries, tracking changing tastes in calligraphy and type design. One major development that slowly became popular from the end of the seventeenth century was a switch to an open form h matching the n, a development seen in the Romain du roi type of the 1690s, replacing the folded, closed-form h of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century italics, and sometimes simplification of the entrance stroke.
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Here is an example of normal (roman) and true italics text:
Here is the same text as oblique text:
True italic styles are traditionally somewhat narrower than roman fonts. Below are some examples, besides the slant, of other possible differences between roman and italic type that vary according to how the types are designed. (The graphics illustrate transformations from roman to italic.)
a k with a looped bowl, a k with a ball terminal,
None of these differences are required in an italic; some, like the "p" variant, do not show up in the majority of italic fonts, while others, like the "a" and "f" variants, are in almost every italic. Other common differences include:
Less common differences include a descender on the z and a ball on the finishing stroke of an h, which curves back to resemble a b somewhat. Sometimes the w is of a form taken from old German typefaces, in which the left half is of the same form as the n and the right half is of the same form as the v in the same typeface. There also exist specialised ligatures for italics, such as when sp is formed by a curl atop the s that reaches the small ascender at the top of the p.
In addition to these differences in shape of letters, italic lowercases usually lack serifs at the bottoms of strokes, since a pen would bounce up to continue the action of writing. Instead they usually have one-sided serifs that curve up on the outstroke (contrast the flat two-sided serifs of a roman font). One uncommon exception to this is Hermann Zapf's Melior. (Its outstroke serifs are one-sided, but they don't curve up.)
Outside the regular alphabet, there are other italic types for symbols:
Oblique type (or slanted roman, sloped roman) is type that is slanted, but lacking cursive letterforms, with features like a non-descending f and double-storey a, unlike "true italics". Many sans-serif typefaces use oblique designs (sometimes called "sloped roman" styles) instead of italic ones; some have both italic and oblique variants. Type designers have described oblique type as less organic and calligraphic than italics, which in some situations may be preferred. Contemporary type designer Jeremy Tankard stated that he had avoided a true italic 'a' and 'e' in his sans-serif Bliss due to finding them "too soft", while Hoefler and Frere-Jones have described obliques as more "keen and insistent" than true italics.Adrian Frutiger has described obliques as more appropriate to the aesthetic of sans-serifs than italics. In contrast, Martin Majoor has argued that obliques do not contrast enough from the regular style.
Almost all modern serif fonts have true italic designs. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of type foundries such as American Type Founders and Genzsch & Heyse offered serif typefaces with oblique rather than italic designs, especially display typefaces but these designs (such as Genzsch Antiqua) have mostly disappeared. An exception is American Type Founders' Bookman, offered in some releases with the oblique of its metal type version. An unusual example of an oblique font from the inter-war period is the display face Koch Antiqua. With a partly-oblique lower case, it also makes the italic capitals inline in the style of blackletter capitals in the larger sizes of the metal type. It was developed by Rudolph Koch, a type designer who had previously specialised in to blackletter font design (which does not use italics); Walter Tracy described his design as "uninhibited by the traditions of roman and italic".
The printing historian and artistic director Stanley Morison was for a time in the inter-war period interested in the oblique type style, which he felt stood out in text less than a true italic and should supersede it. He argued in his article Towards an Ideal Italic that serif book typefaces should have as the default sloped form an oblique and as a complement a script typeface where a more decorative form was preferred. He made an attempt to promote the idea by commissioning the typeface Perpetua from Eric Gill with a sloped roman rather than an italic, but came to find the style unattractive; Perpetua's italic when finally issued had the conventional italic 'a', 'e' and 'f'. Morison wrote to his friend, type designer Jan van Krimpen, that in developing Perpetua's italic "we did not give enough slope to it. When we added more slope, it seemed that the font required a little more cursive to it."[c] A few other type designers replicated his approach for a time: van Krimpen's Romulus and William Addison Dwiggins' Electra were both released with obliques.[d] Morison's Times New Roman typeface has a very traditional true italic in the style of the late eighteenth century, which he later wryly commented owed "more to Didot than dogma".
Some serif designs primarily intended for headings rather than body text are not provided with an italic, Engravers and some releases of Cooper Black and Baskerville Old Style being common examples of this. In addition, computer programmes may generate an 'italic' style by simply slanting the regular style if they cannot find an italic or oblique style, though this may look awkward with serif fonts for which an italic is expected. Professional designers normally do not simply tilt fonts to generate obliques but make subtle corrections to correct the distorted curves this introduces. Many sans-serif families have oblique fonts labelled as italic, whether or not they include "true italic" characteristics.
If something within a run of italics needs to be italicised itself, the type is normally switched back to non-italicized (roman) type: "I think The Scarlet Letter had a chapter about that, thought Mary." In this example, the title ("The Scarlet Letter") is within an italicised thought process and therefore this title is non-italicised. It is followed by the main narrative that is outside both. It is also non-italicised and therefore not obviously separated from the former. The reader must find additional criteria to distinguish between these. Here, apart from using the attribute of italic-non-italic styles, the title also employs the attribute of capitalization. Citation styles in which book titles are italicised differ on how to deal with a book title within a book title; for example, MLA style specifies a switch back to roman type, whereas The Chicago Manual of Style (8.184) specifies the use of quotation marks (A Key to Whitehead's "Process and Reality"). An alternative option is to switch to an 'upright italic' style if the typeface used has one; this is discussed below.
Left-leaning italics are very rare in Latin alphabet use, where their use is mostly restricted to occasional use where an attention-grabbing effect is sought. They are more common in Arabic printing.
In certain Arabic fonts (e.g.: Adobe Arabic, Boutros Ads), the italic font has the top of the letter leaning to the left, instead of leaning to the right. Some font families, such as Venus, Roemisch, Topografische Zahlentafel, include left leaning fonts and letters designed for German cartographic map production, even though they do not support Arabic characters.
Since italic styles clearly look different from regular (roman) styles, it is possible to have 'upright italic' designs that have a cursive style but remain upright. In Latin-script countries, upright italics are rare but are sometimes used in mathematics or in complex texts where a section of text already in italics needs a 'double italic' style to add emphasis to it. Donald Knuth's Computer Modern has an alternate upright italic as an alternative to its standard italic, since its intended use is complex mathematics typesetting.
Font families with an upright or near-upright italic only include Jan van Krimpen's Romanée, Eric Gill's Joanna, Martin Majoor's FF Seria and Frederic Goudy's Deepdene. The popular book typeface Bembo has been sold with two italics: one reasonably straightforward design that is commonly used today, and an alternative upright 'Condensed Italic' design, far more calligraphic, as a more eccentric alternative. This italic face was designed by Alfred Fairbank and named "Bembo Condensed Italic", Monotype series 294.  Some Arts and Crafts movement-influenced printers such as Gill also revived the original italic system of italic lower-case only from the nineteenth century onwards.
The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that to avoid problems such as overlapping and unequally spaced characters, parentheses and brackets surrounding text that begins and ends in italic or oblique type should also be italicised (as in this example). An exception to this rule applies when only one end of the parenthetical is italicised (in which case roman type is preferred, as on the right of this example).
In The Elements of Typographic Style, however, it is argued that since Italic delimiters are not historically correct, the upright versions should always be used, while paying close attention to kerning.
In media where italicization is not possible, alternatives are used as substitutes:
In HTML, the
i element is used to produce italic (or oblique) text. When the author wants to indicate emphasised text, modern Web standards recommend using the
em element, because it conveys that the content is to be emphasised, even if it cannot be displayed in italics. Conversely, if the italics are purely ornamental rather than meaningful, then semantic markup practices would dictate that the author use the Cascading Style Sheets declaration
font-style: italic; along with an appropriate, semantic class name instead of an
If Aldus hoped, as it is commonly said that he did, but he never said, that cursive letterforms would save space, he must have been disappointed by the result: a Roman type on the same body gets in just as much. It is a beautiful and legible typeface.
One of the distinctive things about French calligraphy of [the 1680s] is that the lead-in stroke of letters like i, m, n and so on have flat, rather 'roman', serifs, making them look a bit like a 'sloped roman'...Fournier used it fifty years later in his 'new style' italics, and later so did Firmin Didot. And that French flat serif also turns up in...the italic to Times New Roman.