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Ampersands With Attitude


By Huw Wilkins

Ampersands have long been the character in a typeface with which typographers can indulge themselves. Sweeping curves, flirtatious finishes and bold statements – these are the things that make ampersands an exciting character to use and, better still, to design.

Ampersands with attitude?

Can you spot what typeface is used to display the ampersand in the image above? Large view

There are, however, two problems. The first is that the English language gives us few situations to use such a daring character. We seldom get to show off these beautiful examples of typography. The second is that the poor little ampersand so often goes unnoticed.

Allow me to share with you my top 10 different styles of ampersands. Some are similar, but each have their own personality. In an effort to limit my sample selection, I have only chosen ampersands from freely available sans fonts.

1. Nilland Link


Here we have a pretty run-of-the-mill ampersand. It comes from the font Nilland. You see this style in common fonts like Helvetica and Arial. It has the classic one piece figure-of-eight body. The little horizontal tail finishes this character off nicely, it seems to give a certain perkiness that it otherwise might have lacked.

2. Bitstream Vera Sans Link


You might recognise this style as well. This particular character comes from Bitstream Vera Sans. There are a few ways to look at this ampersand, and this is one of the reasons this character works so well. It looks like the ampersand above, only with the top right side of the figure-of-eight cut out (yet it actually ends up not looking very much like the above character). It also looks like a sweeping back-to-front 3 with a extension from the middle (you can see this better if you turn your head so your left ear is pressed against your shoulder).

3. BPmono Link


This is where things start to get a little weird. Is it a ‘g’ gone wrong? Is it a swan? Is it a fishing hook? Actually it’s the ampersand from BPmono. I probably shouldn’t have likened it to a swan and a fish hook, because now you’re probably having a hard time seeing it for what it is… a sweet little ampersand with a cute tucked in style.

4. Kontrapunkt Link


Here we have another style entirely. It’s an evolution of what you might see in handwriting. However, on paper the line would be drawn down the middle of the ‘E’ shape. This is the font Kontrapunkt, so it’s been given angles and a lovely boldness.

5. Diavlo Link


Diavlo is a great font with nice tips, and this character is no exception. At this size it looks like it has an oriental brush stroke style.

6. La Peruta FLF Link


Oh! I’m glad someone managed to prop up that eight before it fell over… wait let’s make that into an ampersand. LaPerutaFLF, with a name like that, you have to be cheeky.

7. Skia Link


Another more classical approach from Skia. The nice variation here is how the two halves intersect in that off-set way.

8. Tuffy Link


And. There’s no confusion here. It knows what it’s there to do and does it. Somehow, though, in this font it looks great. Nice one, Tuffy.

9. Lacuna Link


I’ve decided to finish off with two italicized ampersands. This one is from Lacuna and looks like some kind of crazy ‘e’. Somehow, with that cross bar and the horizontal plate at the end, it still ends up feeling like an ampersand.

10. Fontin Link


And last, but certainly not least, here is the italicized ampersand from Fontin. It has a cheeky bulbous bottom and that classic plate finish.

So there we have it. 10 interesting takes on the ampersand. I hope you’ve been educated, I hope you have fallen in love with typography a little more, and I hope that next time you are creating a typeface you will be inspired to make an ampersand with attitude.

About the author Link

Huw Wilkins is the lead creative for a digital agency. He has a passion for user experience, usability, interfaces and good design. He also has a background in development. His little corner of the web is at

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  1. 1

    Really liked this, so many different variations on one little character.. Thats why I love typography..

  2. 2

    Decent article, rated good for the typography exposure. Well-designed characters are always a plus in my book! :)

  3. 3

    The first one is the only one that actually resembles an ampersand! The others either bear enough resemblance to other characters to cause confusion, or don’t look enough like an ampersand to be easily identifiable and could cause readers to wonder what character it actually is.

    Flash design is all well and good, but function must come first, no matter how funky the form is.

  4. 4

    great examples
    i love the ampersand, and use it with fun
    also i do write them a lot per hand… just tried… i guess i failed… weird… first try came out a b…

  5. 5

    You mention that number 9 looks like some kind of crazy e – it should! An ampersand is just a contracted version of the letters “et”, or French for “and”

  6. 6

    Great article!

  7. 7

    Dan Cederholm posted a similar article yesterday on Simple Bits showcasing Ampersands in different OSs

  8. 8
  9. 9

    there must be dozens of these ‘ampersand’ articles, all of them simply copying the same ampersands from post to post.

    again, hard to believe these were among the ‘top 10’ articles selected?

    also, we’ve been seen these top 10 articles for days now, so it looks more like top 20 than top 10, is smashing magazine running on fumes now that it resorts to these quick, save the day kind of posts?


  10. 10

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    August 15, 2008 7:41 am

    @Hector (#9): these are one of the last posts of the contest. Next week we’ll get back on track.

  11. 11

    i was hoping for actually designed ampersand… not just characters from a bunch of fonts smashing mag has already posted…

    I do have my windows character map

    I’ve seen plenty of ampersands that have been modified and improved on in print / graphic design… why not focus on those

  12. 12

    Is this the last guest article?
    I kinda expected better…

  13. 13

    August 15, 2008 7:53 am

    im dont have an interest with ampersand.great effort anyways

  14. 14

    Gordon [#3] is right on. Typography can be a wonderful way to make a statement. But when that statement is muddled by your typography being nearly unreadable or confusing, you’ve lost the whole point. Only a few of those ampersands even seemed like ampersands, and that’s to someone who knew this was an article on ampersands.

  15. 15

    not French, but Latin

  16. 16

    not wothy of my digg…

  17. 17

    @hector, its the top 20 top 10 lists week ;)

  18. 18

    Ampersands rocks! (my blog uses an ampersand in its logo)
    Another great post, thanks Smashing Mag.


  19. 19

    I kinda disagree with Gordon & Josh. I’d admit that, on their own some of those ampersands are funky enough to be a little confusing. But I believe that all of these are readily identifiable as ampersands when viewed in context.

    I’m drawn to ampersand as an easy, fun, & funky way to give your content a bit more of a personal & casual feel. I’ve tried not to overdo it, but the ampersand is peppered throughout my 2Dolphins site and used often within my blog posts.

  20. 20
  21. 21

    “Can you spot what typeface is used to display the ampersand in the image above?”

    So what typeface was used on the large orange ampersand…did I miss the answer to this??

  22. 22

    Actually, the second from the bottom most closely resembles the “traditional” ampersand, which is nothing more than a ligature for the latin “et al”. The word ampersand comes from ‘and per se and’.

    In a well designed font, the ampersand can be as “funky” as one wants, but should still fit in with the basic structure of the font (contrast, proportions, shape, etc…). If done right, one will be able to perceive it is an ampersand from context and from the shapes of other glyphs in the font.

    To myself, and from what I’ve heard from several type designers (of which I am not…yet), the ampersand is one of those glyphs that can be a personal “signature” for a font. Not to say one should sacrifice the function of the font (which may not always be just for reading in books), but it is a glyph designers tend to like having fun with.

  23. 23

    I like this article. One of the more uncommon topics.

  24. 24

    NIce Top 10 :) I really enjoyed it.

  25. 25

    Well written and interesting. choices/topic. Really had the feel of a SM post. This post is a strong contender.

  26. 26

    Catchy name and idea. Seems simplistic at first but once you start to delve you realise there’s potential for a top 100 – I’m glad it’s limited (free sans serif fonts). I agree that good typography cannot be confusing or unreadable. However, all of these characters – perhaps even Lacuna which comes dangerously close to resembling an “e” – would be neither confusing nor unreadable when in context. Look at any character long enough on a sea of blank space and you’ll be questioning its readability too!

  27. 27

    Nice post! Thanks for drawing my attention to ampersands, I had never really looked at them in this light before. You quirky writing helped me see them in the fun light you obviously do!

    I also would have to say that none of these ampersands would be confusing in context. Even having the word ‘and’ by itself on a blank space could be considered confusing, but it unlikely ever to happen, so I think that’s a moot point.

    I’ll be paying more attention to ampersands from now on (just noticed the one in the footer on this page!)

  28. 28

    Oh also, @Gabe Diaz, I got the impression it was a challenge for readers to work out, not a rhetorical question to be answered later in the post.

    I for one am stumped…

  29. 29

    Great article! This was funny, informative, and quirky. It made me laugh, and it educated me on an interesting topic. Nice job!

  30. 30

    Hrm, the above didn’t quite work…
    Great post.
    m/ >.


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