History of Arabic Type Evolution from the 1930’s till present.


1.1 The origin of the Arabic script goes back to the first alphabet created by the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were living on the coastal areas of Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Since the Phoenicians were traders sailing throughout the Mediterranean, their alphabet influenced all Mediterranean cultures and nations. The fact that the Middle East was located at the center of the Ancient World, between East and West, also had played an essential role in the spread of the Phoenicians’ alphabet. That is why the Phoenician alphabet is the mother of both Latin and Arabic scripts.


In 1300 BC, the early Phoenician alphabet, consisting of 22 consonants without capitals letters and written from right to left, was born in the city of Byblos on the coast of Lebanon. In 1000 BC, the Aramaic alphabet originated from the Phoenician alphabet in Aram, Syria and Mesopotamia, which represented the language of the Arameans. In 100 BC, the Nabatean script was born in the city of Petra north of the Red Sea, in present-day Jordan and spread throughout the Middle Eeast. In 100 AD, the Syriac alphabet, with 22 letters, also developed from the Aramaic, was created in Mesopotamia. It was only during the middle of the first century that the early Arabic alphabet began to appear in Kufa, Iraq. The Old Kufi or Archaic Kufi consisted of about 17 letterforms without diacritic dots or accents. Afterwards, the diacritic dots and accents were added to help readers with pronunciation, and the set of Arabic letters rose to 29, including the Hamza. With the birth of Islam, the Qur’an became the driving force behind the unification of all Arabic scripts found in Arabia. One unified, well-structured Arabic script with 29 letters was developed for the writing of the holy scripts of the Qur’an in the seventh century AD. Primarily the Qur’an was written with the Quranic Kufi script and later it with the Quranic Naskh style. From its creation in the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabic alphabet spread to all of the Middle East, North Africa, and even as far as Spain due to Islamic conquests. Since Arabic was the language of the Qur’an hence the language of God, all the occupied nations were forced to use the Arabic language.

1.2 Several Arabic calligraphic styles developed in various Arabian cities, with different writing techniques and writing tools. The most known Arabic calligraphic styles are:


1.2.1.Kufi (Old Kufi and Ornamented Geometric Kufi): the name “Kufi” originated from the city Kufa in Iraq.
1.2.2.Thuluth: the name Thuluth” originated from the names of several bamboo sticks that were used as writing tools.
1.2.3.Diwani and Diwani Djeli: The “Diwan” style developed during the Ottoman Empire, and the name comes from the political documents called “Diwan” in Arabic.
1.2.4. Naskh: the Ottoman Empire also gave rise to the “Naskh” style; “Naskh” is named after the ‘naskh’ action when the scribes copied Arabic text.
1.2.5. Persian; named after the Persian language.
1.2.6. Ruqaa: the name originated from the leather “Ruqaa” that the script was written on.
1.2.7. Maghrébi: is a stylized Kufi script developed in Morocco.

Today, most of the text typefaces available are based on the Naskh or the Thuluth Style. The other styles like the Kufi, Diwani and Maghrébi are found in display typefaces.

During the industrial revolution in Europe and the invention of movable type, several Arabic typefaces were created in France, Italy, England, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands between the 16th century and 18th centuries. The first Turkish press using Arabic printing type was found in 1727 in Istanbul, and the first Middle-Eastern Arabic printing press was built in a Christian monastery in Mount Lebanon in 1733 where the first Arabic book was published in 1735.



2.1 The Arabic Alphabet consists of 29 consonants and 11 vocalization marks in the shape of accents. The structure of the alphabet has only 19 basic shapes. However, since the letters change their shape according to their position in the word—initial, medial, final, or isolated—then the set of glyphs will add up to 106: 23 letters have four alternative shapes, and 7 letters have two alternative shapes. If we add the two indispensable ligatures of Lam-Alef, then the number will be 108. Finally, since the Arabic alphabet is also used in some non-Arab languages, more alterations to the letter were introduced to represent all the additional non-Arabic phonetics that brings the number of glyphs up to 130. Moreover, the number of glyphs can further increase if we also count all kinds of combinations within the letters if the typeface needs to fully mimic the calligraphic handwritten Arabic script. So according to each typeface, the number of glyphs can start with 130 and end in the hundreds.


2.2 The following image shows the four developing layers of the Arabic script The first line shows only the basic shapes of the letters. The second line illustrates the added diacritic dots on some letters that require it. The third line adds the vocalization marks for better pronunciation. The final line shows a decorated sentence where some decorative elements were added to the script to make it more elegant or holy. Usually, in everyday text, only the diacritic dots and some vocalization marks will be added to the script. The decorative elements will only be added to display words or sentences.


The four typographic elements of the Arabic script are: 1. Basic letterforms; 2. Diacritic Dots; 3. Vocalization marks; 4. Decorative elements, without mentioning the numerals, punctuation marks, and symbols.



IIn 1936 and 1938, the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo held a conference for the purpose of the standardization of non-Arabic phonemes due to translation from English, French, or other languages. The solution was to add some diacritic dots on some letters and give it the proper phoneme. In 1945, the Academy launched a worldwide competition to reform and simplify Arabic to make it easier to learn, read, and write it. Between 1947 and 1958, many proposals were submitted to the Academy, but none of them was accepted. Between 1955 and 1959, the Academy assessed the last batch of submitted projects and also rejected all of them. The committee then decided to limit the changes or simplification to three, basic typographic rules: 1. Standardization of additional Arabic letters that represent non-Arabic sounds; 2. Obligatory vocalization marks for educational books; 3. Reduction in the number of Arabic characters from 300 to 169, to only consist of the basic variation forms of the letter and some indispensable ligatures and letter connections.
It was during the post-World War II period when most Arab nations were becoming independent from European colonial powers and building their own infrastructure that the Academy of the Arabic Language began to reflect on the educational, social, and technological development in the Arab nations and the need for a new simplified Arabic script to fit with new type techniques. At this time, these new type techniques were essentially the typewriter and the typesetting machines with movable type.

The Academy categorized the projects into three groups:
1. Projects that broke all the characteristics of the Arabic script and used the Latin letters.
2. Projects that converted the vocalization forms of the vowels into extra letters.
3. Projects that proposed a single letterform for each letter, making detached Arabic characters to suit the typewriter and the requirements of movable type.

The following projects are the most interesting proposals:

3.1. The Unified Arabic ™ typeface by Nasri Khattar (1911-1998) of Lebanon was proposed in 1947 A dual American-Lebanese national, Mr. Khattar was an architect, type designer, inventor, painter, sculptor and poet, After finishing his architechural apprenticeship as a disciple with the great American architect of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mr. Khattar worked as an Arabic consultant to IBM in the fifties, and architect, Arabic calligrapher, and Arabist to Arab-American Oil Company (Aramco) in New York City, 1950-1957. During this time, he made innumerable calligraphic works for both Aramco and the Arabs. He received a Ford Foundation grant for the years 1958-1961 to promote his “Unified Arabic, UA” system. Unified Arabic is Mr. Khattar’s Arabic type system that simplifies the printing and teaching of Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and other languages utilizing the Arabic alphabet.
As he continued to work on Unified Arabic, Mr. Khattar designed new Arabic typefaces, some of which are “Unified,” but also designed to automatically connect. He also practiced architecture, and lectured at the American University of Beirut.
In 1986, Reverend Dennis Hilgendorg and Dr. Ben Wood, Director of Educational Research at Columbia University, nominated Mr. Khattar for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s visionary achievements and their vast implications for the fields of linguistics, literacy, printing, computers, and telecommunications.


Four characteristics summarize this unique project:
1. A single glyph per letter and detached set type.
2. Each letter is uniquely different from the other and at the same time retaining the Arabic traditional form.
3. The counter forms are wide and open for higher legibility especially in small sizes.
4. The type was designed with a large loop: height (x-height) and low ascenders and descenders.


Today, his daughter, Camille Khattar Hedrick, continues to promote his work, especially his later typefaces that are designed to connect while, at the same time, applying the concept of Unified Arabic: one glyph per letter, yet connected, not detached.

3.2 The Latinizing Arabic by Yahya Bouteméne in 1952. The project consisted of constructing the Arabic letter from the Latin alphabet. This project also suggested that the type will be detached with Latin typographic structures like x-height, ascenders, descenders, and spacing and kerning to mention but a few. But this proposal broke all traditions of Arabic type and was purely Latinized which can never be accepted.


3.3 The Vocalization Marks as extra letters by Ali Al Gharim in 1952. The project suggested that each vocalization mark be drawn as additional letters to the Arabic script and be added within the writing.


3.4 Yakout type by Nahib Jaroudi from Linotype in 1956.Yakout was designed in a similar manner to Arabic typewriter fonts created during this period: it used a limited range of letterforms to represent the full Arabic character set. The resultant style of type design became known as “Simplified Arabic.”

The initial and medial glyphs of each letter were replaced with one glyph, and the final and isolated glyphs of each letter were replaced or merged into one glyph (except for a few letters like the “Ain” where all initial, medial, final, and isolated forms were kept since they are differently drawn). This enabled the character set to be reduced and made it more compatible with the Arabic typesetting machines typewriters of the time. The font was produced for hot-metal typesetting being specifically intended to function as newspaper text. With the dual intention of fitting the Arabic script onto a Linotype line-casting machine for setting type for rotary printing, and of maximizing keying speeds in creating copy for daily newspapers, much effort was concentrated on reducing the normal Arabic character set of over 100 characters.

The provenance can be seen from an interesting on-line article by Fiona Ross entitled “Non-Latin Type Design at Linotype”.

3.5 The ASV-CODAR (Arabe Standard Voyellé – Codage Arabe) by Lakhdar Ghazal from Morocco in 1958. This project met the same fate as all other proposals and was rejected by the Academy in Cairo. However, this was the only project that underwent development and production because it was adopted by the Moroccan government which encouraged the establishment of the Institut d’Etudes et de Recherches pour l’Arabisation in 1960. The aim of the typeface was to make the Arabic type easily usable for all modern media. Nowadays, this font is the only digitized typeface of all those submitted to the Academy thanks to Dr. Ghazal and the Moroccan government.


The reason why ASV-Codar was developed is that, unlike the previously mentioned proposals, it solved the technical problem of simplifying the script and at the same time respected the spirit of the Arabic script. Consequently, this project was a social and technological achievement.

The Characteristics of ASV-Codar are:
1. One drawn shape per basic letter set but which can at the same time accommodate a connecting or ending shape according to its position in the word. This solution saved the type from being detached by making the number of glyphs drawn to the basic regular letters.
2. Three kinds of ending tails that fit all letters. These ending tails are added to letters that needed them if they are positioned at the end of the word.
3. The vocalization marks are placed on the connecting glyph (Kashida) between the letters and not on, above, or below the letterforms. This solution was conceived so as not to draw each letter several times with different vocalization marks for each one.

3.6 The Lebanese Type by Saïd Akl in Lebanon in the 60s. Saïd Akl is a proud Lebanese linguist, poet, and philosopher. He is a true Lebanese person. He loves Lebanon and knows its history well. He considers the Lebanese the ancestors of the Phoenicians and that we must use the Latin alphabet since it is a direct descendant of the Phoenician alphabet and not the Arabic script which is full of problems and complicated. His idea was applied in the creation of the Lebanese Type that can be a universal type for all languages of the world and not only Arabic. Since Saïd Akl was not a type designer, he just took the typeface ‘Times’ (which is the most common Latin Serif on all computer platforms) and constructed his alphabet. Saïd Akl expressed his political and social thoughts about Lebanon with a new way of writing Lebanese. In this period of his life he was a very famous poet and philosopher throughout the Arab world. He wanted to express the idea that Lebanon is a nation that speaks the Arabic language butis not an Arab nation. That is why he made his new type based on the Latin script and not the Arabic although both scripts descended from the Phoenician alphabet. He wanted a Lebanon with less connection to the Arab Islamic world. He wanted a unique type and language for Lebanon.

You can also read an article about the topic on NOW Lebanon website.The Lebanese Type, Saïd Akl.


3.6.1 The Theory of the Lebanese Type:
True creation is by no means the fruit of chance, but rather the child of purpose. That is what Akl was unknowingly set to prove with a brand new revolutionary concept, the “Lebanese Type.” The idea originated in his youth when he wondered about the point of having such a complicated Arabic alphabet. It was first put into practice in the early 1930s. However, it was not until 1961 that it took its final shape.
Saïd Akl found it hard to choose a specific source of inspiration since he was changing the very concept of the alphabet. Its basis was that each letter had one and only one form and pronunciation, that is, each phoneme had only one physical representation. The ultimate aim was to simplify the multiple forms relating to a sound. Therefore, not only was he driven by the phonetic need, but also by sheer logic: to render the representation easier without altering the phoneme, and the “Lebanese Type” would be accessible to all. After all, he thought, didn’t it all take root with our ancestors, the Phoenicians and their prosperous city of Byblos? The Cadmus’ alphabet set sail from the shores of Lebanon to spread to the whole world. Hence, almost all the alphabets today are derived from the Phoenician except the Chinese and Japanese that still rely on cryptograms. Thus, we begin to get a rough answer to the question: How come the Latin alphabet is the ancestor of the “Lebanese Type,” and not the Phoenician? Is it not some kind of reason against its homeland? “Absolutely not,” said Akl, “for it is all about logic and simplicity of forms.” Moreover, for Akl, Latin was not the exclusive source, since he was also inspired by the Arabic alphabet and created some more characters from sheer reason to accommodate all known phonemes.

3.6.2 Characteristics of the Lebanese Type:
1. Avoidance of diacritic dots: The little dots under or above 12 Arabic letters were considered as defying all principles of logic and aesthetics, especially when compared to the Latin. Saïd Akl considered each character as the holder of a self-value that needs no additional shaping or refinement.
2. Avoidance of accents: Accents are far worse than the previous mentioned, for if some letters managed to break the bond of dots, they can never be set free from these indications that determine the grammatical function of Arabic words. Hence, doesn’t switching from accents to their graphic representation constitute a more suitable solution for Arabic?
3. Uniformity in the size of the letters: in Arabic, letters start above, on or below any given horizontal line. Furthermore, the width of each letter varies slightly, which leads to great difficulties in writing. Hence, the “Lebanese Type” found an elegant solution, which consists of only two closely shaped representations (upper and lowercase) for each letter.
4. Separated or detached letters: letter representation in Arabic differs given its position in the word. The new type separated them, thus giving each character its own personality and value. Uniqueness in the relation between shape and character seems absolutely necessary in order to avoid the chaos of too many forms of one letter.
5. One letter for each vowel and phoneme: it is obvious that, in the Lebanese Type,” there is no such thing as the double vowels sounds of Latin since its basic principles is based on the uniqueness of each character representing only one phoneme, that is, one and only one character for each phoneme.
6. Letters’ spirit as the Latin: as mentioned earlier, Saïd Akl’s main source of inspiration was the Latin alphabet. Thus, it stands to reason that most of the typeface looks like Latin even in the letters that Saïd invented as it turned out that their shapes were the most obedient to the rule of harmony.


From the 1960s until the late 1980s, the transition from analog to digital, due to the computer’s limitations at that time, the Arabic script was constantly faced with problems like the connections of the letters, the limited character set and the right to left direction of writing. It was not the concept of the emerging computer programming technology as such that caused the problems. Certainly there were technical limitations, mainly related to the display and more acutely to printing technology. But the real problem was – and is – the lack of knowledge of, curiosity about, and to some extent even love for the Arabic writing system in the Western world and among Western-trained Arabs – according to Thomas Milo of DecoType.

That is why Arabic was – and is – always mainly discussed in terms of the need for simplification. Paradoxically, from the mid-1990s to our present day, computer technology has evolved in a way to find solutions for all the problems. There is the extended Arabic character set of Unicode and the invention of smart font technology like OpenType Font supporting Arabic type on all major computer platforms (Mac OSX, Windows NT, and later) that handle most of the problems.

Unicode extends the coverage of Arabic to include Persian, Urdu – in fact, theoretically, all other Arabic-based languages. A great advantage of Unicode is that it blends Arabic seamlessly into texts typeset in any other script – Latin, Russian, Chinese, you name it.

However, Unicode only defines abstract, nominal letters – no more. It does not define typographic technology, let alone solve typographic problems. Therefore, OpenType technology was developed to deal with the typographical tsunami caused by Unicode and global computing in general. Improved facilities for Arabic were a by-product, not a design goal.

3.7 DecoType (DT), Thomas Milo, The Netherlands in 1985. Before the invention of OpenType, some companies pioneered solutions for Arabic in the context of global computing and Unicode. The company DecoType (DT) represented by Thomas Milo is an example: he and his team (including Peter Somers and Mirjam Somers) invented the Arabic Calligraphic Engine ACE (around 1985). In fact, ACE controlled the first Smart Font, based on the traditional ruqah style.

While the early Windows font technology was too primitive in the early ‘90’s to deal with Arabic typesetting, an interim solution was found. At the request of Microsoft a much simplified and compromised Naskh and Thuluth were developed for use with its fixed font tables, since MS could not – yet – cope with complex Arabic. These fonts were NOT driven by ACE. The P in DTP was a pun to mark this low-quality, non-ACE derivative. DTP Naskh and Thuluth were made around 1992-3.

Almost simultaneously Microsoft Middle East Product Development Department (MEPD) asked DecoType to create ACE-based OLE-servers for DT Ruqah and DT Naskh. This all happened well before the now ubiquitous OpenType was even conceived (Microsoft as a company wasn’t yet connected to the internet in these days!). DecoType’s ACE technology became the de facto proof of concept for smart font technology, paving the way for what was to become OpenType.

Real ACE fonts were marketed as DT OLE-servers (now Tasmeem fonts), NON-ACE fonts by DecoType are marketed as DTP fonts (PostScript, TrueType, OpenType). ACE was developed to mimic existing high-end Arabic typography – which in turn is, of course, deeply rooted in the calligraphic tradition.

Thomas Milo served as an Arabic speaking Officer in a Dutch army unit detached to UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon. His background is in Slavic and Turkic linguistics, plus Arabic in a supporting role. Before and after Lebanon he travelled extensively in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

For some impressions of his stint with UNIFIL, here’s an interview and literature:
Thomas Milo on UNIFIL
Vredesmacht in Libanon

After his return from the Lebanon he discovered the technical problems in producing accurate Arabic typography. As a linguistic scholar, he decided to build his own technology for his Arabic typesetting. He wanted to create the Arabic that he loved and not the badly digitized Arabic that is found in the market. Gradually it dawned on him that only a solid understanding of Arabic calligraphy provides the key to the solution. After an initial failure with naskh script that he found too dazzling and complex, he analysed ruqah instead. Work on naskh started 10 years later and took another 10 years to complete.

With hindsight one can conclude that the project of his team was the first and for a long time the only one to try and document the reality of Arabic as it has functioned over the centuries.


The illustration shows the structural difference between ACE-driven (Tasmeem) and OT Table-driven DTP Naskh. The Tasmeem examples follow the traditional structure, the DTP examples are low-grade hybrids – neither traditional nor innovative.

In 2007 DecoType with association with Winsoft launched Tasmeem.

According to the WinSoft-DecoType sales brochures, the Tasmeem concept is a dream come true. It integrates traditional calligraphy with modern typefaces, giving everybody the freedom they want. It makes Adobe InDesign Middle Eastern Version the most comprehensive Arabic design tool in the industry. Tasmeem provides designers and publishers of Arabic books the indispensable high-quality typesetting for literary and academic productions. Tasmeem offers professional tools to shape prose, poetry, traditional and educational texts…

Continue reading at the Winsoft website or at the “Calligraphy written by hand or set on the computer” post on my blog. I addition, this month’s cover story in Saudi Aramco World magazine is dedicated to Tasmeem.

3.8 The Simplified Arabic Type by Mourad Boutros in The United Kingdom in 1993. Boutros also focused on the idea that Arabic must embark on the process of becoming detached like the journey the Latin script took hundreds of years before. He made a font based on the Naskh structure with two phases. The first phase will be used firstly in the Arab nations for several years until the people are familiar with it, and afterwards they will start using phase two where the letters are completely detached. Phase one is also based on one shape per letter but the letters touch each other on the baseline with close tracking. Phase two is simply making the tracking wider, hence the letters will be detached.


What is interesting about Mourad’s proposal is that it took into account a transitional phase. So he was truly trying to solve a social problem without ignoring the technical aspect of making Arabic easier to handle by the computer and software which are initially built only for the Latin script. He wanted to make Arabic detached and simple but at the same time he planned for the acceptance of the type by the people.

3.9 The Mutamathil Type by Saad Abulhab in The United States of America in 1999. Saad is the latest person to try to develop detached Arabic type in recent years. He also focused on the idea that the type must be detached but what he newly introduced is a bi-directional type suggesting that Arabic can be written from right to left as usual and (if necessary) can be also written and read from left to right as the Latin alphabet. So his approach will not only solve the problem of connected letters and changing letterforms according to their position, but also the problem of having special Arabic software or plug-in that enables the writing from right to left. The questions remain as to the limit of simplification and if the Arabic people would accept the font and are able to read it.. The letters in the bi-directional “Mutamathil Mutlaq” type are symmetrical and geometric with shapes that are mirrored in the middle of the letter, which makes the letters look so stiff and rigid with respect to the flowing cursive aspect of the Arabic script.


Personally, I think that the idea behind the font is intelligent, but the design of the letters is not good at all. The letters are constructed out of geometric shapes to such an extent that it made them lose all their Arabic characteristics. The problem is that Saad only solved the technical issue of the Arabic script, but completely destroyed the historical and aesthetical value of Arabic.


The following question was asked in the TypoGraphic Beirut 2005 conference that took place in April in the Lebanese American University.

There are three main directions in the Arabic type design world today. The first direction is represented by Arabic type designers and typographers who are working on simplifying the Arabic script and making it detached. The second direction is backed up by conservative traditional Arabic type designers who state that the Arabic does not need to be simplified any more since the technology is now well developed to accommodate all the needs and problems of Arabic calligraphic typefaces. The third direction is represented by several contemporary Arabic type designers whose work deals with making modern Arabic typefaces that are legible and friendly to everyday applications or to the needs of their clients. An example of the first group is Saad Abulhab, the second group is Thomas Milo, and the third group includes several independent Arabic type designers, such aslike Nadine Chahine, Titus Nemeth, Tim Holloway, Abbar Yassar, Ihsan Al-Hammouri, Mohamed Hacen, as well as myself. We are creating new, modern Arabic typefaces. Names and links of known independent Arabic type designers and Arabic type foundries are listed in the section below.

Whatever the direction or the intentions behind each new Arabic typeface, there is a huge demand for new Arabic fonts. New Arabic fonts are needed for:
4.1. Everyday Arabic graphic design and typography projects.
4.2. Corporate Arabic fonts for Arabic established companies or newspapers.
4.3. Arabic companion fonts for existing Latin fonts.

Professional graphic designers and students are always asking for new Arabic fonts. Before the launch of Adobe InDesign ME versions and the development of the OpenType Arabic fonts, most of Arabic typographers used Quark AXt and were limited to AXt Arabic fonts. Until now, AXt fonts are the most used even though the users of Quark AXt are diminishing. The reason for this is there are not so many new OpenType Arabic fonts for them to use instead of AXt fonts. Over the last few years, the awareness about Arabic type and the need for new fonts was translated in the rise of Arabic Type Foundries and young, contemporary independent Arabic type designers. Over the past three years, Nadine Chahine, Titus Nemeth, and I have graduated with Masters in Type Design and are specialized in Arabic type. The three of us now are working and developing new Arabic fonts that are starting to appear in the market place.

The Khatt Foundation ‘Typographic Matchmaking’ project is an example about the need for Arabic type companions for existing Latin typefaces (you can read more about the Typographic Matchmaking project and the Khatt foundation in the ‘Typographic Matchmaking: Arabic type with a Dutch flavor.’ post on my blog or on the Khatt Foundation website). This is due to the fact that many publications in the Arabic nations are bi-lingual or tri-lingual (Arabic, English and french). Another reasons is that most of the international companies how are opening new branches in any of the Arab nations need an Arabic corporate font that will work with their own Latin corporate font.

Other important typographic events that contributed to the growing awareness of Arabic type and calligraphy are: Typo.Graphic.Beirut conference, The Kitabat conference, The Linotype’s First Arabic Type Competition, and Khatt Kufi & Kaffiya symposium.

Corporate Arabic fonts are also in need for new Arabic companies whichare now building their new identities. Some examples are banks, communication companies, organization, and non-profits. Furthermore, all Arabic newspapers at the present time are asking for corporate fonts, renewing their layouts and asking for new, modern Arabic fonts, and new rising Arabic newspapers are creating their young fresh identities with new contemporary corporate Arabic fonts.

At present, the Arabic type industry is booming and it will stay this way for several years longer. Awareness about Arabic type is growing in the Arab nations and the number of professional Arabic type designers is also growing.



Traditional established Arabic type foundries:
Boutros (Mourad Boutros)
Sakkal (Mamoun Sakkal)
AvantType (Habib Khoury)
DecoType (Thomas Milo,Mirjam Somers & Peter Somers)
Layout (AXt Quark).

New Contemporary Arabic Type Designers:
Abbar Yazzar (Syria)
Mohamed Hacen (Mauritania)
Nadine Chahine (Lebanon)
Pascal Zoghbi (Lebanon)
Titus Nemeth (Austria)

Non-Arab Arabic Type Designers & Type Foundries that have created Arabic fonts:
Tim Hollaway, Fiona Ross (UK) and John Hudson (Canada)
Kris Holmes(USA) & Chuck Bigelow.
Thomas Milo, Mirjam Somers & Peter Somers (The Netherlands)
Titus Nemeth (Austria)
ParaType (Russia)

International Type Foundries that also develop Arabic fonts beside Latin fonts:
ParaType (Russia)


Bibliography, References & Illustrations Credits:

1. Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, Arabic Typography, Saqi Books 2001.

2. Ghan Alani, Initiation Calligraphie Arabe, Aditions Fleurus 2001.

3. Abdelkebir Khatibi, Mohammed Sijelmassi, The Splendour of Islamic Calligraphy, Thames & Hudson 2001.

4. Hassan Massoudy, Calligraphie Arabe Vivante, Flammarion 1999.

5. Arabic Script and Typography, a brief historical overview, by Thomas Milo (in Language Culture Type, international type design in the age of Unicode, ed. John D. Berry, ATypI-Graphis 2002)John D.

6. Arabic for Designers, Mourad Boutros, Mark Batty Publisher 2006.

7. Saad AbulhabThe Mutamathil Type Style, Visible Language 38.3, 2004.

8. Paul Khera, Has Yassar Abbar developed the Arab world’s answer to Univers?, Eye Magazine 50, 2003.

9. Hans Jürg Hunziker, untitle booklet about his arabic type work in Morocco, Switzerland.

10. Rafic Rouhana, Revolution of the Letter with Saiid Akl, Lebanese university, Lebanon 1996.

11. Kamal Al-Baba, Rouh al-khatt al-arabi.

12. http://www.unifiedarabicalphabet.com/

13. http://www.arabetics.com/

14. http://www.decotype.com/

15. http://www.winsoft.eu/

16. http://www.arabicfonts.com/


Pascal Zoghbi , May 2007.
This article is part of my dissertation that i have wrote during my Master of Design studies at Type]Media 05/06, KABK, The Netherlands.

163 thoughts on “History of Arabic Type Evolution from the 1930’s till present.

Add yours

  1. Pascal, Congratulations for your master degree and for the nice article.

    In my article introducing Mutamathil, I actually clarified in several places that my three types were only “prototypes”. So I do partially agree with your comments about design, but I think that the main Arabic characteristics (not aesthetical) were preserved: horizontality and individual letters overall shapes.

    Saad Abulhab

  2. Hello Saad
    Thanks for the clarification about the sentence said by the prophet Muhammad & thank you for your comment concerning your Mutamathil type. I am looking forward for the new versions of the type where the characteristics of the Arabic letters are preserved as much as possible even though they are detached. (Nasri Khatter’s Unified type can be a starting point).

    Concerning detached Arabic fonts in general, well I once created an Arabic detached font when I was doing my BA senior project at NDU, Lebanon, and I did several logotypes for companied or organizations with detached Arabic letters. I am not against detached Arabic type but I do not see it as text type. I see it more as a logotype of few letters or a display type used in titles…. But it will be too difficult for the Arabic readers to read an Arabic detached type easily.

    Best regards,


  3. hey Pascal,

    haven’t been on your website for some time, but I visited it lately and really liked what you’ve been into and upto. I love your sharing spirit, especially that i’ve been noticing how people in this region get overprotective over their material and keep the info to themselves. that doesnt lead neither to progression of self nor to that of society. and therefore i salute you for your efforts!

    also noticed the effect of your teaching experience. sometimes i feel that my teachers are benefitting more than i am during our interaction. ofcourse, that is not always true, but it’s a thought that recurrs to my mind nonetheless!

    i’m printing out your articles and keeping them as a source (ofcourse credits if i ever used them will always be reserved). Thanks a lot Pascal for the priceless info, because no need to tell you (as you already know) how hard it is to find them elsewhere. really appreciative.

    Keep it up,


  4. Hi Pascal,

    An interesting overview it is indeed. You also might want to include that Linotype has had a long history of typesetting Arabic since 1911 and that the Linotype equipment and their typefaces dominated Arabic newspaper setting for decades.
    ‘Yakout’ was one of the earliest simplified typefaces developed in the 1950s and is still used in newspapers today. It was also one of the first digital Arabic fonts. In book production, Linotype’s ‘Lotus’ was one of the most popular faces along with ‘Nazanin’ for Farsi.

    The provenance can be seen from an interesting on-line article (and other publications) by Fiona Ross. Here’s the link:


    The text is a paper on ‘non-Latin typeface design at Linotype’, given by Fiona Ross at St Bride Library (London) at St Bride’s Conference (24–25/09/2002)

    Kind regards,

  5. Hello Jo

    Thank you for the informative comment about Lintype and Yakout type. Well Yakout is known as the first Modern (Mastari) Naskh with a strong straight baseline suitable for newspaper. Yakout was simplified but did not have any revolutionary ideas as in ASV-CODAR for Lakhdar Ghazal for example. As mentioned in the article of Fiona Ross, the initial and medial glyphs of each letter were replaced with one glyph, and the final and isolated glyphs of each letter were replaced or merged into one glyph. So this enabled the character set to be reduced and made it more compatible with the Arabic type setting machines back then.

    Kind Regards,

  6. i want to know how to write “the drive and determination toward the fearless pursuit of your dreams” in arabic text. could you please help me

  7. i would like to know if you guys can translate this for me …

    vita melina juliette gomez temple …

    thats my daughters name

    tank you guys

  8. Hi Pascal,
    Interesting article :)
    I agree with Jo regarding the Linotype part. The typefaces, though not a revolution, defined the typographic landscape of today. Also, just for fun, you might want to compare AXtGihane and Yakout.

    I would also make a distinction between simplification (on a typographic level) and script reform which would redefine essential aspects of the script. For example, Nasri Khattar is in the first group while Said Akl is in the second.

    I also think that there are 3 things that need adding:
    1. The introduction of Arabic Typography class at the American University of Beirut by Samir Sayegh in 1992. This was the first instance of a formal teaching of Arabic typography and if you look into it you’ll find that his name is linked with many of today’s designers (myself, Huda Abi Fares, Lara Assouad, and Tarek Atrissi). The large wave of the increased interest in Arabic typography is partly a result of the teachings of this program. The alumni are in leading positions in many countries.

    2. Linotype’s first Arabic Type Competition: This was the first of its scope and the submissions really show the trends in contemporary design (I will write about the entries and their styles at some point in the future)

    3. Very important: the Kitabat conference: This was a phenomenal step in getting the calligraphers, designers, and technology experts under one roof. It signals the increased interest in Arabic. Another signal of that is the whole afternoon dedicated to Arabic in the ATypI Vancouver in 2003.

    I think these 3 points serve as a backdrop to the increased hype around Arabic. As I aways say, it’s a very interesting time for us to live in :)

  9. very interesting,
    i agree with your classification of the ” three main directions in the Arabic type design..nowadays”


    Mamoun Ahmed

  10. Hello, many thanks for this fantastic article (I have to read it in full).
    To the foreign designers which did an Arabic typeface, there’s the recent addition of Emanuela Conidi, which designed a face called Nabil as a completion of her studies at Reading.
    Here’s a spread from the recent book “Italic 2.0”, showcasing the work of contemporary Italian type designers
    Italic 2.0
    I have not the book yet, but you could see it in the photo…

  11. Very interesting and helpful. Thank you a lot.

    I would like to add the Ahmed Zaki Pasha, worked on decreasing the Arabic glyphs from 905 to 132 ( i’m sure it varied later ), in the first ” modern printing house, called the Boullaq printing house in early 1900’s.

    As well he introduced the punctuation to the arabic text ( Al tarqim) in 1912, where it later on made as an addendum.

  12. Hi Pascal

    It is an amazing article. Full of information. I read some parts of it. Do you know if some research work has been done regarding Square Kufi.

    Thank you

  13. Great effort to provide the full picture, many thanks for that. One main point is missing here, I got an answer from Mourad Boutros upon asking him on the innovation in Arabic type: he said: big IT companies such as Microsoft and Adobe, play the major role in the success and failure to any new innovation in Arabic type. If they do not ratify and make standard of a new Arabic type and get it into thier products (online tools and the OS) , it will not happen. Meanwhile, we have to settle for one font in all Arabic websites be it formal corporate tyoe, or a blog. We need people to rock the boat.

  14. Hi Pascal. I am a fan of your site. I am the one who asked for permission to use the Kufi Cross image on wikipedia, if you remeber.
    Anyway, I wanted to ask if you are aware of any attempt to extend the vowel marks (حركات) in Arabic to cover e and o. The only vowel extention, I know of is used in the Qur’an to render imala (إمالة), which is close to e in sound. Depending on the Rasm (رسم) tradition one is using, this system writes a lozenge, or a solid circle under the letter where imala occurs (I think there are other ways to render it, not sure). The problem with these is that they look very ugly, and do not harmoize with the script around them.

    I am posting you because, the current trivocalic system a,u,i is, too, awkward when it comes to trasliterating foreign words into Arabic (How do you pronounce كِنُكُ). I am wrtining Arabic support package for Latex (TeX), and I was thinking of throwing in a few more ‘useful’ vowel marks.

  15. in response to the comment about adoption by the major IT vendors, i think that there is a good point there but it also brings to mind the growing market share of emerging players like Apple. Apple is a special case in that they have very good type support for latin characters and font rendering is impeccable especially when compared to Microsoft and other incumbents in the field but they have very weak support for Arabic type rendering if any. surprisingly though, they do have an Arabic keyboard mapping called ‘Arabic QWERTY’ that is nothing short of remarkable allowing one to type in عربي هكذا without knowing the common Arabic keymap! but then they go and release the iphone without support for Arabic ligatures. go figure.

  16. samantha – it says ‘insha’a allah’ in all four samples on that page including the one you’re asking about.

  17. Realy the arical was ver nice but I want to ask

    How we can clssified the art of arabic calligaphy

    can we said as
    1-classical and old
    Like naskh ,kific, riq’q, thuluth, farsiand deewani

    2-Modern style
    yquot, andlusi, Discrete,Ase,Manzomah an tc

    3. comlexe or complicted like that used in the avd. and other

    if any one can answer to me please fast I neet that

  18. Hello,

    In fact your research is really interesting, sometimes we need image of any old Arabic scripts, if you have anything about Nabatian ot oldest Arabic writing,

    I would be very grateful


  19. As Salamu alaykum wa rahmathullah,

    Firstly I ask forgiveness if this post/comment offends you/concept of ur website. I am a muslimah who has been

    accepted to IlmSummit 2009 and in desperate need of financial aid. Pl help me either by supporting financially

    /spreading the word insha Allah. Pls visit– http://help2ilmsummit.wordpress.com/ for sadaqa -e jariya insha ALlah. I

    pray that Allah make it easy and beneficial for all the Ummah bi’idhnillah. Jazakumullah Khayr.

    wa Salam,
    Sister in Islam

  20. hey pascal,

    im currently working on the album art for mashrou3 leila and i was wondering if you knew if it was still possible to buy the Nasri Khattar type face anywhere? also the 93 boutros.

    thanks alot.

    1. I am Persian but I undersand little bit Arabic , it says :

      Our god is the god of Ebrahim, Mikaeil, and Esrafil ( there are Engels ), esmail und eshagh, god of Engil (Bibel) and Torat(Book for juish) There is no god instead of Allah and all the power comes from allah….

      it seems its for Qoran, the book for Muslims, you can find more information here:

  21. I think this site really helped me. I have a project due and this is the stuff that I was really looking for. :)

  22. Thanks for this fascinating article. Are there any typographers working on making better Arabic fonts for reading ordinary text (i.e. not headlines) on the Internet? The commonly used fonts aren’t readable at smaller sizes and are usually too small to begin with. There is a group of programmers trying to figure out how to solve this problem; maybe they could use some help:


  23. لا أرى أن سعيد عقل كان ذكي في إختياره للحرف اللاتيني وإعتماده في اللغة اللبنانية التي أعتبرها في دوري لغة خليط بين السريانية و العربية إذ أن الحرف الاتيني يبدو غريب عليها . كان بإستطاعة المفكر سعيد عقل أن يعود إلى الحرف الفينيقي و يعمل عليه لأن لهذا الحرف علاقة كبرى. مع أنه قد يجد صعوبة في جعل الناس يعتمدزنه إلا أنني أرى أن لهذا الحرف علاقة أكبر بلغتنا من الحرف الاتيني الذي قد يكون بدوره مشتق من الحرف الفنيقي و الحرف الفنيقي له حنين أكبر في قلوب اللنانيين عكس الحرف اللاتيني الذي نجد من لا يرغب في إقتباسه من البنانيين . و شكرا . هذا رأيي لا أكثر و أرى نفسي متطفلا إن وجهت ملاحظات لكبيرنا سعيد عقل .

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  28. I am an Arab, I want to learn to write the different arabic caligraphy, like Khat Al Thuluth or the Kufi.
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    1. There is a cheap workbook for that, not sure if you could buy it online, but many were using it to learn Thuluth and the Kufi, it is really easy to follow, will check it out for you as it was bought from Damascus.

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    Is it possible to send me your Master thesis and how to cite your work in my paper as well . It will be so appreciated

    very kind regards
    Makki Maliki

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  60. Congratulations on this fine article. Extremely informative.

    I just wanted to drop a line and let you know that you’ve omitted some information here. It’s true that the Latin alphabet evolved from the Phoenician alphabet. But the accepted narrative by historians today holds that the Phoenician alphabet itself evolved from an ancient Egyptian alphabet, the Proto-Sinaitic script.

    There were many Semitic people living in Egypt at the time, especially as mercenaries. It is thought that this particular script was used as a quick shorthand rather than the complex and time-consuming hieroglyphics, and that it was then spread into the rest of the Middle East by the Canaanites. The Phoenicians were a sub-tribe of the Canaanite people who lived across the Middle East, and spoke a dialect of the Canaanite language.

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  67. Thanks a lot for your information, it would be better also said that “Kufi” alphabet originate from Pahlavi language ( Avesta ) is a ascent Persian language. “Avesta” is language for “Zaradusta” and this alphabet is using till now in Some of Iran’s town like Yazt and Hamedan. kufi alphabet orginate from (Kufe Town) now ist in Iraq but that time was in Persian Empire.

    for more information :
    http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/videvdad.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avestan_alphabet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pahlavi_scripts http://image.slidesharecdn.com/languagepolicyiniran-130503152458-phpapp02/95/language-policy-in-iran-6-638.jpg?cb=1367622537

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