Galaxie Copernicus
— Designed by Chester Jenkins & Kris Sowersby

B.Ü.L.B GRAFIX — A spread from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.
Nº01 B.Ü.L.B GRAFIXA spread from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.

Galaxie Copernicus is a Plantin reconsideration created by the combined powers of Chester Jenkins and Kris Sowersby. It was the final typeface designed for the Galaxie collection of fonts that Jenkins began in 2005.

All of the typefaces in the Galaxie family were designed around the same proportions so they could easily be used in tandem, even though each of the faces represents a different style. The end result of this experiment is a serif that is strong enough to stand on its own while also excelling at playing nicely with others.

Like its ancestor, Plantin, Copernicus is a versatile serif with a wide base and thick strokes. It’s constructed with supple, curvaceous shapes yet avoids feeling delicate or unstable because of the “wide stance” and balanced proportions. Copernicus has long been my go-to serif for pairing in sans-serif heavy designs because it doesn’t have a strong vertical thrust as so many serifs do and the low thick-to-thin contrast gives it an even presence on the page that melds well with sans faces, which often have the same characteristics.

I’ve rarely seen a typeface “wear its weight” in the heavier side of the scale as gracefully as Copernicus, especially considering there is no “display” version of the family. The typeface transforms from a solid workhorse at the lighter weights to a headline powerhouse at the heavier end that shines at large scale and can carry a design all on its own, all while maintaining a calm, controlled voice that betrays just a hint of playfulness[1].

B.Ü.L.B GRAFIX — A spread from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.
Nº02 B.Ü.L.B GRAFIXA spread from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.

Historic Influences

Plantin was designed in 1913 by Frank Hinman Pierpont and Fritz Stelzer for Monotype with the intention of taking advantage of printing technology advancements that allowed for more precise imprinting of lead type to paper and reduced ink spread. This meant that a thicker typeface design could be created without fear of it filling in or appearing too heavy on the page—typeface designers no longer had to overcompensate for overinking in their work. Plantin had a large x-height and healthy counters which is perfect for the longform text scenarios it was designed for.

Nº03 Galaxie Copernicus (top) compared to its ancestor Plantin (middle), and a revival of one of Plantin’s contemporaries, Adobe Garamond.

To understand what made Plantin unique, let’s compare it to a revival of one of its contemporaries: Adobe Garamond[3]. Plantin’s lowercase characters are just slightly taller, the overall stroke is thicker, and details like the counter in the “e” and cleanly drawn and more precise. The wedge serifs are more prominent and the ascenders and descenders are much shorter. The overall effect is a sturdy, clean and uniform design that minimizes irregularities.

The International Office — Hue & Cry, Issue 3
Nº04 The International Office — Hue & Cry, Issue 3
Nº05 B.Ü.L.B GRAFIX — Details from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.

Comparing Galaxie Copernicus to its ancestor[3] you can see that it moves even farther into reducing thick to thin contrast, and the typical Old Style almost-upright stress is further minimized. Thickness around characters like the “y” and the “r” are trimmed away and the x-height is even taller. What’s left is a minimal reimagining of a classic typeface that establishes a foundation for a lot of character and expression in the thicker weights.

B.Ü.L.B GRAFIX — Details from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.
Nº06 B.Ü.L.B GRAFIXDetails from the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition catalog.
Nº07 bestawards.co.nz — Pana Chocolate packaging by The Company You Keep, using Galaxie Copernicus’s sturdy design to support a foil production method.
An example comparing Galaxie Copernicus (middle) to Adobe Garamond Pro (left) and Harriet Text (right)
Nº08 An example comparing Galaxie Copernicus (middle) to Adobe Garamond Pro (left) and Harriet Text (right)
Galaxie Copernicus Heavy “a” (left) compared to Adobe Garamond (right).
Nº09 Galaxie Copernicus Heavy “a” (left) compared to Adobe Garamond (right).

Galaxie Copernicus strengths

As mentioned earlier, Copernicus is the first serif out of my toolbox when I’m working on a new design. I’ve used it for historic society branding, an academic business journal, and my personal portfolio, and it’s the body text on the Font Review Journal as well. Copernicus was designed as a body-copy typeface first and foremost, and it serves that role well. As you can see from reading this page, Copernicus has a very even visual grey, with a tall x-height and a very wide stance and minimal thick-to-thin contrast. There are no vertical or diagonal emphases to creates “waves” in the text, rather each letterform is clear and legible. When compared to an Old Style and a Scotch (Adobe Garamond Pro and Harriet Text, respectively[8]) you can start to fully appreciate how open and light Galaxie Copernicus’s design is. It lacks the contrast and strong vertical strokes of Garamond Pro (do you see the ripples the stress creates?) and the ball terminals and flourishes of the more delicate Harriet Text. Copernicus has a straightforward, inviting presentation that begs you to read it without feeling mechanical or cold.

Every character in Copernicus is lovely, as is every every word and phrase. If you were to set a Garamond “a” or “x” on a page and ask for it to stand as a strong representation of the letterform, and not as a cog in a larger font design, it would not be able to do so with the same gusto as Copernicus[9]. It’s rare to find a typeface that performs so strongly on both the macro and micro level. This is a “set it and forget it” font, and most uses of it you’ll find simply let the font do the work and carry the text without any bells or whistles.

Nº10 fontsinuse.comTypotron booklet spread from Gallus & Pretoria
end-grain.net — The spade shaped counters on characters like the “x” reference wood type Clarendon designs and showcase the nearly slab-like presence of Galaxie Copernicus’s serifs.
Nº11 end-grain.net — The spade shaped counters on characters like the “x” reference wood type Clarendon designs and showcase the nearly slab-like presence of Galaxie Copernicus’s serifs.

As Copernicus goes up in weight, the real unique character of the typeface emerges, the aspect that makes it more than a simple refinement of its source material. At its book weight, Copernicus is a simple skeleton of strokes and shapes[4], but as it adds on weight the characters become plump and vibrant, brimming with character. The characters become hefty and almost slab-serif-esque but still retain their grace, and any individual glyph is lovely enough on its own to carry a design. B.ü.L.b grafix uses this fact to stunning effect in their catalog for the La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles exhibition[2]. They use the powerful simplicity of the letterforms as a graphic element which, when combined with stepping down the scale creates an echo; a rhythmic sense of movement and dimensional space. You can also see Copernicus performing admirably at text sizes and weights inside of the book and how useful the different weights are[5].

Nº12 typewolf.com — Copernicus playing the straight man on the Grand Ferdinand site.

Because of Copernicus’s neutral visual weight, it plays nicely with a wide range of typefaces and is a multi-typeface system designer’s dream[13]. Pair it with a cold, geometric sans like Gotham to showcase Copernicus’s beautiful letterforms and personality. Pair it with something more humanistic and quirky like Apercu to give all of your text a playful voice. Group the heavy weights of another voluptuous typeface like Maple with Copernicus’s heavier end for a bold and beautiful pairing. Or partner it with an eccentric serif like Larish Alte to let it be the complementary straight man[12].

Copernicus pairing with a wide range of typefaces that each bring out a different aspect of its personality.
Nº13 Copernicus pairing with a wide range of typefaces that each bring out a different aspect of its personality.

Quirks and eccentricities

Because the typeface wasn’t drawn with an explicit display version in mind, Copernicus demands more attention to kerning and spacing at large scale. Many letter pairings need a little extra tending to really sing as the font is scaled up. This makes it tricky to use at extremely large sizes on the web, where control over such things becomes tougher to manage. You can see the typeface at its breaking point on my portfolio’s blog, where it’s set at 125px and irregularity in the kerning is starting to show.

Nº14 Galaxie Copernicus italics (top), compared to the more restrained Tiempos Text italics (bottom)

The italics in the typeface are a marked departure from the regular characters, and give a line a much different quality than you might expect[14]. Many of the characters are surprising, like the “y” that looks like it’s in a mosh pit and the looped “k”. Plantin shares this quirk, and the finished result is very personable with lots of unique and detailed characters. When Kris Sowersby wrote about refining Copernicus into the work that eventually became Tiempos, the italics were one area he specifically focused on. The result was that Tiempos has more controlled, uniform italics with a slightly greater forward slant. Regardless, my heart still lies with Galaxie Copernicus.

- FRJ