Last Updated on January 4, 2021
Not all fonts are created equal. And there’s no better evidence to this than the almost limitless blogs, jokes, and memes of the world’s most hated typefaces. There’s Comic Sans, whose notoriety usually stems from misuse. Let’s not forget Courier and Courier New, which, apart from being used on screenplays and code, serve no other purpose.
And of course, the Papyrus.
Brief History of the Papyrus Font
Created by Chris Costello in 1982, little did he know that his personal project would take the world by storm (first positively, then negatively).
The accidental typeface was made during the many long downtimes when he was working as an entry-level staff illustrator in an ad agency. His doodles on parchment were inspired by the Middle East and Biblical Times. Then 23 years old, it was his very first typeface.
He sent it to small and big companies in the type industry. They all rejected him – except for one: a British company called Letraset that sold lettering vinyl sheets. After a few minor changes, Costello sold all the rights of Papyrus for what would be the equivalent of around $2,500 today.
The font was marketed in Letraset catalogs in 1984. But Costello would hear nothing more from his creation until the mid-’90s. During this time, Letraset began licensing its typefaces for desktop use. One can say that the font’s infamy was due to Microsoft.
Until today, the Papyrus font comes pre-installed in most Microsoft Office fonts, particularly in Word.
Why People Hate the Papyrus Font
There’s no clear reason why designers and typographers hate the typeface.
And while there’s no shortage of blogs and online polls dedicated on this subject, no one truly gives a good reason as to why they dislike the Papyrus. Some would go on to say that they find it ‘childish, kitschy, and irritating’; but that’s more of a personal bias than factual evidence.
Others would say that it’s the misuse of the Papyrus font that has earned its infamy. Costello himself admitted that he did not imagine how popular his font was going to get. Back then, it just seemed like good money. Today, designers are irked to see the font used not just during bake sales, but in church brochures, construction companies, as well as funeral home signs.
While most of the hate surrounding the font used to be limited to typography snobs, it became public when it was found out to be the font used on James Cameron’s 2009 box office hit, Avatar. Of course, the style was altered a bit; but fans and designers couldn’t help pointing out that the movie poster could do a lot better with custom lettering instead. There was even a famous SNL skit centered on this topic.
With the movie airing on Disney+ this 2020, the streaming service decided to drop the Papyrus-like font, opting for a more original typeface. Certainly, this has made a lot of designers very happy.
In Defense of the Papyrus Font
Don’t go around hating Papyrus just because every other typography artist says so.
In Design for Hackers, author and designer David Kadavy wrote a defense for the font, citing its solid fundamentals, even texture, and surprisingly good kerning. In comparison to Comic Sans, Papyrus holds its own in that you’ll have no problem using it as body copy because it manages visual weight well enough. The letterforms are also consistent, making it at par with other common typefaces such as Garamond and Helvetica.
However, he did point out one valid reason for (still) disliking the font: material dishonesty. Nowadays, authenticity is key. That’s why you see so many designers boast of how their fonts were made by hand, using actual brush or pen strokes. Papyrus wants to lend a feel of quill on ancient paper – but it’s not and never was. It will and always will be, ‘vector-drawn shapes on a computer’.
So if you’re looking to add that ‘genuine’ vibe to your works, maybe using this font isn’t such a good idea.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the Papyrus font exudes a certain old-world flair. And because it comes pre-installed in Microsoft Office fonts, you know it will always be there for you. Use it as a header for your Egyptian research paper on mummies, or as a title for your amateur film about the Exodus. After all, it’s free and readily available.
Just don’t use it on subtitles.