Watch Out! You can't just start writing and think you'll get it right...

The ABBA logo

As you probably know, the ABBA logo was very deliberately designed in 1976 using the font News Gothic (drawn by Morris Fuller Benton in 1908) bold variant. This, you might think, makes the logo very easy to reproduce. You would just have to open any decent word processor, type "ABBA" using a bold News Gothic, and voila! Well... provided you manage to mirror one B.

ABBA's designer, from 1975 and on, Rune Söderqvist did a very clever thing here. Besides designing an exceptionally stylish logo, it was defined by international typography standards. This was of course long before the time of postscript files and the internet, so could there be a more practical thing to do? The logo could be reproduced in no time by a print shop or someone equipped with a News Gothic rub-on sheet.

Alas, it's not quite that easy to do it on your own.

Digital fonts

In 1976 a font was defined by a physical set of types (or rub-ons). This started to change in the eighties when digital versions of fonts started to pop up and take over as a part of the digital revolution. There was the Postscript font format, then there was the True Type Font, Multiple Master and so on.

As a font was transferred to digital format there were people involved who had to do the work manually. The font was scanned and reworked and then included in some company's product folder. An old font could be reproduced digitally by several companies independently. This caused a problem since the old type based fonts included many differently sized and weighted types. Often the letters were made using slightly different proportions depending on size. For example, one could make sure that when using small types, the white spaces in letters were a little bigger so that they wouldn't get filled with bleeding ink during printing. When large types were used, the differences in thickness between thick and thin parts of the letters could be adjusted. The problem here is that the digital version of the font will be affected by which variant of the original font is used! Plus, of course, the person doing the job. Normally noone goes through the trouble of reproducing all the dynamics of the original font. There seem to have been a number of font revisionists at work.

As shown below, this affects the ABBA logo. The A and B are written using News Gothic (bold) in both cases. One design is sold by Adobe and the other is marketed by AGFA Monotype (then usually called News Gothic MT). If you compare the examples to the original on one of the original ABBA albums you will see that Adobe did a much better job. Slightly narrower and more condensed letters. Don't look at the original Gold compilation and some of the other incorrect visual filth that Polygram spread. In fact, the Monotype version looks somewhat like the freakish logo on the original Gold, doesn't it?

News Gothic by Adobe and Monotype

If you want to be certain that an ABBA logo you write is properly done, you would need to overlay your creation and a scan (or whatever) of the original logo and see if they match. Even though Adobe appear to have had a superior job done for them, it's still not clear how exact the reproduction is, compared to what Rune used originally. If we're lucky there was some ABBA fan at Adobe that based his work on the logo. (Yeah, damn likely...)

Can you see which logo is which?

The ABBA logo reproduced

The ABBA logo reproduced again

On another note, there is a similar issue with the extreme font used for the title sequence in Aussie drama Prisoner. PRISONER is then written using the font Futura Black. This font in digital form has been supplied by Bitstream ("Futura Black BT"). One can only speculate about how well the versions match - or investigate. I'm sure countless people have been dying to find out.

There is another little oddity used in the making of the ABBA logo, and I'm not talking about the registered trademark thingy:


Kerning is the individual adjustment of space between characters, however not the same thing as regular expanding or condensing of text.

Since the letters of the alphabet are of quite different shape, the space between typed letters may need adjustment in order to reproduce a text harmonic to the eye. For example, a "V" next to an "A" would not look completely comfortable if not kerned. In an un-kerned form, each letter would occupy a square of space. This space can not be occupied by anything else, so it would be like putting blocks containing letters next to each other on a line. When kerning is applied, the V and A will be put closer together. This will most likely mean that if you were to draw a vertical line down from the top right part of the V, the line will cross a part of the lower left part of the A.

Kerning can be used with ease these days, even though it may not be perfect. You can use it in MS Word by selecting the text you wish to have kerned and then check the kerning box under Format/Font/Character spacing and specify the smallest font size you wish kerned. Before desktop publishing and the use of computers, special combination types had to be done for a font to include kerning.

Kerning is exemplified in the ABBA logo:

Kerning as it appears in the ABBA logo

Note how the bottom left of the A is located under the right-most part of the B. The ABBA logo cannot live without this detail!

If you really want a perfect kerning, it is up to yourself to adjust manually. What is perfect is also a matter of taste. Well, it's not a matter of taste in the case of the ABBA logo, of course. There is an original. That original is perfect by definition.

A kindred finesse is the ligature. Ligatures are couples of letters that are connected to give a more fluent impression. The most common example is probably the upper part of "f" being connected with the dot over "i". This also required special types including the pair of letters. Ligatures cannot be used in Word but professional desktop publishing programs do, of course.


I have read and been inspired by:

Mattias Olsson 2004

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