Atari Font

Shiuming Lai looks into the design and variations of a familiar sight


Enthusiasts of any kind often like to extend the theme of their passion to other areas of their hobby or life, this could be as simple as creating or modifying non-official things to look official, keeping with the house style. So you might have an Atari fanzine using the Atari font on its cover, for example.

I will always call the Atari font as such, even if I see it used in other places, and it's these other sightings that form the basis of this article. By the end, you should be able to easily differentiate the original from ones that look very similar!

I used to wonder if Atari had this font specially designed, whether it existed pre-Atari, or if it was modified from an existing font. MyAtari's graphic design expert, Christoph Brincken says:

In my opinion the Atari font - as used in the Atari logo - is a modified "lengthened" VAG Rounded with some roundings being removed. Have a look.

[Image: Bauhaus and VAG Rounded fonts]

When I scanned the Atari logo from an original Atari package and vectorized it in 1995 (with glorious Avant Vektor) it helped me a lot having VAG Rounded.

If you don't see a complete font for a particular typeface (that is, all the letters and digits 0-9) then chances are that the font you're looking at is completely one-off. An example is the Atari Jaguar logo - according to several sources on the internet, no other letters were created in that "ripped" style, this explains the wild variations on various JagFest logos as different people create their own interpretation (see the JagFest logos originating from the UK alone below). I think the letters "C" and "D" for Jaguar CD were created later as well, because to my eye they look like an afterthought, sitting rather uncomfortably.

[Image: JagFest by LinkoVitch]

By LinkoVitch (Graeme Hinchliffe).

[Image: JagFest by Stone]

By Stone (Nick Bamji).

[Image: JagFest by Matthew Bacon]

By Matthew Bacon.

There are many instances of fonts that look very close to the Atari font but they differ in a few key areas, as follows:

Zero and letter "O"
The Atari zero character is vertically elongated whereas the letter "O" is a circle. A perfect example to illustrate this is the genuine Atari Falcon030 logo, where both appear in the same line. This is the first thing you should look for when evaluating what seems to be the Atari font.

[Image: Falcon030 logo]

On various font sites on the internet there is a popular freeware font from the now-defunct ShyFonts, called SF Atarian. This is the one I'm sure is used in most enthusiast web sites and even one commercial publication - more of that later.

A sample of SF Atarian appears next - note how there is no distinction at all between the zero character and letter "O" - furthermore, the letters "C" and "G" are, like the authentic Atari font, sections of the letter "O" except of course the letter "O" here is the same as the zero character, with predictable results!

[Image: SF Atarian sample]

Look a little closer and you'll see another tell-tale sign that an Atari logo has been created from a font rather than scanned or vectorized from an original: concentrate on the "ATARI" section of the sentence in the sample and you can see the font kerning (horizontal inter-font spacing) is uneven. It is quite possible to create an authentic-looking Atari logo with this and any other font but you have to adjust the kerning, specifically with respect to the letters "A" and "T" - they are simply too far apart. The letter "S" is also very different, looking more like a perfect figure of eight constructed of two circles and sections cut out.

In fairness, ShyFonts never claimed this to be a complete replica of the Atari font, it just has similarities that are good enough for the casual user and to warrant the name.

Letter "R"
Perhaps the second most common sign I see is an Atari font that is perfect in all other ways but the "R". The next photo shows a couple of intersting points, firstly, it has the correct Atari "S", where the two ends are pointing at angles left and right compared to pointing straight up and down on SF Atarian. Secondly, the "R" is the non-Atari version, differing in the final stroke, which is an L-shaped protrusion rather than the diagonally slanted straight line of the Atari version. I think Atari's version looks cleaner and more modern.

[Photo: Servernside waste container]

What's interesting is that on Servernside's current web site as of the time of writing, the Atari version of the letter "R" is used!

[Image: Severnside logo]

[Screen-shot: Severnside web site]

Letter "G"
Considering the Atari "O" is a circle, and the Atari "C" is a section of this, It would seem sensible that an Atari "G" would also be a section of an Atari "O". The following photograph of a burglar alarm control unit suggests this is plausible.

[Photo: Logic 4 alarm control box]

Look more closely at the navigation pane of Severnside's web site, however, and you see an equally eligible version that is basically an extension of the Atari "C" - adding a vertical stroke. Compare the two:

[Image: Comparison]

Which one is the Atari version? Actually, both! On the Mega series of the ST computers, both pizza-box Mega ST and the later Mega STE, the narrow "G" is used.

[Photo: Mega STE badge]

However, on the owner's manual of the Mega ST, there is the wide, circular version, notice how the word "MEGA" here is very heavy, matching the letters "ST" (thanks to Steve Sweet for the manual scan).

[Image: Mega ST manual]

The Mega STE's manual is even less consistent, instead, the word Mega STE is in a generic Arial-style font, which I found somewhat disappointing right from the first day of ownership.

Here's a youth centre converted from a former public toilet. The sign shows an Atari "O" but the non-Atari "R". Now look at the numbers. They are the correct Atari style, where the curved section of the "5" joins the vertical stroke at a right angle (not so on SF Atarian, see sample above), the "1" has a "beak" at the top-left and the top of the "4" is closed as opposed to open - although on a real Atari, such as the 1040 ST, it's only slightly open.

[Photo: Youth centre]


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, January 2005

Copyright 2005 MyAtari magazine