Chapter 17: Calibri

Posted on March 24, 2020 | Updated on May 26, 2022

Designerly’s journey through various fonts has probably taught you the importance of knowing the background of the font you’d like to use. Proof of this can be seen in the money laundering scandal involving Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Nawaz sent out a document “proving” she disclosed her ties to a company. The letter was dated 2006 but used Calibri font, which didn’t release to the public until 2007.

Of course, the wisest thing would have been not to forge a document in the first place. However, the font choice didn’t help her either. If Nawaz had done her due diligence and researched the typeface, she might not have brought so much scandal down on her father. For most people, the worry over getting caught in a lie because of the font they used is a non-issue.

However, there are still many good reasons to know the history and details of a font before choosing it. Fonts bring personality to your work, and each has its unique stamp. You can use a typeface to tap into your users’ emotions and lend a new attitude to your design. Calibri is one of the better-known fonts, but you may not be as familiar with its beginnings.

The Origin of Calibri Font

Lucas de Groot is a Dutch type designer who created Calibri between 2002 and 2004. The goal of creating the Calibri font family was to highlight the attributes of Microsoft’s ClearType technology. This typeface rose to popularity in 2007 with Microsoft Office, and it became the default font as a replacement for Times New Roman. Lucas de Groot’s job was to create a new sans serif font. He didn’t have access to ClearType technology, so he worried whether the subtle rounding of the curves would look the same on the screen. He went ahead and designed two versions — one with less of a curved look — and sent both to Microsoft for testing. Much to his surprise, Microsoft chose the original, more rounded version.

Many of the typefaces for ClearType were meant for text settings and did not include special features. However, Lucas de Groot’s Calibri was created for both text and display settings, offering variations and extra characters throughout. That may be part of the reason why the face became so popular so quickly. However, Microsoft making it the default font likely contributed the most to its popularity, making it instantly recognizable.

The Mechanics of Calibri

Calibri has a tight layout that allows it flexibility with different text sizes without losing resolution. It contains two-story As and Gs, similar to other humanist sans-serif fonts. Another unique characteristic of Calibri is the shorter tail on the letter Y.

The font isn’t as wide as one might think, given the roundness of the characters. The font has subtly rounded stems and corners, which are most visible in larger sizes, and includes characters from Greek and Cyrillic scripts. You’ll find small caps, subscripts, superscripts and extra ligatures within this font. Like most modern typefaces, it also contains italic type abilities. 

What Does the Font Imply?

The designer has stated that Calibri has a soft and warm character to it. It is one of the most flexible font families available, easily used for both casual and formal designs. It has an open appeal that attracts people of all ages. If you’re looking for a friendlier tone, choosing Calibri helps you achieve a warmth you don’t always find in less rounded designs. The font appears welcoming thanks to its rounded edges, especially in bigger sizes. The typeface’s scalability makes it equally suitable for headlines and body text. 

Where It’s Commonly Found/Used

Calibri is a popular font but exists on only 21,688 sites, according to Font Reach. Some of the sites currently using the font include TechRepublic, Aetna and the University of Phoenix. Ken Adams, a contract lawyer, often uses the font in his documents and defends the use of it on his website. It is a default body text font and commonly used in paragraphs. However, the font’s rounded features make it equally pleasing as a heading or subheading on a website or in printed text.

The font is very scalable and flexible, allowing people to use it anywhere — whether as a title or the body of a message. Calibri has come under some criticism by a few designers who feel it is an ugly font. Their aversion is likely because Calibri is the default in Microsoft Office, and thus they encounter it quite often. Designers tend to like new and unique looks rather than overexposed or overrated appearances.

When Should Calibri Be Used?

Keep in mind that Calibri is going to stand out from serif-based fonts. The design’s rounded elements give it a slightly modern look. If you’re going for a traditional appearance, such as a wedding invitation, you might be better off with one of the many serif fonts out there. However, if you want a more contemporary impression, Calibri is a perfect choice.

Calibri pairs well with Chap, Acta Display and Raleway. Look for other fonts with rounded edges for a smooth transition between typefaces. Stay away from geometrical and harsh edges. If you want to find something with a similar look to Calibri but not quite as popular, you could try some lesser-known but worthy choices. Fonts with round, open signatures include Linotype Textra, Arial, Hanseat and Revalo Modern. Note that each font has a different heaviness to it, so choose the one that works best for your project.  

The Font Series Guide: Introduction
Chapter 1: 15 Google Fonts You Should Be Using
Chapter 2: Times New Roman
Chapter 3: Roboto
Chapter 4: Georgia
Chapter 5: Verdana
Chapter 6: Helvetica
Chapter 7: Comic Sans
Chapter 8: Didot
Chapter 9: Arial
Chapter 10: Tahoma
Chapter 11: Garamond
Chapter 12: Century Gothic
Chapter 13: Brody
Chapter 14: Bromello
Chapter 15: Savoy
Chapter 16: Athene
Chapter 17: Calibri
Chapter 18: Proxima Nova
Chapter 19: Anders
Chapter 20: Monthoers

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

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