Optima font sample.svg
Designer(s)Hermann Zapf
VariationsOptima Nova

Optima is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Hermann Zapf and released by the D. Stempel AG foundry, Frankfurt, Germany.

Though classified as a sans-serif, Optima has a subtle swelling at the terminals suggesting a glyphic serif. Optima was inspired by classical Roman capitals and the stonecarving on Renaissance-period tombstones Zapf saw in Florence on a 1950 holiday to Italy.[1]

Zapf intended Optima to be a typeface that could serve for both body text and titling. To prove its versatility, Zapf set his entire book About Alphabets in the regular weight.[2] Zapf retained an interest in the design, collaborating on variants and expansions into his eighties.


Zapf cited this gravestone as inspiring Optima. Portions of the text are copied onto one of his 1950 sketches.[3]

Interested in calligraphy and the history of Italian printing and lettering, Zapf first visited Italy in 1950. While in Florence, Zapf was particularly interested in the design of the lettering in tombstones of the cemetery of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, in which the strokes subtly widen as they reach stroke terminals without ending in a serif. He quickly sketched an early draft of the design on a 1000 lira banknote.[3][4] Zapf was to work on the development of Optima during most of the following decade.[5]

In his book About Alphabets, Zapf commented that his key aim in designing Optima's capitals, inspired by the Roman capital model, was the desire to avoid the monotony of all capital letters having a roughly square footprint, as he felt was true of some early sans-serif designs. Like the Roman capitals, Optima's 'E' and 'R' occupy about a half-square, the 'M' is wide and its sides are splayed.[6]

Upon the suggestion of Monroe Wheeler of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Zapf decided to adapt his typeface to be used as a book type. “He thereupon changed the proportions of the lowercase, and by means of photography, he tested the suitability of the design for continuous reading application.” Zapf designed the capital letters of Optima after the inscriptions on the Trajan Column (A.D. 113). Optima is the first German typeface not based on the standard baseline alignment that had been used up until this point in time. Zapf states “ This base line is not ideal for a roman, as it was designed for the high x-height of the Fraktur and Textura letters. Thus, too many German types have ascenders which are too long and descenders which are too short. The proportions of Optima Roman are now in the Golden Section: lowercase x-height equalling the minor and ascenders-descenders the major. However, the curved lines of the stems of each letter result from technical considerations of type manufacturing rather than purely esthetic considerations.”[7]

The development of Optima took place over the period 1955-1958. Optima was first manufactured as a foundry version in 1958 by Stempel of Frankfurt, and by Mergenthaler in America shortly thereafter. It was released to the public at an exhibition in Düsseldorf in that same year. If it had been up to Zapf, Optima would have been named New Roman, but the marketing staff insisted that it be named Optima.[7]

Zapf wrote later in his life of his preference for Optima over all of his other typefaces, but he also mentioned “a father should not have a favorite among his daughters.”[7]

Other Languages
español: Optima
Bahasa Indonesia: Optima
magyar: Optima
日本語: オプティマ
português: Optima
svenska: Optima
Tagalog: Optima