The gothic typeface is without a doubt one of the most attractive typefaces available, making it a popular choice for branding and design projects. They tend to belong to the sans-serif category and are inspired by the gothic era.
Gothic typefaces are akin to Gothic architecture and are best suited to vintage or retro designs.
They certainly bring character to your designs. They can make it look more edgy or spooky if you’re working on a Halloween-themed design.
Gothic fonts can also add a touch of elegance and a timeless quality if you opt for more complex and elaborate versions. They are used for T-shirt and poster designs and logos, promotional materials, book covers, etc.
Make your design look majestic. To make your gothic font stand out, pair it with a simple, clean secondary typeface. This will not only create more contrast, but will also allow the gothic font to be the centre of the design.
In this article we have made a selection of free gothic style typefaces that you can download for use in your personal projects, although some can also be used for commercial purposes.
Gothic typefaces for download
Whether you’re in the world of graphic design or you’re a tattooist or tattoo artist, you’ll do well to have a collection of gothic lettering in your arsenal for when you need to use it.
We begin our collection of gothic style typefaces with Blackside, a font that will not go unnoticed by anyone. Perfect for logo designs, t-shirts or tattoos.
Available for free for personal use, if you want to use it for commercial projects you have to pay a license fee
A modern gothic font style that you will love. It’s a complete typeface that you can download for free for personal use, if you want to use it in a commercial project, you have to pay for its commercial use license.
A gothic typeface in Fraktur style that will leave no one indifferent. It is not particularly noted for its legibility but that does not make it perfect for use in your projects if they are adapted to this style of font.
It is completely free, so you can use it in your commercial projects.
Blackey is a modern style typeface mixed with classic gothic lettering. It can be downloaded for free for personal use only, if you need commercial license you have to pay for it.
This Roman-style font with modern touches is perfect for giving your logos and titles a personality that sets them apart from the rest.
It is an uppercase typeface and also contains some embellishments to make it more attractive.
It is free for personal use, buy the licence to use it for commercial projects.
Inspired by the Fraktur style, Katheryna is a beautiful gothic-style letter that also includes ornaments and ligatures.
You can use it free of charge for personal projects
When you think of gothic lettering, Ancient is probably the closest thing that comes to mind.
A simple, legible and beautiful gothic typeface, free for personal use
Another typeface inspired by gothic calligraphic styles but with modern elements, easy to read and sophisticated at the same time.
Free for personal use
A mix of gothic styles with vintage typography results in Death Crow, a beautiful and simple font perfect for logos, illustrations and branding.
Free for personal use with the possibility of purchasing a licence for use in commercial projects.
If you’re looking for gothic lettering to get a tattoo, Aesthetic might be a good candidate. Like the other typefaces, it mixes gothic and modern styles, and also adds ligatures and embellishments that make it a very attractive font.
Free for personal use
The Black Veil
A modern-style gothic font, with ornamentation and all caps
Free for personal use. A licence must be purchased for promotional or commercial use.
Modern, clean and simple, without too many frills, Wallrous is perfect for tattoos and illustrations.
Free for personal use with the possibility of purchasing a licence to use this font for promotional and commercial projects.
If you like German Fraktur-style calligraphy, you can’t miss Zepplines, a modernised version of this popular type of gothic calligraphy.
Remember that this typeface is for personal use only and that you must purchase a licence to use it in your projects for commercial or advertising purposes.
History of gothic calligraphy
Would you like to know the history behind gothic lettering? Below we are going to give a detailed summary of the evolution of the Gothic lettering style throughout human history up to the present day.
“Blackletter”, “Gothic”, “Old English”, and so on. You’ve probably heard these terms at some point and perhaps the classic Gothic typefaces come to mind. After all, these typefaces are based on classic “Gothic” calligraphy, which is the word we use to describe these styles of writing developed during the medieval period.
The history of Gothic calligraphy is long and fascinating. Its roots go back to before 1200 BC, which is more than 3000 years old.
Gothic calligraphy consists of four styles: Textura, Rotunda, Bastarda and Fraktur. Other styles are hybrid developments of one or more of these main styles. These styles were developed between the 11th and 18th centuries.
Over hundreds of years, their generational evolution was the result of regionality, education (or lack of it), the materials available at the time, religion and politics.
The birth of the Latin alphabet
Calligraphy is a term that refers to the written execution of alphabetic letterforms with a writing instrument such as a brush or pen. Cultures around the world have developed their own forms of calligraphy in a variety of alphabets, each with its own history.
In Western culture, we communicate with words formed from the letters of the Latin (also called “Roman”) alphabet, which is the most widely used alphabet in the world. It is this specific style of calligraphy that we will focus on in depth, as Gothic calligraphy is written exclusively using characters from the Latin alphabet.
But where does the Latin alphabet come from, and what does an alphabet do in the first place?
The earliest known alphabet was the Phonetian alphabet (also known as the Proto-Canaanite alphabet from the earliest inscriptions).
The individual glyphs of this alphabet were derived from early Egyptian hieroglyphs and each represented a consonant. Alphabets without vowels are called “abjad”, which is a writing system in which the vowels are implied or determined by the reader based on the adjacent consonants.
The phonetic alphabet was used between 1200 BC and 150 BC throughout the Mediterranean, where it was adopted by many other cultures.
These cultures continually evolved it into more localised alphabets. One of those alphabets became what we know today as the Greek alphabet, which happens to be the first alphabet to have distinct vowel letter forms.
Consisting of all capital letters, it was written in rows between two horizontal lines as a method of informal organisation. However, reading from left to right was not an established rule at this time. The alphabet was often written in “bustrophedon” format, in which the lines alternate from right to left and then from left to right.
The Greek alphabet dates back to 800 BC and can still be found today. Its glyphs are often used as technical symbols in fields such as mathematics, science and technology.
The Greek alphabet is the ancestor of many other alphabets and writing systems, including the Latin alphabet, which laid the foundations for the earliest traces of Western calligraphy.
Ancient Roman italics
The old Roman cursive, also called “majors cursive” and “capitalis cursiva“, was the standard script in ancient Rome for several centuries. The exact dates are unknown, but based on the historical documents that have been discovered from that time and the events to which those documents refer, it is speculated that its origins date back to the 2nd century BC
The letterforms of the old Roman cursive are composed of characters from the Latin alphabet. It is a calligraphy that was taught to children in schools and was used mainly by merchants and emperors as a method of communication and recording important documents.
Artifacts recovered from the period reveal that comedians mocked this typeface for its illegibility. Ancient Roman cursive script was often replete with ligatures as a shorthand mechanism, making it difficult to read. The proportion of the individual letters and their placement on the baseline lacked consistency.
New Roman italics
Also called “lowercase italic” (and later, simply “Roman italic“), the New Roman italic evolved from the Old Roman italic.
This evolution was probably a response to the illegibility of the old style. The characters of the new Roman italic are more recognisable by modern standards. In addition, their proportions are more rhythmic and follow a consistent baseline.
The Roman cursive marks the birth of the first alphabet that even an untrained eye could recognise.
Letterforms at any point in Western history greatly influenced the evolution of the many different styles we know today. However, Roman cursive is probably the most important basis for those styles.
Its roots influenced and cemented the anatomy of the letters we have been writing for centuries and eventually gave rise to countless serif and sans serif fonts that we use in our word processors. In a sense, Roman cursive is the great-great-grandmother of today’s many styles of Western calligraphy.
The earliest traces of the uncial script were discovered in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, but its period of popularity and common use was between the 4th and 8th centuries.
Uncial calligraphy probably developed from Roman cursive. However, there are several distinctive features that set this style of writing apart. The wide border used to create the strokes of these letters is the first in Western history, and the correlations between them and the letterforms we know today in modern Gothic letter styles are visibly evident.
Unlike Roman cursive, the broad strokes of the uncial are also rounded. Interestingly, it is speculated that this new treatment was made possible by the development of parchment and vellum. These materials were much softer and allowed for the manipulation of the writing instrument, as opposed to rougher surfaces such as papyrus.
This approach to writing also allowed the scribe to write more quickly and fluently. Speed is an important aspect of calligraphic writing that helped influence many developments in different styles of calligraphy. This particular case is perhaps one of the earliest examples, but it is a trend that we will continue to see in later centuries.
Many believe that the name is based on the Latin word “uncialis”, which can be translated as “one inch high”. This would make sense, as early uncial scripts were generally written between two horizontal baselines separated by one inch.
Classical uncial script is based on an uppercase alphabet, so all its letterforms are written as what we know as capitals.
The uncial style of writing developed slowly over the centuries and eventually gave way (by the 6th century) to what we now call semi-uncial.
The semi-uncial introduced lowercase versions of the capital letters of its predecessor, along with ascenders and descenders. And over the years, scribes began to introduce ligatures, as well as embellishments and flourishes.
The broad nib was twisted to add different features to the central strokes of the letterform.
The use of semi-uncial script began to decline as it evolved into other unique and more regionalised calligraphies. However, the Christian church continued to use it until the tenth century as the primary style for biblical transcription.
Descendant writing styles of uncial calligraphy
It is important to recognise the influence that uncial script had throughout the Western world. During the Middle Ages, the general decline of Western Europe led to many instances of regional division, migration and displacement. This division promoted the unique interpretations, treatments and techniques of the uncial script.
Although many of these writing styles may be relatively unknown and short-lived in common usage, the roots they established are still recognisable today in the cultures of their respective modern regions.
Also known as the “Gallo-Roman” script, the Merovingian script was central to the Merovingian dynasty, a dynasty from the region where France is today.
The Merovingian dynasty lasted several centuries until the 8th century, when it became the Carolingian monarchy. As a result, the writing of the region eventually adopted the Carolingian script.
The Merovingian script was mainly used in monasteries and, interestingly, is known to have 4 distinct variants, each unique to its respective monastery.
The 4 monasteries were: Luxeuil, Laon, Corbie and Chelles. The appearance of the script is distinct due to their narrow and sharp letterforms. The ascenders and descenders of their lower-case letters are often long and exaggerated.
Insular or Celtic calligraphy
This medieval script was written in Ireland under the influence of Irish Christianity around the same time as the Merovingian script.
Differentiations within the insular script varied according to the setting of use. The most formalised examples of writing are found in important documents and sacred texts.
This style was perhaps the most tedious because of the time required to produce the letterforms. Informal variations were used in less formal documents and notes in favour of letterforms that were quicker to write.
In the south of the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal), there were the Visigoths.
Gothic is actually a language spoken by the Goths, an East Germanic people (composed of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths). These tribes played a pivotal role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late 4th century.
The Visigothic script was used from the 7th to the 13th century, but its heyday was in the 9th-11th centuries. From then on it gradually declined. The script is composed of elements that remain true to its uncial roots, but the similarities with Merovingian are seen in its long, thin letterforms.
The Beneventan script originated in the Duchy of Benevento (a duchy is a territory ruled by a duke or duchess), an area in southern Italy. It existed around the same time as the Visigothic script (specifically from the 8th to the 13th century), and was mainly used in the monasteries of Bari and Montecassino.
Visually, Benaventine calligraphy is very distinct, especially when compared to other scripts heavily influenced by the uncial script of earlier centuries. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Benaventean script is the rhythmic connectivity of its letterforms. Words are grouped together with the prominent use of ligatures and other connecting strokes.
In terms of writing system, Benaventan script was also unique in that it omitted or abbreviated letters, often with a preceding macron (a mark over a letter to denote a long or accented vowel) as an indicator.
This is a concept we have already seen in earlier Roman cursive, but, unlike Roman cursive, standard punctuation and word-spacing is used in Benevantine script. In fact, one of the punctuation marks was for interrogative clauses, one of the earliest forms of question mark we have encountered in Western writing.
Minuscule Carolingian calligraphy
The Carolingian Empire, ruled by the Carolingian dynasty during the 8th century, was a great empire in Central Europe that ushered in the Carolingian Renaissance, one of the greatest revivals of the medieval period.
This period of growth ushered in the rise and advancement of many aspects of culture. Of those aspects, writing and literature were important components.
The development of the Carolingian script was influenced primarily by the English and Irish monasteries which used the Roman semi-uncial and insular scripts, respectively.
The letterforms are composed of rounded strokes that form clearly individualised glyphs. Sentences used punctuation marks and began with a capital letter. Words were separated by spaces, and ligatures were used sparingly to promote legibility.
Over the course of the next two centuries, the Carolingian script matured into a writing system that is not far removed from the one we know today.
Descending letterforms began to slant in a natural direction, unlike their uncial predecessors. Modern versions of certain glyphs began to appear, such as the s, which until that time was traditionally written with a longer vertical stroke (similar to the f).
The letter v was differentiated from u. And, for the first time, the letter w began to appear. The Carolingian minuscule was also the first hand to feature an i with a dot.
The influence of the Carolingian minuscule spread throughout Europe, especially where Carolingian influence was common, but also elsewhere. For example, the script is present in the Freising manuscripts, which contain the earliest record in Roman script of the Slavic language. Its influence can also be seen in areas such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy, among others.
Carolingian script was replaced by Gothic letters in the mid-11th century.
Textura o Textualis
The eleventh and twelfth centuries saw a remarkable increase in literacy across Europe. Beyond bibles and religious manuscripts, books on a variety of subjects, such as business, law, grammar and history, were produced as a result of the newly established universities.
The demand for these books was high. Keep in mind that this was a couple of hundred years before the invention of the printing press. Each book was hand-written and had to be produced quickly.
Despite the legibility of the Carolingian minuscule, the large letterforms took a long time to produce and also took up a considerable amount of manuscript space. Writing materials were expensive at this time, so there can be little doubt that Gothic lettering came into being for economic reasons.
The styles of Gothic script that evolved from Carolingian minuscule in northern Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries are called textualis (also known as “Textura”) and are considered the foundational form of Gothic calligraphy, which evolved into other styles in later centuries.
This style of writing is most synonymous with the term ‘Gothic’, as opposed to its southern European counterpart, the roundel. It was used primarily in England, France and Germany, but even within regional proximity, all of these countries celebrated nuanced interpretations of the script.
According to Wikipedia, the English forms were of many varieties:
English Gothic calligraphy developed from the Carolingian minuscule form used there after the Norman Conquest, sometimes called “Romanesque minuscule”.
The textualis forms developed after 1190 and were most commonly used until about 1300, after which they were mainly used for fancy manuscripts. The English forms of blackletter have been studied extensively and can be divided into several categories. Textualis formata (“Old English”), textualis prescissa (or textualis sine pedibus, as it generally lacks feet in its minima), textualis quadrata (or psalterialis) and semi-quadrata, and textualis rotunda are various forms of Gothic styles.
In general, the Texturalis is less legible than its Carolingian predecessor. Instead of rounded, wider letterforms, it is composed of straight, narrow letterforms, each of which is evenly spaced with downward vertical strokes that create a uniform rhythm across the page. This calculated uniformity evokes the Gothic architecture of the period. Think of how cathedral windows are spaced with strong verticals. One might speculate that this style of writing was also a nod to the church.
In the 14th century, Johnannes Gutenberg introduced the movable type printing press (known as the Gutenberg press) and hand-carved the textual letterforms to print the Gutenberg Bible. This was the first mass-produced book printed with movable type, and the limited copies that survive today are considered one of the most valuable books in the world.
The 14th century also saw the introduction of paper, which was much easier to write on than parchment. This contributed to the development of what we now call “cursive“. Cursive is a broad term used to designate simplified scripts of black letters. These versions are usually less stiff and broken than the traditional textualis variants, which are characterised by strong, sharp lines.
Although not a specific style of writing, cursive interpretations of early Gothic letters played an important role in their eventual evolution in later centuries, especially in Germany.
The rotunda originated in Italy and is considered the textualis relative of southern Europe. Its direct influence from the Carolingian minuscule is more evident than the textualis.
The name itself derives from the Latin word rotundus, which refers to a circular building. Although rotund letterforms share many of the structural qualities of textualis, they contain more rounded strokes. This adds considerable variety to the alphabet and makes the style much more legible, even when written in a narrow form.
Bastarda (also known as “hybrid”) is an evolved variety of textualis that emerged in northern Europe in the late 14th century.
Living up to their name, bastard scripts can be characterised as bastardised treatments of textualis, as the style itself is defined as a hybrid mixture of traditional textualis and the simplified cursive styles that emerged later.
The bastard scripts were quicker to write, as their letterforms involved less reorientation of the pen. Deliberation over formality and coherence varied according to context.
Some manuscripts were carefully written, while other forms of correspondence were loose and more informal. Because of this spectrum of application, as well as regional varieties and nuanced treatments of letterforms, Bastardic fonts are difficult to classify holistically.
In the early 16th century, a German emperor named Maximilian planned to open an exquisite library. Fed up with textualis calligraphy, which was difficult to read, he had his chancellor Leonhard Wagner work with Hieronymus Andreae (a renowned wood engraver of the time) to develop a new typeface. This typeface became known as Fraktur.
The word Fraktur comes from the Latin “fractus”, meaning “broken”. This word translates into English as “fracture” and the meaning is quite precise, as the Fraktur letterforms are divided into fractured strokes arranged at many angles. This variety of angles is an important aspect that makes the Fraktur more legible, especially when compared to the classical forms of the textualis calligraphies, which were vertically rigid and narrow.
The Fraktur quickly became popular as it was printed and distributed throughout the country. Interestingly, for a time it marked the difference between Catholic and Protestant texts. Protestants printed in German with the Fraktur, while Catholics printed in Latin with various types of Antiqua.
With the technological advance of the printing press, the mass production of texts was set in motion during the 15th century in Europe, and the most common typeface used in these productions was Antiqua. The Antiqua was not a calligraphic script, but it was designed to look like one. And although it is not considered a blackletter typeface, Gothic influence can be found in its forms.
With the exception of Germany, the use of Antiqua eclipsed the use of Gothic script throughout Europe after its rise in popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the German Fraktur coexisted with the Antiqua until the early 20th century. Throughout the centuries in which both were prominent, there was much debate over which was the “correct” typeface to use.
The Fraktur did not cease to be popular until around the time of World War II, with the rise of the Third Reich. Much Nazi propaganda was printed in this handwriting, and the style eventually (and unfortunately) became synonymous with the Nazi regime. Coincidentally, Hitler ordered an end to the use of Fraktur in favour of Antiqua because it was not widely recognised outside Germany. However, this order was never carried out.
Since the influence of the Fraktur never reached beyond German borders, it was always considered “German” in essence during its heyday. Any Gothic script produced in Germany during these golden years is considered Fraktur, despite differences in nuance and localised treatments. That said, it should be noted that there is no single “official” version of Fraktur.
Modern Gothic letters
Today, Gothic letters are no longer used for the purpose for which they were originally created. Gothic calligraphy is used by calligraphy enthusiasts for no other purpose than artistic.
As you can see, calligraphic writing is an art that has thousands of years of history behind it and goes hand in hand with the development of our society.
Do you know any other free gothic fonts? Let us know in the comments
If you like gothic fonts and know of any that aren’t on the list that you think should be on the list, leave it in the comments and we’ll include it immediately.
Are you into graphic design? Take a look at our typeface collections where you will find a wide variety of different font styles to add to your collection for use in your design projects.