Michal Sahar: Expending Hebrew Alphabet System

With Alef, Michal Sahar and Danny Meirav officially ended the monocracy of Arial, what was once the only web font for Hebrew. At TYPO Berlin, Michal provided the audience with broad insights into the design research for Fedra Serif Hebrew, a case study for matchmaking multi-script type design.

“All the cool stuff is Danny’s, all the boring stuff is mine. But in real life I’m much cooler than him, so this doesn’t matter.” © Sebastian Weiß / Monotype

HaGilda Type Foundry

Disturbed by the fact that at the beginning of 2000 there still weren’t any usable Hebrew typefaces available on the market in Israel, Michal had to design her own. For her research, she picked a range of 16 out of 12.000 styles from the only type distributor at that time. She paid a lot of money as a young graduate and they still owe her four styles. Her approach turned out to be a very successful one and her first typeface ‘South’ is still well distributed.
Sahar is also a graphic designer and has always questioned the needs of her profession, which is of course good typefaces. In 2002 she founded HaGilda Type Foundry together with Danny Meirav aka HaTayas.

The two complement each other very well: “All the cool stuff is Danny’s, all the boring stuff is mine. But in real life I’m much cooler than him, so this doesn’t matter.” Danny preferably translates styles adapted from handwriting into typographic forms, whereas Michal’s work explores the intersection of Latin and Hebrew.

Hebrew and Latin

What do the scripts have in common? What are the native differences that have to be included for legibility? These are always the main questions when it comes to multi-script matchmaking type design. Sahar showed details of the producion of her Fedra Serif Hebrew. A project which she started by her own motivation. She was fascinated by the weird proportions of Fedra Serif, it’s mixture of Roman and graphic terminals, while some simply dismissed elements like the middle bar serif of the uppercase “E”. Sahar felt, that there must be a Hebrew typeface which follows this spirit.

“Hebrew is a language, only spoken in one country. Why should I design a typeface with 48 weights? Nobody will buy them.”

After months of researching and sketching, she accidently met the creator of Fedra, Peter Biľak, during his workshop at Bezalel. They immediately set up a meeting to discuss the project. It’s a very fascinating fact, that Fedra Arabic (initially created by Peter Biľak, in consultation with Tarek Atrissi, remastered by Bahman Eslami), and Fedra Hebrew all were designed by different designers who didn’t work simultaneously. But yet it’s clearly not visible in the outcome. They all fit together very well, while making use of the distinct elements of their native script.

When designing type, Sahar is working on the different weight extremes and all letters in the different scripts simultaneously, because that’s how they are going to be used: next to and even within each other. She tried to translate the elements into Hebrew forms. In the talk, she pointed out the challenges and possible solutions for designers:


• Latin is based on round, Hebrew on square shapes
• Each script emphasises a different stem axis
• The only ascender in Hebrew is ל (Lamed), while there are some descending letters, which appear only as final forms
• The outstanding legs in Hebrew letters are parts of the strokes. They are essential for legibility and cannot simply be dismissed or transformed into serifs


• You can use the legs of Hebrew letters to emphasise or harmonise differences with the serifs of the Latin companion
• You can combine formal design parts in one script with more calligraphic ones in the other
• The terminals of different scripts are mostly by distinct descent and should only wisely be adjusted
• It’s possible to straighten specific bars like the diagonal in א (Alef)
• Sharp elements in negative spaces can be used in both scripts simultaneously
• Combinations of curves, like round upstroke and sharp downstroke connections should be respected
• There are some fonts using the Latin contrast, It works especially well in sans serif fonts like “Narkis
• An evenly lowered contrast works well in Hebrew, as long as the native emphasizing of the horizontal bars is kept
• Observe the diacritics in the different scripts, maybe they can be shared

Michal Sahar

Michal Sahar

Type Designer (Tel Aviv)

Michal Sahar is a Tel Aviv based type designer, graphic designer and a senior lecturer at The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, from which she has graduated in 1996. She founded her independent design studio in 2001, working in the fields of arts and culture and focusing on branding and editorial design. In 2002 she founded HaGilda type foundry with co-founder Danny Meirav. They each bring a unique perspective on type design — old Hebrew lettering revivals and contemporary Hebrew and bi-lingual (Hebrew-Latin) text typefaces. Michal and Hagilda have won various professional awards since 2004; her latest collaboration with Peter Bilak (Typoteque) won her the Granshan Type Design Award in the Hebrew Category. For the last year Michal has been collaborating with Google in developing new open source Hebrew-Latin typefaces. In addition, she has developed the new visual identity for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, for which she has been head designer for the last three years. She enjoys creating typefaces between 2-4 AM, Rocks out smashing air-drum solos, and always brings her A-game to the table-tennis court.

Hebrew italics

Sahar designs Hebrew fonts only in up to four weights. “Hebrew is a language, only spoken in one country. Why should I design a typeface with 48 weights? Nobody will buy them.” Almost all the newspapers use the same typeface. The low number of weights is also influenced by the lack of true Hebrew italics. The first Hebrew typeface was cut in the 1920s in Germany, before it was dead for hundreds of years.
Though the Hebrew cursive system exists, the characters are completely different. Similar to the German “Kurrent” script and it’s blackletter companion. Designers only started recently to develop solutions how to match Latin italics in texts.
While the native slant of the script follows the writing direction, Hebrew italics should be slanted from right to left. But based on handwriting of right handed people, the correct slant flows from left to right, matching Latin italics. However, Hebrew italics still don’t work for natives as hierarchic element in complex texts: “They are not ready for it yet.”

Multi-script typography in Israel

Sahar’s father was Syrian and immigrated from Damascus in 1942. Thanks to her Grandfather, who constantly spoke Arabic, she can read and write Arabic. She also explored Latin for 35 years and still learns from colleagues like Luc(as) de Groot and Peter Biľak.

Michal Sahar presenting her multi-script matchmaking work for Art Port Tel Aviv © Sebastian Weiß / Monotype
The unique intersection of three totally different scripts in everyday public life only exists in Israel. On traffic signs you can see the directions set in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin. It’s a space which urges the need for communication between the different groups more than any political debate. Sadly, it also communicates when the Arabic get’s chopped first if the sign is too small.

On the street signs in Tel Aviv, really native ones were beeing chosen for the three scripts. But still, together “they give a feeling of poetry. It’s not about uniting the scripts by contrast, stroke thickness or terminals, it’s about aesthetically adjusting the value of the distinct character of each single one.” Sometimes the Hebrew and Latin create a unit in a contemporary way, while the Arabic name is designed very calligraphic.
Disuniting a script by formal principles is not to be understood as an alienation. It’s just one strategy of creating harmony in a common space. While Hebrew and Latin share a common monolinearity, the contrast to the Arabic is emphasised by using such a dynamic calligraphic style, so that it balances the other two by it’s high contrast. The eye equalises the three as one image.

Many contemporary approaches in matchmaking type design follow a sense of uniting different scripts in any formalistic way possible. Sahar prefers to keep the native orders of each script and even emphasises the differences. Carving out the technical and aesthetic possibilities as well as the borders of adapting to specific scripts might be one of the most discussed topics in type design to date. While Latin type designers increasingly extend their typefaces with foreign script versions, Israeli designers have had to do this since the beginning of their career: “Latin is everywhere, Arabic also has millions of users, but Hebrew is the language of only one country.”

Written by Rik Watkinson

Further exploring
HaGilda Type Foundry
HaTayas (Danny Meirav)
Alef microsite