Kiss My Papyrus

Who knew making fun of a font could be so much fun? You don’t even have to be a designer to bask in the glow of superiority when Papyrus is mentioned. Cue the jokes, the communal agreement of its awfulness, throw in an additional wisecrack about Comic Sans, and move on. I have been witness to, and a part of, these discussions countless times, but it’s really all bullshit.

Remember that band you were a fan of ”before they got too popular?” That’s the kind of bullshit I’m talking about. Sure, if a song is overplayed on the radio for weeks on end, you’re gonna get sick of it (Welp, now that band sucks).

When it comes to Papyrus, being overused is one, albeit a huge, part of the problem. Another equally pervasive problem is the font being used incorrectly by “designers” the world over. You’re probably not gonna play rap music in a country bar, you probably shouldn’t play classical music at a rock concert, and for the love of God, you’re not gonna use Papyrus on your wedding invitations. But rap and classical music are still perfectly accepted and celebrated in the right setting. Papyrus is no different.

... Papyrus is one of the most successful fonts of all time.

On the flip side, you could argue that Papyrus is one of the most successful fonts of all time. With thousands and thousands of fonts to choose from, Papyrus is the font people consistently choose. To design something that speaks to so many people is a resounding success.

So, when is the right time to use Papyrus? Never is not the answer. Like any design element that is overused (**cough, cough…drop shadow) a delicate and limited touch can do wonders, but finding the right context is paramount. Saturday Night Live (SNL) premiered their 2017 season with an amazing sketch featuring Ryan Gosling that encapsulated the Papyrus debate by focusing on the movie Avatar’s use of it.

While the skit was well written, hilarious, and enormously popular, I disagree with the thought that Papyrus didn’t work. I believe the movie Avatar was a great example of the appropriate context for Papyrus. Futuristic, nature driven, and organic—the font was a great fit for the movie’s story and imagery.

Creator of Papyrus, Chis Costello. The typeface was introduced in 1982.

A carpenter shouldn’t blame his tools for shoddy work. As such, we as designers shouldn’t blame Papyrus for our own mistakes in using and misusing it. Instead, we should keep an open mind and try to understand what uses are successful and capitalize on them. Chris Costello has gotten a lot of grief over the years for his creation, but maybe he, and Vincent Connare (designer of Comic Sans), deserve a break. Maybe the problem has been with you the entire time.

Hero image photos sourced from Papyrus in the Wild
Published June 23, 2019
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