Universal specimen

Preview and compare the appearance of languages before you start typesetting them

Universal specimen


Typesetting multilingual documents requires a lot of planning. Does the font we want to use support the languages we need? If it does, does it represent all the languages equally well? Which translations will it cause to run long, and which will it cut short? Does the situation change if we decide to use another font, or another size? Will this column width suffice for a language with long words, like Finnish? And what about that line height? Does it account for the frequent diacritics used in languages like Czech or Hungarian?

With the Universal Specimen, we wanted to make some of these questions easier to answer. The specimen/app allows you to easily typeset translations of the same text side by side. It lets you directly preview the effect of common typographic parameters on the appearance and economy (text length) of a specific language.

Choose a font and select some (or all!) of the languages that it supports and Universal Specimen gives you a preview of translations across these languages. Use the controls to fine-tune the font size, column width, and line height to see which parameters best suit the language or combination of languages you’re working with. Or, set the Line height switch to Auto, and the app’s experimental formula recommends values unique to each language.

Universal Specimen comes ready to use with selected fonts from the multilingual Rosetta library, but it also works with any font file you have on your computer. The app runs in the browser, so nothing gets uploaded to our servers and we don’t collect any information about the fonts you use; in other words, it’s safe to use with your current font licence.

We hope the Universal Specimen will quickly become part of your typesetting toolkit. This first version will be extended with more languages and fonts later this year. Try it out and let us know if there’s anything we can do to make Universal Specimen work even better for you.

The Universal Specimen was inspired by the booklet Typographia Polyglotta: A Comparative Study in Multilingual Typesetting by George Sadek and Maxim Zhukov; published by the ATypI and Cooper Union in 1997. You can still get some copies from the St Bride Library shop.

The Universal Specimen was developed by Rosetta, world typography specialists, publishers, and makers of original fonts addressing the needs of global typography. Our goal is to enable people to read better in their native languages.