Meta-morphosis: How FF MetaPlus Became FF Meta

When we see the expansive superfamily that FF Meta has become, it’s hard to believe its beginnings were so humble. As the family has known three different incarnations, there tends to be some confusion about which version is which. So let’s clear the air and explore the history of the most successful humanist sans of the previous decade, “the Helvetica of the nineties”.


FF Meta 1 1991

Originally, back in 1991 when the second batch of FontFonts was released, there was FF Meta (Normal, Bold, Small Caps). One of the defining characteristics of FF Meta — and FontFonts in general — was the presence of hanging (or oldstyle) figures and additional ff-ligatures in the “regular” Normal and Bold weights, while lining figures were found in the Small Caps weight. The distinctive Meta arrow occupied the slots for the lesser-than and greater-than symbols.

FF Meta 2 1992

The first expansion came in 1992 with FF Meta 2, adding three more weights (Italic, Italic Small Caps, Bold Small Caps).

FF MetaPlus 1993

FF MetaPlus (not “Meta Plus” as it’s often mistyped), released in 1993, was the big leap forward. It introduced three new weights — which effectively tripled the number of fonts to 18 — and included a fine-tuning of some characters (most notably a correction of the crossbar on the lc ‘t’) and revisions of spacing and kerning. The family at that point featured Normal, Book, Medium, Bold and Black weights, all in Roman, Italic, Small Caps and Italic Small Caps (except for the Black weight which didn’t include Small Caps). Still hanging figures in the ‘regular’ weights and lining figures in the Small Caps. The latter featured the Meta arrow, while lesser-than and greater-than symbols were added to the “regular” fonts.

FF Meta 1998

Eventually, in 1998 it was back to FF Meta. This saw a reorganisation of the family into subfamilies: FF Meta Normal, FF Meta Book, FF Meta Medium, FF Meta Bold and FF Meta Black, all in Roman, Italic, Small Caps and Italic Small Caps, which all got coupled with their respective Expert and Lining Figures weights: yep, a whopping 60 fonts indeed. Biggest change this time was the addition of the Black Small Caps, and moving of the extra ligatures (ff, ffi, ffl which were previously in the “regular” fonts) to the new Expert fonts. And of course the Lining figures weights meant that you don’t have to switch between “regular” fonts and Small Caps fonts anymore to get the desired type of numerals.

Of course the story doesn’t end there, as the latest — and definitive — incarnation of FF Meta got subsequently expanded with foreign language versions, a Condensed family, additional light weights (Light, Hairline, and Thin) and just recently a group of Headline cuts.

So, to conclude — never mix the original six weight FF Meta with FF MetaPlus nor the new FF Meta family, as it has different spacing and kerning, and some redesigned characters. Substituting FF Meta for FF MetaPlus is recommended, but keep in mind that ff-ligatures will disappear and types of numerals might differ.

21 Comments:

  1. Actually, Yves, I think that the Helvetica of the 90s was Helvetica ;-D

    Posted by Dan Reynolds on Oct. 6, 2005
  2. Dan, Helvetica is the Helvetica of the noughties (graphic designers in other words…)

    Posted by Tom on Nov. 16, 2005
  3. Hmmmmm all good, but to answer Dan Reynolds, Helvetica is NOT a font of the nineties – never was. And although Meta was designed in the nineties, it was not used effectively until 2001 and beyond. So Meta could be called the font of the new millennium rather than compare it to boring old Helvetica.
    Xandro.

    Posted by Xandro on Dec. 17, 2006
  4. Then the helvetica of the 2000s is FF DIN!

    Posted by Andy on Apr. 24, 2008
  5. i just love meta. simple.

    Posted by nora hussayni on Sep. 25, 2008
  6. It’s funny how your perceptions change, isn’t it. When I first saw that wiggly “l” I didn’t like it at all (oldschool hasbeen) but one by one I chucked out all my unexamined assumptions about letterforms. Pity my employer doesn’t feel the same way… I had a bit of a fight over the purchase of Meta. (We’re stuck with a Linotype CD collection, which has lots of good, old fonts but a whole lot of crap as well. Nothing from the Nineties let alone the noughies!)

    I salivate when I see some of the brilliant modern fonts being released by FontShop. I’m the poor child staring into the sweetshop window. I’ve got to get fonts past I.T. as well as the bean counters.

    Sigh.

    Posted by Intaglio on Oct. 3, 2008
  7. I’m commenting a little late (just over 4 years) but I think this face is as fresh as it was 16 years ago.

    Posted by Nick on Oct. 9, 2009
  8. Dontchaworry, you’re still well within the five year grace period for very late comments. ;)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 10, 2009
  9. Well Im still in the 5 year grace period for late comments right? hahaha
     
    Just wanted to ask… what about MetaPro?
    The thing is Im working on a project that used MetaPlus, and I wanna use the updates. Its my final project to graduate as a graphic designer at university, being a student and from Argentina, any of the prices of the FF Meta is too expensive for me. I found the MetaPro in my laptop and it has the same features, is it from the family?
     
    Cheers!

    Posted by Josefina on Mar. 28, 2010
  10. FF Meta Pro is the same typeface, simply in a different font format, just as there was no difference (in design, spacing and kerning) between FF Meta PostScript and FF Meta TrueType before that.
     
    I’m always a bit suspicious when people claim they “find” certain typefaces on their laptop. There are no magically appearing, self installing fonts as far as I know.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Mar. 29, 2010
  11. Thank you very much!!

    Im aware that might be the case, as I bought this laptop from my cousin and he is a website designer. May be he installed some font package or something.

    Cheers!!

    Posted by Josefina on Apr. 15, 2010
  12. Late to the scene me too. But I’m grateful for the information here about Meta, my party’s house-font as it is. When I set to buy the font for us, I was confused by all the variations but this article has sorted things. A little late though, but still useful.

    And it is some relief in knowing that I am not the only “poor child” looking through the windows at the foundry-goodies stores…

    Cheers to Intaglio…

    Posted by Seppo Laine on Jan. 23, 2011
  13. Me 3

    I appreciate the information on the different iterations of Meta.

    I can also appreciate Italgio’s AND Seppo’s comments. Sure is better to have access to Linotype’s library on a CD even with dated fonts, at least there are some classics on them with decent hinting & kernings vs. those “Free” 10,000 Font CDs out there. I’ve worked at a shop once (long ago when I interned at a print shop at age 16) where the one w/ the death grip on the purchase orders didn’t have a lick of design sense, or any feel for type. And they unfortunately had no inkling of why their font cd w/ a bajillion knock-offs were no good.

    Still over time, and becoming a Sr. AD, it sure is nice to build up a library w/ some contemporary “classics” and I think Meta belongs in that collection. I liken them more to a finely-crafted, new pair of shoes rather than candy, though. I envy very little of others but nothing can make more jealous than a colleague with a greater collection of the best fonts from the greatest foundries than my own. Font envy! (sigh)

    Posted by Susanna on Mar. 19, 2011
  14. Oh, if only…

    Like others who have posted, I’m a bit late to this discussion, and I’d really love to have unlimited cash to buy some beautiful, modern fonts. And, like so many before me, I am ultimately frustrated with the narrow vision of clients and employers, especially those who insist on using Times New Roman for everything, unless they insist on using Arial. (no joke) But, I can browse and dream…

    Posted by Suzeee on Apr. 4, 2011
  15. Yet another latecomer to the party. Thank you all for such great info. I’ve been tasked with designing a new stencil for the company I work for. Turns out they don’t have the font used in all company branding (FF MetaPlus), our printing company have gone bust and my boss laughed when I said buying the font would be good for the future as we’d use it over and over. They think I should scan in a letterhead and use that. Ah bless… Damn the purse holders! And suddenly this is MY problem to solve?

    Posted by Tony on Apr. 19, 2011
  16. I love Meta. As a longtime user of Myriad, it’s a fresher, cleaner face than Myriad. Yves, a couple of questions for you: I came across Meta Headline on another font site and am wondering: is Meta Headline any different than the fonts I would get if I purchased Meta Offc here? I really like the variety of weights in Meta Offc, but will it give me *all* the fonts in the Meta family? Thanks.

    Posted by Mark on Apr. 20, 2011
  17. Q: what had to be corrected withe the t crossbar?

    Posted by kosmar on Oct. 10, 2011
  18. As far as I can remember the vertical position was slightly off, but I am not sure.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 12, 2011
  19. I have just been given a style guide and the font is Meta Plus. As the guidelines come from overseas so I will be a day out if I wait for a reply.
    So is meta plus, ff metaplus and is it really now ff meta?
    Happy to buy the new version, but want to make sure I get the correct font.
    Help! Thanks.

    Posted by Nikola on Mar. 17, 2013
  20. The only Meta available are the current OpenType FF Meta. “FF MetaPlus” was simply the name for the font family for five years (between 1993 and 1998). Same product, different name.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Mar. 18, 2013
  21. Hi
    I’m working on a book cover, and I’m making some research about fonts. I found a MetaPlus font on my computer – yes, I am young and a bit ignorant, and didn’t know the existence of this font, so I was looking in the web and found this site… my question is: can I use it for commercial use, as in this case?

    Posted by darioskij on Sep. 4, 2013

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