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I'm looking for a font for a tattoo. I don't have any preferred font so I thought using the original Unix font could be a great reference to the great history. Can't find any reliable information about that on search engines except that I found out Courier was the original IBM font that was created for typewriters. I would prefer sans-serif monospace font, thanks in advence.

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    I'm not sure the original console fonts were even provided by the OS; I think they were often determined by the firmware, and would have varied by manufacturer and model. You might see if this site with old school pc fonts has anything that appeals to you.
    – frabjous
    Oct 25, 2022 at 18:16
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    Firmware? In an ASR-33? I think not.
    – dave
    Oct 25, 2022 at 20:11
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    @frabjous absolutely. The terminals were on serial lines and many (most?) had no soft font capability. Look up DECwriter terminals for hard copy devices as one example Oct 25, 2022 at 20:53
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    @another-dave If I drop a type basket onto your feet, that ware may feel quite firm. Depending on your shoes ofc :))
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 25, 2022 at 23:05
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    If you are open to non-*nix: One of the most recognizable historic computing fonts surely is Susan Kare's Chicago, Apples default in the 1980s and 1990s. Oct 26, 2022 at 14:31

6 Answers 6

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Sorry to disapoint you, there is no 'unix' font.

Unix was developed on mini computers using terminals, which could be CRT based or printing terminals (teletype). In either case the 'font' used was whatever that terminal had, so the same output could (and usually would) look quite different on different devices. Heck, not even case used might have been the same, as those devices often were upper or lower case letters only.

Also, these fonts were in next to all cases neither selectable nor exchangeable. That is unless one exchanged a ROM in case of CRT or physical print heads in case of TTYs.

In general early fonts were usually rather limited 5x7 designs. It wasn't until the late 1970s that terminals with higher resolution became (somewhat) common allowing 8x8 or 8x12 fonts.


So what you ask for is either rough pixelation, only softened by screens way less perfect than today:

enter image description here

(Mid to late 1970s LSI ADM 3A taken from this nice page)

Or simply an average 1950s typewriter font (upper case only of course:)):

enter image description here

(Taken from this fine PDP8-site)

It cant get more unixy than that :))

(For a lower case only TTY example see this video)

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    I wonder if that terminal photo is actually accurate — it looks to me like the displayed text was added in (the margin angles and the way the text is curved doesn’t align with the terminal, in ways that wouldn’t be achievable AFAIR even with a badly-adjusted screen). Oct 26, 2022 at 11:40
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    @StephenKitt I firmly believe you are right, especially as the shown picture does not add up with the VT05's specs of 72x20 upper case only. I just took it as it for one is a classic terminal, but also shows the pixelated nature and how blurry those pixels looked. Something modern 'Pixel Art' or reproduction on modern devices usually doesn't show - and people tend to not remember either. Would be glad to use a better picture.
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 26, 2022 at 11:46
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    Wikipedia’s VT100 photo seems quite decent to me — if you crop the photo to show the terminal screen it should illustrate the blurriness well enough. Oct 26, 2022 at 14:07
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    @StephenKitt except that the VT100 only became available in 1978(plus took a few years to spread), using a 7x9 character in a 8x10 cell, not to mention way better tubes . In total not really the picture of a contemporary terminal output. A Datapoint 2200, Cogar 4, VT05 or maximal VT52 might work better. Switched for a good ADM3A. Better?
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 26, 2022 at 17:26
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    The nearest we're going to get to a definitive answer is the picture of Thompson sitting at an ASR-33. The /font/ will be US-ASCII, the /typeface/ will be Teletype's with the distinctive curved A etc. Oct 27, 2022 at 9:36
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My first (1983) exposure to Unix was via teletypes and CRT terminals (VT52, ADM3a) so the fonts were generated by the terminal devices and nothing to do with the OS itself. Troff was used but only for printing final copies of research papers etc. You might get some inspiration from some of the user manuals though.

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Obviously something like this ASR-33 lookalike font as seen here (image is from the Wikipedia article "History of Unix".

enter image description here

  • Title: Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie at PDP-11
  • Attribution: Peter Hamer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It would look like this in the wild (image is from Wikipedia Commons here:

enter image description here

  • Description: Micro-8 Computer User Group Newsletter June 27, 1975. ... The early issues of this newsletter were in ALL CAPS because they printed on an ASR33 Teletype.

  • Attribution: Hal Singer and John Craig (Editors), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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    As discussed in this question, a variety of typewheels were available for teletypes, but I suspect the variation was not so much in the typeface but in the character repertoire.
    – dave
    Oct 25, 2022 at 20:17
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    I agree 'the original' was a model 33 teletype, but surely it was attached to a PDP-7?
    – dave
    Oct 25, 2022 at 22:49
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    I agree, and from my recollection of using Teletypes can confirm that the text above and in the linked font article is accurate: the curved A (etc.) is distinctive. I'd also note that troff etc. output would very likely be routed to any available high-speed lineprinter, perhaps even via a tape to an IBM or Burroughs mainframe both of which could print hundreds of lines per minute. Oct 27, 2022 at 9:42
  • I love your TTY sample, particularly the content. I think the closest modern equivalent would be the Courier font which was already ruled out in the question. Oct 27, 2022 at 17:04
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I think we've established that this is close to unanswerable, given that it was most likely an ASR-33 teletype.

Slightly later, however, DEC's DECwriter dot-matrix terminal was very popular. It was introduced in 1970 as the upper-case only LA30, and then further models include the upper and lower case DECwriter II (LA36; 1974). These used a 7-pin matrix with the common limitation of no two adjacent horizontal pin positions printed. Old matrix pins are big, and the solenoids couldn't fire fast enough to register adjacent dots.

Some years ago I took the DECwriter II print matrices and made the mnicmp font based on them:

mnicmp font sample

While the LA36 was quite common, the older LA30 may be more “authentic”. It uses a slight simpler font (see video print sample here: PDP-11/45 running Adventure on LA30). In particular, the LA30 digit 3 has near vertical symmetry, where the LA36 is more angular.

(Since modern font features can be any shape you want, I went a bit off the rails with this one and made a version with each dot a tiny heart because I could: LoveMatrix.)

If one really must go down the 5×7 all-caps route, I also made Keypunch029 based on the characters printed in the top of a card by an IBM Type 29 Card Punch (1965).

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  • The LA30 sounds like the unholy, anachronistic spawn of a Star NX-10 and a Diablo daisy wheel.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 30, 2022 at 2:37
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To look at it from another angle, why fixate on a hypothetical Unix font if it has no personal meaning to you? (It obviously doesn't, because if there were a particular one that had a personal meaning to you, you'd know.) So rather pick a font that has some sort of personal meaning to you. Maybe the default font of your first (Unix) computer or terminal, maybe some other font, but something meaningful to you personally.

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  • The question says why OP wants the “original” Unix font: cool factor.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 30, 2022 at 2:33
  • To me, a dinky dot-matrix printer's output from the early 1980s would definitely evoke the vibe I suspect the OP was after. (But I guess they probably got their tattoo already.) Us poor teen hobbyists only had thermal printers, if we were lucky.
    – tripleee
    Jan 16, 2023 at 18:28
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http://academy.delmar.edu/Courses/ITSC1358/eBooks/man-troff.pdf is from 1976. See Table I on page 30, which seems to suggest you could have any font you liked as long as it was Times

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    That same table states "The Times Roman, Italic, and Bold are among the many standard fonts available from that company.", so I suspect it's just an example. And my vague memories of old terminals suggest a very non-times font. Am I misremembering?
    – terdon
    Oct 25, 2022 at 17:40
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    "...from that company". My interpretation is that other fonts were available, but presumably for a fee. I first encountered *roff in the mid 1980s and that's a fair while ago so I'm quite happy to be proven wrong. However, I don't remember the Versatec (printer) doing much other than Times Roman/Italic/Bold. It was what it was. Maybe this should be better asked on the Computing History stack, @Terdon? Oct 25, 2022 at 18:16
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    Ah, you're thinking printing font! Which is quite reasonable, but I had assumed display font, the one used by old terminals on screen. And good point, retrocompiting may indeed be a better home for this.
    – terdon
    Oct 25, 2022 at 18:46

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