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type basics 100% practical. Sketches have been made to explain some basic issues in type design during the workshops. They get used to point out some problems which raise while creating a new typeface. Only some foundations are shown, no deep sophisticated details. Any suggestions? Let us know. [Type-basics in spanish] : [Type-basics in german]

same size for all

type terminology

fluent shapes



black vs. white

italic vs. cursive

one for all



small caps

swash caps





balance shapes


ligatures (1 of 2)9/3/2006 07:23:51

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Same size for all! To optically align all characters on a line, they cannot not have exactly the same mathematical height. For example the triangle on this drawing has to be higher than the rectangle. If this is not the case, the triangle will for sure look smaller than the rectangle. While creating a typeface, you want all the letters to have the same height. Also round forms have to exceed the baseline to be optically the same. If the circle would have exactly the same mathematical height as the rectangle, it would look smaller than the square. This doesn't only count for basic forms like triangles, circles and squares. It's essential in type design, because they apply to every single character in a typeface. Then it even doesn't matter if you're designing a latin, cyrillic or greek font. It's a basic principle for any kind of shape. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:23:51

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Type terminology. Communication during the design process is much easier when using basic terminology of type. Here are a couple important ones, which will help to bring the conversation a bit further than 'yeah, that there, that little black thing.' The counter of the 'e' can also be called an 'eye', but there are many more terms. If you want to know them all, go to the library or browse-the-web. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:24:29

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Fluent shapes. Designing type is like driving a car. If you drive a car, you always take the curve in a natural way. If you draw a curve (of a character) on paper, this is exactly the same. The curve starts smoothly, never out of a sudden. While driving a car, you don't start turning the wheel when you are already in the beginning of the curve. A while before you arrive in the curve you anticipate by leading your car gently in the right direction. Think about driving a car when you are sketching type on a paper. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:25:11

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Calligraphic origin. The characters on the top line have a different construction than the characters on the bottom line. They have a different calligraphic origin. It doesn't matter if a typeface has serifs (like Times New Roman) or not (like Arial). It's about the original way they where constructed. The characters in the top line are constructed with a pointed pen (calligraphic tool). The contrast is caused by changing the pressure on the pen, not because of the form of the pen. Bodoni is one example of this, but also sans serif faces like Helvetica have this origin. The thickest part will be (mostly) totally vertical. From this perspective there is no difference between Bodoni and Helvetica. They both have the same construction. Only the contrast varies. The characters in the bottom line have a origin which is derived from the broad nip. The calligraphic pen itself has a thick and a thin part. The contrast in the type is made because of the form of the pen, not because of the pressure. You slant the pen with an angle of 30 degrees on the paper. In that way your thickest part of a character will not be on a vertical direction, but will be on an angle. Also the thinnest part will not be on the most horizontal parts. Typefaces (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:26:23

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like Garamond and Minion have this kind of construction. But also sans serif faces like Gill Sans have a construction which is originally derived from the broad nip. If you want to know more about these different origins, read the books of Gerrit Noordzij. His expansion and translation theories are explained in many of his writings. 'The stroke of the pen' is a good starting point. You can also read a small part of Noordzij's theories on-line. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:26:23

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Spacing. Some words about spacing type. Much more important than the shapes of the characters, is the rhythm of the type. A typeface with beautiful characters which are badly spaced is extremely hard to read. However, if the shapes of the letters are not that good, but when they are all perfectly spaced, the type will be fairly easy to read. Defining the rhythm is more important than defining the shapes. The white spaces inside and in between letters are defining the rhythm, much more than the black shapes of the letters. When you manage to create a good rhythm in your line of text, your type gets more readable and gives a balanced end result. While creating the black shapes, you have to take the white spaces into consideration. Because the white spaces are more important than the black shapes. However, white cannot exist without black. Changing a white shape, inevitable will have an influence on the black shape. From that perspective, one colour cannot be more important than the other. For example, there has to be a relation between the space inside an 'n' and the space between the 'i' and the 'n' (see drawing). In the top row you can see the space inside the 'n' is much (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:28:01

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much bigger than the space in between the 'n' and the 'i'. In the bottom row they are much more equal, and in this way you'll get a much better rhythm and more harmony in your line of text. The same goes for the inner form of the 'a' and the 'e' for example. There is a big relation between these two forms. If they have (optically) the same amount of white inside the character (=counter), your type will have a better rhythm as well. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:28:01

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Black vs. white. Designing type is nothing more and nothing less than harmonizing black and white shapes. Black can't exist without white, and white can't exist without black. Black, the shape of a letter. White, the space in or in between letters. The amount of white inside a character defines the amount of white in between two characters. As it is impossible to create a very black character with a big (white) counter form, a black typeface will always have smaller counters than a light typeface. Hence it follows that there is less space in between the characters (see drawing). A light typeface has much bigger counters. The space in between two letters has to be in proportion. As a consequence there is more white space in between light letters than in between black letters. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:28:47

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Italic vs. cursive. A roman font can be slanted (having an angle) and a cursive font can be upright (totally vertical like a roman). Urgh! The angle doesn't decide if a character is a 'roman' character or an 'cursive' character. This depends on the construction. To make it a bit more clear, take a look at the four big n's. As you would expect, the first letter is a roman character. But the second one as well. Although it's not totally vertical, it still has the same construction as the first 'n'. This is called a slanted roman. The third 'n' looks like an cursive, but also this one is not a real cursive. Basicly there is no difference between the second and third 'n', only some parts of the serifs have been cut off. Compare the first three letters with the last 'n'. That's a real cursive. The big difference with the previous three is the construction. The first three are constructed from separate pen strokes. The last 'n' is constructed out of one pen stroke. This is the basic difference between roman and cursive fonts. Not the angle, but the construction. Many different explanations can be given for the difference between a 'cursive' and 'italic' from a (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:29:34

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historical point of view. However we consider this as the big difference: 'italic' is concerning the function, 'cursive' is concerning the construction. Almost anything can work as an 'italic', it doesn't even necessarily needs an angle. When making a font family with a roman and an italic font, the italic font can be constructed in many different ways. The third 'n' in the example could probably function perfectly as an italic inside your family. But don't forget, it's not always a real cursive when it's called 'italic'. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:29:34

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One for all What defines if one character can fit to another character? Once you made a decision, how to apply this to all the other characters in a font? Starting point: 'e' (in the center of the drawing). Imagine you sketched this 'e', you like it a lot, and now you want to design more characters fitting to this 'e'. Where to start? Should it be a serif or a sans serif for example? First try: 'i' on the left. Sans serif. The black part is as thick as the black parts of the 'e'. Same xheight. So this should work you think. Second try: 'i' on the right. Same thickness, the character has the same x-height, but now it has serifs. The bowl of the 'e' is not only having a certain thickness, but the 'e' also has contrast. The 'i' on the left has no contrast at all. Therefore these two characters don't belong to each other. The 'i' on the right however has the same kind of contrast as the 'e', just because it has serifs. Just those tiny serifs make sure there are thick and thin parts, like the 'e' has. This means that the (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:31:05

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starting point, the 'e', already defined that the rest of the font cannot be a sans serif typeface. Of course, every so called rule is there to be broken. Mentioning this, doesn't mean you can't make a font which has an 'e' combined with an 'i' like the one on the left. Everything is possible of course. But now you realize better what you are doing, also when you don't do it. Still get it? background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:31:05

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Readability. The only important aspect of a text typeface is the readability. Many decisions can influence the readability. Which contrast you create, the length of the ascenders and descenders, the rhythm, the blackness of a type, the strength of the curves and the bowls, etc. Most of those decision apply to all the characters inside a font. These have to be defined first. For example the contrast. The characters on the top line (see drawing) have a much bigger contrast than the characters on the bottom line. The type on the top line will be more suitable for display use, the type the bottom the bottom line more for text use. Not only because of the difference in contrast, but also because the characters on the top line are much more condensed. This makes them less legible in small sizes, but more eye-catching and flexible for headlines. Defining the contrast and the width are decisions which count for every single character in a font. But also while designing every single glyph, you can create details which improve the readability of a font. For example, the ear of a 'g' can make sure the reader's eye will follow the horizontal reading direction more fluently. The 'g' on the bottom line will work much better in a text (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:33:08

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typeface for small sizes (see drawing). background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:33:08

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Proportions. Which x-height to define? Which descender depth? Defining these proportions are essential, and very strongly connected to the purpose of the type. The proportions within a certain typeface are influencing the way your type will work & look. For example, it's impossible to create a space saving newspaper typeface with an extremely wide body width. Extremely short descenders will give a strange look to a text typeface. Even worse, they might not be visible at all anymore. But extremely short descenders can also be a smart decision, while creating a display or headline type. For a text typeface the ascender height should be as big or, even better, bigger than then cap height to give a optical pleasurable result (see drawing). background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:34:09

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Small caps. You could guess it already from the name, small caps are small capitals. Capitals which have the same height as lowercase characters. Why are small caps needed? Because of several typographical reasons. First of all a whole word set in caps will look awful, it will drown out the rest of the text. Second, in lots of typefaces the capitals are not designed and spaced to work together, but to be followed by a lowercase character. Small caps however are designed to purely work together. They will give a more pleasurable, harmonized result. Having said that small capitals are capitals on x-height, it's mostly not 100% true. To optically give them the same height, the small caps will have to be slightly bigger than lowercase characters of the same font (see drawing). background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:35:47

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Swash caps? Admitting that it's not the most urgent issue to learn in typography, it's interesting to quickly pay attention to this topic. Not every font family has a Swash variant. Most common are swash capitals, but also swash lowercase characters and swash-beginnings and -endings exist. Sometimes you want to set a whole line in capitals. It's possible to do this with roman capitals, although sometimes it's better to choose small capitals which are designed for this purpose. Roman capitals are not, but mostly they don't cause problems. Swash capitals however do. Swash capitals are mostly designed to give some extra visual pleasure to your designs. The caps are meant to be followed by lowercase characters (number 1), or used as an initial (number 2), but not to be combined with eachother. Only with some fonts it's possible to combine swash capitals with normal roman caps (number 3). background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:36:13

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x-heights. If you make a light weight and the black weight of one typeface, you'll have to make sure that the black weight has a bigger x-height than the light weight (top line drawing). If this is not the case, the black weight will look optically too small when it's combined with the light weight in a line of text. In display sizes this is not exactly the same. If the type is printed in big sizes there can be a much smaller difference between the x-height of the light and the black weight (bottom line drawing). background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:37:14

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Bold-faced. Since the introduction of the computer, type design has become available to a wide audience like never shown before in history. Of course the digitalization makes many acts easier and particularly faster. This doesn't mean it automatically gets better, but that's another story. For example, many font software programs have included an option to 'bolden up' your regular weight. The outlines of the perfectly designed font get expanded, but the program is trying to fool you. That's not a bold. It's a limousine which got quickly extended by a local blacksmith. The contrast will probably be destroyed (see the second 'a' in the drawing). Doing this by hand will give a much more pleasurable result. No matter how well font software programs will improve in the future, there is only one thing that really counts in the end: your critical eye. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:38:00

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Digitizing sketches. When the handmade sketches on paper are ready to be scanned, take care of digitizing them in a proper way. More specifically, take care while converting your scanned image manually with a Bezier based pen tool. Too many points on a character, or points at the wrong position can have a negative influence at your font. Too many points (=nodes) can not only cause technical problems -e.g. the printer can't print the font anymore- but it is also much harder to control the shapes of a character. Controlling a curve between two nodes is much easier than changing a curve with twelve nodes. Of course it's possible, but it will not end up in a fluent form. Having the nodes at the wrong position can cause technical problems -e.g. it's impossible to hint the font perfectly- but also practically it is recommendable to put nodes at extreme positions at your glyph. For example, digitizing an 'o' would only need 8 nodes. Four at the outer form, four at the counter form. Putting nodes at extreme positions (most top & down, most left & right) means the BCP (Bezier Control Point) will always be totally horizontal or vertical. In that case they are much easier to control. In most software programs you can use shift key to keep the (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:38:28

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BCP totally horizontal or vertical. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:38:28

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Copy-paste? When you have created a few basic characters, you also want to create the rest of the alphabet. But how? Copy and paste? Euhm, not really. Although, this can help you on the way. There are some things which you can do, and some which you cannot do while copy-pasting. Some forms can be just the same. The ascender of the 'l' and 'h' for example. But maybe the bowl of the 'd' and 'q' as well. Once you created a 'd', this could work fine as a starting point for a 'b' and a 'p', by rotating the 'd' 180 degrees. Copy-paste should not change the contrast in your typeface. When you make a typeface based on the broad nip, horizontal and vertical flipping will disturb the angle of your contrast, and will destroy your shape. However, by rotating a (part of a) character 180 degrees, the contrast remains perfect and untouched. But copy-paste doesn't bring you all the way there. It can work as a starting point, but manual adjustments will be mostly necessary. For example, if you have a 'n', you can quite quickly (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:39:29

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make a 'm' and a 'h', but also a 'u' (see drawing). Copy, paste and rotate the 'n'. Then cut some serifs, and... not ready yet! If you cut away the serifs, also on the inner side of the 'u', the white space inside the 'u' will get bigger then the white space inside the 'n'. This has to be optically corrected. One solution for this could be to make the 'u' a bit more narrow, or maybe another solution could be to make the serif on the top a bit longer (which also makes the innerform smaller of course). Whatever way you do it, make sure the inner forms have (optically) the same amount of white space. Only in that way you'll get a harmonious rhythm in your type. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:39:29

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Balance shapes. If you make both of the inner forms (counters) of the 'B' exactly the same, the top counter will optically look bigger. Your character will look plumby, like it's falling down. If you make the top counter smaller than the bottom one, your character looks much more balanced. The counter of the 'B' doesn't have to be exactly the same as the counter of the 'P' for example. If you would make them exactly the same, the right sidebearing of the P would be much too big. So you have to balance the black and white spaces in every character separately. However, there must be a relationship between the amount of white space inside a 'B' and inside a 'P'. About making a lowercase 'r': it's not an 'n' with an amputated leg. Your 'r' can get very weak and soft in that way. You can make it much stronger if you let the ending of the 'r' follow the horizontal reading direction. In that way, the space on the right side of the 'r' will be more open, and more balanced. It will not disturb the rhythm of your type because the right sidebearing can be much smaller. The whole letter can be made more narrow as well. As a consequence the white space in the top of the 'r' could be has to be changed. In case you change that form, (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:40:13

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optically you'll not confuse the 'r' so quickly with the 'n' as well. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:40:13

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Kerning. Knowledge about kerning will give a deeper understanding of type. However, forget about kerning for now, spend your time on other things. It's much more important to properly space your characters. A kerning pair is a technical issue for optical reasons. Simply said: when one certain character is followed by another character you can define a different space in between these two characters. This space can vary from the the normal spacing (right sidebearing of the first character + left sidebearing of the second character). The difference can be positive or negative; you can add more space for a certain combination or you can reduce the space. A kerning pair can technically be implemented in a digital font file. In some cases kerning is inevitable and necessary. When a capital 'A' is followed by a lowercase 'v', a big white space will appear which cannot be solved by adapting the spacing of the characters. Changing the spacing would mess it up when they would be combined with other characters again. For this occasion a kerning pair is needed (see drawing). In the sketch you only see some examples where the kerning pair is negative; reducing space. But you can also (2 of 3)9/3/2006 07:40:51

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imagine a positive kerning pair when a 'f' is followed by a bracket for example; "f)". More space has to be added to avoid those characters overlapping eachother. background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (3 of 3)9/3/2006 07:40:51

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Ligatures. In a very few cases they are essential. Some well known ligatures are 'fi' and 'fl'. The inevitable need for a ligature is depending on the design of a font. Not every typeface will need a ligature for a 'fi' combination. But in some cases the dot of the 'i' is interfering with the 'f'. Get rid of all that annoying row but making a ligature, one glyph which represents two (or more) characters. Next to a functional aspect, there is an aesthetic aspect of ligatures. You could create a ligature for a 'st' combination, or maybe for 'nky' or 'ism'. Anything is possible. Admitting that also this is not the most urgent issue in type design, it's another obstacle on the road to perfection! background information : I have a question : contact : browse : site-map (2 of 2)9/3/2006 07:41:25


Workshop de Tipografia para auxiliar no desenvolvimento do Projeto "Arial (+)" da turma 2009 / 3º Design da Fatea.