Stretching/squishing type

gigi's picture

It really bothers me when type is manipulated on the computer, it does something funky to the font. What exactly happens to the font? Any thoughts?

brennan's picture

Hi Lisa,

I think that when a typeface is distorted the
orignal shape the designer intended for each
letter is lost and the result is ugly spacing.

I dont exactly know what you mean by what
happens to the font, but thats my reason for not
streching/squishing type ;)


hdschellnack's picture

By stretching or compressing a font you hurt the integrity of the original design. Just because you can do it on a computer, it doesn't mean you should. What didn't work in hot metal should be a nono in dtp as well. It's just bad. It's not creative, not even in a destructive way, it's just bull. The dynamic of the width and weights and proportions of the type is destroyed by such electronic manipulations. And THAT is why you don't like it - it just looks awful :-D

gigi's picture

thank you, exactly!

hrant's picture

Specifically, there is one Very Bad Thing, which also happens to be the most common distortion: squeezing type horizontally; some fonts (like most of Unger's) survive well, but any monoweight design (like most sans faces) will acquire a horizontal stroke stress, which is alien to the Latin script.


John Hudson's picture


hrant's picture

I didn't know that about Charente! Cool.

BTW, in the case of Patria I didn't consciously design it to withstand horizontal compression, but after hearing Luna's talk in Rome, I had a feeling its inherent "horizontality" would be beneficial in this respect, so I did some tests: it survives very well down to 65%! And only below 50% do the obvious problems start.


Christian Robertson's picture

I disagree with the sophomoric idea that type shouldn't be stretched or compressed. Who cares about the original intent of the designer? When I am working, I only care about the intent of one designer: me.

There are some good reasons this commonly held rule is taught in every freshman typography class. I've seen some awful things come out of the computer (so awful they will someday be cherrished by graphic designers in their ephemera collections as samples of 'early digital typography'). Hrant has enumerated a few of the problems that can happen.


If you understand the rules about what makes type work, of course you can compress/extend type. There are some obvious problems that happen, but the reality is, many faces have some flexibility. I'm glad to see some inteligent exploration of the idea at the porchez typofonderie.

In short, I compress and extend type all the time. And I'm not ashamed of it. Sometimes I edit the outlines to correct some of the problems caused by expansion. I think all designers should be able to 'get under the hood' of a font and tinker a little bit. Too many are scared to do so. I have seen too many logos that are simply type set in a common face, displaying no originality or creativity. Since when was the shape of the letter sacred? Learn how it works and tear it apart!

Michael Surtees's picture

Christian_Robertson, I'd be interested in seeing typeface examples that you have compressed and extended in your designs.

Michael S

Christian Robertson's picture

This is a parody I did of some of the junk type foundries that kick out a million display faces, some cool and some not. I took the stretching to an extreme, so some are more successful than others, but some of it works for what it's trying to accomplish.

Factory SWF

Michael Surtees's picture

Have you used any of those in your work?

hdschellnack's picture

>Who cares about the original intent of the designer? Sure, F*** that Tschichold dude... If YOU want a 250% stretched Sabon, that MUST be right. :-) Sorry.. If yiou are a good designer, which I assume, you respect the work of others. In each and any case. I understand that in certain cases you can consciously destroy a font, just like you'd do with image material in photoshop, to get a certain effect... If you work on a logo, mod the shape of the font and try to aim for a certain effect and the end result is good... More power to you, I do similar stuff myself, I recently rebuilt SunLight extremely for a Logo for ikf, basically changing those three letters completely, but still retaining the unique flair of the font. I also don't think that a, say, Carsonesque work needs much respect for typography. However, in a normal, maybe longer text that you want anybody to read, it isn't only about respect for the likes of Giambastita Bodoni, but also for the reader. Have you ever seen a layman mangle type in CorelDraw or in (ugh) WordArt.... And how many ads or even brochures have you seen in which the font is stretched to 150% I recently was to identify the type of a logo for a friend and failed miserably at it, until it struck me that some idiot had sretched Aichers Rotis to 280% ... And that was why it looked so rotten.

As usual: If DONE right, breaking the rules is a GOOD thing. If a layman, a person wihout the right sensibilities to destroy rules in order to aim for a specific creative effect, does it... it's hurlsville. HD

piccic's picture

HD Schnellnack is right.
When I began using the Mac (around 1989) everyone stretched type in any possible way.
It was just the fascination of doing it (expecially some LetraStudio craze crappy results!)

If you know the rules you can do nice things. For example, compressing slightly Gill Sans Bold on the x-axis improves it (I mean around a 95-96%, not more) because it tends to get too wide compared to other weights.

What I found fun as a teenage badboy typographer was working against the structure of a face: if you try to enlarge Helvetica Compressed, Inserat or ExtraCompressed exaggerately on the x-axis the results are unexpected (and rarely used). Same thing doing the opposite with wide and extended faces. Or trying straightening some italics.

Anyway, stretching is exactly what separates a designer from an amateur, and this is good because it helps you spot out the crap at a glance.

The thing I always find *sick* is the distortion of types with circular Os, like Futura or Avant Garde. A luck my Ottomat came out when the stretching craze was well over.
I have not seen it stretched so far.

Typefaces working even if stretched are in general the ones without curves and modulation: I did a very simple typeface way before Ottomat named Boom which you could squeeze and stretch at your pleasure.
It was inspired by John Workman's lettering on comic-books drawn by Walt Simonson in the late 1980s (Thor, Fantastic Four). Of course it worked best if an outline was dropped behind the white type, as a sound effect.

In general, you could even use LetraStudio (or the FreeHand and Illustrator tools) to distort sensences, but you need to adjust very skillfully the handles and vary the width, point size and inclination of each letter. Afterwards, a bit of amnual redesign is required.
In this way it's very much like designing distorted type by hand.

piccic's picture

Rotis stretched to 280%? *Ugh* I could vomit...

BTW Despite its carelessness Carson rarely stretches type. If you look carefully at Ray Gun, behind the chaos there are often quite classical (albeit unconsciously) layouts. I mean in terms of balance, white space, justapositions, etc.

Carson tampers mostly with spacing, which is a different thing. A thing to notice anywyay it's his choice he's always been for good typefaces.

In ray Gun, despite the many hacked fonts, he often chose beautiful classic or modern types, like Perpetua, Joanna, Rotis, for the body text.

In one of his last books (fotografiks) he uses everywhere the beautiful Simona (formerly Arno Nuovo) by John Downer, mixed occasionally with some Franklin Gothic-like type. This book is beautiful because its' most on imagery, not text.

hdschellnack's picture

I recently manually reworked the m of the TheSans Mono for a logo of a firm called crimecompany, as it is a bit too narrow for my taste... I think Luc went for a compromise to have an overall nice width for the monospace, but with TWO m in one word, it felt all wrong, and yet the typeface itself was perfectly right for what I wanted. So I worked direktly with the path and moved some of the nodes horizontically... Which resulted in a VERY controlled kind of stretching a single letter, making the typographic part of the logo more individual while not being some kind of electronic universal stretch without any aesthetic feel for the lettershape. You're right though, there are plenty of books on microtypography that even argue for the controlled stretching of certain fonts as it enhances their look because the digital version is messed up or not true to the original design... Thus, sometimes a microscopic amount of stretching can actually help the typography, just as in many many cases a bit more overall spacing than the design of the font originally has makes for better legibility (RotisSemiSans and UniversLightCondensed spring to mind).

hdschellnack's picture

Rotis stretched to 280%? *Ugh* I could vomit. Yeah, it was one of those logos that makes you wanna go out and hit the guy who did that. Jesus, if folks simply don't know anything about design, why do they do it? Because the computer makes it so easy?=20 Anyway... Carson. I think that Dave is a great, great typographer. He cares very little for actual content, which is a shame, as most of his work has a superficial, masturbatory quality sometimes... but as such it is very artful, very intuitive and his choice of positioning images and type and in the typefaces he uses is often superb. He's often been reduced to the Mr. Dirty Fonts and overkill-design, but many of his works are subtle and clean and just a bit wicked and thinking outside the box and sometimes even downright evil, f***ing with the readers mind in very clever ways. He's sadly become a clich=E9, often and badly = copied and he himself hasn't done too much beyond his own scope, like the ever-great Dave McKean more or less recycling his own ideas sometimes, but in my own humble option Dave was and still is an artist whose work I love just as much as that of Vaughan Oliver or Dirk Rudolph or Bill Cahan... As it still is unique and has grown immensely over the years, so despite the many epigones that have copied it, it still has a lot of merit, I think. I'm quite looking forward to that McLuhan book David is doing...=20


John Hudson's picture

Whn typesetting the Language Culture Type book I had to fake some Cyrillic smallcaps using a font (Georgia) that does not contain them. Thankfully, the proportion of smallcap to x-height I needed to match in the Latin text face (Fenway, also by Matthew Carter) was quite large, so I didn't need to scale down the Georgia Cyrillic caps too much. The book's designer, Maxim Zhukov, spent a long time testing different scaling and mechanical expansion of the Cyrillic caps to match the weight and proportion of the Fenway smallcaps as closely as possible. The result was a lot more successful than I expected.

piccic's picture

for HD Schellnack:

Re: Carson
I realized Carson's sense of balance while studying an old italian book on typographic design. This was refreshing since I was not able to understand why I liked many of his pages and many others not. Carson has improved, but being copied to death and become a fad doesn not help at all (see Neville Brody). It's the same thing T-26 did undermining the professionality of designing letters. Luckily Carlos Segura encouraged also a few notable designers (Fabrizio Schiavi, Gabor Kothay, Matius G. Grieck, Mario Feliciano, Frank Heine). As for the "collections" I don't consider them part of the "library" (Alias, Device, Gravy, Bionic Systems, etc: here T-26 acts more like a distributor).

Re: Dave McKean
I'm a big admirer of Dave McKean since its very beginnings as a comic artist. As he started to use the Mac he's become a fantastic graphic designer. I've bought many DC Comics Vertigo issues just for his cover designs (the Corinthian and The Thessaliad, recently, which are fantastic).
Dave has been able to use Emigre faces st their best, especially the ones of my friend Jon Barnbrook. He used also my Ottomat, once, on a cover of The Sandman's hardcovers, but I've been unable to track it down, since the reprints have different covers. Do you have it, BTW?
Also, I was unaware of David's design work outside of comics covers and interior pages.
I have "Hourglass" which is a sort of portfolio he did (using Tankard's Disturbance, also), but I've never seen any non-comics-related work.
I would be very grateful if you could address me to some of it.

I've seen you're from Essen. Do you know my friend Dirk Uhlenbrock?

For John:

I've seen the Language Culture Book at Amazon and it seems fvery promising. Is it a real must-have? (I ask just because I'm low on cash!)

John Hudson's picture

Re. LCT:

If you're interested in multilingual and non-Latin type, then LCT is certainly worth buying. The second section of the book, showcasing the winners of the bukva:raz! competition shows some good work (and some not so good and a couple of real clunkers) is interesting but not essential. The essays in the first half of the book are the important part.

piccic's picture

Oh! I think it begins to show I'm really interested in any language. It's all happened during last year.
It's just I'm "low on cash"! :-(
Do you think I may find the book in Europe also? (Amazon USA shipping is quite expensive)

hrant's picture


hdschellnack's picture

>>>Carson has sold out.<<<< =20 Carson had sold out some 4 years after he got the Ray Gun gig, if you see it that way. And frankly, I'd done it as well. Being a designer is a job, and being poaid good money for doing exactly what you want to do, only on a bigger budget with bigger clients... There's no shame in that and I don't ever remember Carson being anti-capitalist or something like that. He's in a solid business position now, and for a small freelance designer, that's not someting to be ashamed of. He's still doing solid work, and of course his position, like that of most of us is a compromise between doing what your heart tells you to do and doing what you must do to pay the rent and school for the kids or something like that. I don't feel that David has lost much of his integrity, if he has, then so has Bill Cahan and so have Charles Anderson and Jo Duffy and many other successful designers. Of course, the change from Ray Gun to Pepsi was a MASTER example of the =ABCounter-Culture-to-Over-The-Counter-Culture=BB-process, but that is = true for all independent or alternative form of expression these days. Some small fashion designer has a unique idea, and it effing soo will be stolen by the industry. Carson at least managed not to get robbed too much and come, finally, into a position where making dough and making art might be, for him, at a happy balance.=20

hdschellnack's picture

Claudio, I think that Carson simply has an intuitive sense of design that simply is right. I worked for Dirk Rudolph for some months and I think he has that very same inner magic. Without grid, without any planning at all, he just puts stuff somewhere on the page and it looks right. And after that, when I started to build grids for myself, based on his rough designs, I dound out that he very often was perfectly within a certain kind of grid =96 he just didn't know it, it came from pure intuition. Very cool.=20 ... =20 Dave McKean is one of the reasons why I got into this business. I came across him the first time on the covers of Sandman # 4 and quickly got the backissues and of course anything else he had done before. Although I find his work a bit self-repetetive these days, I'm still a huge fan. You can find much of his work and many links here: His Option Click book is purely photographic montage, his PICTURES THAT Tick is more comics-related but there are some nice non-comic pages that show another side of his work. I hear a new book is coming up that is more design-related again. Of course, the best book so far, imo, is Dust Covers, a collection of his Sandman work, which I still love best, as the bridge between Neils stories and Dave's artwork is just so wonderful and the book is marvelously done, featuring lots of private photographs and some images of his workspace.. Very nice look behind the curtain, here. His use of fonts is a bit... Well, overdone, I think it fits the bombastic majesty of his images very nicely, but it still is very over-the-top. I really liked the fact that Vaughan had used the Sabon in his recent monography... That kind of restraint is maybe something we can use nowadays, after the visual overkill of the 90s, I think there IS a reason why we see more classical typefaces popping up these days even from independent labels like ... =20 You did Ottomat??? Very nice one, didn't recognize your name though, sorry. No wonder you like Frank Heine's work :-). Frank is great and his new typeface Triumph shows again just how effing versatile the guy is. I know his work since RAW and L=F6schblatt, which I begged him to give to = me 10 years back or so.=20 ... =20 Incidentally, I met Dirk Uhlenbrock on Friday for the first time (face to face that is), but knew of him for some time, thanks to Fontomas. Nice guy, nice style, nice company. It felt eery, as so many details mirror my own life (quit the University, small bureau of three folks, with him doing print and Martin the Flash-prog-stuff plus a trainee, identically the same structure I have). I think he does more Illustration, while I'm more into manipulating phtography (well, I AM a Rudolph-fan and cannot seem to get that out of my system at all). We live in the same quartrer of the town and met with some other designers, initially because I mailed him to offer assistance after Knut vanished, but it looks as if things aren't too much out of hand professionally, if not in terms of this very messed-up-situation of loosing your brother. I really dig the MASSIVE j.otto seybold feeling in Dirks work and like many of the things I've seen from him. It was a nice talk, especially with Martin, who =96 like me =96 is a massive comic book fan, and since = he's more into Indie stuff (I'm straight Superhero, more or less), it was very informative and I got a kick out of hearing what independent comic books are worth giving a try. Signalgrau almost feels like a mirror company to what we do at nodesign, so much so that I wonder why one cannot work together more, all these itty bitty design bureaus everywhere, it seems as if we're all making ourselves smaller than we actually are... Anyway, it was very nice to finally have met Dirk and I'm looking forward to doing so again... :-D.=20

hdschellnack's picture

Whoahhh... that Siebel Logo is SO wrong, you could write an essay about it. The big S is to heavy for the rest of the word, as well. Why is there a full stop at the end and why so close to the l. Jesus, why can't some people become landscape gardeners or telephone sanitizers? Jesus...

3% stretching isn't that much, but might destroy a typeface like Sabon or Bodoni completely, delicate as they are. I think they'd fare better with word spacing and letter spacing and such stuff.

Hmm... I just noticed that when I answer via eMail my response looses any kind of formatting and also the umlaute are all wrong... is there any way to format my answers that come via eMail with some HTML or abbreviated HTML-codes? That response to Claudio looks like hell :-D.

Sorry about that,maybe I'll do some more online-answering. But answering via eMail is soooo comfortable :-D.

hdschellnack's picture

There IS one instance, in which I found stretching useful, btw.
Luc(as) Sun-Fonts don't work porpoerly with InDesign (or rather vice versa). If you switch from regular to Small Caps, the text is lost, replaced by a pinkish field and you have to re-enter it. As this lends to typing errors when you ave to re-type stuff and all in all isn't very workflow-friendly when typesetting a larger publication (I use sun for the 28-pages newsletter of the Institut für Kredit- und Finanzwirtschaft), I started to fake my own caps in InDesign. When the regular Text is light, I use the normal weight, decrease the type-size so that the upper-case letters have a bit more than the x-height of the regular sized light-font and then do stretch it a bit. With a bit of spacing, it looks almost identical to what Luc did in the Light Small Caps and the reader won't notice any difference at all. As I noticed that Luc(as) HAD optically stretched the SmallCaps somewhat, I did the same thing. I'd wish, he'd fix that

cph's picture


piccic's picture

HD: I've tracked it down.
McKean used Ottomat in the 1997 Hardcover edition of "Death: the time of your life", in text set in circles. Do you have it? I would like to have a hi-res scan of it.

hrant's picture

HD: please break up your text more, for the sake of readability.

Colin: But it's standard practice! :-/ Just look at USA Today.
But since they're making money, I guess they haven't sold out either...


hdschellnack's picture

>Death: the time of your life
Claudio, as I have almost all comics by Neil in their original single-comic version, I never got the hardcover collection. I have a picture of the softcover edition somewhere in an old notebook, but even on the web I haven't found an image of he hardcover. At Amazon and Barnes they don't have it. I'll see what I can don on various comic boards for you... but why don't you simply write an eMail to Dave. If he uses your fonts, he'll probably be happy to hear from the creator himself and get praised heaped upon himself ... I know I'd flip :-D.

hdschellnack's picture

>HD: please break up your text more, for the
>sake of readability.
Yeah... I use the automatic eMail to answer the posts, and it is comfortable as hell, but does some really weird things with the text. I'll post directly here from now on. Sorry.

piccic's picture

>why don't you simply write an eMail to Dave.

Oh, I don't have Dave's mail. I forgot to ask Jonathan if he has it. Do you have it? If so, please, send me a private mail.
I'd love Dave using my Exegetic (or even Reality). It would fit perfectly on any of his comics/art/whatever.

piccic's picture

The hardcover is this one, anyway (please note the tiny but *essential* use of my Ottomat).
Okay it's not so big in the jpg, but in the book it works fine...Timeofyourlife

(this is out of this thread, sorry!)

piccic's picture

The "E" of dEath is from Elliott Earls' Subluxation, in case you were wondering...

Stephen Coles's picture

Dude, when are you going to stop talking about Patria and finish it?

Joe Pemberton's picture

Back to Lisa's original question.

Here's a good example of what not to do:

Siebel Logo

After working with this client for a while, we discovered
what bothered us about this logo so much. It was created
by stretching Benton Gothic Bold about 150% and then
cutting an angle into some terminals.

Apart from the disparity between the horizontal and vertical
strokes, the worst problems appear in the S and the B,
where the vertical parts of the curves get very thick (and
the horizontals get thinner).

The lesson: if you want a bold extended wordmark, start
with a face that includes a bold extended weight, or take
extra care adjusting those curves.

All in all, I have to agree with Christian and HD Shellnack
about knowing the rules and knowing when to break them.
That's the essence of graphic design.

Changing the subject somewhat:

I've known some designers who get away with stretching or
contracting a face by about 3% to fit the copy better. What
do you think, is this better or worse than adjusting the
letterspacing to get the same result?

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