Tips For Constructing True Italics

TBiddy's picture

I'm a beginner and I'm going to be starting my first true italic font soon. Since the letterforms are drawn differently than a completely vertical roman does anyone have any tips or tricks for constructing the forms digitally?

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hrant's picture

What does the Roman look like?

hhp

TBiddy's picture

Its sans-serif. I don't have it completed yet, and I'm reluctant to post it since I'm still tweaking it.

TBiddy's picture

It will also be for a transportation signage application, so legibility will be a concern (i.e. the "a" will be two-story as opposed to the traditional one-story italic). It is influenced mainly by Frutiger, Gill Sans, and Thesis but more condensed than all of them.

hrant's picture

If the Roman is more "constructed" than chirographic, I would base the italic closely on a slanted form of the Roman. And I wouldn't make a chirographic Roman. :-)

When I use the term "true Italic" (in the way it's generally used in the craft) I always make sure to put the "true" in quotes; sometimes I even slap on "so-called". :-)

The main true thing about an Italic (in a contemporary text face) is that it needs to stand out enough to make the reader snap out of immersion (from the previous fixation only, not before) but affect the "mood" of the overall (i.e. Roman) as little as possible. So-called "true" italics fail at the second part, because you can't assume the emphasized snippet is associated with a more organic, informal tone; you can only assume that it's a snippet that needs extra focus. The one thing Morison was right about (in spite of himself, but certainly helped by his plagiaristic tendencies) is that cursiveness is not integral to an Italic; slant is. The persistent cursiveness of the mainstream Italic is nothing more than a circumstantial legacy, from back when type founders decided to fall back on a shotgun wedding between two separate styles.

You're young, you're just starting - do the right thing.

hhp

Norbert Florendo's picture

Terry,

I didn't want your request for advice to dwindle down.
I think the wording of your forum topic "Tips for Constructing True Italics" is really not your primary concern.

From what I gather from this and other posts you have made is that you do have a deep interest and concern about wayfinding systems, traffic and highway sign legibility/readability, and exploring the development and use of symbols for the above applications.

Never have we in the USA needed more rethinking about the importance of environmental and transportation signage.

The "Baby Boomers" are hitting their 50s-60s in age... eyes and reaction time are just not what they used to be, especially when you're driving you SUV at 80 mph! In addition, there are more non-English speaking/reading individuals on the road and using transportation systems today.

Unless critical information is conveyed with some degree of clarity, on the road, in public transportation, for building information, us old hippies and visitors from other lands are going to cause one hell of a traffic mishap!

So I guess what I'm saying is, you probably are less concerned about "so called" "true" italics than with the critical issue of readability under a myriad of circumstances... right?

You may have read this already:
Vehicle User Characteristics: Research Needs in the New Millennium -- Note: PDF download link.
It's a call to revisit transportation signage by the Committee on Vehicle User Characteristics.

I honestly think that new solutions for environmental/wayfinding systems are way past due, and to me, far more important than a "true cut" italic.

----------------------------------------
Yes, I'm old, and need glasses too!

dezcom's picture

"Yes, I’m old, and need glasses too!"

Norbert,
You can borrow my glasses, they don't seem to work too well for me anymore :-)

ChrisL

mica's picture

Mark Simonson has a short article on his website about fake vs. true italics. There isn't anything about technique, but there's a nice example of the optical corrections that might give you some direction.

TBiddy's picture

"So I guess what I’m saying is, you probably are less concerned about “so called” “true” italics than with the critical issue of readability under a myriad of circumstances… right?"

BTW, Norbert...your signatures always crack me up. For the task at hand, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Though I must add, I do have an interest in understanding the proper craft. The answer is I want to make a "true" (note the parenthesis Hrant :) italic and one that meets legibility standards in an environmental setting.

I want to interject some life and personality to a style of sans-serif face that is often thought of as being "clinical" and "featureless". I think Hrant's advice is what I'm going for: noticable enough to know the information is different, but not too different in style from the roman.

Also, Norbert I believe James (Montalbano) and Don Meeker used a study similar to that (if it actually isn't a study they used) when working on Clearview Highway. True James?

Thanks all for the input thus far.

Norbert Florendo's picture

So, good...
We take the path less travelled and seek enlightenment on the journey.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
Yes, I'm old, but I'm, I,m (sob) I'm all choked up, you guys!

Bert Vanderveen's picture

"Cursiveness is a requirement for italics" is a mite too dogmatic... Italic used to be a different aproach to drawing glyphs, compared to roman, based upon the writing styles of the time (renaissance).
Using an upright orientation for the italic companion to certain roman styles has been attempted and with a certain degree of success too (Van Krimpen comes to mind), so this approach is completely feasible AND more original...
In short, tbiddy, don't let "dogma's" block you from doing your own thing!

William Berkson's picture

Terry, I assume you already know about the Briem web site, but if not here it is. He has a lot of useful insights, including on italics.

hrant's picture

> “Cursiveness is a requirement for italics” is a mite too dogmatic…

Just to be clear: I agree (see above).
In fact, wait: I think it's wrong! :-)

> Using an upright orientation for the italic companion
> to certain roman styles has been attempted and with a
> certain degree of success too

I don't know of any that I myself would call successful. Which makes sense, since the essential feature of an Italic is [visible] slant (although it doesn't have to be the only feature). This is why I think "upright Italic" is a misnomer; "cursive Roman" is much better.

That said, I think there are other ways to mark emphasis than an Italic; personally, I [generally] prefer a Demi weight. It's just that for cursiveness to be sufficient to make a reader snap out of immersion, it has to be so pronounced that it skews the voice of the whole composition strongly, and in an arbitrary direction.

hhp

TBiddy's picture

Here are samples of the style of my Roman. I'm reworking this face now and emphasizing character shapes better my second time around.

http://www.aigadesignjobs.org/public/portfolio_file.asp?user_id=77998&in...

In this example I just used a sloped roman instead of redrawing all the characters.

dan_reynolds's picture

Terry, many humanist faces have italics that are sort of hybrid obliques/true italics.

For instance, Frutiger Next's italics (Frutiger just had obliques). Most of the letters were just obliqued, but "a", "e", "f", "g", and "q" were drawn anew in a much "truer" style. I beleive that Compatil's new italics had some similar sort of story behind them, but I don't know the details. Maybe I'll have more info by TypeCon on that.

__
www.typeoff.de

dezcom's picture

"Yes, I’m old, but I’m, I,m (sob) I’m all choked up,..."

I'm old but I'm spread instead of choked :-)

ChrisL

Mark Simonson's picture

Mark Simonson has a short article on his website about fake vs. true italics. There isn’t anything about technique, but there’s a nice example of the optical corrections that might give you some direction.

I basically used the technique Briem describes (which William mentioned above) for Proxima Nova. I used a similar method that I worked out myself years ago when I did Proxima Sans, but I found Briem's technique to be more straightforward and reliable. I don't mean it's a no-brainer. There are always cases where you need to use your judgement. Also, because Proxima Nova was set up in FontLab as a multi-axis MM font during development, it was considerably more complicated to do the corrections. FontLab's facility for adding and deleting points has some unfortunate limitations when working with a MM font.

It should be noted, this kind of optical correction is necessary when slanting characters so they don't look distorted, but it's a completely separate issue from the design of a set of italics. In the case of Proxima Nova's design, the italics are minimally different from the roman, essentially a slanted version of the roman, except the lowercase "a" which changes to a one-story form.

Rob O. Font's picture

"does anyone have any tips or tricks"

Aside from the argument of terms, and what is Italic, if you are making a sloping style to compliment a non-sloping style, here is the general start to a sans. All ascents and descents, x-heights, cap heights and figure heights stay the same. (that's the good news). The widths are between 92% and 96% of the non-sloping style, the main stems are 94% to 98% of the non-sloping style. The actual percentages you choose are ball-parked by the overall width and weight of the source, but depend ultimately on the eyes in your head. The reason for this is that the sloping of a style makes it wider, and heavier to the eye, and you need to fix that first, before you even slope. After you do, (8-11 degrees according to taste, size of use, and speed of traffic, you have lots of curves and diagonals to correct: curves between 4 and 5 o'clock and 10 and 11, you need to push out, between 1 and 2 o'clock, and 7 and 8 o'clock. pull in. The diagonals fall into two disturbed groups as well. The ones that, in house framing, would have stopped the slope from happening, need to be thinned, those that helped push it over need to be thickened. Then, you have to choose whether you're going to put all the points on extrema, and if so, you have to re-digitize, or if you use the green gem in FL to fix it up for ya, you'll want to make a copy to the mask beforehand, so you can see where that tool fails. Spacing should be about the same as the non-sloping style and you should be ready to proof...

eolson's picture

To add to David's excellent commentary/suggestions...
Working with the "Font Audit" option on while tuning italics can be very handy. It allows you to keep a close eye on the point replacements of extrema by doing them individually if you wish. Better I find than the magical green optimize contour button.

Now for spacing the italics...

Norbert Florendo's picture

David,

that was a remarkable amount of insightful directions/suggestions on creating obliques, all in one, clear, no-nonsense paragraph.

Terry,
I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist putting your sample in the context of a real Subway station. Yes, I know it's South Ferry, but the perspective was almost a perfect match.

It's a very, very decent start and looks more than promising. My only small comment is (and it could be because of perspective) the letter spacing on the italics need to open up a little more. The Roman seems fine, even in perspective, which is probably a more common viewpoint for the commuter.

antiphrasis's picture

Norbert,

Nice work on the photomontage. The new Photoshop CS2 has a new function that makes this kind of stuff a lot easier: Vanishing Point. You can also paste selections in perspective.

antiphrasis's picture

Eric,

I just realized that you're the designer behind Klavika, Locator, Stratum, and other beautiful typefaces! I just love them, and I can't wait to be able to license some of them for future projects.

P.S. Terry, sorry I didn't meant to take over the thread with my ramblings. Love you in the bra! And I'm excited to see how your italics turn out!

William Berkson's picture

Norbert's mock-up made me realize what I felt uneasy about the layout in the sample sign: not enough leading for the size of type. Also I don't know about the pentagon, at least in that orientation. Letters that have two parts-B, S, R, often E, and numbers are smaller at the top. In that orientation the pentagon widens, contradicting the movement of the letters. Maybe a hexagon...

hrant's picture

> Maybe a hexagon…

Hmmm...
Wait, what about two overlapping squares at a 45-degree angle, eh?
Oh, sorry, it's for New York, not Detroit...

hhp

TBiddy's picture

"Norbert’s mock-up made me realize what I felt uneasy about the layout in the sample sign: not enough leading for the size of type. Also I don’t know about the pentagon, at least in that orientation. Maybe a hexagon…"

Believe it or not those elements are actually pretty well thought out. The leading is set to the minimum signage standards based on viewing distance specified in the book "Wayfinding: People, Signs, and Architecture" by Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini. This is not to say that there isn't room for improvement. It should also be taken into account that these signs were made to be viewed on a small platform with the viewer being usually no more than 25 ft from the sign. For Norbert's placement (which is actually a *damn* good idea for sign placement) would mean that I would have to both increase the point size of the type and the leading.

As for the shape...it wasn't an arbitrary decision. What makes New York unique? It consists of 5 boroughs. The MTA operates in all 5 boroughs. Thus a 5 sided shape (pentagon) and not a circle. Since it was my thesis project, I could get a little more theoretical with the approach. I also changed the shape to solidify a firm identity within the system. There is a constant repetition of the pentagon shape in my plans. I also have a borough/station identification system that makes use of the shape. It was an attempt to tie symbols with the type for quick, clear understanding. Alas, I'm sure a lot of people are going to think that's a load of hooey, so I'm flexible in the shape eventually changing.

TBiddy's picture

I added a Station ID image to the topic heading to show what I'm talking about. Some of the glyphs for my roman face are based on calligraphic letterforms.

parker's picture

...if you are making a sloping style to compliment a non-sloping style, here is the general start to a sans."

what about serif? the same?

Rob O. Font's picture

"what about serif? the same?"

Sans is a subset of serif, with the design of the serifs and terminals themselves, topological differences between l.c. forms, and more subleties in angle variation pose additional challenges. Depending on the classification of the face, there can be a whole degree more in the slope of the l.c. than the caps. And in general it's a lot harder to design a serif italic, but this is coming with freedom from the rather rigid constraints of sloped sans, where going bonkers on the shapes of lowercase usually ends up with grinning type suitable only for bubblegum wrappers and packaging for paper products.

TBiddy's picture

Just wanted to say thank you to all for the useful advice.

"Also, because Proxima Nova was set up in FontLab as a multi-axis MM font during development, it was considerably more complicated to do the corrections."

Yikes...Mark, this worries me. I'm taking your workshop on Wednesday so hopefully I'll be able to talk to you more about this next week.

"Love you in the bra!"
Thanks, Lauri. I custom made it myself! :)

David, whoa...I'm going to have to paste that paragraph next to my computer. :)

Norbert, I LOVED that rendering. I probably should actually take that step if I were to show my signs during a presentation.

William, I'm criticizing my post after your questioning of the pentagon. Re-reading my post it comes off a bit "arrogant" or "defensive" which wasn't my intent. If you or anyone else was offended, I apologize. Criticism is always welcome.

William Berkson's picture

Terry, your response was fine by me. I just didn't follow up because I didn't want to drag the thread off topic, which my off-topic post threatened to do. Thanks for getting the great technical stuff from those who know!

Tina, I think when David wrote 'this is the good news' about sans italics he was implying that you don't get that good news with seriffed faces. In some classic seriffed fonts, the italic ascender and x-heights and cap heights can all vary from the roman, and angles of different stems vary etc. So you have a lot more freedom and a lot more problems!

hrant's picture

David, very gracious of you - thank you.

> The widths are between 92% and 96% of the non-sloping style,
> the main stems are 94% to 98% of the non-sloping style.

Just to be clear: for the second part, you mean an additional "94% to 98%" (after the narrowing in the first part), right? Otherwise the Italic would end up darker instead of lighter, no?

> there can be a whole degree more in the slope of the l.c. than the caps.

In the "most classic" Armenian face, there's actually a difference of 3 degrees! I personally don't like that though - what's the point? Was it maybe to reduce kerning (in the metal days)?

William:
> the italic ascender and x-heights and cap heights can all vary from the roman

In fact I've heard said (most recently by M Carter during the type crit session at TC2004) that you need to reduce the x-height and/or the extenders because slanting increases the apparent length (in fact the physical length) of the stems (in fact the whole letterform). In Patria I've reduced the x-height a hair (admittedly prompting Luc[as] de Groot to critically ask me "Why?" in Rome) but that was actually just to make it more "delicate" than the Roman, to pull it away (especially needed I think considering my Italic's Roman structures and slight slant).

hhp

Thomas Phinney's picture

Now that's something I should do a talk or workshop on: issues in working with multiple master design spaces. I did my Master's thesis in that area, and then later learned how to work with an inside-out master to maximize usable design space....

T

Nick Shinn's picture

Terry, take something like futura or helvetica (or something more similar to your face) and skew the roman by the same angle as its italic.

Then paste the italic path in the template/mask layer and see what kind of bezier wrangling is necessary to get the roman, in the top layer, to conform to what's underneath.

That way you will get a feel for what's involved. Either use transformations, or handle dragging, or a combination, whatever works for you.

For instance, you will find that the round parts of sans italics are not skewed as much as the straight are. (Measuring skew angle between top and bottom extrema in the cap O for instance.)

dezcom's picture

"Now that’s something I should do a talk or workshop on: issues in working with multiple master design . . ."

Thomas,
Please do! Perhaps a preview at TypeCon next week? (he says hopefully)

ChrisL

Rob O. Font's picture

"In the “most classic” Armenian face, there’s actually a difference of 3 degrees! "
I know, I know, but Armenia's a mountainous place, everything I said applied to italics at sea level.

dezcom's picture

"I know, I know, but Armenia’s a mountainous place, everything I said applied to italics at sea level."

LOL!!! That puts a new slant on geography AND typography :-)

ChrisL

Norbert Florendo's picture

This just caught my eye:
MASSPORT (Massachusetts Port Authority) is currently in the process of awarding a $14,000,000. to the consulting firm that wins the Logan Airport Wayfinding System RFQ L613-D3. By law, all municipal, state and federal projects must publicly post open contracts and RFQs.

Current runners up for the award:
- Carter & Burgess, Inc.
- STV Incorporated
- URS Corporation

I will post the name of the firm that gets the contract. If anyone is interested in airport wayfinding, you might want to contact the winner.
-------------------------------
Terry – FYI

Here’s a link to the open professional bids for San Francisco municipal projects. Earlier there was a contract up for renewal on food concession wayfinding system at the airport ($400,000.).

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