FontBureau Grades

hrant's picture

There's something I've wondered aloud about for a while now, although
apparently never in the right place; but now that David Berlow seems
to hang out here, this might be my best chance yet:

With the introduction of the Poynter typeface a few years ago, FontBureau
applied the idea of weight "grading", although they graciously credited past
designers for the idea (too much credit deferred, as far as I'm concerned).
The idea is to provide very gentle weight variations to allow fine-tuning,
depending on printing conditions, specifically in terms of gain, which can
happen even within a single newspaper, for example when type is next to
an image or not.

What I'm wondering about is how this idea relates to the "traditional"
scaling of vertical & horizontal proportions within a family of weights,
since the intent is really different here. Most tellingly, at FB itself there
seems to have been a bit of inconstance about this. Here are a couple of
overlays, based on scans from their super specimen book:

Note how the height changes in one, but not the other.
My guess is that -since Bureau came later, and I think
more under the hand of Berlow as opposed to TFJ- the
second attempt was an improvement. But all ears are
tuned to the horse's mouth of course! :-)


Mark Simonson's picture

I don't think it's a bad idea to increase the x-height as a font gets bolder. I noticed a long time ago that some font families are designed this way and I've done it myself on some of mine.

It's one of those typographic optical illusions to compensate for, though it seems less universally done than, say, using the visual center or overshooting curves.

As you make a font bolder, the lowercase will appear smaller relative to the caps, probably because the counters get smaller faster in the lowercase than in the caps as you add weight. If you increase the x-height a little, you can compensate for this. The main drawback is if you want to set two lowercase characters of different weights right next to each other, and they don't line up. For this reason, I think it's up to the type designer to decided whether or not to do it, depending on how the font is expected to be used.

dberlow's picture

Grades started for me with the development of a Playboy Baskerville. There was a man there who wanted the type to look the same regardless of where the flesh lay, so to speak. I.E. they use offset for non-naked people pages and gravure for those rich skin tone we've all come to know and dismiss in favor of reading. When Poynter began, we had lots of discussions about grades and what they meant in execution. If you are combating weight gain or weight loss in the production process you could think to erode or accrete in all directions, including below the baseline. But tests showed this not to be effective. In the end, Tobias and I had two different approaches to x-height but they are not "That" different that either of us went too far, or not far enough. I decided to keep all the heights the same because that ht. makes such a huge impact, he allowed a slight rise...

P.S. after 3-4 months of truly minute changes to PB Baskerville that did not seem to be making the hutch happy, I got a letter that said "I'm sorry to take so long, but I finally realized the fonts are fine, I needed new glasses — Hef"

jay's picture

David, that PS has got to be the funniest thing I've read this week.

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