Typography influenced by it's medium

nic_mulvaney's picture

Hi there.

I'm currently completing a dissertation on typography and how it has been influenced though it's different mediums.

I was wondering if anybody has any good stories or things i should research on this. At the moment, these are some of the things i have talked about..

Matthew Carter. and how the screen demanded rethinking for typography. (Focussed on Verdana, Georgia) and Bell Centennial for the phone books.
Does anybody know how i can contact Matthew Carter?
Zuzana Licko - 'Matrix' for printers, lo-res etc.. the influence of the macintosh, Susan Kare

...Movable metal type, Road signage, electronic signage, car number plates, typewriters, outline hinting methods, bitmap methods, printing techniques, cleartype, html..

Has anybody here designed typefaces using any strict restrictions, or had to design type for unusal mediums? If so it would be great if i could ask you a few questions about your designs.

Many thanks
Nic Mulvaney

eomine's picture

IIRC, there are a few words about this subject on Typoteque's Fedra specimen. Bil'ak mentions Matthew Carter's Charter typeface (like Licko's Matrix, it has straight serifs for 'digital economy', too. See also Haley's 'Hot Designers Make Cool Fonts').
Speaking of Carter, and Bell Centenniall, this PDF is an interesting article, available through Andrew Boag's website.

kentlew's picture

Contact James Montalbano about his Clearview design for highway systems. He frequents these forums. His website is at www.terminaldesign.com.

I'll e-mail you off-list with Matthew's contact info.

-- K.

eomine's picture

The Bil'ak article is available online, at Typoteque, here.
And, BTW, Martin Majoor designed the typeface used in
the Dutch phone books (see PDF article at Adobe).

nic_mulvaney's picture

Wow, thanks for the quick responses.

Some great links here, this is very helpful indeed :-)

Much appreciated !

John Hudson's picture

One area you might look at is type design for burned subtitles. This is a technology that uses a laser to burn text onto film, and the laser has to keep moving or you get blobs. A very difficult medium for which to design. If you are interested, I can put you in touch with Thomas Milo at DecoType in the Netherlands, who has addressed the very tricky business of making Arabic type for this technology.

Nick Shinn's picture

When I designed Beaufort, one of its defining features was very sharp serifs. That seemed like a neat idea at the time, something new I could do with PostScript.

In retrospect, the observation arose: nearly all typefaces designed in the digital era could be made using prior technology.

Relatedly, Zuzana Licko had commented, re Oblong, that reductionists of the early modern (eg Bauhaus) era could have made similar designs, but it wouldn't have occured to them.


One of the biggest revolutions in typography happened in the early 19th century, when commercial "jobbing" typography (eg handbills) took off, and new genres such as fat face, shaded, 3d, Egyptian etc emerged. Prior to that typography was bookish and conservative. Pardon the sweeping generalizations!

There are a few paragraphs in Typographia (Hansard, 1825?) where he alludes to this, eg p. 355.

Nick Shinn's picture


There were a few "Typositor strip" ultralights (eg Lightline Gothic), but the present growth in this genre is due to (a) being able to inspect working files at large magnification on monitors, (b) the fact that there is little degradation of image between font and printed job. (In comparison phototype was reproduced 6 or 7 times during the production process.)
and (c) It's really easy to make an ultralight font -- just draw a path and apply a stroke value.


Perhaps the earliest digital ultralight was Helvetica, but Font Bureau were pioneers in this area. Also check out Luc de Groot's new Hairline. Well, we all get older :-)

hrant's picture

Check out:
1) Stencil lettering.
2) Greek lapidary inscriptions.

And some tooting:
1) A long time ago (my first font projects) I made 8x8 bitmap fonts for Armenian and Arabic.
2) I'm currently finishing Mana, a 16 PPEM bitmap font that uses two grays in addition to black and white. It requires a very special way of looking at pixels to get right. Here's the "5":



nic_mulvaney's picture

Eduardo Thanks for the links - The Typoteque article is great, kinda sums up nice viewpoint.

Hrant, I have looked into stencil lettering, but couldn't find much research on it. I suppose it stems from the army and the most convenient way of labeling. Now that it has become an army brand, do the army use a stencil style digital font to print material?

Question time...

For Mana, are you using a seperate font containing only the anti-aliasing, to overlay the original?

The way that some flash fonts now have a technique for tuned anti-aliasing is quite interesting.

Do you think anti-aliasing will always be a user end thing? or do you think this can be developed into the font platform and controlled by the fontographer? or will greater resolution technology catch up before its viable developing further?

What were some of the restrictions when designing your Armenian and Arabic fonts? I'm not familier with Armenian, but with reference to Maral what were your influences and limitations?

On the topic of anti-aliasing, have you seen Firework MX 2004, with its System and Custom Anti-Aliasing Whadda ya think? I've played with it a bit, but can't get it as sharp as i would like. It also adjusts the kerning if you anti-alias too heavy.


hrant's picture

For stencil lettering, check out Eric Kindel (like in Baseline magazine).

Mana will be released as an outline font that renders the intended grayscale bitmaps when set at 16 PPEM only. I'll be making a 13 PPEM version of Mana too, and then a fat little 8 PPEM design called Pantagruel.

Anti-aliasing (the hand-made stuff) yields a large jump in quality. The only real issue with it is gamma differences between platforms: you have to make different versions of the font. As for higher-res screens, I'll take those seriously when they finally show up en masse...

For small Armenian bitmap fonts, the main issue is getting the floating punctuation not to look disasterous. As for Arabic, it really needs a lot of vertical room: 8 pixels (one of which is the talus - internal leading) forced huge structural compromises.

The new Flash features seem great, but they're still only as good as the fonts. And the fonts (especially on MacOS) are too blurry when anti-aliased mechanically. You'll never get a "5" like that.


hrant's picture

> http://www.shinntype.com/Assets/Depts/Essays/SeeLight.pdf

The lightest font I can think of is Newlyn's Missionary. I used to think it was lousy, never realizing that even the Emigre catalog couldn't do it justice. Then I saw it in a Conde Naste travel magazine at like 500 point: its beauty hit me like a 747. And what makes it doubly amazing is that it's actually based on OCR-A!!


kentlew's picture

The 1923 ATF specimen shows four sizes of a typeface called Light Litho Gothic. All four sizes are cast on a 6 point body and the stem weight is less than a quarter point -- lighter even than Lightline Gothic. This sort of thing was only possible in metal after the development of the Benton pantographic punchcutter.

-- K.

nic_mulvaney's picture

Thanks Hrant, Kent, John, Nick, Eduardo

I've been looking for the subtitle burning thing, but can't find anything related, most of the stuff i find is related to dvd.

All the links have been very useful. My room is covered with printed articles all over the floor.

nic_mulvaney's picture

Thanks Joseph, Stephen

How were the letters in the BVG cut?

Does anyone know a link where you can re-arrange elements of the letters in a numberplate (I think it was german) I remember it a few years ago.

nic_mulvaney's picture

That's the one. :-)

Thanks Hrant

hrant's picture

But it's a "mess" in such a wonderful way.
It's not made for appreciation by graphic designers, after all.


nic_mulvaney's picture

I'm still not convinced if 'FE' does it's job. Reading that because all characters are so different it's hard to tell if they are the right ones at all. It's a great attempt, but i can't see it hard to forge.

Another spoiling aspect is that it has been copied HERE. So now with digital technology it is easily reproduced.

<< ooh, looky that's me

nic_mulvaney's picture

Re: Compare that O to the 0.

Up close there is a difference but at speeds from a distance i think i would wouldn't tell.

Sure i will let your read it when it's done. If I'm happy with it i will make it into a website.

eolson's picture

Joe -
Smeijers continues on from Counterpunch
in his new one Type Now. It's nothing like
Counterpunch - more general and also a
collection of his work. Which, amongst a few
dozen never seen before typefaces, includes
his screen work for Philips. A must have. It
can be ordered from overseas right now.

Stephen Coles's picture

Joe Clark is a subtitle freak. He might be a good source on that front.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Erik Spiekermann once described how the rounded corners of a custom face for the Berlin transportation system saved them truckloads of production time. (I can't recall how much time or even the name of the font, but I remember it helped the transportation people meet their deadline.)

Essentially, the letters were to be cut out of vinyl sheets. Each individual cut for a given glyph would take time to setup and make. By designing rounded corners most glyphs could be reduced to one or two cuts. (A v, for example, with square terminals would take 6 cuts. With rounded terminals and corners it would only require a single cut. The characters with counters or dots would require only 2 or 3 cuts.)

Sorry if I don't have all the facts in tidy order, but that's the gist of it. You can see a photo here. Note, the BVG is the face in question. The other faces in the family do not all have rounded corners.

A font for Qualcomm's Brew platform (a mobile device operating system) are represented in a single bitmap. A wider font requires a larger bitmap -- larger in dimensions and thus file size. The speed of the interface is directly tied to how big the font is and therefore, how wide the actual alphabet is. So, while a wider font may be more readable on these devices, one has to consider the trade offs to make so that the interface speed is acceptible.

(Jared worked on the project. Jared, do you recall if this was the Brew platform as a whole or for specific devices only?)

Joe Pemberton's picture

Not a specific example, but Smeijers has something to say about it. In the final chapter(s) of Counterpunch he includes a call to designers to embrace the particular challenges brought by new technologies. I would add; if it's not type designers who take on these problems, the engineers/technologists surely will. =)

Joe Pemberton's picture

I imagine like most vinyl signs are cut: by a programmed
swing-arm device affixed with a blade or a laser.

(I was hoping I could find an excuse to mention the
pantographic arm we saw at TypeCon, but I can't. =)

Re: the EU license plate fonts.
There are some pieces of that face that are pretty cool, but
altogether it's a mess. See another German EU numberplate.
Compare that O to the 0.

Oh, and you'll have to let us read your dissertation when it's
done. Or at least the PowerPoint. =)

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