How much of a font do *you* draw out by hand.

blank's picture

I know that most font designers start their designs with sketches of varying levels of detail and quality. But do type designers draw out entire alphabets, or just the draw key characters and the design elements that give a font personality, and then use the computer to build up the rest?

FeeltheKern's picture

As another aspiring type designer, I can say for certain one thing I've figured out: there's no magic formula to creating a great typeface, and everyone has their own method. Of course, the one I use, and which I think is quite typical, is to draw out the UC and lc of "hamburgefonstiv" (there are lots of similar words, like "handgloves"), to define all the basic rules of the typeface. I scan these in, trace them in FontLab, and then work entirely digitally from there. Translating the essence of your sketch to bezier curves is probably the hardest thing to do as a type designer, at least in my opinion.

If I could be a fly on the wall and copy Jonathon Hoefler's or Matthew Carter's working process, I'm not sure it would improve my type design skills at all. Unfortunately, the only way to design an amazing typeface is to design a bunch of crappy ones and figure out what doesn't work. I have been happy with the concepts of all my typefaces, but I don't think I've made one yet that succeeds aesthetically -- each new one does get better, though.

.00's picture

Use the computer to build the rest?

Huh?

blank's picture

Huh?

I was referring to constructing letters from a series of similar parts and then making adjustments to the individual letters.

HaleyFiege's picture

Yeah I usually draw about half and use the computer for the rest. I think really it depends on the style of the font though. For me I would think a script would require a higher number of sketches than say a sans serif.

dezcom's picture

I do damn little drawing by pencil/pen if any and just go straight to a blank FontLab screen and draw it the bezier way.

ChrisL

Nick Shinn's picture

I draw by hand with FontLab's vector tools, by way of Wacom.

I occasionally sketch, but only to work out an idea, not for use as artwork that will be scanned.

Right Haley, I am considering doing a handwriting font, so that would be *written* and scanned. But not drawn!

James Arboghast's picture

Like Nick I sketch ideas on paper with a gel pen or similar writing instrument, but they're only ideas, not plans for typefaces. Producing a font is a construction process; I draw each glyph in detail in Fontlab with its excellent drawing tools and sometimes with a tablet for spontenaity. For most fonts I don't do any sketching on paper. I visualize what I am going to draw in my mind.

Unless you are making a script or handwriting font, scanning drawings on paper---no matter how neat you manage to make the drawings---is a cumbersome and unneccessary way to transfer material from paper to Fontlab. Scanning a sketch then cleaning up the bitmap and importing it into Fontlab, then drawing over the top of the bitmap used as a mask, and perfecting the vector drawing---all that is a time-consuming hassle. I find it easier to tape the sketch to the shadow mask of the monitor and simply reproduce digitally what I see in the glyph window, drawing it by eye. That method has improved my bezier drawing skills lots.

j a m e s

Andy Martin's picture

I prefer to use pen/pencil and paper to get ideas out. Otherwise I think I'd be sitting staring at blank screen for quite some time. The Script font I'm working on has taken a considerable number of attempts with pen and ink to obtain the desired characteristics for each letter. As Nick says this is written as opposed to drawing.

I tend to work my scans up into vectors by way of Illustrator, then into Fontlab. I personally find it quicker that way.

.00's picture

I was referring to constructing letters from a series of similar parts and then making adjustments to the individual letters.

But you would use this technique regardless of the tools used. That is what type design is. No?

I remember doing some work with Ed Benguiat years ago. We were developing a corporate font for a cosmetics company. Ed did the drawings and I did all the digitizing. Ed had such a dismissive attitude towards the computer tools. He said he felt he could do a better job drawing by hand and try as I did, I could not get him to try working with bezier tools. I had to laugh, since the way Ed had worked for years was the analog equivalent of the same technique. Ed would draw basic shapes and have them shot onto film. He would then cut the film up and strip the elements together. Have another film shot and retouch the results. This shooting of film positives and film negatives went on until he was happy with the results.

Same technique, different tools.

k.l.'s picture

I wish I knew what the original question aims at.
If you have some experience in designing typefaces -- you know how letterforms are 'constructed', know about different types of contrast, etc -- then you may need only few or no written or drawn sketches and derive the rest digitally. (Mind that answers in this direction came from experienced type designers!)
If you are still new to type design, then you better take a lot of time, sit down at your desk with pens and pencils, and write and draw so you get a feeling for letterforms. And then scan, trace, and refine the outlines. You will notice that switching the medium in this process will raise questions you would not have encountered otherwise. (Things like: Corners seem to be rounded after scanning the drawings -- do I keep them rounded, or do I transform them into corners? I need to make a decision. This is very different from doing corners right from the start and never thinking about an alternative.) This is a slow process and may seem odd, but may help to not repeat existing typefaces which almost naturally happens if digital type is inspired by other digital type.

And please ... even though we ship typefaces as fonts, we are type designers, not font designers. (Trying hard to imagine you 'designing' a font directly in TTX.)

Stephen Coles's picture

Great story, James!

> even though we ship typefaces as fonts, we are type designers, not font designers

I like Nick Sherman's analogy: it's like calling songwriters "mp3 writers".

Nick Shinn's picture

You mean tunesmiths?
I'm surprised, working in foundries as we do, that we aren't called fontsmiths.
Well, actually, there is this bloke named Jason...

AGL's picture

Hi all,

Shinn says it all.
It was a long time ago I have used a french curve to draw... Most of what I do now is done in the computer. Even the sketchs. Is there a rule?

How about "print and scan". The curve is autotrace. For example: I have a "Modern Italic N.o 20" and it is a body six. I hand typeset it and print and scan the proof. Then retouch the thing in psd - may take a week to get it read to cast.

The adventures of the small printer to get a font!

Cheers

AGL's picture

Shinn,

Is there someone making real metal mats around?

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry, I haven't a clue.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

James, to get back to your original question, with my early attempts I drew a lot of the characters by hand and then went to the computer... Later I wised up and started drawing only a few key characters by hand, as others have already mentioned, before switching to digital tools.

Even then, when I go to the computer first I draw the characters needed to spell "hamburgerfonts" ("hamburgerfontivs" and "handgloves" are other alternatives), in upper case as well as lower case, before I draw any others.

blank's picture

Thanks for all the answers. I have been experimenting with all sorts of process methods with my fonts; my own experience and this thread have really confirmed my feelings that paper just doesn’t translate to a digital font well enough to justify spending a whole lot of time at the drawing board.

Goran Soderstrom's picture

I draw by hand directly on a computer and do the spacing at the same time as I draw the character. Since the result is going to end up as beziercurves I feel it is so much better to do these right away instead of trying them out on paper first.

Nick Cooke's picture

A mouse or a digital pen are the same as a graphite pencil if you know how to use them.

Nick Cooke

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

paper just doesn’t translate to a digital font well enough to justify spending a whole lot of time at the drawing board

Well, I wasn't saying that... If I were making a script face, or something that needs to look hand-drawn, I might very well draw everything by hand and then scan it in...

[EDIT] ...or I might use a digital pen, as Nick says.

FeeltheKern's picture

I'm interested in what order more experienced type designers go about designing their letters. Do you start with h? o? Capital R? Maybe a more unusual character?

Stephen Rapp's picture

Since I work mostly as a lettering artist for greeting cards, I typically do casual scripts fonts. I'm not as used to drawing from scratch with bezier tools, so I import most of my letters from Photoshop files that are pretty closed to finished. I usually end up doing most of my letters by hand first, but at some point I copy and tweak things in FontLab to get some additional glyphs.

Stephen Rapp

Andy Martin's picture

I have to admit I do actually enjoy the feel of pen on paper as opposed to stylus on tablet, maybe that's the old artist in me trying to claw it's way back. Plus it's a quick way to jot ideas down and it gets me away from the computer for a while, which I need from time to time.

.00's picture

I’m interested in what order more experienced type designers go about designing their letters. Do you start with h? o? Capital R? Maybe a more unusual character?

If you really think about it, the answer should present itself to you. Typeface design is system design. What are the most useful elements in the system? The repetitive ones that influence the majority of shapes. One would hope that you would make a decision regarding those shapes before you got to far along.

FeeltheKern's picture

If you really think about it, the answer should present itself to you. Typeface design is system design. What are the most useful elements in the system? The repetitive ones that influence the majority of shapes. One would hope that you would make a decision regarding those shapes before you got to far along.

I usually start with h, then a-m-b-u-r-g-e-f-o-n-s-t-i-v in sequential order, followed by the caps version of that. I've sometimes wondered if it might make more sense to work with the unruly characters -- s, uppercase N, x, for example -- and then build the rest of the letters around those. Letters like these are difficult to fit into rule systems, and look overworked and massaged when they are, so maybe it makes more sense to let these letters set the rules.

blank's picture

Letters like these are difficult to fit into rule systems, and look overworked and massaged when they are, so maybe it makes more sense to let these letters set the rules.

I’ve had some similar thoughts recently, mostly because I’ve been learning what a PITA it is to draw a good sans W.The cap N is another nasty one—I just redrew most of the majuscules in my thesis font because the widths I had been working with produced a hideous M. It’s funny how one can trap out a bunch of too-narrow letters and somehow make them work, but once the N comes up all the crap falls apart and it’s time to start over.

William Berkson's picture

>I’ve had some similar thoughts recently

James P., James M. is very experienced, and in my much more limited experience I think he has his priorities right. I would not let the cap M change the whole font. If you've got a good design idea, and OoHn right in accord with the idea, and interactively adjust those with aeg, and all is still good, then you've basically got a good font design. The diagonal letters are challenging, but they've been solved a lot of ways in the past, and its just up to you to make them work, given the rest of the font.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't interactively massage everything as you go on, but as far as setting the look of the font the 'control letters' are generally the approach of experienced designers. For example, Erik Spiekermann basically drew only these for Meta Serif, and then asked Christian Schwartz to do the rest. Schwartz and Kris Sowersby did the rest, but just those few letters (which admittedly he took years to figure out, and finally only in discussion with Schwartz) are still maybe 50% of the new design ideas, though a small fraction of the many, many hours of work.

blank's picture

William, you’re right, but there’s a big difference between the mistakes Messrs. Spiekermann and Montalbano might make and some of the really dumb stuff I do. They’ve been at it long enough to draw the important characters and know that they’ll work well with the rest of the alphabet; I’m working on fonts 2 and 3 and just beginning to get the hang of this stuff.

William Berkson's picture

James, you have a point. Something I have found helpful is to compare what I am doing with two or three fonts of different design I have open at the same time--ones that I admire as being well done. And if you are having trouble with a letter, look at it in ten different fonts--in context with other related characters in all the fonts.

dezcom's picture

"I’ve sometimes wondered if it might make more sense to work with the unruly characters"

I have done that but not with the same set of "unrulies" as you mention. I think you first have to figure out what your intention is for the typeface. If it is a text face, the lowercase will probably dominate your decisions. You also have to work out the text density and efficiency ratio desired so you can determine x-height to cap height ratio. Testing problem children like double-bowl g and a with o and n to figure out weight can be enlightening learning experience. I am not saying this is a suggested way to approach a design, I am just saying I have started several typefaces in different ways and learned different things each time. My reasoning is not to find the most efficient way straight off but to learn as much as I can about the design process by doing lots of "what if" scenarios. My warning would read something like: "Stunt performed by self-trained type designer. Don't try this at home, unless you are more interested in learning than finishing quickly"

ChrisL

inde's picture

i will agree with FeeltheKern, i had designed one typeface some time ago and i was not satisfied with the result, afterwards i tryed out to make a new one, i used a lot of new elements and a lot of the elements of the previous font, the next font came out to be a great font and much appreciated (advent font). What i can say is that its all bout "reading" the wave, see what people need and project the design lines of the age, i dont disagree with the design of "old" typefaces fut i say we live in the future!.

dezcom's picture

"I’ve been learning what a PITA it is to draw a good sans W"

Drawing a sans may sound easier than a serif face but I don't believe it. Both have their challenges and, to me, are equally difficult. With a serif face, the contrast difference gives you some wiggle room and the serifs fill in the holes for you. With a more monoline sans, the weight can clog up really quickly with a double-bowled "g" or a "w". To make a sans look simple and clean is far from simple.

ChrisL

kris's picture

William—where did you hear/read this:

"For example, Erik Spiekermann basically drew only these for Meta Serif, and then asked Christian Schwartz to do the rest. Schwartz and Kris Sowersby did the rest, but just those few letters (which admittedly he took years to figure out, and finally only in discussion with Schwartz) are still maybe 50% of the new design ideas, though a small fraction of the many, many hours of work."

?

James—how much of a font do *I* draw out by hand? About 0.5%. Is that useful?

—K

William Berkson's picture

Kris, that was based on what I read on 'Unzipped', where there are some trial drawings by Spiekermann from 2001, on Typophile, on the FontFont site, etc. I'm sorry if I got it wrong. Please correct me!

Nice account of your Newzald on "I love typography".

kris's picture

William, all it says on the Unzipped thread is In Erik’s own words: ‘I kept sketching it, but it sucked.’ He didn't give Christian any sketches, but they have worked together on many projects already. Christian understands what Erik likes and Erik knows how to describe things to Christian. So to answer James's question—it's possible to design a typeface not by drawing on paper, or in FL, but by talking.

—K

William Berkson's picture

Thanks, Kris. I should have re-read the Unzipped Thread rather than relying on memory. I guess I was remembering this: "Initially Erik may make sketches or send rough files, but sometimes they just sit together and look at other stuff to say ‘a bit like this, and a little like that, but not quite like that." I also remembered the sketches, and my memory put two and two together wrongly. As you say the thread makes clear that Christian and you were more active in the design at the idea stage, and then there were significant changes while drawing.

Nick Shinn's picture

—it’s possible to design a typeface not by drawing on paper, or in FL, but by talking.

If a client, say a magazine art director, had commissioned the face, and said "I want something that's a bit like Meta, with serifs", and provided verbal direction during the development process, would you credit them as the designer?

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Link to Kris’ account of creating Newzald:
http://ilovetypography.com/2008/03/12/newzald-moleskine-to-market/
Very informative.

Nick, that would be like a movie credit:
Written by Suchandso, based upon a play by Thisandthat, based upon a book by Anotherguy, based upon an original idea by Geniusfellow.
Good ideas have many creators (designers).

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

kris's picture

William—no worries mate! I had a feeling you'd accidentally mixed up you sources.

Nick—is that a rhetorical question?

Bert—thanks!

—K

dezcom's picture

"If a client, say a magazine art director, had commissioned the face, and said “I want something that’s a bit like Meta, with serifs”, and provided verbal direction during the development process, would you credit them as the designer?"

Perhaps I would if they had also been the designer of Meta.

ChrisL

crossgrove's picture

To answer the original question: "It Depends"...If I am doing something very much based on handwriting or rough calligraphy, there will be lots more time drawing, or even writing, and much less time fiddling onscreen. There might be a big scanning/autotrace session in there too. For other more modular or mechanical designs there might be very little drawing and considerably more cutting and pasting. Many designs can't really be resolved without extensive proofing, now best done in the digitized state. So drawings might just be sketches that get digitized immediately.

Key characters do help you get the "DNA" as Matthew Carter has said in the Helvetica film. HOnh to start with for contrast and other basic things like bowl shape, serif length, x-height to cap ratio, etc. Then the letters that combine those: Db. Get the spacing of all these right and you're on your way. Add other letters that give more character and style info like ABEGRSabegv. Many of us have rushed to finish the whole alphabets, then the figures, then the italic, then then then, only to look at the original efforts months later and realize it was all garbage and has to be re-done from scratch. This is "measure twice, cut once", applied to type design.

James, I'm not sure how much it will help you to know the answer to this; everyone works a different way, and it's really the results that matter. There are terrible designs with hundreds of hours of fussy handcrafting, and wonderful designs that are almost just autotraced sketches. Each designer might use a dozen different techniques. If your technique shows, or you aren't in control of the tools, that will weaken the design. This is why some people stick to certain methods. But as you can see, there is a huge range of strategies, from telling someone else what you want, all the way to carefully hand-drawing every character at 500 point and specifying digitization points. Some people don't even do digital outline work themselves; they draw and have others digitize. Again, it's the results that matter.

Caveat: I think a weak and flawed strategy is taking someone else's finished outlines and trying to modify them enough to call it original. Very few designers are capable of this; too often the telltale essential structure remains. For that matter, how many skilled designers would take this route, knowing the limited benefit it will bring? I don't necessarily make the same decisions about point placement or anything else that another designer would, so I find this a useless method. It's somewhere between "homage" and "knockoff".

Nick Shinn's picture

—is that a rhetorical question?

Not really, I don't think there's a simple answer.
I've been in the position I described, and had the good fortune to be able to call the result my own face, rather than that of the person who commissioned it and gave it direction and personality, by the power of speech alone. But the face was not an adaptation, so I had more claim on authorship.
I would be interested in your opinion.

Carl, well put, I'm with you most of the way on that.

One thing I do note is that design themes in different typefaces may be best represented (or thorniest) in different groups of characters, so those are the characters you want to refine the theme on first. So for one face, much might depend on the way r and a fit together, whereas for another with interesting curves, it wouldn't be a good idea to leave binocular g till the end. This follows on from Carl's observation of how some letters tell you more about spacing, others about style, with some faces being predicated more on style, others more on spacing.

crossgrove's picture

Right. Besides what Nick points out, we all know that certain shapes are just more fun to work on than others. They give character. It's hard to do the dry stuff first, and in certain cases it really is filler, or mechanical finish work. In some designs, the letter shapes don't need a lot of anguished finessing, it's spacing, or the joining scheme, or the terminal shapes that take all your time.

I ought to have said this in parallel with my other comments: Every typeface is different. Combine that with the different methods and backgrounds of type designers and you have potentially unlimited new challenges, no matter how much experience you have. Every design I work on has something new to show me. And if I'm extending the character set of another designer's work, my decisions are influenced by that. So many variables!

kris's picture

Nick—If a client, say a magazine art director, had commissioned the face, and said “I want something that’s a bit like Meta, with serifs”, and provided verbal direction during the development process, would you credit them as the designer?…I would be interested in your opinion.

It depends. I prefer to put "under direction from…" if that is truly the case. But Meta Serif was different as the direction came direct from Erik, the designer of Meta. It was verbal, sure, but it was more that enough!

—K

david h's picture

> If a client, say a magazine art director, had commissioned.....

.....an illustration? Who's the illustrator — the art director? the artist -illustrator?

------------------

and read this

Stefan Seifert's picture

Dear James,

I have drawn typefaces by hand in my beginning years.
Than I spent much time digitalizing analog typefaces (i.e. from hotmetal)
Nowadays I do not use handdrawn sketches at all.
I am designing exclusively on monitor for my own faces
passing from FontStudio to FontLab now.

best wishes
Stefan

Quincunx's picture

The few typedesigns I have done up till now, all started on paper. Drawing the characters -- usually the whole alphabet, or most of it -- works much faster for me. I can quickly sketch out ideas, and then draw a more tidy version of it to scan and trace. I guess I could start directly with vectors, but it doesn't really work for me, because I can draw curves more naturally by hand.

So for me drawing it first is faster, more spontaneous, but I also just like drawing type! :)

Stefan Seifert's picture

Hi Jelma!

I do not quite agree with the thing you said about spontaneity. I think the truth lies on the contrary.
At least in my eyes. I can do the basics of a new design idea throughout an our or two (although it depends
much on how inspiration is flowing) and then I work it over on monitor.
The problem with the Beziérs (I believe) is that they really do not work good with analog form, i.e. interpreting
it. So, too much painstaking work has to be done in that process and in the end it always weakens type in its
idea and forms somehow - makes it become/look digital.
So I abbandoned (wrong spelling sorry;-) designing by hand completely although I love it definitely.
I think we have 2 different worlds here colliding.
For me designing on monitor has become something comparable to “engraving“.
Sounds funny but it is like directly forming type in the “metal”/material for which it is purposed in the end.
(though not monitor but beziérs) I try to cancel the step from analog to digital in my work.
Though I sometimes envy you guys ;-)))

Salute
Stefan

dezcom's picture

"For me designing on monitor has become something comparable to “engraving“.
Sounds funny but it is like directly forming type in the “metal”/material for which it is purposed in the end."

I like that analogy, Stephan! It feels right. The only difference is that it is too hard to erase a mistake in an engraving, there is no "undo" command :-)

ChrisL

William Berkson's picture

I think of it as "sculpting" letters, because you add a little, take away a little--as I guess you do with clay--until you like the look.

Somewhere on another thread like this David Berlow said something like: whatever you do before hand, it doesn't start to count until it's on the computer screen. That's because Bezier curves tends to push you in certain directions, which are yours to use or contradict. Bezier curves are the medium you're working in. I can understand that in a script face, the hand *written* original might be much more important.

Syndicate content Syndicate content