Process of new logo, Blackletter

j_polo9's picture

New Logo!:

update: swashes?...

I am creating a new logo for my company, Norcal designs (, and decided to post my work from concept to finish up here for helpful advice and critiques. NorCal Designs is a graphic design company and I create any kind of corporate collateral (business cards, letter heads, company logo work, etc.) but I specialize in website design & creation for small businesses.

This is the first piece of concept work for my new logo based on Emigre's Sabbath Black. I am not sure on the look and feel that I want to achieve yet so hopefully it will develop along the way.

Below is my sketched out version of the lettering as well as the traced paths in illustrator (which took forever) and the result. At the very bottom is Emigre's Sabbath Black to show you my starting point.

I am looking for ideas on where to take this, interesting blackletter variations I can try adding, any ideas on improvement. It is very unfinished both in the concept and lettering. for now...

rlynch's picture

Can you give background on what you (or your company) do? It's difficult to critique it without understanding its purpose. What is it supposed to represent?


Lex Kominek's picture

Is this a motorcycle or tattoo shop? If not, then I'd rethink the logo.

Some letters are too thick ('N') and some are too thin ('r'). Why is the 'i' so ornate and composed of two strokes? The 'g' is hard to read, but that could be caused by the crazy 'i'.

- Lex

EDIT: Also the 'l' needs at least a bit of an ascender. It looks more like an 'i' than your 'i' does.

j_polo9's picture

Blackletter does have the stigma of gang affiliation, I wonder if there are any interesting uses of blackletter that do not portray motorcycle or tattoo shops at all. Any ideas?

I will switch the I back to lowercase and even out the strokes. I am still researching different blackletter ideas for the next version.


j_polo9's picture

Round 2... I have been looking and sketching for the past few days and came up with a new design mostly based on Tex and Blackswirl and Black Sabbath:

I was much happier with the sketch than with my illustrator version but I cannot figure out why exactly. I will be tweaking the illustrator version but I would love advice on how I can improve on this!


j_polo9's picture

bit of an update, edited & cleaned up some letters, also I wanted to see what it is like with less swashes:

I don't think i dislike the swashes i just think i need to refine them (a lot) until they look the way i want. What do you think?

j_polo9's picture

Trying out different type treatments, I will post a few that I find interesting...

Not much of a usable logo here but i kind of like the style as a more artistic approach.

j_polo9's picture

Well maybe it is usable... but I am going to keep trying some ideas:

j_polo9's picture

... any advice on my letterforms?

marz's picture

I would say, the letter "D" of "Designs" needs more weight in the spine.

If you stand back and look at the logo, the eye cannot decipher that portion of the design (because the lines are too fine). Your client definitely wants the name to be fully legible. The "D" has a disproportionate amount of (what will visually translate as) white space in comparison to the other characters; so when you stand back, it appears as though there is a gap in the text.

paul d hunt's picture

overall pretty nice, a few things. the counter of the D looks so large and, um, empty. not very blackletterish. the s's jumped out at me as being MUCH too wide. the counter of the g feels too small and the tail perhaps too large. the "feet" on i and l could be a bit more discreet. the e looks top-heavy and seems to be attacking the letter to the right.

litera's picture

I'm having problems reading it. N reads almost as R, C is not readable, D reads as J because other lines are too thin, s too wide, n a bit too high, g not big enough.

But as someone else suggested. I would rethink this logo. Or change the business I'm in... ;)

Robert Koritnik

j_polo9's picture

thanks for the critique!! Below is the updated version of the logotype (based on your suggestions):

NorCal is a term used a lot in my area, i don't think the N or C will get passed too many people. Also the term norcal became popular along with a clothing brand with the word norcal set in blackletter along with a star.

Also I like blackletter more than i am afraid of the motorcycle stigma attached to it. I am not specifically looking for a "blackletter" feel. I simply like the letterforms.

I am trying to come up with some treatment for the type to get rid of the motorcycle feel. Any ideas would be appreciated.

marz's picture

The scrolling, circular curls...I think, lessens the nuance of "motorcycle".

That "D" is looking more legible, except the spine that was added looks like it is getting steam-rolled into the curls. See how it slants at about a 70 degree angle? I would straighten that out a bit. Also lessening the lower-left curl on the "D". That curl is disproportionately large compared to every other curl in the design...and it is creating alot of white space. That will help to tighten up the logo into a more unified image.

aluminum's picture

This is a really nice bit of custom blackletter. That said, I think your current logo probably speaks better to what your company does.

I'd reserve this logo as a secondary mark. use it for the SoftBall uniforms or your online t-shirt shop or blog or the like.

j_polo9's picture

@marz, ah good eye, i will have to fix that!

@aluminum, Thanks I will have to use this as a secondary mark if i can't figure out a treatment for it that gives me the look i want.

It just seems annoying to me the continued association of stigmas to blackletter. There is the whole other thread about negative associations due to nazi use (even though Hitler banned its ussage). So now I am looking for ways to make it more friendly and give off a design-ery feel.

aluminum's picture


While the Nazi association might be a stigma, I'm not sure the rest are. It's just that it's a rather stylized letterform, so the association is a bit stronger with some very specfic uses:

- religion
- news papers
- germany
- tattoos
- gangs
- motorcycles
- heavy metal

It's actually a fairly varied list of associations if one things about it.

vintagesignman's picture

I'm still having a problem with the super thin scolls. I would tighten the gap in the N, it looked like Pior at first. I love blackletter, when done right. I love to see it come back.

j_polo9's picture

@aluminum, ahh true. But i think Blackletter in general is only a "stylized" letterform because of it's lack of use, and then only abundantly for the associations that you mentioned. I am looking for ways to make it more versatile. To create a look that does not associate with any of these groups. (of course the type by itself isn't my attempt, it is just my starting point).

@vintagesignman. Lol i will tighten that gap. But i also really want to have to use a Pi ligature now! Cool logo, but this is sort of the look i want to get away from. Are you showing it for the swashes?

vintagesignman's picture

yes, and I like how the t and C cross thru and the shadow on the C. Custom. There is a point of over doing things..

j_polo9's picture

Here are some samples of non associated blackletter that I like:

Unfortunately none of these are based on typical "motorcycle" blackletter forms, so they don't help me much. I need to find more typical blackletter that are differentiated by their type treatments.

I think Ekrine might look motorcyclish without the beautiful uniform swashes. By the way is there a term I can use to describe more classically associated blackletter styles besides motorcyclish?

marz's picture

You may be looking for a "Fraktur" typeface

This is Walbaum-Fraktur:


There are also many other faces within the Fraktur category that may suit your needs:

j_polo9's picture

o.k. so I have revamped my letterforms a bit. I wanted to get your advice on improvements. Also I am considering adding swashes to add interest, any idea on references for adding these? I added a quick sample at the bottom:

jayyy's picture

Some very nice work. I would not stop this project but like Aluminum said, would reserve it for a different application. I feel for what you require, your old logo works better.

j_polo9's picture

Thanks! in my own defense i have never had a client lead from my website or business card. So I am not making a logo to acquire new clients, I am making it solely to please myself and expand my abilities.

With that said I do not think I will ever be satisfied with my own identity. But any suggestions for improving on this one would be welcome. Thanks!

bobbybobo's picture

I second that.
I found it hard to do a identity for myself, but it was an interesting way.

About your lettering.

I use so now and then the blackletter.
Living in the Netherlands it brings an association with the second World War.
But these letterforms have it in them to break out of that jacket, but it takes time.

You showed us your work soley in black (beside the blue above), try other colors. Lets say lime or orange. You will lose the biker association quickly, I think. I'd like to see that.

Nice study!


mad grab's picture

Black letter + norcal = already done. You should know this if your into action sports and its kinda cheesy for some...especially me:(

Your logo reminds me of the nautical stars, flat bill Starter® hats, and black socks valley kids wear. If you are targeting them go for this letting but caution cause to me its says motorcross tatoo kid who started his own design company.

I like your previous branding on your website much more. Please dont take my critique as disrespect. Others above seem to agree.

nvhladek's picture

I've admired your designs and respected your perspective that you have shared in these forms j_polo9 (do you mind if I call you Jesse?). Having said that, I echo mad grab's opinion that norcal + blackletter is tired and not incredibly creative. I don't think this design is poorly executed, and your hard work shows. I just think you can do better.

Nick Hladek

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