Hebrew Typeface Proportions & Metrics

brianskywalker's picture

Has anyone studied the proportions (width) of Hebrew letters - obviously they are not simply based upon squares. The letters of Koren seem to have fairly different proportions than other typefaces. Hadassa is set quite wide. For the spacing of hebrew fonts, is it all done by eye? Has anyone ever made comparisons oh existing Hebrew typefaces? Are there perhaps any guidelines?

I think if someone made some comparisons of several fonts, by overlaying letters which are scaled to the same body-height, we could understand proportions of Hebrew fonts more easily. Prime examples of "serif" fonts like Koren, Hadassa, and Frank-Ruhl - and any other very common examples - and "sans-serif" fonts, with which I am less familiar, but may include Narkis Tam, Erica Sans, and Jan LeWitt's Chaim.

gohebrew's picture

Square letter typically means a block-like letter form, as opposed to script typeface design like Rashi or David Nitui which are called round letters.

Vilna though is very wide, more than other letter designs, appearing to close to square. Plus Vilna is claimed to be an exemplary and earliest of the square letters.

This suggests that the square-like proportions are not simply block-like.

William Berkson's picture

Brian, I think you are on the right track in overlaying letters. The *relative* widths and spacing within a font, and then comparing how different fonts handle the different designs will tell you a lot. This web site by a Sofer lays down rules for the widths of the characters relative to nib width, for writing the STAM style. I don't know how valid they are, and in any case different designs will be different.

gohebrew's picture

The Stam design is unlike most other letter designs, as it is based upon a 3 x 3 grid, while most other employ different systems.

I am curious if the Vilna design fits too into the 3 x 3 grid.

brianskywalker's picture

I think the Stam design may offer some insights into corrects proportions. I am working on a design that differs greatly from Stam with contrast, having much less contrast, and lighter in weight, than many hebrew designs.

gohebrew's picture

A lighter weight, Brian, yet with very wide widths like Stam (in proportion to its height), may have disasterous results. There may be way too mush white space within the letter forms.

Do you see how Stam has strong thick vertical strokes. This creates a pleasing color balance between the wide open white spaces within the letters, and the thick strokes.

Try to use some of the Stam proportions with 2/3 to 3/4 of the Stam widths, and it should work.

William Berkson's picture

I don't particularly like Stam, and it is not generally read. But it is one authentic scribal font, so it is of some interest. The Book of Hebrew Script by Ada Yardeni has a lot more, but it's not on line. Misha Beletsky's essay in Language Culture Type is very nice, giving a good short history and a discussion of Zvi Narkis's fonts.

gohebrew's picture

Bill, we speak more about Stam's proportions and metrics, not about its design and appearance.

Most every modern Hebrew type design uses different proportions, except Romm Vilna. Friedlander merge the modern and the ancient into his Hadasa, which Hudson does in part in his Adobe Hebrew, though he denies it.

Do you think Adobe Hebrew (great name, John :) ), Bill, reveals Friedlaender's influence?

brianskywalker's picture

When I said Stam might offer insights into proportions, I didn't mean I wanted to take the proportions and just lighten everything. I meant moire along the lines of... proportions of say gimel to samek to he to alef, and so on.

gohebrew's picture

I think I understand what you mean.

You are referring not to the appearance of the Stam font, ie its design. Rather, you are refering to its raw height and width proportions, and perhaps also to the thickness of its strokes.

They are 3 x 3 square grid. Most Hebrew typefaces are more rectangular, as in a 4 x 3 grid, where the height is more than the width.

The Stam design is the Hebrew scribal design, and specific laws pertain to it in the Codes of Jewish law.

I believe that you are suggesting to use Stam's proportions, or some of them, and to superimpose a different design within those proportions.

To me, this is fascinating. Only the Romm Vilna does this to a certain degree, and was mimicked to a less degree by Henri Friedlaender in Hadasa.

brianskywalker's picture

I'm not necessarily going to copy the thickness. I will soon have an example to show you what I mean.

gohebrew's picture

GH Torah Script
(Stam made for secular use without the holy taggim
- taggim transcendin even Moses' comprehension)
GH King David
GH Crown

The 3rd line shows GH King David and GH Crown
adjusted with Stam widths

brianskywalker's picture

Imo, I think the fonts get proportionally wider as they get bolder.

gohebrew's picture


Because Stam has very wide widths, bold or even black display fonts should work.

What I find very interesting is to see which letter David, Friedlander, Koren (possibly) chose to have exact widths like in Stam.

This though is not accurate completely, as a Sofer Stam, a Hebrew scribe, draws the letter with slightly different widthd, but truly each version is almost the same.

My name is Israel, btw. Imo is Raphael's nick name when he was a kid. :)

brianskywalker's picture

I see. I think it's also a bit ambiguous how to make the glyphs wider or skinnier in this case. I think how to use Stam would be to overlay a grid upon Stam, and then modify the grid for glyphs with thinner stems but uses the Proportions of Stam but apply it to this new grid.

> My name is Israel, btw. Imo is Raphael's nick name when he was a kid. :)

Well, that actually wasn't meant to be an acronym: IMO - in my opinion.

gohebrew's picture

i thought it was the famous pixar/disney character nemo's cousin's name

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