Nuances in Hebrew Type Design

gohebrew's picture

Good Hebrew type design contains many nuances in its letter forms which escape the non-descriminating viewer.

Look for them, and you will find secrets to eye movement and color balance.

gohebrew's picture

Let's look at some examples.

The great Israel type design, Henri Friedlander, creator of the popular Hadasa design (named after the famous art and print school which was employed), taught me rarely known 'secrets' of good Hebrew type design.

For example, he advised the vov should always 'lean' over towards the left, to facilitate eye movement.

Also, we see that the ancient designer of the gimmel 'lifts' the right side of the lower left 'leg' off the ground, leaving a small space, assisting again eye movement.

This technique is repeated in some versions of FrankReuhl's aleph. The lower leg of the left side of the aleph, the 'shoe' if you will, is slightly lifted off the ground for the same reason.

Color balance is the distribution of filled in areas of the letter forms in relationship to the white or empty spaces.

For example, the hei and the chet is obviously differentiated by the openning at the top of the left vertical stroke which reaches up towards the left side of the top horizontal stroke.

But do notice that on the daleth, which appear similar to many versions of the hei and chet, has a thicker right vertical stroke. This compensates for the additional white space or vacuum in the daleth, compared to the hei or chet.

Similarly, the width of the chet is slightly larger than the width of the hei again to compensate in good color balance for vacuum or empty space in the top left corner of the hei.

What other nuances do you find in Hebrew letter forms?

gohebrew's picture

Another factor to consider in good Hebrew type design is legibility.

Once I was invited by Linotype of Germany to its type division in Hauppauge, Long Island, far from NYC. That office was filled with talented Jewish people then and some great non-Jewish type craftsmen. Linotype Germany flew out a type division vice president just for the meetingThey wanted me to join their ranks, which I politely refused.

The German was extremely cordial to me for some reason, me the bearded Chassidic Jew. He rose when I came in. He didn't sit until I sat. And when I left, he jumped up to fetch my coat and help to place it on me.

Then, he bawled like a little baby. He said: "I was a small boy when the Nazis came to power in Germany. Before that, I had a job at a Berlin kosher bakery. Every Friday, I delivered sweet good-tasting baked goods," said the German, "on my bicycle, from the bakery to many Jewish family's homes for the Jewish Sabbath. At each house, the mother invited me in and pinched my cheek."

"You must be hungry," she said. She brought a glass of milk, and openned one of the bakery's boxes, and gave me a pastry. I ate it happily like any child. This happened over and over again, at each Jewish house I went to. It never happened at the Christian houses.

Then, he shook violently, like he was having a short epileptic seizure.

"Then, the Nazis came to power," exclaimed the German, "and it all ended. The kind Jewish people were taken to the Concentration Camps and killed in the Gas Chambers..." He cried again, and I left.

At the meeting, he showed larged charts of the Times-Roman typeface in various sizes, enlarged to a single large poster size. The results were amazing. Each letter looked different from another.

The m was different in the 9 point version, different in the 12 point version, and different again in the 18 point version. So was the w...

He sadly said: "We have lost this now with scalable fonts, like PostScript and TrueType.

I am reviving it again in OpenType with a variable width factor in an OpenType extension.

How does this affect Hebrew?

I studied Linotype's version of FrankReuhl. I asked one customer to give me huge blown-up samples of the FrankReuhl typeface at 9, 12, and 18 point sizes. He looked at me like I was mad.

Every type expert is a bit mad. :)

Yes, the shin has variable widths and designs at different sizes. The aleph looked designed differeltly for each size. And so on.

gohebrew's picture

Samples of GH Lino at various point sizes and weights
based upon Linotype's versions of FrankReuhl in the days of metal type

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