Saturday, November 15, 2014

Italics, part two: the a branch

Italics
If you haven’t, please read the introduction to italics: part one and part two. The tutorial on the preceding ‘n’ branch also helps.

Like the n’ branch, the ‘a’ branch is a family of italic letters which all derive from a certain root (‘a’). The ‘a’ branch sprouts off of the side of the ‘n’ branch, and the ‘u’ and the ‘a’ form the junction between the two. In this way, the ‘a’ branch can be thought of as the second stage of italic design, though the design process is quite similar to that of the previous branch.

The letter a


Unlike the roman ‘a’, the italic ‘a’ has only a single bowl and stem, much like a ‘d’ without its ascender.
In terms of its architecture, ‘a’ is most directly descended from the italic ‘u’. The two letters share a bowl stroke; in the ‘a’, a second, horizontal stroke closes off the aperture, forming an eye-shaped counter. It is important to note that in italics, the stress is somewhat more diagonal, so the ‘a’s hairline is actually found near its upper-left corner.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A new name and some tweaks to the roman

Even though I’m working on italics, there were a few things I wanted to fix in the roman style (a type designer, or any artist for that matter, should never be afraid to go back and add some polish to previously completed parts of the font). Here, I made the letterforms a bit wider and rounded the bowls some.
The difference isn’t big, but I think it makes it slightly easier to read, especially at medium sizes (11–16 pt). (Text is from Wikipedia)
The one on the right is the new version of the font.

In other news, I’ve also decided to change the working name of the font. Instead of “Floribunda”, the typeface will now be known as “Inflorescence” instead. I think it sounds a bit nicer (no forward-schwas in the middle of the word!).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Italics, part one: the n branch

Italics
If you haven’t, please read the introduction to italics: part one and part two

The lowercase italic alphabet can actually be divided into three stages, represented by ‘n’, ‘a’, and ‘f’, plus a couple outliers. The ‘n’ branch, which this post will teach you how to design, is a vast swath of ten italic letters which all come quite naturally from each other. This is part of what makes italics so fun to design—the letters share so many characteristics that you can knock out large portions of the alphabet by nailing down just a few letterforms.

Typographical italics are descended from italic calligraphy, which contains only a few fundamental pen motions. That means that there is incredible congruence among different italic letters. The ‘h’, ‘m’, ‘n’, and ‘r’ are all letters with the “shoulder” or “hump” stroke, and the linear letters—‘i’, ‘j’, and ‘l’—are all degenerate forms of them. The ‘u’ is merely a rotated ‘n’, and the ‘v’ and ‘w’, are, at least sometimes, copies of ‘u’ strokes lacking the vertical stems.

At the center of this italic family is the letter ‘n’, from which all the other letters can be derived. Accordingly, it makes sense to spend more time on this letter and make sure that you get it right, since the shapes you draw in this letter will be reused at least nine more times.

Characteristics and parameters of the italic n


If you read my first post on italics, you should already be familiar with the form of the calligraphic ‘n’. This form actually resembles quite greatly the ‘n’s many people render in their handwriting, especially if they have cursive tendencies.
Many italic typefaces mix in traits of this form with those of the roman ‘n’, which is written with two strokes. The most obvious example of this is in the heights of the joins. Because the calligraphic ‘n’ is made up of a single stroke (at least visually; calligraphers are known for breaking up simple strokes into three or more components, especially when lettering at large sizes), the stem and shoulder meet at a vertex at the lower left corner of the letter.

It naturally follows that in italic type, the join of the ‘n’ is often dragged down the stem, much closer to the baseline. How far down the join is found varies. With numerous exceptions, older style typefaces generally have lower italic joins, while more modern (especially computer-claredon) typefaces have higher italic joins. This should make sense—computer-claredon type is, frankly, more closely related to sans serif type than “true” serif type, and following the sans tradition for oblique rather than italic type, these modern serifs tend to be close to visually slanted roman typefaces. Indeed, in many modern computer serifs, the joins hardly moves at all between the roman and italic styles.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Introduction to italics, part two

 » Read part one of this post.

This post will be about setting up your italic workspace, as well as an outline of what lies ahead.

How does an italic font relate to the regular style?


An italic font almost always shares the same vertical metrics as its roman counterpart. That means that they have the same x-height, capital height, etc. Otherwise, the italic font might rightly be regarded as a completely separate typeface from the roman. Horizontal metrics and actual letterforms, at least for the lowercase alphabet, deviate significantly, as discussed. In fact, an italic font is meant to provide contrast with the roman style.

How do italic fonts work?


Technology wise, italic fonts aren’t really that different from roman fonts. Italics are drawn just like any roman font, in rectangular em boxes. Italic–roman pairing in apps does require a font to be flagged as ‘Italic’, though we’ll worry about that when we get to font packaging. One very helpful thing to do is to specify the italic slant in the Font Info dialog (accessible in fontforge from ElementFont Info) This will cause fontforge to draw the italic slants as guidelines in the glyph panel, which can be immensely helpful when you’re drawing your italics. Supposedly it also lets you constrain your vertical motion to the italic slant when drawing, though this functionality appears to be broken in fontforge at the moment. The slant value is also used by word processors to slant the cursor when italics are being used.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Introduction to italics, part one

At this point, we’ve completed the entire ASCII block (save for the at sign (@) ).

Now, we could go on to do one of four things. We could add more glyphs to the font—fill out the Latin Supplement block with accented letters like ‘ å ’ and a few moderately common symbols like ‘ ¢ ’ and ‘ ° ’. We could go back and actually kern the letters we’ve already made to make the spacing look nicer. We could also derive the bold weight, or we could create the italic version of the font.

I recommend doing italics first. That is because between these four projects, creating italics will add the most value to your font. A functional font family includes a regular, or roman style, and an italic style. In many cases, italics are mandatory, for setting names of works of art, for example. They are also the best way to emphasize words in text. What about deriving the bold weight, you may ask? Well, bold is much, much less commonly used than italics. A font family does not need a bold weight to be functional, though it can be a selling point. Bold is usually used in contexts where it would also be appropriate to use a completely different typeface (headings, for example). The bold weight is also much more straightforward though tedious to design. It is also much easier to embolden both a roman and an italic typeface to create the bold and the bold italic than to italicize both a regular and a bold font to make the italic and bold italic. That is why I like designing italics before bold.

What are italics?


Italics are much more different from the regular style than the bold style is. In serif type, it is possible to machine-produce a passable, though ugly, bold font given a regular font, since emboldening is a relatively straightforward and mechanical operation. Indeed, dozens of weights can be automatically interpolated (with quite good results) from just three base fonts (extra-light, regular, and black). However it is impossible for a computer to automatically produce the italic style of a serif font (something the opposite is true in sans serif type, where the “italic” is very close to a machine slanted version of the original, and the different weights are given much more consideration). That is because the serif italic letterforms themselves are drastically different from the roman letterforms. Italic letterforms are much closer to calligraphy than roman letterforms are. In fact, the italic hand is one of the most natural styles of calligraphy. This is evident in the strokes of the italic letterforms, which are more cursive than those of roman letterforms.
(Somewhat messy) italic calligraphy of some lyrics from How You Get The Girl, in Taylor Swift’s 1989. While handwritten, this calligraphy is essentially the same as italic type. Compare this with the Proforma Italic sample below.

For comparison, here is a sample of the italics from the Proforma font (grouped by letter shape):


The letterforms are much more free-flowing and give a completely different texture than the roman style does. Here are some important differences.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Design notes: the ampersand ( & )

The ampersand (especially its italic form) is one of those glyphs that sees fairly little usage but for whatever reason type designers love obsessing over.

The ampersand, like the question mark, percent sign, and several other punctuation marks evolved from, you guessed it, a ligature—in this case, an ‘Et’ ligature—Latin/French for “and”. In most typefaces, the ‘E’ and ‘t’ have become so tangled up in each other that they are barely recognizable (italic ampersands are much more reminiscent of the ‘Et’). The pretzel-like form of the ampersand is very difficult to describe—your best bet is to just “look” at ampersands and try to copy them. The symbol has a leg that resembles the leg on the ‘R’, and its two bowls are more asymmetrical versions of the ones on the numeral ‘8’. It also contains a serif on its arm, which is similar to the one on the ‘v’ and rather unremarkable except that it is usually skewed with the longer side facing inward. Ampersands are usually the capital height, but have the stroke weight of the lowercase letters.
An ampersand from Floribunda

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Design notes: miscellaneous punctuation ( * ^ ` ~ )


There exists within the ASCII block a handful of assorted miscellaneous symbols—the asterisk ( * ), the raised caret ( ^ ), grave mark ( ` ), and tilde ( ~ ). The forms of these symbols are poorly defined, so type designers have a lot of free reign over these symbols. Except for the asterisk, these symbols are also incredibly rare, serving no purpose and having no use in proper typesetting, so they are kind of a typographical backwater.

Asterisk ( * )


The asterisk, or “star”, is the only one of these four symbols to be typographically significant. All asterisks resemble a star shape, but renditions of this glyph vary wildly among typefaces. An asterisk can have five, six, seven, or eight points, and occasionally many more.


The arms of an asterisk can be wedge shaped, pointing inward or outward, or they can be teardrop shaped. Sometimes the arms are not joined at the center. An asterisk is usually about half as tall as a capital ‘I’, and its upper edge is often affixed to a font’s capital overshoot. Many asterisks, particularly in old style typefaces, are rotated about ten degrees clockwise from a normal “up-pointing” star orientation.
Properties of the asterisk and caret in Floribunda.
Properties of the asterisk and caret in Floribunda.