Thursday, August 28, 2014

Glyph design: the lowercase f





     Oh, my favorite letter—'f' ! The 'f' is a rather straightforward letter to design; the main difficulties lie in the proportions. It is very easy to make an 'f' that looks unstable, and designers are also prone to making 'f's that are stubby or inelegant.

     Except for the tricky arc of stem (called a hook, in the 'f'), 'f' is basically an 'i' or 'l' with a cross stroke. The cross stroke is an important part of the 'f' since it's one of the most distinctive parts of the letter, and also because it will be reused in 't' and many special characters.
Components of a lowercase 'f'
Components of a lowercase 'f'
     The hook of the 'f' cannot be derived from any letters we have drawn so far. You can't use the arc of stem of the 'a', since that arc goes in the opposite direction (and you should only reflect a glyph over one axis with great caution). The shoulder of the 'n' is also unsuitably round and wide. So we have to start from a blank constructed from an 'i' and a 'b', and design the letter from that.

     The hook can be roughly outlined with two circles. However, it's not perfect. The hook curves away from the outer circle at the terminal, and the inner circle is more of a distorted oval that pushes up to create the hook's hairline.
Left to right: Garamond, Minion Pro, and Palatino.
Left to right: Garamond, Minion Pro, and Palatino.
     Because the inner circle is not as accurate as the outer one, it's not as useful for shaping the hook as the outer one. But the circles are still helpful guides. Remember to push up on the inside and slightly flatten the outside of the hook to create the hairline. Then just draw the terminal and the body of the 'f' is largely complete.
     At this point we just have to draw the cross stroke and worry about the balance and proportions of the letter.

     Because the 'f' has an right overhang, the right side of the foot serif needs to be extended a bit to keep the letter from "falling over".
     So applying this correction to our 'f' :
     Now for the cross stroke. It is important to note that the cross stroke is not the same length as the foot serif, nor does it extend all the way out to the end of the terminal. It usually extends to somewhere between the two. The cross stroke does, however, generally align with the left end of the foot serif. It also tends to taper off on the left side of the stem.

     Note that the crossbar is not usually the hairline thickness—it's often a bit thicker than the hairline or the serifs.
     The crossbar can be made from a clipped head serif, and simply extended right.