Thursday, August 28, 2014

Glyph design: the lowercase v





     The letter 'v' is one of the easiest letters to design, though the diagonal strokes can be difficult to physically draw. The 'v' consists of just two diagonal strokes—a diagonal and an arm, their joint—the vertex, and two flat bilateral serifs on top.
Components of a lowercase 'v'
Components of a lowercase 'v'
     Out of all the letters of the lowercase alphabet, 'v' has the least variation among different typefaces—the letter can be very accurately described in just a few parameters. The 'v' only varies in its stroke contrast (determined by the other letters in the typeface), its serifs (taken from 'i' and slightly modified to fit the angled strokes), and for a few daring designers, the shape of its vertex.
Five 'v's and five 'a's from Minion Pro, Warnock, Proforma, Garamond, and Hoefler, overlaid.
Five 'v's and five 'a's from Minion Pro, Warnock, Proforma, Garamond, and Hoefler, overlaid.
     In serif type, the angle the two diagonals make is almost always 42–46 degrees. Even the extremely didone didot font Vogue uses (or used to use, now that they changed their website) has a 45 degree 'v'.
     The letter 'n' that we just made is also a good indicator for how wide we should make the 'v'. If the 'n' was made correctly, it should generate a 'v' with an angle around 44-ish degrees ( ± 3 degrees ). The diagonal should be almost as wide as the 'n's stem; the arm should be about as wide as the 'n's arc–stem join. The vertex is usually the same width as the arm of the 'v'.

     Like most diagonal strokes, the tops of the 'v's strokes end in flat-topped bilateral serifs, as opposed to unilateral head serifs. You can get these serifs from the bottom of the 'i' we made earlier.
     The brackets just need to be tweaked to that they can blend into a diagonal stroke instead of a vertical one.
     The two serifs however, are not the same sizes. The serif on the diagonal is longer than the one on the arm, since the arm is thinner. The sides of the serifs on the inside are also shorter than the sides of the serifs on the outside of the 'v'. Take a look at the serifs on the 'v' from Libertine compared to the serifs on the 'n' :
     So the serifs need some manual tweaking.
     Also note that the tops of the strokes should be wider than at the vertex. This is because the human eye expects radial strokes to fan out and get wider as they get farther from the center. In the following picture, the black 'v' on the left has mathematically constant strokes, while the 'v' on the right is corrected for the optical illusion.
     Like the over/undershoot (which the vertex of the 'v' should also have!), this radial widening is found in nearly every well designed typeface—even didones and sans serifs.
Radial widening in Warnock, New Caledonia, and Neue Frutiger
Radial thickening in Warnock, New Caledonia, and Neue Frutiger