Monday, September 1, 2014

Glyph design: lowercase letters with legs (h m u)





The letters ‘h’, ‘m’, and ‘u’ mean something slightly different to type designers than they do to most people. These letters can be grouped together because they can all be very easily derived from the lowercase ‘n’. You could also include ‘r’, but the ‘r’ is slightly trickier to make, so that will be in another post.

Components of a lowercase ‘h’ and ‘m’.
Components of a lowercase ‘h’ and ‘m’.
Components of a lowercase ‘u’
Components of a lowercase ‘u’
As with the ‘p’, ‘d’, and ‘q’, passable versions of ‘h’ and ‘m’ can be made just by copying and extending parts from the letter ‘n’. The ‘h’ is largely an ‘n’ with a raised ascender, and the ‘m’ can be built by fusing two ‘n’s together.
And just like with the ‘p’, ‘d’, and ‘q’, there are small changes that will make these letters better. The shoulder of the ‘h’ is often rounder and less steep than that of the ‘n’ (though I made the ‘n’s shoulder rounder too). The ‘h’ is also very slightly wider than the ‘n’. The ‘m’ really is in many ways just an ‘n’ with an extra arc and stem, though the letter is usually slightly compressed so that it isn't literally a ligature of two ‘n’s. Key word—slightly—many designers overdo it on the compression and make ‘m’s that are too dense. The ‘m’ compression is very subtle—often just a small fraction (one fifth?) of the stem width. Remember that serifs on the inside of a letter are slightly shorter than on the outside.

The letter ‘u’ can be made by rotating an ‘n’ 180 degrees and placing head serifs on the tops of its stems. However this is unlikely to give a good result (unless you are working with an extremely didone design). Since all the serifs are angled head serifs, the letter appears unstable, and the serifs too stubby.
Because of this, the ‘u’ contains a type of serif not found in any other latin letter—a sort of “hybrid unilateral serif”. The serif is a unilateral head serif, but it’s much less angled than the other head serifs (though it usually still retains some slope). If you put a bevel on your head serifs, it may not be necessary with the ‘u’, since the angle is less severe. The serif on the bottom of the stem can benefit from some subtle flattening and lengthening too, but remember to propagate the change to the lower serif of the ‘d’ as well.

Since the upward slopes make the top of the letter appear to be going uphill, it may also be desirable to make the left stem very slightly taller than the right stem (on the order of 0.001–0.002 ems).