Sunday, September 21, 2014

Glyph design: the lowercase z





Bringing up the end of the lowercase English alphabet, and the lowercase bloc of Floribunda, is the letter ‘z’. The ‘z’ is an incredibly rare letter, the rarest English letter in fact. On average, it only occurs once every 1,350 letters (‘q’ occurs once every thousand letters, and ‘x’ every seven hundred). But while ‘z’, like ‘x’, is rare, it is vastly important because it bridges the gap between the lowercase and uppercase alphabet.

The ‘z’ is unlike any other lowercase letter. It defies the rules of calligraphy—based on the stroke angle, all parts of the ‘z’ should be hairline. But since you can’t have a letter made completely out of hairlines, it’s become a convention to embolden the diagonal (the convention is reversed in italic type). The letter’s two horizontal arms are the most important parts of the letter. No other lowercase letter contains straight horizontal strokes (besides unserifed crossbars like in ‘t’)—the miniscule alphabet always converts such shapes to bowls or arches like in ‘f’ or ‘p’. But these strokes are common in the uppercase alphabet, making ‘z’ a useful base to start constructing letters like ‘E’ or ‘L’. They will also be extremely handy in constructing lowercase cyrillic letters, if we ever get to that.
Components of a lowercase ‘z’
Components of a lowercase ‘z’
The ‘z’ is not hard to construct. You can get the diagonal of the ‘z’ by reflecting the ‘x’ horizontally. Normally you should never ever reflect a letter in a single axis as it reverses the stroke stress, but we can get away with it with the ‘z’ since its diagonal is already a stress violation anyway. The diagonal is the same length and width as the one in the ‘x’—but the ‘z’ is slightly narrower because it lacks the serifs that come off the diagonals.

The horizontal serifs can also be taken from the letter ‘x’. The upper serif often overshoots the meanline slightly (but not always), while the lower serif is usually a beak serif with its undershoot sanded off. The serifs are almost always angled slightly, but much more steeply than the letter’s diagonal.
Like the ‘x’, the ‘z’ should be wider on the bottom than the top to avoid looking top-heavy. The tip of the upper serif should fall just short of the letter’s lower left joint, and the bottom serif should extend just past the upper right joint.
And that concludes the lowercase alphabet!