Friday, October 10, 2014

Testing your font in print

We’ve made test texts before, but those were all at the sentence or the paragraph (at a stretch) level. Now that I have a full upper and lowercase glyph set, spaced and all, and some rudimentary punctuation marks, I can set entire passages of text in Floribunda. (Since the last post, I’ve spaced the capitals and added some basic punctuation marks— ‘.’ ‘-’ and ‘,’ . Spacing capitals is done basically the same way that the lowercase letters are spaced; punctuation will be covered in a later post).

Producing test pages is not hard. Just grab some text from a random Wikipedia article (preferably one that contains few numbers or special characters), and format it into columns set in your font. Throw in different-point-sized and ALL CAPS text generously—the capital text in mine is set in faux small capitals (the most bearable of the four typographical ‘faux’s, in my opinion anyway)—and you might want to include some knockout and grayscale type as well. Then just print it out on paper (please be kind to the environment and reuse some computer paper that’s been printed on on the other side—type design does not require blank new paper). Here is the page I used; the passage is taken from the Wikipedia article on Auroras.
Note that the ideal body text font size to use is much smaller than you’re used to specifying. For most typesetters, 12 point type is clumsily gargantuan, and generally reserved for headings and other display text. Most body text in magazines and textbooks is set in about an 8–9 point font (this corresponds to about a 10–11-pixel em square). Don’t believe me? Print out some nine point text and compare it to a copy of TIME magazine. The type will probably be about the same size.

I used this page to test changes I made to the font, both large and small. It is a good way to help iron out issues like inconsistent weight and such. You can also use it to test glyph redesigns. Here are some of the small (glyph level) changes I made:

I really didn’t like the terminal on the ‘c’, so I changed it to this brushlike shape:
That meant all the other letters with blob terminals (‘f’, ‘a’, ‘r’, ‘y’) had to change as well:
The test passage can help you determine which changes are helpful and which ones are disruptive. For example, when testing the ‘a’ with its new terminal, I found that it needed some additional modifications to work well, which is why it now has an angled spur and a slightly inflected bowl.

I also changed the lowercase ‘k’ to better match its disjointed capital version:
And found that the ‘x’ looked a bit unbalanced within words:
And the ‘T’ got overshoots on its serifs (like the ‘Z’ does).
Test pages are great for testing changes in individual glyphs, but more importantly, they help you detect problems in legibility over a span of multiple paragraphs. Scan your test page and make a note of its legibility, texture, color, and generally whether the font looks good. With Floribunda, I didn’t find any major issues, though  I did notice the letter spacing was a bit too tight and the letterforms too narow. I widened the letterforms slightly, and increased all the sidebearings to make the font more legible.
On the left is the original font, on the right is the new version. Note that in fontforge, you can increment all the sidebearings at once by selecting all the glyphs and going to MetricsSet LBearingIncrement LBearing By, and then doing the same with the right sidebearing and twice the left bearing increment (because for some reason fontforge doesn’t increment the advance width along with the left sidebearing, so whatever is added to the left bearing is taken away from the right sidebearing). Note that you should only increment by a few font units at a time. Adding just ten font units to the sidebearings of every glyph can have a drastic effect on letterspacing in an entire passage, since all those little slivers of extra letterspacing add up.