easilyamused |

Archive for the category ‘fonts’

Garamondiale

Published

There always seems to be another Garamond. Eight years ago I wrote about this proliferation, not for the first time, inspired by an article that James Felici had just written for Creativepro (“Will the Real Garamond Please Stand Up?”); in that blog post I reprinted a thumbnail version of the “Garamond family tree” that I had first put together twenty years earlier for an article for Aldus magazine about typeface revivals.

Garamond family tree

By 2012 there were many more Garamond versions than my attempt at a family tree had dealt with, notably Robert Slimbach’s masterful Garamond Premier Pro. And of course there are still more versions today, including a libre version available from Google Fonts, called EB Garamond, that is based on the 1592 Egenolff-Berner type specimen, and Mark van Bronkhorst’s faithful recent revival of the popular ATF Garamond. (Full disclosure: I wrote the promotional copy for digital ATF Garamond.)

I’m not quite prepared yet to attempt an update of that Garamond family tree, but it might be a project worth pursuing. The tree would certainly have many more branches now than it did almost thirty years ago. But the primary distinction remains: between type designs based on Claude Garamond’s original 16th-century punches, and those based on Jean Jannon’s more baroque 17th-century imitation, which for a long time were attributed to Garamond.

Another distinction appears in the various italics. Although Claude Garamond did cut italic types, many of the Garamond revivals eschew his design in favor of an italic based on his contemporary Robert Granjon’s italic types, which type critics often find more finished or more elegant. The italics cut by Jean Jannon have yet another style, even more baroque than his romans.

(“Baroque” may be the wrong word, given some of the very different types from the 17th century that have been described as baroque by type historians, but it seems to me to capture the slightly more ornate style of Jeannon’s types compared to Garamond’s.)

The most commonly used version today is undoubtedly Monotype Garamond, which is the “Garamond” font family installed with every Windows system, and which therefore is what most people think of when they see the name “Garamond.” Monotype Garamond is based on Jean Jannon’s 1615 types, and in its more interesting alternative (not the version shipped with Windows) its italic features ascending letters with varying angles, instead of the regularized slope more common in type revivals.

For practical use right now in digital typesetting, the most useful Garamonds are probably Garamond Premier Pro and ATF Garamond – one based on the original Garamond types, the other on the later Jannon iteration. Both include extensive OpenType features, and both come in multiple optical sizes, for optimal use at different sizes in text or display. Both families also include a Medium weight, slightly heavier than the Regular, for an alternative, more robust effect in running text.

In Wikipedia, I currently find myself referenced three times in the footnotes of the “Garamond” article – though not, interestingly enough, for my 2012 blog post or the Garamond family tree in Aldus magazine.

John D. Berry, ed. (2002). Language Culture Type: International Type Design in the Age of Unicode. ATypI. pp. 80–3. ISBN 978-1-932026-01-6. [The reference is to Gerry Leonidas’s article about the history of Greek type design, including the Greek types cut by Claude Garamond.]

Berry, John D. (10 March 2003). “The Next Sabon”. Creative Pro. Retrieved 9 October 2015.

Berry, John. “The Human Side of Sans Serif”. CreativePro. Retrieved 29 June 2016.

Type designers have never been able to resist playing with the letterforms of Garamond and Jannon. There are two sanserif versions that I know of, ITC Claude Sans (originally published by Letraset, designed by Alan Meeks) and František Štorm’s Jannon Sans (which is a more extensive six-weight family, to complement Štorm’s even more extensive Jannon type family). Yet another branch for the ever-growing family tree.

Hanging by a serif (again)

Published

The visual concept behind Hanging by a serif came from something I was playing with for our 2012–2013 holiday card. “The stockings were hung by the serifs with care…” read the front of the card; inside, the text continued, “…in hopes that typographers soon would be there.” On the front, a wild cacophony of huge serifs barged in from the outer edges, with little green Christmas-tree ornaments appended to a couple of them. The background was a pale-green image of a potted conifer, drawn in stained-glass-style, taken from an image-based “Design Font” that Phill Grimshaw had designed in the 1990s for ITC. (The inside also featured a pale background image from the same font, this time of a wrapped package.) It was fun, though I wondered what our non-typographer friends and family would make of it when we sent it out.

Later that year, I began experimenting with the concept, juxtaposing short snippets of text from my own writing with big details from various serifs. I found that I had a lot of statements or fragments on the subject of design that seemed to fit into this format. Eventually, these epigrams and serifs took the form of the first edition of the book Hanging by a serif.

That first edition caught the eye of Bertram Schmidt-Friderichs, whose Mainz-based company, Hermann Schmidt Verlag, has published so many excellent books on typography and design. Bertram wanted to do a German edition of my little booklet, which would be a nice calling card for his publishing program and might even sell a lot of copies. (It didn’t.)

Bertram’s approach to publishing is thorough, and he wanted to include notes about which typefaces all the serifs had come from. This sent me back down the rabbit hole into my own production process, since I had been working with truncated images for most of the design of the book, and I hadn’t kept very careful track of what typefaces my serifs had originally been attached to. It took quite a bit of retrospective detective work to find all my sources. (Hint: a couple of the images had been reversed.) In this sense, the German edition is more thorough than mine. It also has a couple of serifs or serif-like glyphs that are different from the ones I used.

But one of the epigrams bothered Bertram: “Most graphic designers never get more than rudimentary training in typography.” While true, this struck him as too negative, and he suggested coming up with a replacement. In the end, we went with a statement in German that translated as, “Typography is never an end in itself, it targets the eye of the beholder.” (Probably pithier in German.)

When it came time to do a new English edition of the book (since I was running out of copies of the original), I decided to make two changes. The serif I had used on the cover of the first edition was taken from Justin Howes’s ITC Founder’s Caslon, a digital reproduction of William Caslon’s original types in which Justin attempted to re-create the exact effect of the metal type printed on hand-made 18th-century paper. The outline, therefore, was rough. This roughness around the edges bothered a number of people, some of whom asked me if perhaps the image had been printed at too low a resolution. It hadn’t; this was precisely the effect that the typeface was designed to have, but blown up to extra-large size like this, it was distracting. So for the new edition I searched out a new serif that would work well on the cover. (The serif I chose is from Matthew Carter’s newly released type family for Morisawa, Role.)

And I did replace the problematic epigram that had bothered Bertram Schmidt-Friderichs, though not with the one we used in the German edition. As I had mentioned once in this blog, a quip of mine had been making the rounds of social media for some time, being quoted repeatedly out of context, and I thought it really belonged in this compendium. So if you turn to page 16 of the new edition, you’ll find this: “Only when the design fails does it draw attention to itself; when it succeeds, it’s invisible.” It really wanted to hang with the other serifs, and now it does.

Gerard Unger, Theory of Type Design

Published

I recently finished reading Gerard Unger’s final book, Theory of Type Design, which I bought at the ATypI conference in Antwerp last September and which Gerard signed at the book-launch event there. It was the last time I saw him, as he died of cancer only a couple of months later.

It took me quite a while to read through Theory, not because it’s at all difficult but because each time I finished a chapter, I wanted to put the book aside and savor what I had just read. It is not, after all, a book with a plot, like a novel; it is, however, a book with a theme and a clear development of that theme.

What Gerard Unger does in this book is nothing less than provide a comprehensive look at every aspect of the design of type, from its origins to the ways we design, read, and design with digital type today on a multitude of screens. Unger always thought about type systematically and observantly, looking for the connections and common elements that bind together such a disparate and unruly history. He was himself a consummate type designer, and a famously thoughtful and helpful teacher. You can hear his voice on every page.

Although his range as a designer was wide, you can often tell a Gerard Unger typeface at a glance; they have a commonality of approach and feel that transcends individual style. One element that I’ve noticed for many years is the way he would pare away what isn’t necessary, including connections within letters: he explored how much you could delete while keeping a typeface happily readable – a useful experiment when you design type for unfavorable conditions of printing or screen viewing. In a note (on page 196), he remarks, “The purest forms I have made as a type design are those of Decoder (1992).” Decoder was a purely experimental typeface (based on the shapes in his typeface Amerigo) issued as an early part of the FUSE project, to see what people would make of the detached yet recognizable parts of Latin letters.

I had hoped to have a chance to interview Gerard for the history of ATypI that I’m working on, since he had been closely involved for many years, but his deteriorating health made that impossible. Despite this, amazingly, he took the trouble after the conference to write me a short note, to let me know that he wouldn’t be able to help after all. That’s the kind of person Gerard Unger was.

Typography of the future: variable fonts

Published

I’ve just finally watched the Special OpenType session, ATypI 2016 Warsaw of the “Special OpenType Session” from the ATypI 2016 Warsaw in Warsaw in September. (Because of scheduling and flight conflicts, I didn’t arrive in Warsaw until the evening of that day, so I missed the live event. Not surprisingly, it was the talk of the town among attendees at the conference.) The discussion in the video is highly technical, but the upshot of this development is exciting.

Variable fonts” seems to be the name that everyone’s adopting for this new extension of the OpenType font format. What it means is that an entire range of variations to a basic type design can be contained in a single font: all the various styles from Extra Light to Extra Bold, for instance, and from Compressed to Extended. Instead of a super-family of separate font files, you can have one font that, conceivably, contains them all.

The presentation had representatives from Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, and Google, reflecting the fact that this is truly a cooperative effort. All four major companies (and several smaller ones) have committed to supporting and implementing this new standard. That’s a very important fact: usually, adventurous people come up with an ambitious new spec for wonderful typographic features, but the problems arrive when the developers of operating systems and applications don’t fully commit to supporting them. This time, from the very first, the companies that develop those apps and OSes are committed.

What that means is that, if it’s implemented properly, the new format will make it possible for font developers to create fonts that adapt to changing circumstances. For instance, in a responsive web layout, you might change the width of the text font as the width of the window gets narrower or wider. You could also change the weight subtly when the screen colors are reversed. These small, almost unnoticeable, but very important variations could make reading onscreen much more comfortable and natural.

This is a watershed. What it reminds me of is two different nodal points in the development of digital type: multiple master fonts, and web fonts. The introduction of variable fonts at this year’s ATypI conference has the same “Aha!” and “At last!” feeling that the introduction of the WOFF font format standard for web fonts had at Typ09, the 2009 ATypI conference in Mexico City. Both events mark the coming-together of a lot of effort and intelligent work to make a standard that can move the typographic world forward.

The history of multiple master fonts is sadder, and it points up the pitfalls of creating a good idea without getting buy-in from all the people who have to support it. The multiple-master font format was a breakthrough in digital type; with its flexible axes of variable designs, it made possible a nearly infinite variation along any of those design axes: a weight axis, a width axis, or (most promising of all) an optical-size axis, where the subtleties of the design would change slightly to be appropriate to different sizes of type.

But the multiple master technology, developed by Adobe, never made it into everyday use. The various Adobe application teams didn’t adopt it in any consistent or enthusiastic way, and it wasn’t adopted by other companies either. Instead of being incorporated into the default settings of users’ applications, giving them the best version of a font for each particular use, multiple master was relegated to the realm of “high-end typographers,” the experts who would know how to put it to use in airy, refined typographic projects. That’s not the way it should have worked; it should have been made part of the default behavior of fonts in every application. (Of course, users should have had controls available if they wanted to change the defaults or even turn it off; but the defaults should have been set to give users the very best, most appropriate typographic effects, since most users never make any changes to the defaults at all. It’s important to make the defaults as good as possible.)

Now it sounds like the new variable-fonts technology is going to be incorporated into the operating systems and the commonly used applications. If this really happens, it will improve typography at the everyday, ordinary, pragmatic level. And what that means is the improvement of communication.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works in practice. And to putting it to use myself, and helping in any I can to improve and implement these new standards.

[Images: (left, top) Peter Constable speaking at the Special OpenType Session at ATypI Warsaw, September 2016; (left) schematic of the design variations of Adobe’s Kepler, designed by Robert Slimbach.]

Acumin & Bickham Script

Published

Now that’s an unusual pair of typefaces to mention together. But both the new Acumin family and the enlarged and updated Bickham Script Pro 3 have been released recently as part of the Adobe Originals program, and I wrote most of the background material on both of them. These were both projects that were a long time in development, so I’m pleased to see my own descriptive work in “print” at last.

Acumin & Bickham Script Pro 3 together

For Acumin, Robert Slimbach’s extensive neo-grotesque type family, I dug into the history of sans-serifs, trying to nail down exactly what makes one a “grotesque” or a “neo-grotesque,” and where the term came from. It was a great pleasure researching images, especially from the 19th century, in the collection of the Letterform Archive in San Francisco. I think we ended up showing more images of old sans-serif type than was strictly required, just because they looked so cool.

Most of my research on the history of the 18th-century English writing style known as “round hand” and George Bickham’s compendium of examples, The Universal Penman, was done at the Seattle Public Library or online, but at the Letterform Archive I also got to see Bickham’s rare earlier book, Penmanship In It’s [sic] Utmost Extent.

The Acumin website is a highly responsive one, coded by Nick Sherman; the Bickham site is more in the mold of Typekit’s usual sites, though it too consists of several parts.

[Images (left, top to bottom): from the Acumin site; Bickham Script Pro 3 illustration; a few 19th-century grotesque typefaces. Above: combining two very different type styles.]

t for 2

Published

You don’t get wonderful bound specimen books from type foundries very often these days. Digital foundries tend to produce digital specimens, for all the obvious reasons. But a few days ago The Terminal Design Type Catalog arrived in my (physical) mailbox, and I was delighted.

James Montalbano, the Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer of Terminal Design, has been designing extensive, carefully coordinated type families for twenty-five years. “Ever since my days as a magazine art director,” he writes in his brief Preface, “I have both loved and been disappointed by type. I loved mixing, arranging and discovering different type designs, but was always disappointed by the lack of weights and widths of most designs.” That disappointment will not await anyone browsing this catalog.

This a well-made, well-bound hardcover book, designed by Charles Nix. The embossed red t that takes up the whole cover is striking and dramatic. Each type family is given several pages, with a display of the full character set and large one-line showings. For text faces, there are also pairs of sample text pages with the type shown at different sizes and sometimes different weights.

Terminal Design catalog text spread

The display faces don’t require extensive text settings, but they’re shown off in dramatic form. My favorite page in the whole book must be the final page for the 20-weight typeface Yo.

Terminal Design catalog display spread

The back matter shows sample pairings of display and text faces, comparison of x-heights, the variations in OpenType stylistic sets, and, most notable of all, a visual index of “earmarks,” the distinguishing features of glyphs from different typefaces.

Terminal Design catalog earmarks

James Montalbano’s typefaces are always thoroughly considered, cleanly designed, and well produced. His squarish text face Choice Sans, with multiple widths, gives a lovely, modern texture to both text and display. The sharply serifed Consul takes high-contrast Didot style and freshens it, with six weights and four optical sizes, in both roman and italic. Even the wonderfully weird Fervent, with its pitchfork e and its double-wide w, looks assured and solid on the page.

There are two things that bother me in this catalog. One is the lack of any descriptions of the various typefaces: each one has a careful list of all its features, but there’s no hint of its history and nature, or of how its designer thinks about it.

The other thing is a choice: in the text samples, facing pages of the same typeface at different sizes have the same amount of added leading (3 points). The effect of that is to give the text blocks of smaller type looser line spacing than the text blocks of larger type. That makes it harder to compare them usefully.

Opening up OpenType

Published

Besides their other useful aspects, OpenType fonts may include a variety of alternate glyphs for the same character: anything from capital and lowercase forms to small caps, superscripts, subscripts, or swash versions. In non-Latin fonts, they may include other related variants, such as the several forms that each character takes in Arabic, and alternate forms preferred in different languages. In some large calligraphic fonts, there may be quite a lot of alternate forms available – but in the past it’s been hard to find them and put them to use.

The most recent update to Adobe’s InDesign CC (2015.2, released Nov. 30) finally addresses this problem. You could always go spelunking in the Glyphs palette to find alternates, but now you have a more direct method: simply select a single character in a text string, and any OpenType alternate forms appear in a small pop-up right on your layout page. Choose one, and it replaces the selected character.

This is the first fruit of a popular groundswell that got started at the ATypI conference in Barcelona last year: type users needed better ways of using OpenType layout features, and petitioned Adobe to improve their products. This new feature in InDesign is a good start.

It has a few glitches, though. Sometimes the relationships among the displayed alternates is not obvious. In Adobe Caslon Pro, for instance, many of the ordinary letters show among their alternates one of the Caslon ornaments. That’s a little odd.

One practical limitation of the current version of this feature is the size of the glyphs in the pop-up. The example shown on Adobe’s tutorial page (left, above) uses a large, bold, flashy typeface (Lust Script) with obvious swash features; it’s not hard to make out the alternates on the screen. But if you try the same thing with a typeface like Bickham Script Pro, which has a very small x-height, it’s virtually impossible to tell one alternate from another.

InDesign pop-up showing OpenType alternates for Bickham Script Pro

The InDesign team added another useful capability while they were figuring out how to access alternate glyphs. Since an OpenType font may include real fractions, you can now select a string of numerals, with a slash in the middle, and turn it into a fraction, using a pop-up much like the one for glyph alternates. How well the fraction is constructed will depend on the font, but if the function is in the font, you can now get at it easily.

Way to go, Adobe! Don’t stop now.

P.S. Yves Peters has done a more in-depth exploration of these features, pointing out some useful things that I had missed. Check it out.

The Letterform Archive

Published

I recently had my first chance to visit the remarkable Letterform Archive in San Francisco. This is the fruit of thirty-five years of collecting by Rob Saunders, all of it related to type and lettering and printing – especially type specimens and printer’s samples, along with books, manuscripts, and all kinds of printed and hand-made ephemera. In 2013, Rob turned his private obsession into an institution and established the Letterform Archive as a formal entity. More recently, as he announced last month at TypeCon, he acquired the enormous collection of the late Dutch bibliophile Jan Tholenaar, consisting of thousands of type specimens from the last 400 years.

The purpose of the Letterform Archive is to make original research materials available to people for hands-on study: so you can not just look at them but pick them up and hold them in your hands. There are larger collections than his, as Rob freely admits; but too many of them are closed to the public and not easily accessible. With the Letterform Archive, Rob hopes to provide a resource to students, researchers, type historians, graphic designers, and anyone interested in the history of letters. It’s easy to arrange a visit; the space is bright and welcoming, and so are the people.

The other initiative that Rob announced at TypeCon is a new program in conjunction with Cooper Union: Type@Cooper West. This will be a West Coast equivalent of Type@Cooper, the post-graduate program in type design that Cooper Union has been offering for several years at its campus in New York City.

Rob has a few other ambitious plans in mind, too. I’m delighted to see such an energetic undertaking. And I can say from personal experience that it’s a pleasure to sit in the Archive and peruse type in all its many forms.

The ATF Collection

Published

Just in time for this year’s TypeCon, the new digital ATF Collection arrived on the typographic scene. This is a remarkably broad range of typefaces and type families based on the metal typefaces issued by the American Type Founders Company from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th. (These were not “hot metal”; that refers to type that was cast on a machine, such as a Linotype or a Monotype caster. ATF was a consolidation of the many American type foundries that manufactured type for hand-setting, in foundry metal. The metal was “hot” when it was first cast, but not when it was being set.) ATF was responsible for many of the best-known American typefaces of the 20th century, both original designs and revivals of classic European types. This release features a wide variety of sans-serif display faces, plus a classic text & display family and a funky brush-written display face.

I had the pleasure of writing most of the descriptions of the typefaces in the collection, as well as the background on ATF. (Stephen Coles wrote the copy for the peculiar ATF Wedding Gothic and a very amusing riff on the quirky yet familiar ATF Brush.) The new typefaces reference ATF’s original designs, but extend them into larger and more fully usable families. Many of the faces in the ATF Collection are sans display faces that we’ve been seeing, in one form or another, for most of our typographic lives.

The mind behind the ATF Collection is Mark van Bronkhorst, director of TypoBrand and founder of the respected digital type foundry MVB Fonts. (I’ve been using his MVB Verdigris as my go-to book text face for many years.) Mark is unusual among type designers for being both a talented and respectful designer of type and a very thoughtful and creative user of type, a typographer. I had ample experience of this when I was editing U&lc and Mark was the designer of the magazine.

Since the début of the ATF Collection a few weeks ago, a number of people have asked me about the back story, especially how Mark got the rights to the ATF name. The answer turns out to be remarkably simple,

“The ATF and American Type Founders trademarks were abandoned many years ago,” Mark told me. The old trademarks had expired by 1996; no one had renewed them, and in any case, “ATF had never been registered for use with digital fonts.” Mark discovered further that “it also appears that ‘American Type Founders’ has never been registered, and, except for our use, no other company appears to be registered as doing business under that name.” So, legally, the name was available for use.

“We started using the ATF and American Type Founders names and filed trademark applications for them in commerce seven years ago,” says Mark, “by releasing an ATF Franklin Gothic as a single digital font on fonthaus.com. (Technically, we had actually started using the ‘ATF’ trademark much earlier.) The USPTO after a diligent examination accepted and issued trademark registrations to TypoBrand for use of the trademarks with our digital ATF fonts. Our registrations have been live for seven years now.”

That’s the story behind the question of who now owns the ATF name (at least the short version). The point is that Mark and TypoBrand were very careful not to step on any toes, legally or ethically, in bringing these type designs back onto the market.

“Stated briefly,” says Mark, “I felt it was high time that the designs formerly associated with ATF see new life in digital form and that such an effort be branded accordingly as a collection, paying tribute to their legacy.” That is exactly what he is doing with the new ATF Collection. “It is my intent to honor the body of work that deserves a place in the digital community.” Mark adds that this is an ongoing effort, and that he’d love to see participation from other interested type designers.

It’s been fun working on this project, and seeing the typefaces take their present form. Reviving and expanding hundred-year-old metal typefaces involves a lot of careful work – not just adapting to a new medium and new technology but extending character sets far beyond what anyone was expecting back in the hand-setting days. I’m looking forward to seeing how people put these newly available fonts to use.

An ironic typeface used for a non-ironic purpose

Published

’Twas the eighteenth of April of Twenty-fourteen…” Yes, it was, actually and literally. That’s when I snapped this picture of the sign at the edge of the Calvary Cemetery, overlooking University Village in Seattle.

Easter sign using the typeface Mason, zoomed in

The typeface, with its postmodern ecclesiastical look, is Jonathan Barnbrook’s Mason, which was originally released by Emigre Fonts in 1992 under the name “Manson.” For reasons that you can imagine, that name caused a lot of unease, and Barnbook soon dropped one n and renamed it “Mason.” By either name, it’s very much in the tradition of ironic type design, taking recognizable features from the past and combining them in unusual ways to achieve a new effect.

The smaller type, identifying the cemetery and its web address, appears to be the appropriately named Requiem. Presumably, irony was not uppermost in the mind of the designer of this welcoming and wholly un-ironic sign.