Pre-digital typeface drawings question.

I'm reading Frutiger's complete works and the markings on the hand drawn sketches have always eluded me (looking like true type points).
Here's an example
Can someone explain to me what these were for? Were these "registration marks" for vellum or something?



  • Did this happen before Ikarus as well? Phototype for example?
  • No, (manual) digitizing started with the IKARUS format. We use it still and also still support manual digitizing via Wacom tablets in DTL IkarusMaster for Windows.
  • Neat :). Is Ikarus a better approach to digitizing type in your opinion or it doesn't make a difference, that's just YOUR approach to it?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,151
    Ikarus was the groundbreaking system that gave birth to digital type. It can be daunting to the new user. Most people use one of the newer interfaces in software like RoboFont, Glyphs, or FontLab which are easier to learn.
  • The design itself should determine the most preferable workflow. For almost all DTL typefaces the production starts with drawings which are manually digitized. Revivals like DTL Fleischmann, DTL Fell and DTL VandenKeere were completely made on paper and afterwards manually digitized to preserve as much detail as possible. As a result for instance all serifs are (slightly) different. The base character sets of DTL Romulus were also digitized in the IKARUS format.

    On DTL’s Twitter account I once jokingly compared the pace of our production process with the speed of a land turtle. With its own font tools and slow-fonts approach, the Dutch Type Library is a sort of Galapagos island in the type industry.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,151
    Frank is the official stand-up comic for Ikarus ;-)
  • That's why I'm curious, I know there are others (I use Glyphs for example). But I wanted to have a sense of how/if DTL still aproaches type design using the hands to digital approach. Hands meaning designing each glyph by hand, not just basic sketching and figuring out shapes.
    The work being exquisite, DTL can take its time for all I'm concerned. :)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,420
    This is the wrong terminology.
    I usually “design each glyph by hand” using a tablet and stylus, working directly with BCP drawing tools.
    Only rarely do I start with pre-digital media.
    I wonder what the typical practice is amongst Type Drawers?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,151
    From the 1950s until the 1980s, I used pen, pencil, ink, paint, ruling pen, stat machine white paint, tracing paper, Amberlith, knife, whatever to draw letterforms. Today, only on rare occasions do I use traditional drawing tools. I have been using bezier drawing software since 1987 and am so used to it that I do it without a thought. I just use a standard mouse and draw individual glyphs. This is very comfortable for me.
  • 90% of the time I work directly on screen, drawing Bézier curves with a mouse. However, I do my brainstorming and explorations by sketching on paper, especially when I'm not sure how something should look or when trying to work out complicated or subtle shapes that are hard to visualize. Once in a while, I will do more extensive work on paper, then scan and trace for finished art. I rarely use a tablet, although I keep trying it out.
  • I always have to scan in lettering or sketches then trace them in FontLab. I wish I could draw directly on screen, I've tried it before without success - sure would be more efficient! I use a tablet as well, but not to draw/letter, rather as a replacement for a mouse
  • Albert_Jan_Pool Albert_Jan_Pool Posts: 44
    edited November 2014
    Unfortunately Ikarus is not extensively explained in The Complete Works, but it is referred to in most captions to the illustrations in which the markings occur. The Complete Works does not merely focus on technology, but I think it is worth mentioning that Ikarus was the software with which Stempel did all the master digitizations of the typefaces Frutiger designed for them – until they switched to PostScript’s cubic splines. Ikarus was the first digital outline format which enabled the accurate outline-digititization of drawings, automatically defined the curvature between the digitization points flawlessly, allowed editing and modifying the data without having to re-defining the curvature and finally introduced the use of interpolation for calculating intermediate weights. Within an ideal Ikarus production environment, one would digitize the marked up drawings for the master weights, correct them, interpolate intermediate weights from them, fine-tune the intermediate weights and use the final range of weights for generating the so called machine-formats. These typically were bitmaps, then vector outlines and finally line and arc-outlines, g-conics, cubic splines (PostScript) and quadratic splines (TrueType). In less ideal production environments Ikarus would be used to convert digital typefaces that were previously scanned as bitmaps for pre-outline machine-formats such as used in the first generations of the Autologic APS, Hell Digiset, Linotron 505, Monotype Lasercomp and RCA Videocomp into vector-outline-formats. Due to the low scan resolutions, many fonts poorly represented the quality of the original drawings. Technically there was no need for scanning in a higher resolution than that of a CRT-tube, but editing 512 x 512 bitmaps is tedious … Many of Frutiger’s typefaces were overhauled several times in order to remove the inaccuracies as caused by poor scanning quality, and (poorly handled) conversion technologies. The process of overhauling is extensively addressed in the book, but the technological conditions that caused them could have been explained in a more transparent way, I think.
  • @Nick Shinn‌ Thanks for correcting my terminology, that's what I really meant (pre-digital media).

    I'm mesmerized by the quality of the final outline pencil renderings in Frutiger's book. It's interesting to note the team effort involved in his designs. For me Frutiger's work was always Frutiger, it's nice to read some of his stories and to see the real world/non-fancy way in which he describes the process. I'm really hooked :).

    It's nice to hear your process too, thanks for that, I've learned a lot from everybody's input.
  • I mostly start working in Illustrator. Sometimes I make sketches or do some calligraphy for inspiration, but I rarely ever draw letters to be digitized. I do when making metal logos, but when it comes to typefaces sketches are done solely for inspiration. I digitize in Illustrator because I find FontLab rather restricting, though it's unfortunate that my workflow is disturbed by the fact that it takes some hours before I start dragging the letters into FontLab and start seeing the typeface in action. At the other hand, the fact that the letters are next to each other in Illustrator with all the guidelines I require gives a lot more insight into the general dimensions. I also feel very restricted by FontLab's zoom level. I need to be able to zoom in to 6400%. I generally design my typefaces at 200pt so I can still zoom in a lot to work on the details, but for serif typefaces I tend to work at 600–800pt.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 892
    edited November 2014
    I don't sketch anything at all other than planning the goal of the design. Once I start, I don't refer to those sketches, especially since they're often drawn with my finger on my shower mirror. *

    Until I can see a letter in the context of a word, I'm not sure what it needs to look like. For example, if I'm designing an S, I type words in the preview pane with S in them. I throw down a blocky polygon S and bop the points around, gradually add more points until it feels like it belongs with the rest of the letters. Then I throw it on the mask layer and use it as a "sketch" to draw my proper S.

    This way I'm not limited by notions of what the S should be. Do I need a serpentine S, a Frutiger S, a descending wave S or a Stop S? I can guess ahead of time, but if I design it on-the-spot, I can be sure I'm adding the S I need rather than the S I want.

    I arrived at this technique out of necessity in the late 90's when I was making fonts based on rock band logos. With bands like Kiss or ACϟDC, there are only 3 seed letters which doesn't leave much information to extrapolate a rule system in which to design other letters. I would just drop down a simple polygon and shape it like clay until the new letter felt at home amongst the others. That's still how I do it today. I guess, in a way, I have to design my own band logo when I start a typeface design.

    When I read through this thread, I'm happy to see so many varied techniques. Otherwise, we'd all be coming up with the same designs.

    * Yes, I have a big mirror in the shower but that's no so strange. In Japan, we all have big mirrors in the ofuro.
  • If I'm making letters that need swing and life, with springy, organic curves, I have to start with pencil drawings, medium tight. If a glyph goes dead while being digitized, I may print it out big, work it over with a pencil and tracing vellum, scan the result back in, and redigitize.

    Modular or geometric letters I prefer to draw onscreen. Even so, sometimes I have to stop and noodle with a pen or pencil when something won't come right. I find my hand often makes better decisions than my head, but only when I have a pencil in it instead of a mouse.

    The moment when your beautiful, flowing pencil rendering turns into a lifeless blob of wonky vectors is the most disheartening part of type and lettering design. Fortunately, it usually doesn't last long. Afterward, you look at your pencil and wonder how you could have missed so many obvious errors.
  • Chris: ‘It [IKARUS] can be daunting to the new user.

    That depends on the part of the font production involved, I reckon. One of the strengths of the IKARUS format is that for manual digitizing one does not have to be very tech-savvy. The production of working drawings requires some non-digital skills, marking is learned in a jiffy, and handling the lens cursor requires some concentration. Next the analogue and digital contours have to be compared, and if necessary, (numerically) altered. Also this doesn’t require much technical know-how.

    I recall the people digitizing with IKARUS systems at Scangraphic in the early 1990s. I don’t think they knew much about type or related technology, but they were capable of converting the type drawings to identical digital glyphs. Albert-Jan Pool is the first one to present more details, because together with Volker Küster he was running the type department of Scangraphic at that time.

    On the level of the actual manipulation of data, especially the command line functions of IKARUS V4 can be intimidating. Quite some stuff, like batch-generation of fonts is fairly simple with the FM tools now though. Some batch functionality, like the altering of widths of characters while preserving stem- and curve-thickness, require quite some parameters from the command line, but these functions have become available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux now.


    For manual digitizing large-scale drawings are not by definition necessary. Often I make much smaller drawings (a couple of centimeters for the x-height) that I manually digitize. For instance DTL Fell started this way (see image above).


    The Achilles Heel of the IKARUS format has always been the conversion to other formats. Today this can be done better with the FM tools then ever before, but sometimes the newly generated contours require some additional editing still. Some new functions like the redistribution of IK-curve points help to make things easier (images above and below).


    IMHO really strong points of the IK format are the auto-tracing and interpolation. I honestly believe that TraceMaster is the best (batch) auto-tracer on the market still. When it comes to interpolation, IKARUS V4 is capable of intelligent interpolation, i.e., the number of contour-points is allowed to be different; glyphs will be interpolated as long as their morphology is corresponding. The image below shows an interpolation of DTL Argo and DTL Fleischmann. Interpolation in BlendMaster requires an identical number of points though.

  • Some batch functionality, like the altering of widths of characters while preserving stem- and curve-thickness, require quite some parameters from the command line
    glyphs will be interpolated as long as their morphology is corresponding
    How does that work? :)
  • Some batch functionality, like the altering of widths of characters while preserving stem- and curve-thickness, require quite some parameters from the command line
    glyphs will be interpolated as long as their morphology is corresponding
    How does that work? :)
  • But this: requires one master.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 732
    edited November 2014
    Although few people use it, you can experiment in Fontlab with a spline similar to the one Ikarus uses (called "Sketch mode"). The point placing logic is the same than in Ikarus.
  • How would this translate to vector? Is it just a different way of working with the curves? Do you still have to put anchor points at the extremes?
  • Sketch mode exists as a separate layer in FontLab. When you're finished manipulating it, you can have it render back to standard bezier curves. I've used it for tricky ultralights where I needed to control the thickness of a complex curve and Beziers didn't give me the control I needed.

    Double click points to toggle smooth and corner. You don't have to worry about extremes in sketch mode. When you convert to outlines, it'l place points on extremes.

    There's no way to delete the sketch layer after. The sketches stay with your VFB but seem to cause no harm.
  • That could be handy. Don't you get more anchor points than you would want to though? I guess it may not matter. I've seen professional typefaces with quite a lot of anchor points.
  • professional typefaces with quite a lot of anchor points
    @Martin, in the case of there being so many anchor points that some seem extraneous, their existence is most often the result of a format conversion, rather than being placed there by the original designer.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,151
    When you get to the real nuance of a curve, and want the best control, sometimes you need more anchor points than you might expect. Without seeing the exact example, i can't tell what is overkill and what is needed.
  • Right. Sometimes those anchors that one can't imagine being intentional, are. These are rare though.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,151
    Type designers can tell which are needed as they draw. Any of the autoscan tools surely do not know though.
Sign In or Register to comment.