Question from a (sort of) newbie

Chris DChris D Posts: 76
edited June 2015 in Technique and Theory
I am just getting back into type design after a long break, and I want to ask the experts here - what characters do you like to draw first when designing a new typeface? What's a good starting point for quickly testing out the strength of your idea applied to an alphabet? Do you head for lowercase letters first, or capitals, or numbers, or all at once?

Also is there a good post or article, or book you can reccomend, about type design workflows for pro designers? I've tried searching online but can only find basic articles about converting handwriting etc. I am a solo designer, and workshops and classes on type design are non existent where I live so learning online is where I need to turn to!

Cheers for your input, any guidance is massively appreciated!


  • Robin MientjesRobin Mientjes Posts: 132
    edited June 2015
    For Latin, HO and no are a good start. They give you a lot of knowledge of the spacing, some proportions, most common gestures. I tend to also draw a d and p early on, as they indicate the vertical proportions and also force you to figure out straights and rounds in combination.

    After that, there’s a whole set of things people recommend. Adhesives, hamburgers, hot dogs, duct tape, the list goes on!
  • Chris DChris D Posts: 76
    Fantastic. Thanks!
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,106
    edited June 2015
    In the crafting type workshops, I recommend

    - 'no': because they are straight/rounded on both sides, which is key for designing the initial amount of space in the sidebearings; then

    - 'aeiuh': vowels and closely related letterforms which gives you immediately enough words using a test text generator to get a feel for the texture of text with these letters; then

    - 'dbcswkg': letters with a variety of forms, to play with where the design can go and to challenge yourself (binocular/double story g)

    - 'HO' 'AEIUR': add caps. 

    Usually a complete beginner can get reasonable sketches of all these within the 3 days of the workshop. 

    After that amount of glyphs I recommend drwaing italics and weight extremes, and refining the design before adding many more glyphs.
  • Hey Chris,

    I use a PDF I created some time ago, to make a quick first draft of the alphabet so I can see how it works out on words/text and see the general character of the typeface:

    Hope it helps :)

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,786
    I usually start with h and o in both cases. From there I fill out the word “adhesion” in both cases. Then I proof, revise, repeat, eventually moving on to hamburgefonts, and so on. The prototyping and baseline proofs in my Github were designed for this workflow (and vice-versa).
  • Chris DChris D Posts: 76
    Thanks everyone for the detailed responses and the links to your notes and tools - I'm glad I asked because this is all really helpful! I think the rut I'd fallen into was one of not having a decent starting point... I often get an idea for a general shape or treatment, but I get hung up on which character to start out with first.

    Last night I'd started doing some rough sketches with lowercase h & o and I quickly discovered that you can make a ton of different shapes out of each to form other letters quickly... I'd always dismissed them as being too plain to begin with but it's actually been quite helpful. 

    Fernando's PDF is awesome too, I had been wrestling with trying to make a chart like this myself to figure out the repeatable elements within the roman alphabet, as I've been using the Components workflow in Glyphs 2 to assemble letterforms. So that's really handy to keep around. Coupling that with James' InDesign files, you can't go wrong really.

    The Crafting Type workshop looks great - I wonder if you've considered introducing it to AGDA (the local graphic design association here in Australia)? They would be happy to chat to you about the possibility of hosting some workshops here - if you ever do, please consider stopping by Adelaide! :)
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,110
    Treat those first glyphs with the care you'd put into a logo. For display fonts, I'll often start with a capital R and lowercase d and really fine tune them before going any further.

    Don't wait too long before figuring out the S or s. They often don't end up informing the rest of the letters very much but you can end up painting yourself into a corner if you leave them for last. You've got to finish your vegetables before you can have ice cream.

    Whatever you start with, just don't plow ahead and draw the alphabet in one shot. That's the rookie mistake you always see. 

    Before you make your masterpiece, text font with 9 weights, italics and small caps, consider making a couple of all-caps display fonts just to get the swing of it.
  • Chris DChris D Posts: 76
    > Before you make your masterpiece, text font with 9 weights, italics and small caps, consider making a couple of all-caps display fonts just to get the swing of it.

    @Ray I absolutely agree... I am currently working on some all-caps designs just to get the ideas out the door, and I'll come back and revisit them with lowercase letters / foreign characters etc when it feels right!
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