I think there was a thread on Typophile about drawing Italics but… obviously I can't find it. I have a a question I hope someone can shed some light on:
Why are Italics usually lighter than their roman counterparts? How is this calculated, or decided how much it should be lighter by?
Checking the outlines themselves, the stems are actually drawn lighter than the upright too. In text its clear that that italics are lighter too. Is it so that the italics don't stick out in running upright text and that these typefaces were not designed with running italics text next to upright in mind?
(While I'm here does anyone
have the link to the thread on Typophile [to access on Archive.org] where David Berlow or someone else from Font Bureau explains how they create a slanted sans?)
Obliques are often share their upright brethren's weight and tracking, and are usually very close in weight; that just might be because they are computer tilted knock-offs, though.
A bit of a tangent I suppose, Manutius's italic-set books usually contain no roman at all and it wasn't really until Granjon that the italics acquired a greater slant, a lighter weight, and more compression. By that time setting roman and italic together was fairly common.
That’s unfounded speculation. See Cramsie, The Story of Graphic Design, p. 89.
And Updike proposed that Aldus used the italic because his Greek types, which matched contemporary writing hands, had been successful:
It's design-dependent, but sometimes a reduction in width is not necessary, the italics/obliques will naturally look lighter.
It's the same reason that in already angled stems (such as A), slanting makes this optical discrepancy even more pronounced. After slanting the upstroke will appear lighter, while the downstroke darker.
With some basic sans designs, I've found that the italics/obliques without any stem width reduction, still look lighter next to the romans because of this.
Merely slanting an upright makes the font look too dark. Therefore it is made lighter to compensate. This I understand.
But most of the serif designs I see take it further and actually reduce the weight so that optically they appear even lighter than the uprights. This is done is so that the italic has enough emphasis (like a word within a line or a sentence within a paragraph?) compared to the upright text —why not have italics that are darker instead?
Because that is not what the reader expects. From that point of view, a darker italic would not be as functional as a lighter italic. If you want to use an italic which is darker, you can also use an italic with a medium or even bold weight. Or take a bold roman. The darker the weight, the more the evenness of the grey value of the page is distorted. Until you end up with raisin-bread typography.
Another reason why italics are lighter is probably that humanist roman scripts are being written with a pen held at approx. 30°, whereas humanist cursive scripts are typically written wit a pen angle of 45°. When you write these scripts with the same pen at the same x-height, the cursive script is always lighter than its roman counterpart.
Yes, the idea of doing an italic with an x-height that is lower than that of the roman is temptative, but it may look awfully unrest when hinting for smaller sizes is not done properly. I wonder how many professionally text typeface designs really feature such an italic (except for the – in my eyes – obvious bloopers from the pre-war Monotype office, such as Fournier).
When you want to test the grey value of your italics, you would probably like to test some words in italic within a text set in the roman, because that is the most common and critical situation for the use of a roman and its italic counterpart.
Upright roman letterforms are static, akin to bodybuilders and weightlifters. Italic letterforms are more dynamic, they echo a quicker writing style, so they’re akin to runners and jumpers.
We’re psychologically hardwired to perceive objects that imply movement as lighter as those that imply sturdiness and reliance — and we expect them to be that way.
But even if we limit ourselves to writing alone: writing upright letterforms is slower, and when we write slower, we tend to push the writing tool harder into the surface (so it’s easier to maintain a consistent stroke while going at a slow pace). Writing italic forms is faster, and when we write faster, we tend to push the tool less, we let it glide.
So as a natural outcome, the italic letterforms tend to be lighter than the upright ones, even coming from the same hand. That “natural” consequence results in our expectations for what’s “normal” to be formed accordingly.
Seeing bolder italic forms being used alongside lighter upright forms is just as confusing as seeing a heavyweight boxer moving swiftly and gracefully next to a ballet dancer who stomps around clunkily.
By similar mechanism, we perceive “printed” letterforms to convey more objective information while “handwritten” letterforms to convey subjective opinion. So by convention, in newspapers news are printed in upright while quotations or opinions are printed in italic. If we reverse the convention, many readers would be confused.
Adam’s version is a great post-hoc rationalization, yet… this makes a lot of sense to me, as regards the most likely historical origin of the difference in italic stroke weight.
To expand on what AJP is saying here: the larger the difference between nib angle and stroke direction, the thicker the stroke.
Writing a vertical stroke with a 30° nib angle, there is a 60° difference between nib angle and stroke direction. Writing a 10–20° italic with a 45° nib angle, there is a 25–35° difference between the nib angle and the stroke direction, for the nominally-vertical strokes.
Yes, both forms have some strokes that are at an equal maximum thickness. But the most common stroke thickness is the vertical (or “nominally vertical” in the case of the italic), and the impact on the most common stroke makes for a significant difference.
In comparison Garamond takes the contrast between Regular and Italic to an extreme:
A question for the type designer or typography to consider is how will the italics be used. There are several conventional uses for italics in text—for semantic emphasis, for citations, for transcription—and while a good italic should be able to function in any of these roles, some might be better suited to one or other. The vary narrow italics of the Garamond tradition work very well for emphasis and adequately for citations, but not so well for transcription, where one wants the roman and italic to be easily distinguished but have a similar presence on the page. That’s why Brill italic, which is used a lot for tanscription, is so wide: