It's not a perfect ellipse, why?

AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 210
edited January 2016 in Technique and Theory
I'm pretty sure this has been done before but never understood why. I was just studying Hoefler engraved text and noticed the O wasn't a perfect ellipse as marked in the image below. The overlay on top in yellow is the ellipse and the bottom in brown is from hoefler text. Is there a reason why they do this? If you look at the gif  as seen here, assuming its to make up for width optically and even if I pulled the side anchors it looks off in the corners. Not to mention the anchors on the side are not center aligned for the O in hoefler's version, its like it's been pushed up a little. The green stroke aligns with the anchors from the brown text and the orange stroke aligns with the anchors on the yellow ellipse. Maybe I've over analyzing this but I'm kinda curious why its off centered and it's not an ellipse.

Edited image cause the first one was the wrong image.



  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,100
    [Still wrong image, I think. The one you linked to in the text seems to meet your description.]

    You ask why the letterform isn't a perfect ellipse. I might respond by asking why you would expect it to be? The letter O is seldom a perfect ellipse. Even in a geometric style of low contrast type such as Futura, the O is adjusted for optical reasons. In most styles of type the shape varies not only for optical purposes but also to give some liveliness to the form: pure geometry tends to look dull and static.

    With regard to why the optical centre of the letter might sit slightly higher than the geometric centre — by raising the extrema of the sides slightly — this is for the same reason that the crossbar of the H sits slightly higher than the mid-height of the letter. Whether as a result of optics or experience, we tend to perceive geometrically centred vertical features as lower, so they are raised slightly to compensate. The same adjustment is observed in much art, and also in how we frame pictures or arrange text on a page: the bottom margin is larger than the top margin.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    Even aside from optical correction to overcome some idiosyncrasies of human perception, who is to say that a compass drawn circle is the best curve for a glyph to live in harmony with all of the others? We attempt to draw the best curve for the visual situation without regard for strict geometry.  While geometry may have its usefulness, it is rarely optimal for the drawing of letterforms.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    I have just come across this article. It seems to hint at a "greater meaning" regarding time and space and how we perceive it.
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 210
    edited January 2016
    @Chris Lozos  @John Hudson  Cheers thanks. I was aware of the optical corrections people make for crossbars, etc, didn't realise it applied to rounded letters. So, if I had to redraw this, would you start with an ellipse and only after  everything is drawn out does one make optical corrections like off centering the anchors and stretching the handles like on the top  etc to make it visually pleasing? Essentially it's eyeballed when you make these corrections?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,100
    I don't know what the method was for creating that particular letter, but it isn't unusual to start with a basic ellipse (not necessarily a circle) and then edit the nodes and handles to get it to look how one wants, looking at it alongside other letters, gradually refining.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    Following what John said, when you look at it next to other glyphs again and again as you work, don't fear making a change in the curve no matter how long you have worked on it.
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