My Town: Any hints for a graffiti-like font?

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So, here's a font with a backstory. (The story might be more interesting than the font.)

The local university did a study on my apartment complex (a "new town" which everyone calls "MJ") in Japan. The neighbourhood has lots of issues with poverty and violence but mainly the social fabric is just crumbling and the place is dying. This was summed up for them by some graffiti they found in one of the tower blocks:

 ("My Town good bye!!")

To try to improve some of the social fabric issues, the university opened a community center, which they called "KBU [the name of the university] My Town MJ":



I've been involved in running the center, and have been trying to develop the lettering into a typeface we can use for events, publicity and so on. There's a lot of given letters in the graffiti and the community center sign (which don't always harmonize with each other - that /B is more contrasty than the grafitti was), and I've tried to fill in the rest, but I've found it very difficult to get an authentic look for a graffiti-like font. I'm currently using a few final/initial features, but should I be using more contextual substitutions? Random cycling contextuals? Lots of ligatures? 

Here's the best I could come up with:

(and there's more in the PDF.) I plan to add kana when I have got the Latin looking reasonable, but if anyone has any tips for doing this kind of font construction I would appreciate it.

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  • Ray Larabie
    Ray Larabie Posts: 1,400
    edited March 2016
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    I worked on a similar project last year. Sorry, I can't show examples because I did this for a client's existing font with an NDA. Here's how I did it.
    • There are some letters with overhangs/underhangs like TLVWY and swashes. Make alternates for letters that will pop over/under those overhangs.
    • Make a class of pop-ups that will swap when there's a underhang next to it.
    • Make a class of pop-downs that will swap when there's an overhang.
    • Make a class of squeezers for situations where they're between and overhang and underhang.
    • Make a class of pop-up overhangs, like the t in Kyoto.
    • Make a class of pop-down underhangs, like an L that follows a T.
    • For everything else, use ligatures.




  • Simon Cozens
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    Thanks for that - things are starting to look a bit more dynamic now.

    One thing I'm currently having fun with is using vertical as well as horizontal kerning (using the "<a b c d>" syntax in the kern table) to move glyphs around. Anyone played with that and can I expect it to be well supported? Illustrator seems to work nicely and of course anything Harfbuzz-based is fine.
  • Georg Seifert
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    When I did stuff like this, and applied an underline in Adobe apps, the underline would follow the vertical shift. That makes it unusable for shifting punctuation to fit uppercase letters. 
  • Simon Cozens
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    Looks like it doesn't do that any more, at least in Illustrator CS6:
  • Georg Seifert
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    Good to know. Did you try Indesign, too?
  • Simon Cozens
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    Ah, good point. No, InDesign gives you a jagged underline. (I'm not sure in this particular case that it matters; if you're underlining graffiti in InDesign, you probably deserve to lose.)

    I think I basically have what I want now - thanks all!