Synthium Display

Hello everyone!
I'm a graphic designer, currently working at an agency in the DC Area. I've been in the field since 2015. My interest in type design was sparked in college and since then I've been designing typefaces in my spare time as personal exercises to help me better understand letterforms and typography in general. I've shared some of my type work with fellow designers but haven't had the benefit of critique or mentorship from seasoned type designers. 
The typeface I'm sharing today is the third I've designed. The first two designs have been more traditional grotesque. One of them was strictly an exercise and the other is still in development. 
Synthium Display is a futuristic typeface inspired by 80's sci-fi titles and dystopian future fantasies. I tried to bring some modern sensibility to the proportions of the letterforms. However, I have made some unusual choices such as mixing rounded and hard edges in hopes that this will stand out from other futuristic display fonts on the internet. I am aware that this typeface is gimmicky and I'm hoping that will be embraced in its application. It could be used for titling on a YouTube video featuring an electronic music mix, implemented in a vaporwave aesthetic motion graphic, or maybe a design student will use it in an 80's-inspired movie poster project. This is strictly a display face but I have included some longer blocks of text in the proof so you can see how the letterforms interact. 
As many of us are professionals I understand how valuable your time is and greatly appreciate feedback.
Thank you!



  • I understand that you are trying to make a “constructed” looking typeface. Even so, in order to LOOK like certain things are even/proportional/normal, there are some things that are normally done. Other than overshoot for the UVW (good), I think you are not doing most of these things.

    This video I made a few years ago covers many of the most important of these issues: 
    Even though everything is shown with FontLab Studio 5, the general principles are independent of any particular tool.
  • Think of ways to open up the acute angles of A and 4 so that the counters don't close up so much.
  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited November 2019
    I understand that you are trying to make a “constructed” looking typeface. Even so, in order to LOOK like certain things are even/proportional/normal, there are some things that are normally done. Other than overshoot for the UVW (good), I think you are not doing most of these things.

    This video I made a few years ago covers many of the most important of these issues: 
    Even though everything is shown with FontLab Studio 5, the general principles are independent of any particular tool.
    Thank you! I just watched the video you suggested in its entirety and here are my takeaways:

    -Address clogging at the joint – ink traps (only slightly)

    -Reduce thickness of horizontal strokes (standard is 10% reduction)

    -Consider slimming down the right diagonal of the V slightly (western culture specific).

    -Adjust crossbar of H – nudge up slightly

    -Consider mathematical formula for spacing based on the counter of the H

    This is very helpful as I was not aware of most of these practices. I was thinking I could get away with not addressing the clogging at the joint because of the "constructed" nature. It seems like the answer is to address it by manipulating the points but only slightly. 

    I'm still struggling to understand the concept of the extrema points because FontForge is showing an error for extrema with this typeface but as I understand it I do have points at the extrema. So I need to do more research on that. 

    -Edit: Also looks like I need to go in and clean up the curves on the rounded edges. Maybe this will fix the extrema issue.

    Thanks again for your time! I'll definitely be implementing the suggestions I pulled from your video. 

  • Think of ways to open up the acute angles of A and 4 so that the counters don't close up so much.
    Thank you! Those counters do feel very tight. I'll look for a way to fix. Much appreciated!
  • The main thing I would add to your existing takeaways would be the vertical vs horizontal stroke thickness. Currently, I suspect they are mathematically identical, but that makes the horizontals look heavier. (If there is a difference, it is not enough.) You need to make the verticals heavier than the horizontals, to make them look monoline. Strange but true.
  • @Thomas Phinney You're right! They are mathematically identical. I only reduced thickness of the horizontal strokes where the optical balance really felt off, like in B, 8, 3, and 9. I'm actually working on it now. It makes a big difference. Thanks again!
  • I've applied some of the principals I've learned to the O. I slimmed the horizontal strokes down by 10% for optical balance and adjusted the curves very slightly so they're a little more gradual without killing the constructed look.

  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,896
    edited November 2019
    Now the curved parts look thinner than the horizontal and vertical parts.
    Also, the transitions from curve to straight looks rather abrupt. I'm even getting a bit of bone effect in the form of a small upward bump on the bottom stroke (and, to a lesser degree, a «uvula» on the top stroke).
  • @Christian Thalmann Great feedback! Thanks so much for taking the time. Here's another version of the O with your feedback incorporated. I eased the curves a little more and moved the points to smooth out those transitions. Am I moving in the right direction?
  • Version 3 is very smooth and handsome. You've changed the typeface's philosophy from rounded rectangles to squircles, though. That's a pretty big change, and you have to decide for yourself whether it's what you want for that typeface.
    (It's certainly possible to make rounded rectangles look good, BTW. You might need to add some extra points in the curves to aid the straight–rounded transition, though.)
  • Agree with Christian.

    The biggest problem with version 2 was that the corners are thinner than both the verticals and the horizontals. So that looks “off.”

    But other than that, the choice between 2 and 3 is a question of what you want, rather than one being “better.”
  • @Christian Thalmann @Thomas Phinney
    Thanks for the thoughtful feedback! I do want to maintain the rounded rectangle philosophy but it would be nice to do so with a just a little more easing to the curves to help reduce those upward bumps. I think I've come to a good balance with version 5 from the sample below. It felt like version 4 went a little too far into the rectangle realm and the corners were a little too robust. Ultimately I'm trying to accomplish an optically balanced interpretation of version 1 without any weird bumps. Thoughts? 

    I've been trying to find a "good" typeface that is based on rounded rectangles so I can observe how its balanced optically. Best typeface I can come up with so far is Eurostile. 
  • That is looking good!
  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited November 2019
    Thanks! On to C, D, G and Q!
  • @Craig Eliason @Thomas Phinney @Christian Thalmann
    I've taken all of your information and suggestions and applied them to this second version.
    I opened up the counters on A and 4. I changed the stroke weight throughout to for optical balance between the vertical, horizontal, and angled strokes. I eased all of the curve transitions and tried to eliminate the optical bumps that resulted from the mathematical curves. I addressed "clogging at the joint" where it was apparent to me. I attempted to rework everything with optical balance in mind. 
    Overall I think I've made a big improvement. However, I'm questioning if the numbers are speaking the same language as the letters. The numbers have tighter curves that mirror the S, and the B. I'm wondering if I should try a more traditional approach where the outer curves align more with the O but I don't want to kill the, quirky, futuristic look that comes through in the numbers. 
    I'd love to hear any suggestions you might have and greatly appreciate the time you've taken so far! I attached a PDF if anyone wants to take closer look.

  • I'd consider lowering the spine of /S (and /five and /six) to be more even in counter size (given that glyphs like /E/H/three/eight/nine are closer to balance). /A crossbar now may be a bit too low. 
  • Broadly, this is MUCH improved.

    Somehow it looks as if the V and A both have reversed contrast, though. (This may just be that the diagonals are the same weight, and the eye expects something just slightly tweaked from that.)

    And the W has some issues as well with the second stroke looking heavier than the first. The first stroke should be heaviest or tied, and the second should be lightest or tied.

  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited December 2019
    @Thomas Phinney I'm back after another round of improvements. Thanks to @Christian Thalmann I have a new, heightened awareness of the hard bumps and lumps in the transitions and I just kept seeing them in version 2. So I studied more typefaces and devised a new way to plot the points throughout that allowed me more control over the transitions. Absolutely nothing is mathematically drawn in the whole typeface now. Every bezier handle has been tuned. I took a closer look at the way diagonals are balanced in my favorite typefaces and reworked all of my diagonals. I also took all of @Craig Eliason's above suggestions which really helped with balance. Does anyone else think 4 feels a little too heavy? I opened up the counter on 9 to balance it out but things are getting a little tight between the bowl and the lower stroke. Not sure thats working. I'm wondering what else I can do to push this further before I move on the ampersand, and @ symbol. 

    A PDF is attached in addition to the embedded png. 

    Many thanks!

  • O and C are very nice!

    To be honest this whole rounded corners thing isn't really working for me. It feels a bit like an afterthought, rather than something that is thought out and fits in with the rest of the design. And I feel similarly about many if the diagonal stroke endings, e.g. E but also 3.

    KWXY are too narrow. And the top two horizontals in E are visually much shorter than the bottom one, which is not bad per se, but I don't see it anywhere else so now it looks off.
  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited December 2019
    @Jasper de Waard Thanks for your feedback. And thank you for bringing up the rounded corners.

    When first designing this typeface the contrast of rounded corners and the diagonal stroke endings seemed like a great way to make it more distinguished and convey the 80's futuristic aesthetic. However as the design evolves I have been questioning the rounded corners. I'm not sure they do anything to impart the inspiration behind this typeface. I do think they compromise the balance, especially in the characters like U, H, and K where I'm mixing hard corners and rounded corners. I'm no longer convinced the rounded corners are adding value. I'm more attached to the diagonal stroke endings because they carry a hint of the sci-fi movie poster aesthetic (Escape from New York, Blade Runner, etc.) without being too over the top. But I'm not opposed to 86'ing them. I wonder if there are changes I could make to how or where they're applied that could make them feel like less of an afterthought. 

    I do agree that KWXY are too narrow after reading your comment and doing some comparisons. I made the W very narrow in an attempt to keep the rounded corner where the strokes meet but also avoid having an angle on the diagonal that creates an awkward space when it is set next to a character with vertical strokes. I think that could be solved by eliminating the rounded corners overall and exploring another way to treat the joining of diagonal strokes.

    I greatly appreciate you taking the time to look at this. 

  • K PeaseK Pease Posts: 180
    The rounding seemed very arbitrary, but it can still be worthwhile if you use it more sparingly and deliberately. I'd say yes on upper left corners, but no on lower left legs. Legs want to be stable. The exception would be T,I,L, where there's some cultural expectation of a rightward tail sweep on those letters, and the tops of those should be square. H is a tough call, but whatever you decide, the two vertical strokes should be identical. Otherwise, the guideline I would go by is "bends, not ends." Rounding both obtuse angles of Z might be worth a try. And of course don't butcher things like the equal sign at all.
  • Curious to see the latest version! :)
  • Hey all! The holidays have been busy but I'm still at it.

    I've been through two more rounds of revisions. In version 5 I did away with the rounding altogether. After some contemplation I decided that while this version is more sound it doesn't reflect the quirky 80's sci-fi titles that inspired the typeface. This prompted me to follow @K Pease's suggestions in reapplying the rounding for version 6. I tried to be more intentional with the rounding in this version, using it in a more balanced way. I also took @Jasper de Waard's advice and widened KWXY among other adjustments. Jasper was spot-on about those characters being too narrow. They feel much better now.

    Overall I feel much better about version 6, especially the rounding. It feels much more balanced and deliberate than version 3.

    I'm looking forward to creating lots of hyper-quirky, futuristic alternate characters to provide the option of going a little more over the top for titles. 

    I included version 3 for comparison and a PDF is attached for those who would like to have a closer look. 

    @Dave Crossland Here is the latest version!

    Looking forward to more feedback! 

  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 729
    edited January 2020
    It looks good.

       Take care to rotate and mirror your designs so you can see inconsistencies. Preferably print them out big, since it's a display. The Z, for example, looks a bit leaning to the left hand side. Give the eye of the Q more breathing room, currently it's exactly as wide as the O and that should not be so - the Q has a stroke protruding inside it.

       The numbers speak a somewhat different dialect than the letters. 1 should have a bigger nose and maybe a base, 2 is very wide, the horizontal stroke of 4 should be more pronounced to the right. I would substitute the dot in the zero sign for a right diagonal, as in computer fonts.

       Some theory I have been taught (it's a recommendation, not a hard and fast rule): When designing numerals, you have to take two things into account: if there is going to be a lowercase and if there are gonna be oldstyle numerals. If there are both sets (and maybe some corresponding numerical extensition like tabular etc.), the regular numerals take the stroke thickness of the uppercase and the oldstyle of the lowercase. If there is no oldstyle but there is lowercase, the numerals are made with thickness that is in the middle of the two registers, because they have to "work" with both, and with their extended letter families.
    If there is neither lowercase nor oldstyle (since it's strictly a display), leave the thickness as is, but modify the forms as I wrote out.

    Edit: Also, it would perhaps not hurt to do some 70s sci-fi mock-ups with your font to see if it "gets" the feeling you intend.

  • @Vasil Stanev Thank you for the critique and sharing your knowledge. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it! 

    It's amazing how comments like yours have increased my sensitivity to type design. After your mention of the Z titling left I can't unsee it. I'm looking forward to finding a solution for that. Perhaps the diagonal and top stroke need to extend slightly beyond the right side of bottom stroke for optical balance.

    The information you shared about the numerals is great. I'll implement your advice in my next version and work with some mockups see if the right vibe is coming across. I think a lot of the futuristic feel will come through in the alternate characters which I've started working on. 

    Thanks again!

  • Thanks!

    The top part of the glyphs is usually slightly shorter/smaller than the bottom one (this applies to S, Z, B, Chinese characters and so on).

    The best advice of all is to study classic fonts. :)
  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited February 2020
    I'm back! I've read "Designing Type" by Karen Cheng and I've been hammering away at revisions.

    I took all of @Vasil Stanev's advice. I did lots of fine-tuning. I reworked the curves throughout the numbers to be more harmonious with the letters. I designed some of the punctuation and special characters. The ampersand took me almost 5 hours. The at-symbol was quite the challenge as well. The question mark needs work. Exclamation point needs more space between the vertical stem and the dot.

    I've been working on more dynamic type samples. I'll share those soon.

    Next step is to rework the sidebearings and kerning pairs. After that I'll create a bunch of crazy, futuristic alternative characters. Finally I'll do the latin accents. 

    Open to feedback as always!

    I've attached a PDF for those who'd like to have a closer look.

  • Great look and feel, that rounded rectangle thing. Geometrical shapes are surprisingly difficult to work with, and you're rapidly learning a host of subtle techniques, adding motion and grace. Your progress is inspiring to a hobbyist n00b like me. Anyway, here are a few notes:

    The heights of the middle horizontals feels good. However, maybe raise that of /R just a scoche so its diagonal leg doesn't feel so stunted? Also, its bowl looks like it's drooping, even though it's actually level.

    I think maybe /I is out of balance; it looks weak against /H and /J. You generally want to make the stem of /I a touch darker for balance.

    The corner of /J somehow seems darker and lumpier than that of /U, even though they seem to be the exact same shape.

    The upper arm of /K is too dark; it overpowers the other strokes.

    I love the /N. The join to the right is high enough to have character and flair, but low enough to be legible.

    I'd open up the inner corners of /M, /V, /W, etc. just a bit more; they're pretty tight.

    The transition between the round and diagonal of/two feels abrupt, and not as elegant as the other transitions you've achieved elsewhere.

    /G has issues: the space between the head and crossbar is pretty small; and the crossbar joins the bottom with a weird transition. The bottom right probably has the exact same geometry as the bottom right of /U, but it needs some optical correction: it's too dark.

    The crossing of strokes in /Q needs to be opened a bit; it's too dark.

    /zero looks great; using the lighter cross-stroke was a great move. The glyph feels more monoline thereby.

    The color of the analphabetics... 'nuff said, amirite? And the upper and lower halves of /exclam don't work together, alas.

    I think my favorite part is the variety in stroke termini; it's a subtle yet effective means for adding variety and lightening the mechanical feel.

  • Thomas WeakleyThomas Weakley Posts: 59
    edited February 2020
    @Michael Vokits Thank you very much for the constructive and thoughtful feedback! Great notes. I'm looking forward to incorporating them.  

    Edit: "analphabetics" is definitely going into my vocabulary  :D 
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,896
    edited February 2020
    Agreed; nice feel overall.
    I'm a bit confused about the application of corner rounding in some of the glyphs, such as /H/. The /M/ and /Z/ feel very sharp compared to something like /E/.
    Not too fond of /N/; my eye snags on it, and there's no other letter to agree with it. I'd suggest at least offering a stylistic alternate for it.
    The center of /5/ is perhaps a bit... gooey?
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