(attempt at) a true reverse contrast Roman

Hello everyone,

Since this is my first time posting here, I'll start with a quick introduction. I've been into lettering and calligraphy for a couple of years, teaching myself this noble craft best I can. In august I purchased FontLab, and since then I've been moving up to type design. I've made a few typefaces so far, some esoteric, others more 'normal'. None of them are prize-winners, but I'd like to think I did a decent enough job for a beginner.

I've been working on what I'd like to call a 'true' reverse contrast typeface. The model is based on a foundational hand written with the nib angle at 135°. Of course, some adjustments had to be made to letterforms in order to retain legibility and avoid issues. I am trying to retain a slightly calligraphic look, combining it with angular forms. I find it tricky to describe, but take a look for yourself. In line with the rules of this board, see a low-res image of it below. A PDF is also attached.

Primary purpose would be display, but I am interested to see how it works in longer texts. Certainly, I wouldn't expect anybody to set more than a few sentences in it, but I do wish for everything to be relatively legible.

As of now, I've spent a long time staring at these letters and can't tell anymore which aspects look off because of poor design, and which look off because of breaking 2000-year old tradition.
I humbly ask you all for your expertise: any and all feedback/critique is welcome.

Thanks in advance!


  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,283
    I like it, especially your solution for the a. The only thing that my eye won't let go of is the w. I wonder if it might be better to go with a pointy middle. I can see that it follows the logic of the v & y and reversing the middle serif probably would make it worse.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,980
    I suggest that you thin the problematic heavy strokes of v, w, k and y slightly to accommodate how we are conditioned to see stems angled in this manner as thicker than they really are.
  • @Ray Larabie Thanks for your suggestion, I agree a pointed w might look better.

    @Nick Shinn The diagonals looking thicker isn’t just an optical illusion here: I purposefully made them slightly thicker than the verticals in order to emulate the broad nib. That being said, this may not have been the best idea.

    I will give both suggestions a try tomorrow!
  • I think that this would make a lovely titling font, but using it in text blocks could prove problematic, because the unexpected contrasts which make it delightful at large sizes could well be interpreted as out-of-focus in smaller sizes. At least, that's what I'm seeing.
  • @Nick Curtis Thank you for your feedback. Could you clarify what you mean by our-of-focus?
  • To my eye it reads like a shadow font. 
  • Now that Craig has said that, I can’t unsee it! :'(
  • Oops!
  • I can see the shadow font thing. Thankfully there's a huge market for shadow fonts, right?

    I've taken Nick and Ray's suggestions, and also just finished the uppercase. No kerning as of yet, and will save that for last. Needs some more refinement, but welcome more feedback in the meanwhile.

    Not sure at this point whether this whole idea is a ridiculous waste of time or not. My original plan included multiple weights and an italic.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,283
    Looking good.
  • I think, if you want this to be a useful typeface, it would make sense to treat the concept a little more loosely. The uppercase, in that sense, are a step in the right direction. The center of S is a bit jarring, but otherwise most letters make sense.

    In the lowercase, I have more doubts. I don't like that thick serif on the top of v and x and their siblings. Actually, the thick top serif (can we call it that?) on most stems is not my favorite. The p and q could use 'normal' serifs at their base. The s has the same problem as S. The g is all over the place.

    On the other hand: the a, comma, f, and r are super cool. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: this reversed-contrast thing is kind of intuitively hideous. That's what makes it cool. But you have to find a sweet spot between hideous and attractive. If you can manage that, this will be awesome. But it's incredibly difficult.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,283
    I like it this way because it has a felt marker look which is disarming. I think that's why it's easier for me to accept an unusual nib angle. If it were more refined it might remind me of sign letters I often see mounted in reverse...more like a mistake than an interesting angle.
  • Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 130
    edited February 2020
    Thank you Jasper and Ray for your helpful feedback.

    In preparation for this typeface, I did a bunch of calligraphy (with a felt tip broad marker) at a 135 degree angle to see how this would influence the letterforms. Part of my challenge has been to see which characteristics I should translate from pen to typeface, and which I should leave behind. Not to liken myself to Nicolas Jenson, but I suppose the process is similar to his translation from humanist hand to letter punch.

    So the thick top serif on v and brethren is a part of the letterforms I arrived at calligraphically, as is the little thickening in the center spine of S and s, and the somewhat odd flag-serifs (?). But I can also see how they seem idiosyncratic (or plain ugly) when translated to vector. Then again, Ray suggests that this might be a good thing.

    A large inspiration has been Spencer Charles' sinistral hand, a calligraphic hand at a 135 angle for lefties. Sinistral hand, however, has a very unique look, a bit like blackletter but mostly its own thing. What I'm trying to make here is intended to look closer to a normal Roman.

    I'm taking a few days off from this project to let my subconscious do its thing, and because I have more urgent matters to attend to, but I definitely want to keep chipping away at this.
  • I would make top and bottom arms of E, and top arm of F, a little longer. Z looks too narrow too. 

    This is probably too weird of an idea to work, but since I thought of it I might as well share: what about making the "lead in" or "lead out" serifs (e.g. top of b/h/l/k, bottom of p/q, midline of i/j/u) come in from the other direction?
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,980

    Ha! Now that I see the capitals, it reminds me of this.
    Which might be why I recommended the “optical” adjustment that used to be made for this old “Shadow” genre of typefaces, although I wasn’t making a direct mental connection to any particular precedent, just noting what I thought was a useful principle that would look right—which you have done very nicely! Fascinating.
  • I don’t know… as (more or less) said, at first glance it looks to me like quasi-monolineal letters with a graphic depth effect applied.
    I think you should concentrate more on the "flesh" of letters, or/and (at the same time) on the relationship between forms and counters in terms of balance. As is, it looks "hurried up" or drawn in a "semi-automatic" way…
  • Rafael CasesRafael Cases Posts: 38
    edited May 2020
    In numerous manuscript traditions using the broadnib pen, I see Greek lowercase with a default of 120-degree stress angle, Greek uppercase+Latin+Cyrillic (both uppercase and lowercase) with a default of 30-degree stress angle, Arabic+Syriac+Hebrew at 75 degrees by default, Ge'ez at 10 degrees, Javanese+Balinese at 80 degrees, Devanagari at 120 degrees, Tibetan at 60 degrees, Thai+Khmer+Lao at 60 degrees, Lanna+Tai Lue at 60 degrees by default, and Lontara at 120 degrees.

    The moment a stress angle from an originally monolinear script is introduced, the positive and negative spaces of the glyphs change, and consequently, the notan and the overall grey colour.  This is true especially in unconnected scripts.  But even in connected scripts, I still haven't encountered 45- and 135-degree stress angles.  They say that it will look like a 5 o'clock shadow on a monolinear embossed letter work, but I'd be echoing them.

    Here's my take: these concepts are not in alignment with a sense of directionality required in typefaces and calligraphy; directionality and an illusion of optical equality are fundamental concepts in text typeface design.
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