I am designing a sans serif typeface and want to apply the same character widths for the italic as I used for the regular font. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this decision? Are there specific problems that I will come across? And are there publications about this specific subject?
Hopefully your Italic is properly subservient to its Roman (versus being a flighty calligraphic primadonna) which would make things work out much better.
Sabon is, indeed, an especially good example, It was released simultaneously, in 1967, for metal casting machines by Linotype, Monotype, and the Stempel Foundry (for handsetting). It was the Linotype system of duplex matrices, in which the roman and italic letters were contained on the same matrix, one above the other, that drove the design of roman and italic at the same width.
Nearly all types designed for metal-casting Linotype (and later photo machines) shared this feature. Therefore, you could look to any of the early Linotype (and Intertype) catalogues for inspiration and guidance for designing romans and italics of equal widths. You’ll found the work of some remarkable designers, including W.A. Dwiggins, Rudolph Ruzicka, and Chauncey Griffith, who was the head of typographic development.
There are several reasons to use the same widths for (almost all) characters. It makes the spacing of the italic easier :-) But also for typesetting it can be handy, when you can change regular into italic and vice versa without changing the design of a text., for instance in a bilingual publication.
The italic won't be a sloped roman and I realise that for some characters the width of the italic probably has to be different. But the equal widths approach intrigues me, so I give it a try. Why not!
This would of course require a user of the typeface to be aware of this, and willing to make the effort to apply it when desired.
I don't really follow why this would require letter-by-letter matching of spacing. I can see why a bilingual publication might want blocks of italics to appear equally spaced, but I think you'll find that that effect is best achieved by varying widths.
Respect Sabon for its ingenuity, sure, but recognize it's drawn that way not because it's a good idea for an italic, but because the Linotype machines forced it to be that way.
Maybe they shouldn't, at least not in violation of our old shared maxim: a typeface is not a collection of beautiful letters, but beautiful collection of letters. So they should request, but cannot be allowed to demand.
@Hrant H. Papazian Thanks for these two links. In particular, Empirica looks interesting related to my project.
The use of italic embedded within roman text is a convention that evolves gradually, but I've not seen any evidence that the editors, printers, and publishers who did this thought this implied italic was a subordinate style to roman. I think that is a much more recent perception, and has to do with the creation and marketing of coordinated typeface families under a single name and, much more recently, the linking of these families in functionally stylistic sets in which the roman is considered ‘regular’.
This is what I mean by being flexible. Fitting different letterforms to the same widths is an artificial constraint that necessitates compromising the shapes; the Linotype Sabon italic o is a good example of such compromise. Unless there's a specific technical need to match the widths, e.g. for Linotype machine composition using duplexed matrices, why impose such a constraint?
For a parallel, look at the /a of Arial. Next to its neighboring letters in the word above, it looks stretched wide. It's a pretty ugly letter to my eyes, certainly more disharmonious than the /a of Helvetica above. Now Arial was designed with predetermined advance widths--they were taken from Helvetica so that the font could be subbed in without changing textflow. But perhaps to avoid looking too copy-cat-like, the Arial designer shortened the little tail at the bottom right. This though meant that to keep the advance width and also not open up too much space on the right, the whole right stem had to come rightward, in other words widening the letterform. As a result Arial's /a fits its advance width and is well spaced, but appears too wide in shape.
A big part of this is understanding that interior space of letters is a component that needs to be kept in balance too; it's a bad idea to stretch or compress letters with only the interletter space in mind.
Again, Arial's /a, like Sabon's italic /o, are reasonable solutions to a design brief that offered no flexibility in advance widths. But it seems pointless to me to adopt that inflexibility for no good reason.
Agree. For almost every situation, at least. It might be a good exercise though, even if it is only for concluding it was not a good idea in the first place.
On the other hand, I can certainly see it as an interesting feature when you want to change the style from Regular to Italic (and even Bold!) without any reflowing, just as Asap does. I am guessing this would be valuable if you are in a hurry.
Taking predefined widths as the starting point for a (in this case italic) design, urges you to look at the shapes from a different point of view. It can cause problems, but it can also result in modifications that you would not have considered when you work in the traditional way.
It started when I made a monowidth, unicase alphabet system/typeface, Panoptica.
And in fact, applying “Optical kerning” in InDesign was eye-opening.
middle: The monowidth glyphs, with “normal” sidebearings and kerning, for even colour.
bottom: Glyph shapes adjusted for even more even colour (wider H and M, narrower F and T).
Monowidth fonts are an extreme case of inflexibility, so they are a good source of information for me to see how the italic and regular may be combined.
To return to the original topic of this thread, neither of the italics of these variants set to exactly the same width as the romans, despite being slightly tweaked slants of the same letter shape, for the reasons Craig mentioned above.