Autotracing is Boring and Autotracing is Exciting

Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,035
edited January 3 in Technique and Theory
@Hrant H. Papazian
Whachutalkingabout? Autotracing is exciting as hell. Perhaps you might consider straight up autotracing of historical fonts boring and I agree, that could be boring. But it's kinda neato sometimes.

I find autotracing very useful for producing special effects. If I need to produce a layer of newspaper halftone or stipple, it's pretty much impossible to accomplish without autotracing. One of my typefaces called Mochon which was drawn with grease pencil would be been impossible to make without autotracing. If I had manually traced all those shapes, I don't know if the boringness level would be affected.

I went through a phase almost 15 years ago of using existing metal/phototype fonts, autotracing, manually cleaning up, adding special effects, autotracing and manually cleaning up again. At the time I thought of it like sampling music and creating something new. I tried to make it clear in the descriptions that it was based on old material. I think some of the results are good but some of it doesn't sit well with me in 2021. At the time I was inspired by sampling in music, these days I'd avoid it...I cringe a bit when I see some of them. But I sure don't feel bored.

Teeshirt started as an autotrace of an old American Typewriter specimen. I manually cleaned it up, expanded the character set, and used that to create layers in Photoshop. I painted real teeshirt fabric with acrylic paint, cracked it and scanned it. It would have been about the same amount of work to make an original typeface and much less work to use one of my own fonts. But I couldn't. The whole point of the typeface was 1970's teeshirt and it needed an authentic 1970's typeface for it to work properly. I could barely justify it to myself at the time but my desire to make something cool overrode the dubious ethics of it. Nowadays, I wouldn't attempt it.

Tight...so embarrassing. At the time I was unable to track down Dean Morris to ask permission. A couple of years after I made it, he called me out on it, publicly. If any of you young designers are thinking of doing this sort of thing, consider that you might feel stupid about it later and the original designer will make you feel like a dick.

Isn't that just a little bit interesting? C'mon, Hrant. All the cool kids are doing it.
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Comments

  • Simon CozensSimon Cozens Posts: 495
    I find autotracing very useful for producing special effects. If I need to produce a layer of newspaper halftone or stipple, it's pretty much impossible to accomplish without autotracing. One of my typefaces called Mochon which was drawn with grease pencil would be been impossible to make without autotracing.
    In general this is probably true. But I feel compelled to point out some of the awesome things that Luke Prowse has been able to do through scripting, and that his scripts are open source. (I was involved in tidying up the Python but the logic and ingenuity is all his.) Autotrace for this kind of stuff makes big heavy files with loads of points, but doing it generatively through scripts makes quite neat and tidy font files at the end.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 667
    I find autotracing very useful for producing special effects. If I need to produce a layer of newspaper halftone or stipple, it's pretty much impossible to accomplish without autotracing.

    This of course immediately brought Roger Excoffon's Calypso to my mind.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,064
    edited January 3
    @Ray Larabie Any thought of taking down those fonts that are embarrassing and made you feel like a dick? (That’s a sincere question not a rhetorical dig.)
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 667
    @Ray Larabie Any thought of taking down those fonts that are embarrassing and made you feel like a dick? (That’s a sincere question not a rhetorical dig.)

    Of course, no doubt he will answer you soon, but my guess would be that he would have done so long ago had he been selling the fonts himself, but the typeface belongs to Typodermic now.
  • What is truly boring is autotracing for text fonts. For jagged creations, of a more distinctive character, it works as a method. I could autotrace an image of $textfont pretty easily; that would be boring and would just produce a worse version of $textfont.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,035
    @Craig Eliason If they weren't potentially useful I might. The resulting fonts being actually good, tips the scale.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,597
    I can see it might be useful for the textured stuff Ray mentions, but for me, I’ve tried it a few times on solid types, and it took so long to clean up the autotracing, why bother, so I just manually trace over a scan. But I rarely use scans anyway.
  • edited January 5
     Autotrace for this kind of stuff makes big heavy files with loads of points, but doing it generatively through scripts makes quite neat and tidy font files at the end.
    That's a big problem in case of fine details like initials. E. g. the Cloister Initials http://luc.devroye.org/fonts-88654.html are available in some free versions, obviously autotraced, and they take long to render in a website.
  • edited January 5
    Autotracing is just a way to reconstruct fonts.

    Reconstruction of historic books needs reconstruction of the original fonts. Existing reconstructions of the same typefaces are not usable, because they are "improved". Also some disappeared, got out of fashion.

    Automatic reconstruction of fonts is a scientific field. It's more than just autotracing, recognize the features like e.g. serifs and apply them.

    Automatic construction of fonts is important e. g. for Chinese. This is done by a few samples for training the style of the strokes and apply the style to skeletons of all characters.

    One impressive example how computers can automatically learn different styles:

    Learning a Manifold of Fonts

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