Hi, my name is Britt and I'm new here, and I really hope you can help me! I have been a typography teacher for over 10 years at different art academies in The Netherlands, which I love. Since a few weeks I'm also organising my own courses to private students, which I love even more:-)
I have a small group of people, from different countries, different ages, different experiences. One thing the have in common: THEY START LOVING TYPE! Since we are heading to our last lesson I would like to give them something extra. I think the most valuable thing I can give them are tips and tricks from YOU.
So do you have any tips and tricks (preferably in Glyphs) that you would like to share about making the perfect outline?
Thanks a million, especially from my students! Have a great weekend:-)
You are not making a final product, but a notan machine for other people to use.
Know the severe limits of the grid, transcending it with optics sooner rather than later. And not only the Cartesian grid, but the chirographic as well.
When it comes to actually creating glyphs in a tool like FontLab or Glyphs, I like to start with the structural glyphs, the ones that establish the common repeated shapes, spacing, and proportions, so in a Latin typeface usually the sequence i l n h m o (my first test word is always nihilim, which is a great way to establish the visual rhythm of letter widths and inter-letter spacing). But at the same time, I have in mind an overall idea or mental image of the typeface, including the flavour glyphs, the ones that impart most of the distinctive character of the typeface: a e f g k r s t, and the often problematic diagonals v w x y z.
That kind of mental image—the ability to picture in your mind what a block of text in a non-existent typeface would look like—is something that only comes with lots of experience both of looking closely at typefaces and of creating them. So it makes sense to beginners to spend more time sketching ideas, including those flavour glyphs and however roughly, before proceeding to a tool like FontLab or Glyphs, to help establish the design in the mind. The worst thing is to start randomly fiddling in the tool without having either an end or a path in mind.
Space the glyphs as you go, rather than thinking of spacing as something to be done after the shapes are made. A typeface is a system of shapes in spatial arrangement with each other, so you can’t design the shapes without the spacing.
Secondly, a blank glyph is worse than a poorly designed glyph. It's better to get 'stuck in' and accept that crafting the perfect outline (and a balanced typeface) is a journey. What's helped me tremendously is removing all outside influence during the initial design stage. It's easier to digitise an initial pass of horrible outlines when you believe no one else will see this work. The fear of assessment stifles ones creativity.
Dissecting the title of your post "Tips and Tricks in Type Design", it evoques 2 excellent and rather different books I use as references (among others).
To quote Karen Cheng: "... new designers are breaking new ground in the profession and their contributions will lead to evolution and progress in the field"
- Designing Type by Karen Cheng: not the ultimate reference but very complete, I find it sometimes not clear enough but I don't know a better approach.
- Type Tricks by Sofie Beier: not a "Type Design for dummies" but instead a series of tricks well explained and illustrated.
And, to quote Sofie Beier "As soon as you have learned all these little things, you can then forget about them, and go play with your designs."
2. Sweat more so you bleed less.
Don't get stuck solely on the exact math or geometry of shapes, it's sometimes necessary and better to make optical corrections that look and feel right more than they are following a precise measurement.
(Of course, consistency is important in things like stem weights, etc. but there is freedom to break the "grid" when needed.)
Even if there is no ACTUAL external customer, pretending there is one is a great way to help focus the design. Typefaces developed to address very specific real-world problems can be great typefaces and get much broader use. (Times New Roman has seen a lot of play beyond just newspapers.)
Certainly, start with the “Regular”.
But after that, work on the extremes, and interpolate the other weights.
For the Hairline weight, draw a skeletal path for the glyphs—this is easy to manipulate, then stroke it to, say 20 units of 1000 unit em.
Interpolating between Hairline and Regular produces very subtle Light weights that would otherwise be really hard to draw from scratch.
For the heaviest weight, there will no doubt be a fair amount of “cheats”, and it might not interpolate so well, but it’s better than putting a lot of work into an Extra Bold, and then having to do almost as much again, for the Ultra.
After the first iteration where I draw all set roughly, I used to start with "final iteration" where I tried to make glyph by glyph "perfect and done" and then proceed to the next. What a mistake...
Eyes are so adaptive sense, so the more you look the less you see when it comes to type design. You might spend two hours trying to make the glyph perfect just to realize that's far from that later.
It's good to take a close careful look sometimes looking for bumps on curves etc. But working on a group of letters at the same time (even during the "final final final" phase) is much more effective. A few tweaks here, a few there, don't go too deep
You asked for Tips and Tricks. The least you can say is you provoked an avalanche of not only tips and tricks but also of the deepest ideas of experts on type designing.
You mentioned your 10 years of teaching the subject so I guess you already have your own idea on the matter.
I'm interested to read about it and your reaction to this avalanche.
The cliché ‘To break the rules, you first have to know them’, doesn't always work. Usually I work the other way around now: first let them free and then try to show them how to make things better with knowledge. Because if people take too much freedom, the work becomes arbitrary. What do you think?
As a retired teacher in gym, sports, computer science, I totally agree with your idea about teaching.
Except for swimming, where I would recommand to be very careful with "free work".
I think knowledge, rules, tips and tricks must be acquired by experimentation and the masters' experience. And to avoid gurus!
An important element in type design is the difficulty to master the very complete and dense software (I used Fontographer, Studio 5, FL6 and now Fontlab 7). I learn each day!
I simply found that in the beginning (having worked with a lot of layouts, guidelines, and exact geometric shapes) I had a hard time feeling like I could stray from the "grid" if needed.
This made me feel stuck and too robotic at times by trying to force certain glyphs to match precisely to other similar ones, which in cases like the thickness of the crossbar of an /e or overall density of an /s, it didn't really work in heavier weights.
The “the perfect outline” is achieved less through any particular techniques as it is through time. What you draw today, even if no changes occur, will look different to you in one week, 6 months, and 1 year from now.
What can you take away from this reminder?
Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your work. Scheduling time away from your type is just as important as drawing the type. Know that it is okay to move on from a font—you may come back to it later in life with a fresh perspective.