Books on developing font weights?

I'm struggling with the creation of different weights for typefaces. There seems to be a science to adjusting weights. Can anyone recommend books or other resources that impart this wisdom? 


  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 779
    edited February 8
    You can ask Gunnlaugur SE Briem at ( for his old website "Notes on type design" which sadly is not online anymore. Pity, I think it was an useful resource.

  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 779
    edited February 8
    Also you can get Creative Lettering Today by the multi talented Michael Harvey. There are some tips on making bold versions in this book (and so much important information and advises). Strongly recommended.

  • Thank you very much, Ramiro! 
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,733
    Get The Modification of Letterforms by Stanley Hess. It explains how to build families with a variety of weights and widths. It’s a forgotten classic of type design.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,865
    edited February 8
    @Oliver Weiss (Walden Font Co.) First of all: there is no science.  :-)  But: below is a particularly useful diagram (page 59 in Frutiger's "Type Sign Symbol", 1980).

    What's more obscure (and contested) however is how to determine multiple weights on a gradation (simply linear doesn't generally work out). I think there have been some good threads about that here.
  • That looks very familiar.
  • Just as a reminder, designing bold weight these days is closely related to interpolation. So it's not only about the look of the bolder weight, but also a glyph structure (if interpolation is planned), in terms of the number of nodes, their placement, contours starting points, and direction, avoiding interpolation "kinks" etc.


    Oldie but goldie resource is:

    Also, great tutorials about masters on the Glyphs forum.

    Usually, the manuals for drawing software also have some theory points besides only explaining tools for manipulating masters.


    As for the design of bolder weights, a few most important things would be:

    - The decision about stem weight for the thickest weight in the family. There is a reasonable limit to how thick the design can be because some letters (double-story lowercase g i.e.) have very limited space to add weight and still preserve any counters. Lucas De Groot's and Pablo Impalari's diagrams about "stem weight vs weight name" should be checked in this sense.

    - Once you know how much weight should be added, the next step is to decide where the weight goes. This varies, but in general, 3/4 goes "inside" the glyph, and 1/4 goes outside the skeleton. Because the vertical metric is fixed, that 1/4 which goes outside, makes bold letters "wider" in proportion than in lighter weights. Weight distribution is most important for lowercase because there is the least space here. As a matter of fact, lowercase letters are actually getting a bit higher than x-height in bolder weights, to accommodate this.

    Also, because there is more space to add weight in horizontal than in (almost fixed) vertical direction, usually horizontals get less weight than verticals, which means that bolder weights have increased contrast compared to lighter ones. This is true mainly for black weight. Classic bold weight probably can get away without obviously increased contrast.

    - Because white space is smaller for bolder letters, letter spacing is also smaller, which means side bearings are smaller than in regular weight.

    - Adding weight is not a straightforward process, and many letters require a special case scenario. Because of this, the most useful resource is to study existing typefaces, to overlay weights, and measure glyphs at some critical points, compare, etc.

  • Thank you all, you're being hugely helpful! 
  • That looks very familiar.
    Good memory.
    When I asked this very same question (ages ago) you told me to go look it up. In a book that cost ~$300 at that point IIRC. When you could've done what I just here...  :-)
  • More like $400 now! 
  • More like $400 now! 
    One copy on in Germany for under $200, one copy in the US at over $500.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,641
    James has all the best books!
  • Sorry to do this to you guys but I got mine for $35 (thanks to a tip by erstwhile font friend Phan Nguyen).
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,252
    I was going to say, a lot of the diagrams (including that one) from Type Sign Symbol are also included in the more recent Adrian Frutiger Typefaces: The Complete Works, but looking it up I see that, since it's also out of print, it's fetching a pretty steep price as well. 
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,865
    edited February 10
    @Mark Simonson Checking... I'm seeing some copies for $150. I could never get myself to pay that much for it TBH. I think the most I've paid for a type book is $70 (the 1982 facsimile of Rudolf Koch's incredible "The type foundry in silhouette" of 1936).
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,865
    edited February 11
    @Daniel Calders Thank you, I hadn't heard of that book – sounds pretty promising. Just bought a used copy for $8, free shipping!
  • @Daniel Calders Thank you, I hadn't heard of that book – sounds pretty promising. Just bought a used copy for $8, free shipping!
    That's a deal/steal! It's a great book even for the full price, very underrated imho. Enjoy the read!
  • @Daniel Calders I got it! Yes, worth WAY more than $8. Thank you.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,733
    Glad to see I’m not the only one who was gobsmacked multiple times by Samara’s history.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,865
    @Oliver Weiss (Walden Font Co.) Thanks for the insights!

    Good thing history is the least relevant part of the craft.
  • Perhaps. But how can I trust anything else he says? 
  • edited March 6
    I read some more, and now it's just hilarious. On page 30, he shows an image from Peter Behrens' 1901 book "Lebens in Kunst." There is no such book (and if there was, I'm sure the title would employ proper German grammar) – though Behrens did publish "Feste des Lebens und der Kunst" in 1900, which is where the  image is taken from. Compared to this, misspellings like "Behrenschrift" and  "Merganthaler" are just sprinkles on this sundae.

    I'm not the type who does this, but I emailed him and recommended hiring better editors. I expect no response whatsoever :)
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,865
    edited March 6
    @Oliver Weiss (Walden Font Co.) I'm glad you emailed him. If he accepts the critique with an open heart at least that means he's a real designer (versus a mere fragile artist).

    On being able to trust: it's not binary, and you can learn how to filter.  :-)  There are many people here on TypeDrawers who often make ridiculous statements (such as "using a freely available font has no impact on branding") but I still take their opinion on certain other things seriously. So when it comes to Samara's now-exposed failing in the sphere of history, people who over-value historicism might feel better about themselves by discrediting anything else he might contribute... but that would be their loss, not his.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,066
    My copy of the Samara book arrived yesterday. So far I have only looked at the illustrations, which as least seem to include some useful and fairly novel ways of presenting and explicating comparative insights. I am not surprised to hear about the factual errors, since it is a non-specialist work coming out of a graphic design context.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 779
    edited March 8
    Some of Samara's statements on J. Gutenberg are present in P. Meggs' History of Graphic Design, a text not very rigorous when it comes to typography. It's a pity that in many design academies it's still one of the main books recomended for art and graphic design history topics.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,302
    Adrian Frutiger Typefaces: The Complete Works,

    Glad I bought it when it came out!
  • edited March 10
    I continued reading Timothy Samara's book, and am glad I did. His explanations of features and underlying concepts are very lucid, and easy to understand, so I am getting out of it what I had hoped for after all. There are still some oddities - such as the caption on a diagram referring to mark-up that doesn't exist, or oddly aligned graphics that destroy the point they're trying to illustrate, but I've now learned to roll with it.

    Then today I received a kind and humble response to my email from Mr. Samara. He acknowledges the shortcomings, and takes full responsibility. A second printing will hopefully correct many of these issues.  

    So, overall, I recommend this book, though pedantic nit-pickers like me will need to let their hair down. 
  • Then today I received a kind and humble response to my email from Mr. Samara. He acknowledges the shortcomings, and takes full responsibility. A second printing will hopefully correct many of these issues.
    Very good to hear all that.
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