Font Customization Techniques for Sign Logo Creation

By Dan Antonelli
Adapted from Logo Design For Small Business

Dateline: February 16, 2005
More Graphic Design tips

When you use custom type treatments on your logo designs for signage, you not only add to the uniqueness of the design, but you also add a personal touch as well. This is your chance to add value to the design and to avoid having your design look too rigid or “computer-generated.”

When your lettering is customized, your clients will have a better feeling about the money being spent on the design. Unfortunately, the general public’s perception of design is that anyone with a computer can execute a logo design. When you add customization to the lettering, your clients will feel that their design is truly unique. Because you’ve taken the time to change the way the standard lettering might look, clients will feel that no one else will have a design like theirs.

There are hundreds of ways to customize type. I’ll touch here on a few simple but effective techniques you can employ to add style and flair to your designs.

Adding Serifs to Sans Serifs
This is an easy way to alter sans serif faces. I like to start with a beefy block style, and add triangular serifs to the corners of the letters. It gives the lettering a whole new dimension.

Starting with Frutiger Ultra Black, I added
some serifs to the letters to create a more custom feel.

Adding Prisms to Existing Fonts
This is an interesting lettering effect to add to your lettering. It is not something that is common in logo designs—and that only adds to its flair. This effect can work well in single color usage as well as multicolor. When using colors, use two shades of the same color to enhance the realism of the depth.

This was one of my first forays into prismatic vinyl
lettering—a boat lettering job for my father. Here
we laid the black vinyl down first, then dark yellow and
finally pale yellow highlights on top.

You are able to execute this lettering technique with layers of vinyl—overlaying a solid letter with the highlight, or prism half. Until recently, this technique was a very time consuming, manual process done in an illustration program, letter by letter. (See SignCraft, July/August 1998, Issue #101, where I explain the process in detail.) Each letter needed to be cut in half, and appropriate shading paths needed to be created. After that article appeared, I was asked to design three prismatic fonts that would make it easier and faster to create this effect. Those fonts are available from SignDNA.

A sampling of some of the fonts I designed for SignDNA. The
same effects can be achieved by creating paths for all the
highlighting using an illustration program like Freehand or CorelDRAW.

Be careful with this effect! In retrospect, I tend to think that the
legibility here was hindered because the effect was used on too
much copy. It is more effective to limit your prismatic effects to
main copy with minimal characters.

This logo was designed specifically to fit this extended truck.
The unique prismatic effect and color combination made it a
real eye-catcher for the client.

Font Customization Techniques for Sign Logo Creation

Using Hand-lettered Scripts
Handlettered scripts—whether they be actually hand-lettered and scanned in—or from some of the new “hand-lettered” fonts now available, are custom elements that add flair and uniqueness to logo designs. But the key is making the script the identifiable element of the design. That is the main part of the design you want the viewer to remember. So, in keeping with that mission, it stands to reason that the most common script font on the planet—Brush Script – not be used. And you can forget Commercial Script as well.

There are some great faces now available that are hand-lettered from some great artists, including Mike Stevens. These fonts make it easy to get that custom flair into your designs and create one-of-a-kind logos.

This holiday card “logo” design utilized some of the new Mike
Stevens scripts available from SignDNA. The script gives a nice
custom flair.

You can also use, for example, a signature—and make that the logo. Ask your client to sign their name (assuming that’s the company name!) and then scan it in and work with it. Just make sure it’s legible! Or you can pencil sketch a few script styles, scan them in and clean them up.

This design, although not necessarily a logo, illustrates the point
of how a unique script can really make the design more interesting.
This script, also inspired by Mike Stevens, had a prism
added to it afterwards to add depth. The ‘$’ also had depth
added with the prismatic effect.

Sample Font Customizations
Using your favorite illustration and design software, once you convert a font to paths, you can alter and modify its characteristics to suit your design’s requirements. It’s usually easier to alter sans serif faces than serif faces.

Using rectangles, place them above the letter and use the “cut” or “knockout” feature of your illustration program, as shown at left.

Frutiger is one of the easiest letterstyles to customize. There’s an assortment of things that can be done to modify it. Note below that the triangle under the cross stroke can be made a different color to accentuate it. Adding the curly cross stroke on the center of the ‘E’ is a favorite way of mine to alter the look and feel of a blocky sans serif face.

It’s important that whatever type of customization you choose, you are consistent in applying it on the letters within the main copy. For example, if you are cutting the top cross stroke on a ‘P’, make sure you apply the same effect to the ‘R’. This makes the effect look consistent throughout the lettering.

In the example below, note how the ‘R’ and ‘D’ have had their top cross strokes similarly customized. The letterstyle for the remainder of the lettering looks like it’s part of the same alphabet. Avoid throwing in one customized letter, which might appear out of place next to others that aren’t.

A simple design with only a few letters modified. In retrospect, I might have customized the ‘A’s throughout as well.

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This article is adapted from Logo Design For Small Business by Dan Antonelli and is reprinted here by permission. Copyright ©2000, Dan Antonelli, all rights reserved.