Ten Type Tips: Part 2

By Gary David Bouton

Dateline: February 9, 2003
Volume 1, Number 2
Earlier columns

In the last episode, tips for creating fonts, using fonts, arranging fonts, and holding the door open for fonts when they are carrying large packages, were discussed. Ready for some more?

6.) Use different members of large typeface families to create effects. It's not always necessary to labor over just the right font that compliments a different font when creating a logo, a publication style, or whatever. It has become quite fashionable, in fact, to limit the choice of fonts used in a piece to one, but with many family members of that specific typeface. Examples of this practice abound, and if you own a drawing application, there's a good chance that the app came with a font that has many, many family members. For example, I bought Deneba Canvas years ago, and it came with 13MB of typefaces from the prestigious URW foundry. Which roughly translates to about 2,000 fonts. Within this bouty were no less than 14 members of the Helvetica family, about the same number for Futura, and a few others.

In the first illustration, above, I used different weights of Helvetica on top to make it appear that the word "Stratosphere" is heavier in the center. It's a subtle effect but very eye-catching (in fact, it caught my eye when I was reading the masthead of an in-flight magazine!). At the bottom of the illustration is what is now a classic text treatment. There are scads of logos out there that are simply a normal version of a font, coupled with a bold version – in this example, I used Century Gothic, clean and to the point (check to see if this face was included with one of your business or creative applications). Get yourself a font that has a large family, and discover the creativity that is to be had with "artistic minimalism".

7.) Limit a character within a font to 200 control points. If you're creating or modifying a font, using CorelDRAW (see Part 1 of this column for more details) or a dedicated font creation application, this is not just a good idea it's the law, as least as far as PostScript output is concerned. One of the "bibles" of digital typography is the Adobe Type 1 Font Format book (ISBN 0-201-57044-027). It can be ordered from Addison Wesley, either directly, or through a bookseller, or downloaded as a PDF file. Page 27 contains solid info on conciseness when creating a character (in this article, I'm referring to Type 1 fonts as PostScript fonts, because PostScript rules are used in the creation of such fonts, and indeed these rules should be followed when creating any type of font).

There are many rules for proper font and character creation, and one of them is what can be called "brevity". That is, it's unwise to put three anchors (control points, or nodes) on a path when one will do. The larger the font size, the more likely you will have problems outputting a document, or even seeing the font onscreen. An anchor adds approximately one byte to the saved file size of a font, and curved path segments add more to the saved size than straight path segments, because a curve has both on-path and off-path control points. A good font creator will find ways to keep a character both visually complex and small in file size. On this site you can download a free font called Lipstick Traces, a "grunge" font. The creator, Isabelle Trolio, kept the paths as straight lines, instead of curves and, quite simply, it works.

The practice of embedding tiny drawings in a font goes back more than a decade and it has not always been employed to enable the artist to add dingbats to a document. What are now called "picture fonts" are a nifty way of sharing clip art, however I'd advise the artist to type out the characters of any picture font that is over 65K in file size, and then in a drawing program convert the characters, one by one, to outlines and then save the document as a clipart document, to be used later. In the illustration you can see a little fellow that is part of 26 characters in a picture font. He has 774 on-path control points, with twice as many off the path. A little simple math states that this guy has 2.3K (774x3) worth of visual data within him. Multiply that amount by 26 and the font would be 59K, but it's not – this is the simplest figure in a 125K typeface. No wonder it does not display within CorelDRAW, XaraX and a few other applications.

By the way, the difference between TrueType and Type 1 fonts was covered last month, and it was mentioned that TrueType requires more control points than an equivalent Type 1 font. OpenType, on the other hand, is extremely "frugal" with the data needed to write a font, depending on how many characters there is in the font (OpenType supports the Unicode standard and can have more than 1,000 characters within a font).

In the next illustration there's a circle on the left (perhaps a period symbol in a font) with unnecessary control points – a circle can be defined using just four, as shown at right. Note: an off-path control point is sometimes called a control handle or a direction point, depending upon what font creation or drawing program you use. These off-path control points govern the steepness and direction of a curved path segment.

8. Be kind. Fill all the registers. How many times have you downloaded a font, only to find that it provides only 26 characters and all of them are caps? Pretty annoying, right? If you're a font creator, there's no reason why you can't fill all the font character registers and avoid annoying potential customers. Small caps, if need be. In the illustration, you can see the view of an average freeware font found on the Web, displayed within the FontLab font creation/editing application. All one has to do is highlight the caps, copy then highlight the lowercase registers and paste.


Similarly, take a minute and add punctuation marks to every font you create; although a period is a simple object, the inclusion of one makes the difference between a basic typeface and a handsome, useful, robust one. Oh, and use sidebearings (explained last month) on exclamation marks and "i"s – many creators use the font creation application's default sidebearings, and "i"s then butt up too closely to, say, the "l" in the word "bill". Finally, did you ever get a hollow box in a string of text when you press the space key? Do not put a box where the space character should be, and similarly, do not let the font creation application do this.


9. Don't overlap character parts.
Instead, use merge, overlap, weld or whatever the addition command is in the program within which you're creating a typeface. Again, in the Type 1 handbook, on page 28, it is not recommended to overlap paths. This violates a PostScript rendering rule and as a consequence, the character might not print on a PostScript device. You can see an X that is made up of two overlapping strips. As a result of this careless design attempt, the intersection point of the two strips creates a negative space.


The next illustration shows the intentional creation of the "reversed out at the center" effect – but it's done the right way.

Let's zoom way into the center of the X – notice that the the control points at the center of this character are very close to one another, and yet they do not touch, nor is the character made up of two strips. It's made up of four separate pieces where a negative space has been engineered at the center.


Next you can see an X that is correctly created. Two strips were overlapped, and then an overlap command was applied in a drawing program.

10. Patronize your friendly independent font creator. Before wrapping up, I feel it's really important to emphasize that subsidizing the small, independent firms and individuals who create hand-crafted fonts will keep the art of typography alive, as well as keep prices competitive. There are many thousands of freeware fonts to be found on the Internet, but they're typically free as an enticement to come to the sites of their creators and actually buy a font or two. I'll conclude by mentioning two sites that are my personal favorites for fresh fonts, however you can find excellent resources almost anywhere for the price of Googling for five minutes.

Above you can see some simple examples of the fonts that Harold Lohner creates. In a word, they are beautiful. Why not check out his site when you're done reading this?

Next is a small example of the "vintage" fonts created by Nick Curtis. Stunning, expertly crafted and, as with Harold's fonts, there's a lot of free ones, in addition to extremely reasonably-priced fonts, on either site. Pick up a treasure from either typeface creator from around $5 to $18.

Whew! Do you think typefaces have been covered in enough detail? If your answer is yes, we'll proceed to other art lessons next month. If your answer is no, we'll still proceed, because my mom told me that a varied appetite is a healthy one.

I found it strange that she told me this when I turned 47.

My Best,
Gary David Bouton

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Gary David Bouton is the author of the Inside Adobe Photoshop series, published by New Riders. Gary hosts a thread on the Photoshop Gurus site and is the moderator of a 3D modeling forum. His guide to Caligari's free trueSpace 3D app is available online. Besides being an educator/artist/all-around-nice-guy, Gary also knows how to get killer chords out of a Fender Stratocaster, so Bruce Springsteen should look out.