| Thomas Detrie | detrie@detrie.asu.edu | Rev 15 Feb 99 |

Font Fundamentals

Copyright 1995-1999 Thomas Detrie. All rights reserved.

Font Design
This section states an approach to the design of text composition typefaces that melds the achievements of the past with current and practical applications today.

Design comes from the intellect and sensibility of the designer and not from the computer. The design and visual challenges of creating a typeface are the same now as in the beginning. Only the technological factors have changed. The analysis of the evolutionary process and the visual characteristics of the archetypes in the development of the written and printed roman text letterforms provides the formal understanding of letterform design.

Digital technology is now the production basis for graphic design. The binary system and picture elements of computers even shape the principles and aesthetics of graphic design. This causes particular problems in font design where there are traditional conventions and historic models. The gap between them and current forms grows wider. Conversion of type faces to digital data occurs with alarming speed compared to the discerned work of the past. Sources for this data are seldom original and often derive from the latest or most available previous interpretation. Today, a typeface known by the same name or a similar name as the original can be many generations removed. (See figures 11 and 12.)

The first phase of the typeface design process is four steps: 1) research, to determine the archetype form models; 2) documentation, to locate and photograph form models in foundries, libraries, museums, and private collections; 3) analysis, to record the analytical information obtained from photographic enlargements of the selected forms; 4) conclusion, to interpret the data and determine salient information.

Fred Brady says that in the Adobe Originals department every typeface starts out on paper as a drawing. Studied drawing is the proven approach to understanding underlying letterform ideas and a crucial part of the design process. After the drawing stage, the designers soon move to the computer to develop the design into a typeface.

The type designers at Adobe usually use Bezier-based font design tools that vary according to designer and task. They choose from Fontographer, FontStudio, and a modified version of Illustrator that is not available to the public. They also use internal development tools that run on Sun workstation computers.

Another application important to digital font design is Ikarus. Ikarus is a digitizing application developed in Germany by Dr Peter Karow of URW. Specifically designed to digitize letterforms and compile digital fonts, it is unique because the curve information is in the application code and controlled only by anchor points. There are no control points in Ikarus as in Bezier-based application. With Ikarus the process begins with letterforms designed by conventional means, that is by drawing. These drawn originals are then hand marked for anchor points and spacing side bearings. A technician uses a sensor to plot this information into the Ikarus application, then checks and edits the forms. With the data complete, Ikarus compiles the digital font formats and descriptor files. (See figure 13 through 15.)

Adobe Originals
The type development department at Adobe consists of about thirty-five people. About a third of the department focuses on the design and development of the Adobe Originals typefaces with the goal to make typefaces that are functional and provide a variety of solutions for design professionals. Fred Brady, Robert Slimbach, and Carol Twombly make up the Adobe Originals design team.

Robert Slimbach has been at Adobe since 1987, and has designed several typefaces, including some faces for International Typeface Corporation (ITC). At Adobe he has concentrated on text composition families, and designed Adobe Garamond, Minion, Minion MM, Minion Cyrillic, and Myriad, the first multiple master font, with Carol Twombly. He also designed Caflisch Script, Poetica, Sanvito, and Utopia. In 1991, Robert received the Charles Peignot Award from the Alliance Typographique Internationale (ATypI) for excellence in type design.

Carol Twombly studied at Rhode Island School of Design and at Stanford University in the digital type program. She has designed several popular faces: Adobe Caslon, Charlemagne, Lithos, Nueva, Trajan, Viva, and worked on Myriad with Robert Slimbach. In 1994, Carol received the Charles Peignot Award from ATypI for excellence in type design.

Adobe Jenson
In 1990, Robert Slimbach began work on the Adobe Jenson type family. Nicolas Jenson's type first appeared in a book by Eusebius printed in 1470, and most authorities consider it undeniably one of the most beautiful typefaces ever designed in the five hundred years of printing. Many typefaces since have paid tribute to Jenson's roman, some better than others, but none is its equal. The Adobe Originals team decided to consider Jenson's roman within a contemporary context and with current technology. If Jenson were alive today, he would have to design multiple weights, widths, and many more characters than were in the original design. He would also have to design a corresponding italic with variations. Books did not display italic type with roman type until the 1500s.

Because metal examples of the type no longer exist, the Originals team used printed samples for research. They contacted the Bancroft Library at Berkeley, which has a fine copy of the Eusebius book, and obtained permission to study it and to make photographic enlargements of the type. Robert indicated on the photographic enlargements which letters best represented the formal idea of the Jenson type. He then made preliminary drawings, and compiled the most representative letters. From this he made the final drawings. Technicians converted the drawings into digital data for development, testing, editing, and finally, prepared for release and distribution. (See figures 16 and 17.)

In the days of hand-cast type, punch cutters made each design optimal for each size (figure 11). I believe that there were two reasons for this: 1) the early punch makers recognized that the visual proportions of letters display different effects to the eye through a range of sizes, and 2) there were limitations to the printing materials, equipment, and processes. The letterforms were hand shaped on the end of steel punches and then hammered or pressed into softer metal, copper or brass, to form matrices. The caster poured molten lead into the handheld mold that contained the letter matrix. The practice of creating an optimal design for each type size has unfortunately disappeared because of economic factors, despite the development of machines like Benton's pantograph punch-cutter (1885) which made it easier to cut master patterns.

Digital outline fonts are 'scaleable,' and in many cases scaling from one outline over the range of point sizes is acceptable. In other cases, the font design may function only in a restricted size range. Adobe Jenson is a multiple master type family with an optical size axis. The master designs enable smaller letters to have enclosed parts more open than closed, less contrast between thick and thin strokes, stronger serifs, and ample space between the letters. The larger sizes display more delicate features, more contrast between thick and thin strokes, and less space between the letters. The multiple master, through interpolation, provides the benefits of optimal sized letters without effort compared to hand-shaped steel punches.

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