27. July 2015

What can a type designer do in one hour? (Part 1)

a glimpse in the type designer’s workflow – mid-way through a project

my type design setup
Some people take fonts for granted. They are little pieces of software that sit in your computer, in your Word editor, and they make your party invitations pretty. Typefaces let you express yourself. Behind each new typeface design there is at least one nerd hiding behind the computer and making countless tiny changes to those little black/white shapes, until they look *just right* (= never).

A type designer’s job involves drawing letters forms from scratch, checking them, determining the space around each letter, as well as between letter combinations, and making sure it all works as a system. Think about it as composing a song. Below I have shared with you a one-hour movie at 4x speed, where you can catch a glimpse of a type designer’s workflow. It might not be interesting to watch, but that is the point. In one hour, you cannot do much. To watch the HD version, go directly to this Vimeo link.


What you can see

These are mainly corrections on Thin Italic and Regular Italic, which are to be paired with a slab serif design. Making new letters in an italic design starts with slanting them at a specific angle (in my case 11°), then correcting the way that the weight (= thickness) is distributed, so that it seems optically natural. If this type design would be more based on calligraphy, then the post-slanting corrections would try to reflect the changed angle of the tool (= brush, pen, etc).

  • Correcting spacing of Thin Italic. Italic was spaced a bit too loosely. In the middle of this, discovering some serif mistakes.
  • Correcting capital S. It seemed too dark and squarish. During this video, I had print-outs in front of me as well.
  • Correcting ampersand. It was leaning in the wrong way, and the weight (= thickness) of the strokes was not right.
  • Correcting seven. It was too low and not arched enough at the top.
  • Widening the brackets and braces.
  • Making italic dollar, cent, sterling, currency, yen, and euro signs. This went quickly because the design was already there.
  • Correcting capital C and capital G. It seemed that the weight was not distributed well.

The type editor I am using is Robofont, by Frederik Berlaen, together with a bunch of extensions, including Overlay UFOs, Ramsay St, and ScalingEditTool. For a good overview of Robofont extensions, check out

By the end of this video, those characters (= letters) touched were not yet *finished*. What you witnessed was simply one round of corrections. I keep printing pages upon pages with texts at different sizes and checking over them until everything looks all right.

Checking italics is a bit more difficult, because the italic style has to work on its own but also it has to pair well with its equivalent roman style (= upright letters). If you want to test this well, as a type designer, then you have to use the type as a designer would. This involved making little layouts, grabbing some article form the news, using multiple styles together on a page. That is when you start making informed decisions about what you are designing.

checking italics in context

proofs italic

PS: This is a type family that I am working on at the moment. It includes a slab serif and a sans serif design, each with Thin, Regular, and Black styles and italics for each. More information coming very soon.