I Love Typography

So you want to create a font. Part 1

So you’re a brilliant designer, a master calligrapher, and you’ve learned all about serifs, side-bearings, and kerning. Now you want to create your own font. (What! You haven’t learned all about serifs, side-bearings, and kerning? Well, make sure you read all of the articles on iLT before you embark on font creation! You’ll need all of the knowledge you can get if you plan on being successful! And if you’re not a brilliant designer or a master calligrapher, well, don’t worry—you can still create some beautiful fonts with a little hard work, a lot of knowledge, and a little inspiration.)

The Crux: Font Editing Software

All the brilliant design, precise calligraphic work, and deep knowledge of kerning won’t mean anything if you can’t translate your work into a computer-friendly format, which is why you’ll need a good piece of font editing software at your disposal. Font editing software comes in a variety of strengths and prices, and works on a variety of platforms. The major players are listed below:

Font Editing Programs

  • FontLab Studio is what I use to make my fonts. It is more or less the industry standard, and, as such, isn’t exactly cheap, coming in at $649 (US). A 30-day free trial is available, if you want to try before you buy. It’s available for both PC and Mac. I’ve used FontLab Studio pretty extensively, and can vouch for its excellence, and the vibrancy of the user community.
  • FontForge can ostensibly do everything that FontLab can, and it’s free and open-source. That said, installing FontForge (at least under Windows) is not exactly a simple matter (you’ll need to install Cygwin first). Also, the program is not as well documented as FontLab. There was an interesting thread recently over at Typophile about FontForge that you might want to read, if you’re considering taking the open-source plunge. FontForge is available for PC, Mac, and Linux. (If you’re a Linux user, FontForge is more or less your only choice.)
  • For those rolling in cash, DTL FontMaster can do everything FontLab can, and more, but it’s quite expensive. FontMaster comes as seven different modules, which I find altogether cool and intimidating. It’s available for PC and Mac.
  • FontCreator is another choice, more affordable than FontLab. The program works only with TrueType and OpenType fonts—no Type 1 fonts—and is for Windows only.
  • TypeTool from FontLab is a more entry-level product along the same lines as FontCreator. The company says that TypeTool is “for students, hobby typographers and creative professionals who occasionally need to create or customize fonts”. PC and Mac.
  • The original king of font editing software is Fontographer which languished in non-development purgatory for years until FontLab bought the code and recently updated it for the Mac. The last version was really showing its age even in the late 1990s, so I’m hoping that Fontlab did an impressive rewrite for its new version. It’s half the price of FontLab Studio, but I can’t vouch for its new user interface, not having tried it. Fontographer is available for PC and Mac, though only Mac users get the latest version.
  • [update:] Glyphs app for Mac.
  • [update:] RoboFont (Mac OS X 10.6.6+).

All of these programs operate on the same principles, differing in specifics, interface, and levels of options and power. So do some research before you buy—download and try some demos, read the rants and debates of other font creators out there, and figure out which font editor works best for you. One path I’ve read about some people taking is to start with TypeTool, see if this whole font-creation thing is something they genuinely love, and then eventually upgrade to FontLab Studio once the limitations of TypeTool become an issue.

Once you have a good font editing program, there are three basic routes to creating a font.

Method 1: Draw it on paper

Tools You’ll Need

Are you artistic? Have cool handwriting? Well, get a good pen, a stack of good paper, and start drawing your alphabet. (Don’t overlook your choice of pen. Is your font going to be something thick and juicy? Try using a Sharpie. Or will it be calligraphic? Break out your calligraphy pen set. Will it be thin and delicate? Pick a fine-point precision pen for your work.) Draw big, so there’s plenty of detail to capture, and make sure your characters are all the appropriate height (you might want to add ruled lines in pencil to your paper before you begin). Don’t forget to draw all of the characters a good font needs! That means punctuation, tildes, accents, parentheses and brackets, and numerals. You’ll also want to include obscure characters like the thorn and eth. Create a new font in your font editor before you put pen to paper, and look at the standard glyph table it presents you with. There will be characters there you’ve never heard of, but there are typesetters out there who will be expecting to see those characters in your font!

Scan your beautiful work into Photoshop, and then turn your image into a bitmap (black and white—no shades of grey).

Almost there. Open your bitmap image in FontLab’s ScanFont. This nifty little program (which comes bundled as part of the Mac version of FontLab Studio—lucky Mac users!) allows you to take bitmap images and convert them into font glyphs. (Font editing programs work with outlines, which are basically vectors like those used in Illusrator. Scanners and programs like Photoshop work with bitmaps. ScanFont bridges the gap between these two media.) Once this is accomplished, you can either save your font in ScanFont, or copy individual glyphs from ScanFont into FontLab Studio. (Hey, nobody said this would be easy!) And once you have all of your glyphs in FontLab, you can begin the long, arduous, fun process of editing your font towards perfection!

Method 2: Draw it on a tablet

Tools You’ll Need

You can skip many of the above steps by using a Wacom tablet to draw your font glyphs directly into a vector graphics program like Adobe Illustrator. FontLab Studio, for one, supports copying and pasting directly from Illustrator. One cool thing about using Illustrator to draw your alphabet is that you have a wide range of brushes to choose from, so that you can change the style of your entire alphabet with a couple of mouse clicks. One thing I’ve discovered is that, as good as tablet technology has gotten, there’s really no substitute for pen and paper—an alphabet drawn on a tablet will be different from the same alphabet drawn on paper.

Method 3: Draw it in your font editing software

Tools You’ll Need

  • Mouse
  • Font Editing software of your choice
  • The Steady Hand and Patience of a Deity

I’ve created a couple of fonts entirely in FontLab Studio, with just my mouse, a steady hand, and a healthy amount of invoking the Undo command. It can definitely be done, and you’ll potentially be able to generate more precise fonts this way, as opposed to drawing your glyphs outside of your font editor and then importing them. There are, as you might expect, lots of tools in font editing programs that are geared to this process: tools that generate straight lines and perfect curves, and guides that help you align everything with the utmost precision.

Coming Up Next…

Now you’ve got the tools of the trade, the desire to create a font, and a basic idea of the process involved. Of course, the devil is in the details. In the next installment I’ll address some of the specifics of font creation and editing. Read So You Want to Create a Font--part two.

[Alec Julien is a web developer and amateur typographer living in Vermont, US. He dreams of someday living somewhere warm, and typesetting a novel.]

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Sunday Type

Fuel Injected Links
I was oh so tempted to post the first in our series of So You Want to Make a Font, but it’s Sunday; and Sunday should be one of those easy days. And what’s more Sunday is my day off (from iLT, at least), so on the odd Sunday, I’ll post some type-related links for you to click and enjoy. So while the kids play in the traffic and the cat purrs on your lap, lean back and…

Free Fonts Of The Month: Moderna, Mido, Liberation

And here’s a site that uses type pretty well. Very clean, simple and ordered. I like it:

Erik Spiekermann’s blog (just in case you haven’t seen it); not updated that frequently, but lots of gems in the archives:

The redesigned web site of Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Not sure what to make of the design, but boy do they make beautiful typefaces.

If you like your Ligatures, then you’ll love this beauty from H&F-J:

They also have a great article on What’s OpenType? Is it right for me? and a great blog.

Don’t forget to swing by on Monday for the first part of So You Want to Make a Font. Or to save you swinging by to check, simply subscribe to I Love Typography. For those of you who have no idea what an RSS feed is, or think that it might have something to do with a car’s fuel injection system, then learn all about feeds by watching this great video from Common Craft:

YouTube Preview Image

Have a great day. See you tomorrow.

Ellen Lupton The Movie

Don’t (dumb) Quote Me
As there was so much interest in Ellen Lupton’s book Thinking With Type, I’d like to share this video of a lecture she gave for Escola Superior de Artes E Design (ESAD).

If you can’t afford the book, then it’s a great educational piece; and, even if you have read the book, you’re sure to take something away from it. It’s just over an hour long, so pour yourself a glass of something, pull up the pouffe, sit back and enjoy:

http://www.spike.com/video/2904416

I’d be interested in your feedback on this one.

Thanks to Dumitru for reminding me of this great video.

On Monday we have the first in our series of “So You Want to Create a Font”. To ensure you don’t miss out on that any many more great articles to come, subscribe to I Love Typography — and join the type revolution.

Have a great week weekend, everyone.

Subscripts: Type News and Links 2

Lisboa, Leopards and Links
Typeforyou.org

Oddly enough, this is a type site I only recently discovered. Type For You has a great interview with Ricardo Santos the designer of Lisboa Sans (amongst others), and lots of other type-related news, views and links.

You might also want to take a look at my Flickr Group Typographic Inspiration. I don’t moderate this group, so the quality may vary, but I do plan to pick out the best and feature them right here; so if you have some typographic inspiration that you’d like to share, then, well…share it. It doesn’t need to be your own work; could be a photo of some type in a book, or of a road sign — so long as it’s type-related, you can add it to the group.

There’s another wonderful Flickr set put together by Vernon of New Typography: Flickr New Typography Set. Moreover, be sure to check out his other sets on the wonderful Typotect Piet Zwart (1885-1977) and the Typeface Design set.

New Typography

Typographica

Stephen Coles has been writing on Typography since the 1930s — or at least it feels like it. Insightful news items and never scared to express his opinion on type-related matters. A true Type-Trooper (try saying that with your mouth full). Great discussion around his article, “Embedded” Web Fonts Return. Uh-oh. If you’re both a TypeNut and a MacNut, you’ll want to read “Grading the New Font ‘Features’ in OS X Leopard”. It’s also worth digging around in the archives. You’ll unearth some real gems. Stephen is one of the unsung heroes of type; that’s given me an idea: anyone care to write a type-related Stephen Coles song? You write the words, and I’ll choreograph the dance routine; the other people at FontShop could be the backing singers… (enough! [Ed.]).

iLT news:

Work has begun on an iLT Typography Wiki. I already have a couple of willing volunteers. We need a few more people willing to devote a couple of hours a week, writing and editing entries. You don’t need to be Stephen Bringhurst to help out; if you’d like to be involved, then wing me a mail through the ether at m{AT}ilovetypography{DOT}com, or wing it via the contact form. (I like the word “wing” today, by the way).

I’m also considering starting an I Love Typography Forum. You see, I receive about 100 emails each day; a number of those ask for my opinion on type, to suggesting a typeface for a project. Now, it’s impossible for me to write for iLT and answer 100 emails a day, so I thought a forum might be a good way, not only to build community, but to have you — the famed iLT readers (enough flattery?) — get involved in answering questions and expressing your opinions on type-related matters in a forum. Let me know what you think. I thought we could have the forum divided into sections; for example:

1. Font/Typeface questions;
2. Identify a font;
3. Request feedback on own work;
4. A found type section, where anyone can upload “type they find”, photos, etc.

Would love to hear what you think. If we go with it, it will be your forum, so your input is imperative.

There’s also an iLT page of Type-related videos. If you find others, then leave a note and link in the comments to the Video Page.

Coming up soon is “Getting Started Designing Type — Part One”, and some great tips to improve your web typography. To stay forever tuned, become part of the Type Revolution and subscribe to I Love Typography today.

For iLT’s numerous German-speaking readers, there’s a great podcast on CSS and embeddable web fonts entitled, Technikwürze 94 - Die Webkrauts sind los! It must be good because I listened to the entire podcast, and I don’t speak German. However, Thomas Schaaf of Technikwürze kindly sent me a summary of the podcast in English. Thanks, Thomas.

And finally, to discover who won the Kinescope Font give-away, just follow the link.

Kinescope Font Winner

Eu amo tipografia
Thanks again to everyone who sent in their answers to the Kinescope Font Competition (a little over 400 entries).

The last prizewinners were from the US and Canada. Today’s winner is Kazuo from Brazil where they say “Eu amo tipografia.” The question was,

Mark Simonson Studios has one typeface in its portfolio named after something you might find in the kitchen. Name that typeface.

And the answer is of course, Refrigerator.

Kinescope on I Love Typography

Kazuo is a Physicist with a penchant for:

I really wish I could afford to give more away (the prizes come out of my own pocket, by the way, and iLT does not make a profit — in fact it runs at a loss); and although the random integer generator didn’t pick them out of the proverbial hat, these few deserve at least an honourable mention for their entries:

Refrigerator is Simonson’s typeface named after something that might be found in a kitchen… though in my kitchen you’re also likely to find a Felt Tip pen. You’re not likely to find a Coquette, but then, my wife is neither vain nor trifling (and not always in the kitchen anyway). — Joey

On the question regarding a font called after an item in a kitchen, I was a little confused as I have more than once used Sharktooth and on occasion I have been in need of a Grad, but I’ll settle for Refrigerator, (I won’t mention the bottle of Kandal I have tucked away somewhere). — Ko van Hespen

Near my Refrigerator the Felt Tip Woman — a recent Grad - gave a Snicker. What a Coquette! — Anonymous — (John Nolan)

And, what the heck, a couple more honourable mentions:

Refrigerator! R-E-F-R-I-G-E-R-A-T-O-R! Refrigerator! — Erica Heinz

Well, presumably you’re looking for “Refrigerator” — but my wife and I have several academic degrees, so there’s usually a “Grad” in our kitchen. Our daughter cooks a lot and has astonishing gifts for the arts; she’s sort of a “Changeling” in that respect. My wife likes chocolate, so we occasionally have “Snicker“s. We have candles, but not “Kandal“s. And “Kinescope” is indeed lovely. — AKMA

Thank you to everyone who took part. I read every single entry, and everyone without exception got the answer right. I’m working on getting many more prizes (I can’t afford to buy them all, so I’m begging various companies to donate prizes — wish me luck).

Subscripts: Type News and Links 1

super size my type
Recently I promised some short ‘newsy’ pieces. Meet Subscripts a new and ‘irregular’ feature, where I’ll list some typography resources, web sites and events. First to pop Subscripts’ cherry is:

Smashing Magazine’s

super-size me feature, The Showcase of Big Typography, which lists a number of sites, that…you guessed it…use big type. I like some of the examples; however, what most of them demonstrate is the power of type. Good type standing alone can make quite an impression. You certainly won’t need to use your screen reader with most of these sites, so even your grandmother will be happy.

However, something that really baffles me with a number of these sites, is their use of Flash and text as image (TAI). Text at large sizes on the web works pretty well, so why not use browser text? For example the yellow Designer Shock web site, could easily be turned into plain old XHMTL and CSS site (or even use sIFR) — and, if they wish to keep the clock, then that too can be achieved with real browser text and a little JavaScript. What do you think?

Type Radio

Hundreds of podcasts of interviews with people in type. Sometimes it crosses the twilight zone into the surreal, but overall it’s pretty entertaining and informative. There are interviews with the incredibly talented type designer and former Type Director of Linotype Akira Kobayashi, (designer of FF Clifford, Conrad and the ITC Woodland typeface, among many others; he also worked with Hermann Zapf, and with Adrian Frutiger on the redesign of Avenir); and also interviews with Gerard Unger and even one with Helvetica (yes, an interview with Helvetica the typeface).

If you’d like to learn more about Letterpress, then take a look at British LetterPress, a new site about getting started with Letterpress — with everything from where to buy equipment to assembling type. Even if you don’t plan on buying a a 2-ton letterpress and 100kg of lead type, then it’s a wonderful educational resource. Many thanks to Manuel Martensen for the link.

There’s also a wonderful Flickr set of photos on Letterpress Composition, Make Up and Proofing that’s an absolute must-see. I’m hoping to interview Michael of Interrobang Letterpress next month, so stay tuned.

I’ll announce the winner of the Kinescope Font Giveaway in the next article. More than 300 of you have already entered. I really need to get some more prizes for you all!

I was recently interviewed for SheUnlimited in what is becoming known as The 10,000 Toilet Rolls Interview (why did I have to go and say that? Well, you live and learn). I hope that’s enough to sate your typographic thirst. Let me know what you think of these links, and feel free to send me your own via the contact page.

Kinescope

You may, or may not, have noticed the featured fonts over on the right and down a little — in that black box. These fonts are sometimes new releases, or sometimes older ones that I’ve rediscovered. The wonderful thing about discovering and rediscovering all these great faces, is that I have more good typefaces to choose from; the only drawback is the dent it’s making on my credit card. Anyway, on with the show.

This weeks new face has a sweet taste, a full body, and leaves a lingering glow in one’s throat. It’s the 80% dark chocolate of fonts. In fact, if I ever go into the chocolate making business (and that’s unlikely), I will name my chocolate after Mark Simonson’s latest face, Kinescope, “a dashing 1940s-style brush script, inspired by hand-lettered titles in the Fleischer Brothers’ Superman cartoon series.” I can just picture customers entering my little Chocolatier and asking, “I’ll take two bars of Kinescope, please.”

When I first saw even a small sample of Kinescope, I just had to lick my lips. Some typefaces make me go “ah”, while others elicit an “oh”. Kinescope is definitely in the “oh” camp. But that’s quite enough drooling from me; let’s take a look:

Kinescope sample

I was intrigued by Mark’s choice of name, and when I quizzed him about it:

“Kinescope” is another word for motion picture, but one that’s not used any more. The fact that it’s an obsolete word suggests the historical period that inspired it. I also had a nice sampling of the characters of the font. — Mark Simonson

Although Kinescope’s bodywork looks pretty sleek, it’s not until you lift the bonnet, that you really begin to appreciate the hard work that has gone into fine-tuning it. One of the problems with many brush script faces is that certain letter combinations just look odd, and the connecting strokes when unconnected (for example when the character ends a word), just don’t look right. Well, smart designers, include contextual alternates. These are accessible in most image/text editing software; for example, in Photoshop CS3, the contextual alternates are available here:

Contextual Alternates Open Type Feature

Not all fonts include these contextual alternates — and not all need them; perhaps some of yours have them, but you’ve never realised they were available. They are called Contextual Alternates because they offer alternative glyphs for different contexts or situations.

Kinescope with Contextual Alternatives

Note in the example above: No.1 does not have Contextual Alternates applied, and so the “e” looks as though it’s reaching out to connect with the next letter, which just isn’t there — it looks like one of those stray puppy dogs holding out its paw.

In the second example, the “e” flows smoothly into the following “l”, so no problems there, and therefore no need for any Contextual Alternates.

The 3rd example is the same as the first, only we have applied Contextual Alternates to the letter “e”; the font has a quick think .. .and muses, “ah, the ‘e’ is all alone, so we can replace the ‘e’ with the long ‘tail’ with something more appropriate.” Clever isn’t it.

To download a sample pdf, or to learn more about Kinescope, simply visit Mark Simonson Studios.

So what do you think of Kinescope? Where and how might you use it?

I bought two copies of Kinescope. Not because I like it so much — that would be silly; the second is a prize. All you need to do to have a chance of winning this beauty is answer this question:

Mark Simonson Studios has one typeface in its portfolio named after something you might find in the kitchen. Name that typeface. All correct entries will go into my new bigger hat, and a single winner will receive Kinescope, the font. Send your answers through the contact form, please. [competition now closed. See Kinescope Font Winner].

To discover who won the two copies of Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type, just follow this PrizeWinners link.

Coming up soon:

Back to school with more type terminology, and a new series on The History of Type in four parts. Next week we also have the first in a two-part series on “Getting Started Designing Type”, from one of iLT’s US correspondents. If you’d like to read an interview with me over at SheUnlimited, you can discover what I think of PMS, Prada, and the latest JayLo gossip :)

To ensure you don’t miss out, join the type revolution and subscribe to I Love Typography today.

Thinking With Type Prizes

and the winners are…
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion on Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type. I wish I could send everyone a copy, but I don’t have a spare (160x$30). The winners were chosen using the Random Integer Generator from random.org. The first time I ran it, I forgot to take my own comments out of the “hat”, and guess who won a copy? Yes, me. However, after a re-run, the lucky winners are:

Jeff Mueller (comment no. 718)
Ian Stewart (comment no. 705)

Their books are in the post. In future I hope to be giving away many more prizes. If any wealthy readers are reading this and would like to contribute type-related prizes, then by all means send me a mail. If you’re a font designer and you’d like to offer one of your faces as a prize, that would be great too.

Thinking With Type Book Review.

Thinking With Type

Book Review

If you own not a single typography-related book, then reserve a place on your bookshelf for Thinking With Type. Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type is to typography what Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is to physics.

Even those who already know something about typography will benefit from this title. It’s a great “propaganda” piece that you can loan to unbelieving friends and relatives, in an effort to convert them.

Thinking With Type

Thinking With Type is a well structured book that does not bombard the reader with type-speak. When new terms are introduced, they are defined and illustrated in a no-nonsense way.

The book comprises three main sections, namely Letter, Grid and Text. The first section of the book, Letter, briefly introduces type with a very short history, looks at type classification (Humanist, Modern, Transitional et. al.), designing typefaces and screen fonts.

Selecting type with wit and wisdom requires knowledge of how and why letterforms evolved. — from Thinking With Type

The second section, Text, deals with some of the finer details like kerning, spacing and alignment and includes some simple type exercises.
The third and final section, Grid, is concerned with the Golden Section and the importance of grids in controlling and presenting type.

There’s also a brief but excellent Appendix that deals with punctuation, editing and proofreading. Moreover, there’s a complimentary Thinking With Type web site that hosts some Tools For Teachers, Exercises and even a Dumb Quotes arcade-style game.

In conclusion, this title is an excellent compromise between the “design” books — that are really nothing more than coffee table adornments — and the weightier typography books like Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style.

If you don’t already own Thinking With Type, I suggest you buy it.

I have one copy two copies of this book to give away as a prize. I’ll put all the commentators in a hat (your names, not literally “you”), and pick one out. I’ll then ship it off to you.
Winners will be announced in the next published article, on or around October 14.

Do you own it? Have you read it? What do you think?

Coming up next is a gorgeous new font (I love it) and some more Type Terminology. We have some great articles planned for this month, including one about how to get started designing type, and…well, you’ll see. If you’re not already subscribed then you can subscribe to I Love Typography now. A huge thank you to everyone who has thus far subscribed, read and commented. You are all stars, and you are all part of the Type Revolution. Forward Comrades!

See also iLT’s Interview with Ellen Lupton, and
Ellen Lupton, the movie.

Arial versus Helvetica

Every typeface, like every one of us, has its distinguishing features. You might be forgiven for thinking that some fonts are clones, or identical twins. However, closer inspection reveals subtle differences and nuances that simply escape casual perusal. Something that can really help to heighten our sensitivity to those differences is getting out our magnifying glasses and really taking a closer look. If you’ve forgotten to bring your magnifying glass, then don’t fear for the Fontometer is here (we’ll get to that in a moment).

Today we’re going to de-robe two popular typefaces, namely Arial and Helvetica — faces that are often confused, and often the subjects of mistaken identity. But first let me re-introduce you to these two popular faces:

Helvetica

Designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger, Helvetica’s design is based on that of Akzidenz Grotesk (1896), and classified as a Grotesque or Transitional san serif face. Originally it was called Neue Haas Grotesque; in 1960 it was revised and renamed Helvetica (Latin for Switzerland “Swiss”).

Arial

Designed in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype (not Microsoft), it’s classified as Neo Grotesque, was originally called Sonoran San Serif, and was designed for IBM’s bitmap font laser printers. It was first supplied with Windows 3.1 (1992) and was one of the core fonts in all subsequent versions of Windows until Vista, when to all intents and purposes, it was replaced with Calibri.

I’ve read in several places that Arial is closer in appearance to Univers than Helvetica. I don’t think so. In How to Spot Arial, the type designer Mark Simonson looks at the similarities between Arial and Grotesque 215 (one of Arial’s true ancestors); and when you consider the details — for example, the flat versus angled finials (e.g. “t”) — then Arial does appear to be more closely related to Grotesque 215; however, the one thing that does stand out is the greater variation in stroke width of Grotesque 215. Arial and Helvetica share a more consistent, even stroke width. I guess it depends on whether one is looking at the form or the appearance. What do you think?

I can hear angels singing a heavenly chorus (I was tempted to include a sound track here) as I introduce to you the all new, shining, hopefully very useful Fontometer (sorry, but I couldn’t think of a better name) to compare the glyphs from Arial and Helvetica. In the grey corner (left), we have Arial; in the red corner, Helvetica. Simply drag the Arial glyph over the Helvetica version to compare (if the excitement of this is too much for you or your suffer from a heart condition, then take a short break between glyphs). The Fontometer only seems to work properly in FireFox (future versions will work for everyone):

A number of the glyphs are almost identical, and even an expert would have difficulty telling them apart. However, there are a few that stand out as being quite different; namely “a”, “G”, “Q”, “R”, and “1”. Did you spot any other differences?

Distinguishing Arial and Helvetica

In fact if you wish to quickly differentiate any font from from another, it’s usually best to start off looking at letters like “J”, “Q” and “g”.

What it’s wrong to do is criticize Arial as a clone or rip-off of Helvetica. If Arial is a rip-off of Helvetica, then Helvetica is a rip-off of Akzidenz Grotesk; or we could simply say that they are both rip-offs of earlier Grotesque faces. The whole rip-off debate is a rather pointless one, I feel. Every face should be considered on its own merit. (We don’t criticize a daughter for looking like her mother). And, if you want to criticize Arial (it certainly has its faults), then do so, not because everyone else does, but do so with your own critical eye.

Monotype Grotesque

Akzidenz Grotesk BQ

Further reading:
The Face of Uniformity. Against Helvetica.Nick Shinn;
Akzidenz Grotesk (re release dates) on Typophile. (not for the feint-hearted).
How to Spot Arial — Mark Simonson;
Monotype’s Other “Arials” — Mark Simonson;
The Scourge of Arial — Mark Simonson (excellent article);
Alternatives to Helvetica — FontShop FontFeed.

If you don’t have some of the fonts mentioned in this article, then I will create some PDF sample sheets at large point sizes, so that you can have hours of fun comparing them. By the way, if the Fontometer crashes your browser, breaks up your marriage or has your kids asking, “daddy, daddy, why don’t you play with me more?”, I cannot be held responsible.

So, what do you think of Arial and Helvetica now?

Veer fonts

Typography Videos

Here are some typography-related videos.

This video is a beautiful brief introduction to typography. Typography is what language looks like - Ellen Lupton. A good typographer is someone who communicates a point of view with skill and imagination and makes the type taste good—Jeffrey Keedy

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Veteran graphic design, typography and letterpress teacher from the London College of Printing, David Dabner talks about typography, giving an insight into the principles of design, creative letterpress and why computers—in his opinion—make students sloppy.

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An interesting use of type. The typewriter font mimics those used in old police reports. Individual letter forms are animated to illustrate characteristics of, in this instance, a serial killer.

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Helvetica The Documentary (clip) Wim Crouwel:

One minute and 53 seconds with Wim Crouwel. “Neutralism was a word that we loved”.

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Helvetica The Documentary (clip) Erik Spiekermann.

“I just like looking at type…they are my friends.”

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Pulp Fiction

What ain’t no country I ever heard of….”

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Devil’s Advocate

“Inside information”

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Typography in Motion

“Conscious”

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Typography Brazil

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Designing Multi Lingual OpenType Fonts

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TV Interview: Typeface Design

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Typoholism. An Addict’s Tale

typoholism
noun.
A disorder characterized by the excessive consumption of and dependence on type, leading to physical and psychological harm and impaired social and vocational functioning. Also called typographical abuse, font dependence.

You awake in a cold sweat, your hands trembling, your body stiff, eyes bloodshot; you need your fix. In every town, in every city there’s one; you may pass her in the street and not even notice; it may be your neighbour, your son, your husband, your wife, your dog (don’t be silly [ed.]).

Yesterday, I interviewed a recovering addict. Robert from California wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Brian from Birmingham.

iLT:

So, tell us how your addiction started?

Brian:

As a kid, my mother gave me those plastic letters, you know the ones with magnets that you put on the refrigerator. It all started innocently enough, just making up words like cat and dog, then one day I rearranged the letters, and there it was, staring at me, goading me really, “font”; it was my typographic epiphany, you could say.

iLT:

How did your habit grow?

Brian:

I used to meet the FontShop guy in the alley on fourth and Main, behind Benny’s Burgers; I gave him the dough and he handed over a floppy disc. Of course, things are different now. I can feed my addiction online.

Of course, Brian is not alone, and it appears that Typoholism is on the increase. If you’re concerned about family or friends or, for that matter, yourself, then here are some of the symptoms to look out for:

01 While your neighbour’s kids are playing Fatman 3 — Return of the Cybertronic Mutant Warrior from Hades, your children play this:

Wii Love Typography

02 Early-stage symptom: you stop actually reading type, and ask yourself, “What typeface is that?”;

03 You think The Hounds of the Baskerville is a book about fonts;

04 You seriously consider naming your children after typefaces (Georgia, Lucida, etc); that’s bad enough. However, if you actually do name your children after typefaces, then your condition is most likely terminal;

05 You email me asking if the I Love Typography T-shirt is available set in another typeface;

06 You have type-themed dreams. I once dreamt that I had a “g” tattooed on my arm (it was Optima, I think);

07 You buy things because the type on the packaging is nice. I’m guilty of this one: I recently bought a ham and egg sandwich (I hate this filling), simply because the packaging was set in Clarendon, and in a rather nice green, to boot;

08 Your neighbour’s child’s homework looks like the sample on the left. Your child’s homework is on the right:

Homework

09 You play typography-themed I Spy with your children. I Spy with my little eye, a typeface beginning with…

10 You use your typographic knowledge in chat-up lines (more on that in a future article).

Of course, the best way to get to grips with your addiction is to share your experiences (in the comments below). And, subscribing to iLT will ensure that you don’t miss out on future therapy.

Coming up next is the bout you’ve all been waiting for: In the blue corner, Helvetica; in the red corner, Arial. Let the carnage begin. Oh, and there will be a fun little tool for comparing fonts, and discovering what makes them unique.


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