January 19, 2020 13

How Fonts Are Made (Secrets & Insights)

How Fonts Are Made (Secrets & Insights)

My role here at Letterhead Fonts is the
Project Director. What that entails, is each one of our contributors will
send us fonts. I keep track of each one of those contributors, make sure that
they’re on the right track and help them complete their font on time. When a
contributor sends us their font, we can go over whether or not they’re on
the right track with the feel of the font…. whether something is too thick or too
thin. Often times when you start working on something you’re kind of in a one
track mode, so multiple sets of eyes on a font will help it get to where it needs
to be. Well first you’ve got to decide what
type of font you want to do, and that usually involves doing a lot of research.
We look at quite a few different books. Looking through old sign magazines.
Looking through old cigar label books. It’s… there’s a lot of a lot of different
influences out there that you can use for your research, so finding the right
thing is a very important step. After that is my favorite part which is
sketching and this is where you… you hash out the field the font… what you want it
to look like. Somewhat of the balance of the letters happen here, so that’s a huge
important part we do all of our fonts by hand, and so it starts out with a simple
sketch of the letter U you’d like to do. Then from the sketch you scan into your
computer and you’re going to vectorize the font. I use Illustrator. You
essentially are going to scan as high-resolution as you can and then
you’re going to use Illustrator to hand trace the entire letter. You don’t want
to auto trace. It’s gonna look terrible, if you do it that way.
It adds too many points and using the pen tool and doing it by hand you have
much better point placement. If you were to auto trace its gonna put points
everywhere… points where you don’t need them. This is an important part and we
try to keep all of the letters on the same line and when you’re drawing them,
you can see which letters are thicker or thinner than other letters and and
that’s really helpful. So when you bring your vectorized letters into FontLab,
you can add side bearings… also known as metrics and you can add your kerning,
which is the space in between the letters, individual letters. It’s kind of
like on a microscope you have a… a fine setting and a rough setting. I would say
that the metrics, the side bearings, are your rough setting and kerning would be
your fine setting. So metrics you do so every letter looks good spaced with each
other, and then the kerning is like the specific spacing between two individual
letters. Letterhead Fonts are unique in that all
of our fonts are first of all handmade. Each one of them is handmade by an
artist and these artists are… from all over the world. Each one of our
contributors is in the business. They understand letters. A few of them are
sign painters. A lot of them are graphic designers and they understand what other
designers are going to need. The fonts are useful. Each one of them has a
purpose and can be used in a design. I’ll just keep sketching the same line
over, and over, and over again, until I find a curve that I like… and then I’ll
erase the the lines that I don’t need… leaving kind of a ghosted image of the
previous lines and that kind of helps me get a feel for the curves of the font,
the roundness of the font. A lot of people will use tracing paper and I just
don’t. It’s one more step that I don’t need. A pencil and eraser is just fine. So when we bring our scaned letters into
Illustrator, we place them on a baseline and we look at them in comparison to
each other. And we do this because you want to balance out each letter. And the
reason we balance out each letter is… as your eyes are crossing over a word… you
don’t want one specific thing to stand out above others. Usually if
something’s thick or thin it’s gonna stand out immediately to your eye, and
your eye is not going to flow very well through that word. So putting them all on
a baseline at the same time allows you to decide your thick and thins, to
balance out the font. You have to look at those letters compared to the other
letters. There’s a lot of optical illusions that go on when you’re making
letters and so it’s really not about getting it perfect as far as
measurements… it’s perfect as far as it reads to your eye.
For example the “O” is going to go up a little bit higher than the caps height, a
little bit below the baseline. We do this because it’s an optical illusion. If you
were to take your “O” and you were to put it at exactly the cap height and the
baseline, it’s going to appear smaller than the rest of the letters. And there’s
other letters that do this as well: pointed characters like the “A” and the
bottom of the “V”. A typical font takes around a month to
two months for an average font. More complicated fonts can take up to six
months to a couple years. Charles Borges font took… I think it was six years to completely finish. That font has many
many many glyphs and I’m sure the reason it took him so long to do that font was
balancing out every single one of those extra characters to each other character.
There’s lots of flourishes that go into other parts of letters, and so… getting
that perfect it takes a long time. Plus I mean, all of our contributors have other
jobs, so this is something that they do on their free time so most of them are
signed painters and so they’ve cut other jobs to finish before they can actually
make fonts you do quite a bit actually um you don’t
want to release a font that doesn’t look good so often times will redraw an
entire letter because it does not working yeah quite a bit of this editing
can be done in the computer but if it’s not working then you it’s always good to
start back from from step one back to the drawing board literally right now
what I’m doing is I’m redrawing the letter S I had previously drawn it but
placing it next to the other letters I can see that it’s not wide enough for
one thing and doesn’t balance very well with the other letters so I’m gonna
redraw it make a little bit wider and make it work with all the other letters everybody’s got their favorite letters
but I guess it depends on what style of font you’re doing because if you’re
doing more decorative font like this there’s flourishes and and things
everywhere and so you can have fun with each letter a a lot of designers will
say that their favorite letter is s and I think it’s because it’s got all the
curves in it I don’t know I like I think the most challenging letters or the
wider letters like that the W and M those are difficult to do and not get
too bold or too thin so I guess the challenging letters are more fun to me this font was influenced by many
different sources primarily old glass signage there’s a lot of influence from
old stock certificates where the boldness of these stock certificates
kind of influenced the boldness of this font cigar labels there’s lots of great
cigar label lettering out there and that that influenced quite a bit especially
the more decorative areas of the font so I got started in hand-lettering
because I do quite a few chalkboard designs or various businesses and when
you’re doing that you’re doing you know you’re doing an illustration
first and foremost and that’s how I got into it somebody asked me to draw
something on a chalkboard but you’re also selling a product and that involves
hand lettering and so I from doing these chalkboard started doing a lot of hand
lettering and after a while I started to enjoy it quite a bit and then I got into
font making because of that I enjoy making fonts because it uses your whole
brain quite a bit I mean you are concentrating with both your right brain
and your left brain there’s a scientific side of me that that this part of font
making fulfills and the creative side as well I get to draw and I get to be
creative and and then I get to see people use those fonts in their design
item that’s very fulfilling you

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