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Overlapping Paths in Type Design »

One problem with releasing lots of pre-​​release builds to my Kickstarter backers is that I don’t test every single one as much as I otherwise would. Generally any errors are minor, but earlier today I managed a moderately important one: I didn’t remove overlapping paths in my outlines during the build process. Well, actually, I did remove overlap, but as I did not first decompose my composite glyphs, it didn’t fix most of the problem cases.

Why would you want to have overlapping paths in your glyph outlines, and why/​when would it be a problem?

Here are several glyphs (as shown by H. James Lucas) that had overlapping paths in this last build:

image of overlapping paths in a font

Overlapping paths rendering badly in Adobe InDesign

So, clearly it’s a problem if they render badly in some apps. Interestingly, this is dependent on not only what is doing the font rendering, but also what size the glyphs are rendered at. Adobe’s core rendering engine has three or four different rendering modes, and what it picks is size-​​dependent.

Overlapping paths are sort of okay in TrueType fonts—the rendering engines will deal with them better. But they will still produce bad results if a user does something like apply an outline or stroke to the text.

So why do I leave these things in while developing the font? Well, during development, it is useful to keep the basic elements separate, and only remove overlap later on. So for example, if I change the underlying swash H glyph, I want the Swash-​​H-​​with-​​bar to automatically pick that up. Similarly, the C shape seen in the colon currency symbol (used in Costa Rica and El Salvador) is shared between the Ghanaian cedi, the euro symbol, and a stylistic variant of the cap C. I used the same primitive elements in the ffj ligature in numerous other ligatures (including ffi). And so on.

Of course, as leaving overlaps in the final font causes problems, normally I take care of this as part of each build. My  usual build sequence for creating OpenType OTF fonts from my FontLab file:

Anyhow, in this particular build I missed the “decompose” step, so all overlaps involving composite glyphs (most of them) still overlapping. Of course I have fixed this, and am sending revised fonts to my backers.

On Kerning (and Spacing) Fonts »

Adding kerning is one of the very most tedious tasks in developing a font, if it is done well. It is also the final major production task in type design.

As I am finishing this stage on the Regular style of my Kickstarter typeface Cristoforo, and about to send updated fonts to my backers, I find myself needing to explain what this kerning business is, anyway. So I thought I would post something here for general public consumption, and point to it from my latest Kickstarter update.

In fonts, each glyph is placed in a slot with a certain amount of space allocated to it, which generally includes white space on either side. The total horizontal space allocated to a glyph is its “advance width.” The distances between the furthest extent of each side of the glyph and the ends of the allocated space are the “sidebearings”—which can even be negative numbers, if part of a glyph sticks into a neighboring space.

In high-​​end type design, spacing is an especially complex art and craft. But many junk fonts don’t even get the basics right, and that is easily detected. Decent spacing is consistent, and follows certain general principles about shapes. Consistency means the “same” elements should get the same space across different glyphs, and similar elements spaced similarly. So the left sidebearings of OCGQ and the right sidebearing of D are all usually either the same or very close.

Designing even spacing is about keeping a relatively consistent amount of white space between letters. In a typical sans serif font, a letter like O only needs 50–60% as much in the way of sidebearings as an H. Something like a T or a V might have sidebearings at or close to zero. Lowercase letters are generally spaced slightly closer than their cap brethren.

picture of bad spacing

Inconsistent treatment of sidebearings makes this geometric sans serif typeface less useful. (click for full-​​res image)

Passable spacing image

Consistent and reasonable (if uninspired) spacing in a sans serif font. (Click for full-​​res image.)

 

Kerning

The word “kerning” can refer to any of three things:

  1. noun: data in a font that adjusts spacing for particular letter combinations.
  2. verb: the act of creating such data
  3. verb: when setting text, the act of adjusting space between particular letters in text. This is an operation done by a typesetter in text setting software, and is not a font editing operation. Also, not to be confused with tracking, which is adjusting the overall spacing of a block or range of text all at once.

For purposes of this article, I’m concerned with the first two definitions: kerning data built into fonts, and how to create that data. We’ll get to the “how” later, first let’s talk about the “what.”

It’s critical that the basic spacing be done well in any font, but for particularly difficult combinations, the font should also contain built-​​in kerning (which can help avoid the need for the end user to do manual kerning). Kerning is a set of adjustments to the default spacing for specific troublesome letter combinations, so as to deal with fact that, without intervention, “AV” will be set too far apart, or that in some fonts “f)” will make the top terminal of the f collide with the parenthesis. Vast amounts of kerning are not always a necessity for a well-​​made font, but if there is no kerning, or if it does not deal with common situations like “LT” and “To”. . . then there is something wrong.

 

Making Kerning

In the “old days” prior to about 10–15 years ago, kerning was done by defining pairs and adjusting the spacing. So combinations such as To and Te would be separate pairs, as would VA and WA. This was a pain, but still manageable as long as fonts still only have <256 glyphs per font, although some would end up with thousands of kerning pairs, and some apps would break (in different and interesting ways) when working with very large amounts of kerning data.

But it is not unusual for an OpenType font to have a thousand glyphs or more. Cristoforo Regular has 1324 glyphs now. Luckily, OpenType allows for “class kerning,” in which glyphs can be grouped into classes, and then the classes are kerned instead of individual glyphs.

So the first thing to do is to define those kerning classes! I spent days on and off just doing that for Cristoforo Regular. Some of them only apply when the class is on the left, some when the class is on the right, and a few apply to either side. I had 96 kerning classes before I started kerning. I made a few additions and deletions during the process, and am sitting with 101 right now, with 632 distinct adjustments between classes (the class equivalent of “kern pairs”). Probably a week or more of work, if it was full time.

Here’s the display of classes in FontLab Studio 5.1.4. Most of my classes for Cristoforo have anywhere from 4–30 glyphs, but some have just one or two, and the largest has 84.

Kerning class definition in FontLab Studio 5.2 (image)

The left listing has all the classes, along with whether they are left side, right side, or both. The selected class is a left side class, composed of capital letters with round left sides, such as CGOQ. (Click for full size image.)

Getting the class definitions right is critical. If a glyph is missed out, it doesn’t get kerned. If a glyph appears in two left-​​side or two right-​​side classes, it causes an error that means that a bunch of the kerning will never be applied when the font is used. (FontLab Studio warns appropriately, but debugging can take a while.)

Here is how the spacing can be viewed with arbitrary strings of text in the metrics window. At the moment the effect of kerning is not being shown.

unkerned text image

FontLab Studio metrics window showing advance widths and sidebearings for unkerned text. (Click for full size image.)

Below you can see the same text only with kerning applied.

Kerned text

Effects of kerning are shown. The metrics listing above the text only shows those pairs for which both members are considered the primary exemplar; other combinations are often kerned as a result of class membership. (Click for full size image.)

The next version, below, highlights the points where kerning is happening. Mostly kerning makes the combinations closer together, except the “e.” combination, where the period has to be moved a smidge further away.

Kerned text annotated

FontLab Studio metrics window showing advance widths and sidebearings for unkerned text. (click for full size)

 

Application Support

Most graphics and publishing apps simply use the kerning data in the font by default. You have to do something special to avoid it or get different results. This is true of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and QuarkXPress.

The Adobe apps refer to the kerning built into the font as “Metrics” kerning, as opposed to no kerning or Adobe’s automatic “Optical” kerning. In a well-​​made font Metrics kerning produces the best results, but even then Optical kerning can be handy for combinations the type designer missed, or situations that can’t be handled by kerning built into the font (such as kerning between different font sizes or two entirely distinct fonts).

Even WordPerfect, back around 1990, had kerning on by default, if I remember correctly. But not Microsoft Office.

Microsoft Word has allowed you to turn on kerning pretty much forever, it just defaults to being off. To turn it on, in recent versions, go to Format > Font or hit Ctrl-​​D (Cmd-​​D on Mac). You’ll get a big dialog. Select the “Advanced” tab.

Then in the top “Character Spacing” section, check the box that says “Kerning for Fonts.” The default is to set kerning on for 12 point and above, but you can reduce it—I generally set it to 1 point because I want kerning on all the time. Unless I am writing an article about kerning I never want it off.

Word kerning dialog

Kerning dialog in Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac (Word 2010 for Windows is similar)

PowerPoint has more recently started supporting kerning. In more recent versions, go to Format > Font or hit Ctrl-​​T (Cmd-​​T on Mac). In the resulting dialog select the “Character Spacing” tab. Then check the “Kerning for fonts” option.

PowerPoint kerning dialog

Kerning dialog in Microsoft PowerPoint 2011 for Mac (PowerPoint 2010 for Windows is similar)

So that’s all you need to know to use and appreciate kerning!

NOTE: About 1/​4 of the text of this post is borrowed from my article “Know If a font Sucks,” currently in press for the March–April issue of Communication Arts.

Cristoforo Italics update »

Some screen shots and info on the font production process posted as an update on my Kickstarter page, including some thoughts on why ATF called it “American Italic” instead of “Columbus Italic,” the transition to standard type alignment around 1900, and illustrating good vs bad curves.

Conferences & Cristoforo »

Wow, it has just been a crazy time lately. I wrote most of this yesterday at 36,000 feet, on my way home from a quick tour of Europe for work: Barcelona, Paris, Hamburg and Munich. This included numerous customer meetings and three speaking engagements:

My “Type Detective” talk at Typo Week Barcelona

Now I have a break for a couple of weeks before my next conference, TypeCon in Milwaukee (Aug 1–5), where I’ll host a panel to talk about Kickstarter as a means of funding new type design. I’ll also be doing a talk on the same subject at ATypI in Hong Kong (October 11-​​15).

In the meantime, I have been hard at work in my off-​​hours on my Kickstarter-​​backed typeface, Cristoforo, with help from my fabulous intern, Andrea Harrison. The full details are available to my backers in an update on Kickstarter, but for public consumption, I’ll just say that work continues on the upright face, and has started on the italic, and I am predictably enough wishing that I hadn’t promised to add so much language coverage (central European, Greek, Cyrillic). But it’s coming along, and the extended language support offers some greater design challenges than just digitizing an old typeface.

My day job has kept me pretty busy, and has presented me with some one-​​sided decisions. Gee, I have exactly one day free in Paris: work on Cristoforo, or visit the Louvre? Okay, so I’m probably not going to collect a lot of sympathy votes here. But after spending less than 48 hours in each of Paris, Hamburg and Munich, then flying back to Portland, I am pretty beat.

Finally, I need to thank my backers for Cristoforo! Without them I would not have tackled the typeface, or would have done something much less ambitious and done it more slowly. Here is the backer listing (and yes, some of these are pseudonyms, it’s whatever they use on Kickstarter).

Cristoforo Backers »

As I’ve been posting about lately, Cristoforo is a family of three fonts I am developing, reviving Columbus & Columbus Initials (Ihlenberg, 1892) and American Italic and American Italic Initials (Ihlenberg, 1902) as well as adding a symbol font. I am the lead designer, with the assistance of my new intern, Andrea Harrison.

I funded the development of Cristoforo through a Kickstarter campaign, which raised over $10,000 from backers. Woot!

Current ETA on finished fonts? February 2013. However, limited pre-​​release versions will be available to appropriate levels of backers starting in mid-​​July.

Here are my awesome backers, in tiers by their level of support.

Elder Gods

Gerry Leonidas
“Hanover Fiste”
Laura Worthington
Lanny Maude
Michael Grzesina

Great Old Ones

Daphne Pfister
Andrew Leman
Adam Crossingham
Andy Watson
Harbs
Dorian Henao
Christian Mayland
Philip M. Payes
Sean Stewart
Mark Simonson
Eric Menninga

Greater Servitors

Steve Burnett
Owlglass
Shaun Huston
Robin Layfield
Alan Shutko
M Sean Molley
John Butler
Juris L. Purins
Ned Holbrook
John Bragg
Jens Kutilek
Ed Hurtley
Dean EngelHardt
Shaun Huston
Jens Kutilek

Unspeakable Horrors

H James Lucas
Rachael Stevens
Katherine Schroeder
anarch
Sarah E Canzoneri
Tom Orzechowski
Atarun
Alexander Y. Hawson, M.D.
jshallri
Adam Jury
Matt Goczalk
Eric Schild
Michael Mellinger
Genghis Kern
Tom Carlson
Josh Rensch
Justin Hernandez
Joerg Sterner
Kimlin
Emrys Hopkins
Jonathan Biddle
Bobn Gorski
trit
Bret Kramer
David Marshall
Melissa Bube
Christopher
Trampas Johnson
John Velonis
Alan Ackerman
Bruce
Jonathan Harnum
Brendan Sheehan
Val Lucas
Shelby Cinca
Solarom
Damon Loren Baker
Gene Breshears
Shabier Raffee
Battlefield Press, Inc.
James Hannum
Adrian Rector
Stephen Kick
Eric Havir
Trevor Stamper
Open Design
Marc Teppo
Ben Levy
Jim Ramsay
Luke Ovitz
Rick Ernst
Seth Godin
Reed Savory
Frédéric Gaudet
Skye
Steven Scherbinski
Ed Possing
Simon Rogers
Rob Kaughan
Filipe
Steve Huntsberry
Bugmaster
Christine Doyle
Gerald Saul
Raymond Michaud
Peter Miller
Fred Hicks /​ Evil Hat Productions
Brett Bozeman
Bryant Durrell
Mike
Mark Ho-​​Kane
Derek M. Koch
James Todd
Bill Walsh
chris
Mark L Pappin
Chris Huning
Michael Jacob
Dan Reynolds
Rod McDonald
Gerolf Nikolay
David Wolske
John Hawkinson
Galahad de Corbenic
Justin Unsworth
Rob Pinkerton
Tom Conder
Eric Nielsen
Terry McKelvey
David Occhino Design
Jean-​​Claude Tremblay
Randy
Chris Jarocha-​​Ernst
Jason Williams
Kate Eakman
Richard Kegler
Yukihiro Terada
Robert “Rev. Bob” Hood

Lesser Servitors

Zachstar2014
Jonathan Krell
Alex Kim
Torrain
Scott Dorward
Brien Croteau
Brian Schoner
Hans de Wolf
Jon Michaels
Andreas Welch
Jessica Kozaki
Benjamin Bangsberg
Gerald Kowarski
Blaine Horrocks
Rob
Knighthawk 2112
Angela Patel
Candace White
Thomas Taimre
Jeff
Darin DuMez
Antoine Bertier
Jed McClure
Stacey Van Keuren
Maika
Threemoons
Jon N
Rork
Haakon Sjursen
Tobias Svalås
Andrew Lee
James Allenspach
Akma
Rt Andrez Mora
“Rambo”
Curt Miyashiro
Elliott C. Bäck
Adam Hunter Peck
Munchezuma
Scott Morrison
THomas W. Holt Jr.
Dave Borne
David Barton
Nathan Clarenburg
Mike Hurd
Kathleen TInkel
arfunk
Candace Carpenter
Brian Moe
Micah Wright
rampantbicycle
Lila Symons
Gem Newman
Nikola Skopec
Brandon Holfeltz
Marcos Nogas
Phil Vance
Don Hosek
Eric Eslinger
Victor Hammersley
Dennis Wilkinson
Edward Iglesias
Jeremy Tavan
Adrian Rector
_​Zed_​
Christopher Harris
Jorg Rødsjø
Jeanette
AH
Mike Nutt
Mitchell Olson
Patrick Heagany
Sean Molley
Juan M. Escribano
Wayne A Arthurton
Brian Platt
Steph McW
Glenn Fleishmann
Laura
Ann Voelkel
Jesse Garrison
Michael Bowman
H. James Lucas
Raphael Solomon
Marty Barnett
Stephanie Schorr
Pablo Impallari
Dennis Kelley
Tieg Zaharia
Ernst Tedeschi
Dougal Campbell
Lorenz Thor
Halstead York
Ian Lovecraft
Richard Simon
Rebecca Evans

Byakhee

Ezra Claverie
Samuel Velasco
Daniel Steinbock
Lori

Ghouls

Missa
Justin Marsten
Michael Gerber
Steven Zeck
Alisha
Josh M
Caleb Stokes
Nicholas
Karen Babyak
Alex
Jenny Franck
Julian F
James Turnbull

Cristoforo $10K Promo: Free Dark Symbols Font »

With about 48 hours to go (midnight Sunday PDT), my Cristoforo font project on Kickstarter is at about $9,300 in pledges from backers who want to get cool fonts and other swag. As $10,000 is my final “stretch” goal (the point at which I add Cyrillic support to the fonts), I was trying to decide how to both celebrate and encourage the last few pledges I need. I settled on releasing a free font that might be of interest to some H.P. Lovecraft /​ Cthulhu fans: Dark Symbols icons designed by Brennen Reece and Graham Walmsley, fontified by me, released at no charge under the Open Font License 1.1.

Dark Symbols sample

Download Dark Symbols font (Zip archive of .otf).

What are the Dark Symbols? Graham explains them on his blog, but basically these are rough-​​edged hand-​​drawn symbols, intended for folks to mark up Cthulhu-​​related role-​​playing adventures.

I may also incorporate the Dark Symbols in my Cristoforo Symbols font; that’s TBD. But in any case, enjoy this free font, and consider supporting Cristoforo in its waning hours on Kickstarter!

Columbus typeface sightings, intern, Kickstarter »

My Kickstarter campaign for the Cristoforo typeface has passed half its $6400 target in the first week, with 16 days to go! That’s fabulous.

I will be making my intern decision no later than Sunday! I’ve been holding interviews, and I’ve only had a handful of serious applicants, but they have including some really awesome people. I’m still open to hearing from more people before I make my final decision, but I have at least a couple of great candidates. The absolute drop-​​dead deadline is tomorrow (Sat June 2) at 2 pm PST. Anybody else who applies at this point needs to be local or able to come out here, open to part-​​time internship, and ready to send me stuff right away to support their application, and to interview with me on Sunday (preferably in person).

I keep on seeing versions of Columbus (the source for Cristoforo) in interesting places. I was sitting having a coffee with one of my intern applicants in downtown Portland just this past Tuesday, next door to Portland landmark Voodoo Doughnuts, and realized that they use a hand-​​lettered version of Columbus for their slogan, “Good things come in pink boxes,” seen here on one of said boxes:

I’ve also in recent months seen it on the logo for Juju, a bar in downtown Seattle:

… and for the signage and logo of Brides by Demetrios, a wedding dress and bridal chain. I saw it in the upscale Buckhead suburb of Atlanta, but they have stores all over.

I believe the picture above is their Indianapolis location, but the Atlanta/​Buckhead one had the same neon sign. I just couldn’t get a good picture of it with my cell phone at night.

Cristoforo lives! Re-​​launched Kickstarter project & revised intern position »

Cristoforo promo image

If at first you don’t succeed….

My first go didn’t quite make it, so I reconfigured the reward structure and relaunched my Kickstarter campaign to find backers for my new typeface, Cristoforo, a revival of some classic Victorian typefaces by Hermann Ihlenburg. It’s also known as the typeface of Call of Cthulhu (the H.P. Lovecraft roleplaying game), and as the original logo for Cracker Jack. The campaign will only last until midnight on Saturday June 17. Basically, people pledge money up front for the fonts (and other goodies) so I know the project is viable. Reward options for backers depend on their funding level, and include not only the fonts, but computer desktop wallpaper, T-​​shirts and posters.

Kickstarter is all or nothing. Only if the total pledges exceed the minimum funding target are people’s credit cards charged and the project moves forward.

If funding exceeds the minimum by enough of a margin, I can add more language support for central/​eastern Europe (including Cyrillic), and even pay an intern! Otherwise, the intern will be an unpaid position. I hope to make intern decisions in a week, and just revised the job description again.

Check it out the typeface on Kickstarter and/​or my intern wanted posting.

Font Production & Type Design Intern Wanted »

[Updated June 1 & May 29 on deadline and minor details, May 26 on time/​duties/​pay, previously May 6 on funding chances, possibility of part-​​time, clarified total working hours, and discussed what will happen if the Kickstarter campaign fails.]

General

Deadline for applications: 2 pm PST, Saturday June 2nd. (Though earlier is better, interviewing the week of May 29th.)

I’m looking for a type design intern, probably just for the summer, though I’m open to a longer period. This will be an unpaid position, but with an unusually good ratio of learning-​​plus-​​even-​​working-​​on-​​your-​​own-​​projects to ruthless exploitation. The duties of the position will be dependent on the success of the Kickstarter funding campaign for the Cristoforo typeface. I expect the project will be funded, but without enough money for a stipend. Assume it’s unpaid and you won’t be disappointed.

If the Kickstarter campaign fails? I am still considering that. I may still proceed to work on the typeface just to get it done. It’s nice to finish things. That would eliminate most of the graphic design work in the position, as that was all for the “rewards” for Kickstarter backers. I might still do the desktop wallpapers, and just maybe digitally printed T-​​shirts. It would also make a part-​​time situation make more sense, with less total work and less time pressure involved.

Details

I’m located in Portland, Oregon. Helpful if you are too, or willing to relocate for the summer.

I’m open to negotiation, but as a starting point, I envision this position as roughly equal parts of the following areas of work:

I initially viewed this as totaling a full-​​time position, but I had concerns that I will have enough work to keep my intern busy, given the limitations on my own time. Part-​​time is more plausible, maybe 15-​​25 hours a week. Mind you, it depends on how much you can do on your own type design as well.

The position will start in June. It could be remote initially if you are coming out later.

Salary is unlikely. If the Kickstarter campaign exceeds its funding target, then half the excess will go to my intern. It probably won’t be much, but I am hopeful the fringe benefits will compensate.

If you are working with me in Portland, you would likely be spending a significant amount of time in the finished basement of my home, in a small office area. (Perhaps not my existing home office space, we might take over the storage area for more space!) You’ll have a 24 monitor to work with, and if you don’t have your own laptop I will provide a Windows laptop to use with the monitor. We could also meet elsewhere, as long as it is not too distant from my SE location.

I do not discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender/​identification, sexual orientation, national origin, etc. If you do, we might not be the best match.

Requirements:

Highly Desirable:

Bonus Points For:

Next Steps:

Submit a resume, write-​​up, or whatever you like. References appreciated! Samples of, or links to, your previous work would be great, especially anything that shows your attention to detail and ability to complete long projects. If you have done any type design or font production, I’d like to see the actual font file, along with any comments you have on things you think are good and things that you know need work.

My email address is tphinney and the domain is cal.berkeley.edu.

Cristoforo: back my new crowd-​​funded typeface »

Cristoforo promo image

[UPDATE 26 May 2012: The first try didn’t quite make it, so I revised the reward structure and re-​​launched! Link now points to the revised project.]

Yes, I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign to find backers for my new typeface, Cristoforo, a revival of some classic Victorian typefaces by Hermann Ihlenburg. It’s also known as the typeface of Call of Cthulhu (the H.P. Lovecraft roleplaying game), and as the original logo for Cracker Jack. The campaign will only last until midnight on Saturday May 19 [revised: June 17], which is 26 days from now. Basically, people pledge money up front for the fonts (and other goodies) so I know the project is viable. Reward options for backers depend on their funding level, and include not only the fonts, but computer desktop wallpaper, postcards, T-​​shirts and posters.

Kickstarter is all or nothing. Only if the total pledges exceed the minimum funding target are people’s credit cards charged and the project moves forward.

If funding exceeds the minimum by enough of a margin, I can add more language support for central/​eastern Europe (including Cyrillic), and even pay an intern!

Check it out!

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