This article is about “How to create typefaces — from sketch to screen”, a book for beginners by Cristóbal Henestrosa, Laura Meseguer, and José Scaglione.
Would I recommend it as a good read?
To whom it would be recommendable?
- Beginners in type design
- Graphic or Web Designers transitioning to type design full-time or part-time
- Typography aficionados that want to learn about type design
Where can I buy How to create typefaces — from sketch to screen ?
Update March 2019: The book is exclusively available at St. Bride Library online store.
Purchase “How to create typefaces”
I didn’t know what exactly to expect from this book when I purchased it; but if I’m being honest, part of me thought it’s going to be similar to typical online tutorials. I was wrong: while it’s an accessible read targeted at beginners, it’s packed with information and reads more like a manual for a Beginner Typography Course support rather than just a tutorial or extended article.
I started taking notes while I was reading, and quickly realized that after two or three chapters my notes looked more like school notes taken at a course, than quick summary notes for an article.
What makes this book more than a manual, though, is the fact that you are presented with three different ways of thinking. The authors’ approaches are very different — and that is apparent throughout the book — but that doesn’t mean that they clash. On the contrary, a creative process is something personal that gets refined over the years of experience, and this book represents a very good starting point in forming the base of a process that is optimal for you.
You’re free to choose whichever option best resonates with you, is more conducive to creativity, and makes you more productive.
History: Originally written in Spanish as “Cómo crear tipografías. Del boceto a la pantalla” and published in 2012 (revised third edition in 2015), it has since been translated to Polish (2014), Portuguese (2014), and English (summer 2017). A Chinese translation is currently TBA.
Quick note: The English version uses British spelling. You will find spellings like “scepticism” (British/Australian), instead of the American English “skepticism”.
Small Errata: The book — at least the English edition — contains a typo on page 13, Nahuatl is spelled as Nàuhalt’ (I think Nàuhalt is the Catalan spelling).
This is the Table of Contents as listed in the book:
- Writing, calligraphy, drawing, and type design
- Processes and methods
- Typographic programme
- Typography as software
There’s not much to say about Gerry Leonidas’ foreword or the Glossary and Bibliography sections, so I’ll cover the book chapters one by one.
This chapter includes general considerations from all three authors about the thinking that happens before the process of creating a new typeface:
- Laura Meseguer writes about the introduction to type design, kinds of projects, preliminary decisions, and conceptual development.
- Cristóbal Henestrosa writes about form and function, how many fonts are needed, reworking models, and seeing in order to know.
- José Scaglione writes about form and function, technical considerations, and aesthetic factors.
There’s an abundance of excellent technical details and explanations in this chapter. But what I’m going to leave here is an extract from the “How many fonts are needed?” section:
This recapitulates from a very old problem: is there a need for new typefaces or do we have enough? […] Why design a new typeface? Are the existing ones not sufficient? Do people really pay for typefaces when computers come pre-installed with loads of fonts? […] Faced with such scepticism, all that remains is to ask what happens in other similar activities: why make a new song, or a new novel, or a new movie? […] We would have lost a great deal if no one had made rock music after the Beatles.
Although Kris Sowersby probably said things best in his recent article titled “10000 original copies”.
Writing, calligraphy, drawing, and type design
This chapter is written by Laura Meseguer, and it’s organized into the following sections:
- Preliminary definitions
- Calligraphy, lettering, and type design
- My experience
- Gerrit Noordzij and his theory of writing
- The calligraphic basis of typeface design
- Gerrit Noordzij’s cube
- Elements of calligraphy in typography
- From calligraphy to type
Here you will find everything from basics like definitions and delimitations of calligraphy (writing), drawing (lettering), and typeface design, to in-depth analysis of elements. Everything is thoroughly illustrated with graphic examples.
Curious to know about rhythm, quality of forms, ductus, speed & rhythm of stroke, curve tension, proportions, height & weight, formal coherence, consistency of counters, and spacing? All of this and more is very accessibly explained.
You’ll find an elegant definition of calligraphy as being “handwriting pursued for its own sake”, but also learn about the three types of contrast (by translation, by rotation, by expansion).
This is one of the richest chapters of the book, and covers much more than I can mention here.
Processes and Methods
In this chapter, each of the three authors describes in detail their own approaches and workflow. From ways of sketching, structure, consistency, and optical correction to knowing the difference between classic and modern proportions, rhythm, functionality, readability, and legibility.
Optical compensation is an extremely interesting part of the chapter. Among other, you learn about how to adjust capitals so than they don’t seem lighter than the lowercase, compensating height for squares, circles, or triangles, and adjusting weight for vertical, horizontal, and diagonal strokes.
The human eye is quirky and perceives geometric perfection as imperfect. José Scaglione mentions this:
Paul Renner1 understood very well that the design of alphabets is the art of deceiving the eye. Or to put it another way, in order for letters to look geometric and at the same time have typographical value, they should not be geometric. […] In his book “Digital Typography”, Donald Knuth describes some of the necessary corrections for adapting typographic shapes to certain deformations produced by the human eye.
Some of the rules of optical compensation are:
- To look the same, curved strokes at their widest point should be thicker than straight strokes
- Horizontal strokes should be thinner than vertical ones
- Circles and triangles always seem smaller than squares
- The human eye perceives the top half of the letters as smaller
- Strokes have to be thinner at junctions
- Upper half has to be narrower
And this is far from an exhaustive list. It might seem a little bit overwhelming mentioning how many optical corrections are necessary, but the authors do a very good job explaining the subject without making the reader feel overwhelmed.
Written by Laura Meseguer, this chapter is structured as follows:
- Digitizing the sketches
- Kinds of outline point
- Basic construction
- Towards a methodology for creating a group of characters
- Which characters or shapes to start with?
- Optical adjustments
- Sequences and derivations for the construction of the lowercase
- Sequences and derivations for the construction of capitals
- Evaluation of the design and sampling words
- Complementary characters
- Estimated times for each phase
The subtitles are self explanatory, you can easily guess what the sections are about.
If you are a graphic designer, web designer or have previously worked with vectors in software like Illustrator, you might be familiar with the types of outline points described in the third section, but nevertheless this chapter is a very in-depth analysis of the digitizing process.
Includes very detailed information about topics like types of Bézier outlines (corner points with straight lines, curve segment, joining curves, tangent point, points at extremes), about font construction methods (by parts, by modules, and by form derivations) and interpolation.
A chapter by Cristóbal Henestrosa, structured in these subsections:
- When to start
- Adjusting the fit
- Spacing of numerals
- Vertical spaces
The “When to start” depicts when in the workflow is better to start the spacing and kerning processes. Here too, the authors have different approaches.
This chapter also addresses things like spacing, kerning, types of numerals (tabular, proportional, small caps, subscript/superscript etc) among many other.
Written by José Scaglione, this chapter is organized as follows:
- Typographic colour
- Condensing and expanding
- Optical size
- Other ways of extending a typeface family
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about italics and obliques, typographic colour (which is not a chromatic term), creating condensed and expanded fonts, how font size influences contrast, condesing, spacing, and x-height, plus many more.
It’s a heavily illustrated chapter, rich with examples.
Typography as software
Also written by José Scaglione, this chapter comprises a little bit of type history, as well as information about PostScript, TrueType, OpenType, limitations of digital technology, and Unicode.
A chapter by Cristóbal Henestrosa, with several subsections:
- Legal issues and marketing
- Some legal considerations
- On plagiarism
- On piracy
- Distribution models
- Custom types
- How much does a font cost?
The book closes with considerations written by each of the three authors.
- Laura Meseguer writes Experience of several years, When to update a font, and My emotional link to typography.
- Cristóbal Henestrosa writes By way of conclusion.
- José Scaglione writes Critical analysis, and Publish or perish.
1 Paul Renner is the author of famous typeface Futura.