January’s Font of the Month: Daily Special

Font of the Month, 2024/01 PDF Try Buy $24
Daily special cover

In 2017, I got an out-of-the-blue email from Johnny, someone I went to high school with. As we caught up, I learned that he and his wife Joanna started a company called Letterfolk that produced felt letter boards. You know, the kind that you’d see used for the specials board in a diner, or the menu at a café, or the directory of an office building. Or, as Johnny and Joanna discovered, the kind that is increasingly used for home decoration and family photo-ops

Even though they dealt with letterforms in the physical world, they were looking to create some digital fonts that could A) help users plan their letterboard designs digitally before committing them to felt, and B) be used to produce additional characters and styles of physical letterforms. And thus a typographic collaboration was born.

We agreed that, after a period of exclusivity, I could expand and repurpose these fonts for wider use. So this month, I’m excited to send you Daily Special, a dimensional letterboard color font based on Letterfolk’s house style.

Daily special specimen

Letterboard alphabets are produced in various sizes—the larger the letter, the flatter the face. This particular design replicates the three-quarter-inch letters (1.9cm, or in this font, 70pt). It is an exceedingly simple sans serif design that feels more “engineered” than “drawn”, with no stroke contrast, no optical correction, and rounded stroke endings. Its most eccentric feature is perhaps the overhang on the top of G.

Johnny and Joanna sent a letterboard and a set of their letters for me to use as a starting point. I wasn’t able to find out much about the origins of this particular style—it seems to be one of several standard styles that have been replicated by many sign companies over the last half-century. (If you have any intel, please let me know!) 

These fonts were intended to go “full circle”—they were inspired by physical letters, and they were also used to produce new physical letters, including additional characters and symbols. It was fascinating to learn a bit about how these letters were produced, and to take these logistics into account as I created the digital design. I especially loved the challenge of figuring out where to place the little tabs on the backsides of the letters so that they would sit correctly on the horizontal rows of felt.

Daily special white

Recently, I came back to this design and converted it from a series of stackable layers into a proper color font. The interior edges of the color fields are crisper and more “graphic” than what you would typically see from a 3D bevel effect. To me this creates a heightened sense of dimensionality, taking what is otherwise a fairly workaday letter style and making it pop.

Daily Special’s Regular style will adapt to the current color of your text, while the other styles use predefined color palettes. Of course, you can always mix your own color palettes using my Color Font Customizer or CSS font-palette-values. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to reiterate my hope that design apps will make it possible to customize color palettes as well!

Even if you don’t plan to produce tons of little plastic letters, I could imagine Daily Special being useful in book covers, posters, and logos that reference the vernacular, prefabricated signage we encounter in our daily lives. And maybe it could even be taken outside of the letterboard context altogether—regardless, I’m excited to see what you make with it! 

Daily special coffee

December’s Font of the Month: Map Roman Compressed Lowercase

Font of the Month, 2023/12 PDF Try Buy $24
Map Roman Compressed lowercase 1 2000

Map Roman is based on the lettering of MacDonald (Max) Gill, particularly the style he employed on the many illustrated maps he created in the first half of the twentieth century. 

The vast majority of the letterforms on these maps are capitals, but if you look closely enough, there are certainly samples of lowercase to be found. Unfortunately, most of these struck a different tone than I had gone for in my interpretation—I leaned more towards the formal elegance of his titling caps found at large sizes, while his lowercase tended to be smaller, looser, more calligraphic, and even a bit plucky. 

The lowercase I’m sending you today attempts to thread the needle between the constructed typeface that I made and the lively, humanistic lowercase that Gill drew. I’m wrestling with the notion that my “fontification” process may have distilled away too many of the handmade details from the original (no ball terminals! 🙀) and introduced too many new ones (the vertical serifs on a and e, for example). But I did work to preserve the overall spirit of Gill’s lowercase, with extra-long ascenders and descenders, unique flat connectors for p/d/b/q, and hints of calligraphy, from the extra wiggle of r to the thick crossbar and outstroke on f and t.

Tea detail

Detail from Tea Revives the World, MacDonald Gill, 1940

The tension between typographic and calligraphic is perhaps best illustrated by the ascending f and descending j. Typically I think of these letters as part of the same family, but here I’ve given the f (and other ascenders) a more typographic treatment while the j (and g and y) are endowed with graceful calligraphic swashes. 

I can’t totally tell whether embracing this tension is a good thing, or just a weird impulse from my sleep-deprived brain. (My twin daughters are now five weeks old, by the way, and are doing great!) But consider this a first draft, and a sign of more swashy things to come for Map Roman. 

Map Roman Compressed lowercase 2 2000

November’s Font of the Month: Pomfret Optical Sizes

Font of the Month, 2023/11 Try Buy $24

I hope you don’t mind that this month’s mailing is a quick one! My wife Emily and I are celebrating the early arrival of our twins, Astrid and Hazel, who were born less than a week ago. All is well, but I thought I had more time! 😅

Small caps

Small caps

This month I am sending you something else that is small—Pomfret Optical Sizes.

Longtime club members may remember Pomfret, a typeface I began in 2020 after Roger Black encouraged me to seek inspiration in the work of Bertram Goodhue.

I drew the typeface with razor-thin hairlines, which turned out to be a double-edged sword. I loved how they glimmered at the very largest of sizes, but they could be a headache-inducing liability in practically any other context.

Pomfret v3 Small 2000

Pomfret’s new Micro size is sturdy, wide, and slabby—a big departure from the delicate, slender serifs of the original Banner style.

Pomfret v3 Sizes 2000

While the Micro isn’t quite as elegant as the original Banner style, it opens the door to useful interpolations between the two extremes. These can take the edge off of Pomfret’s super-high contrast and ensure that its hairlines never disappear.

Pomfret v3 Compare

These fonts are very much a work-in-progress—caps only, with a limited character set and features. But I see them as a first step towards a proper text family for Pomfret, designed for extended reading.

October’s Font of the Month: Megazoid Italic

Font of the Month, 2023/10 PDF Try Buy $24
Megazoid italic lc 2000

Megazoid is not a font begging for an italic companion. It’s not some bookface that needs a secondary style. And it’s definitely not in need of added emphasis. 

It’s easy to forget that Italics were not originally the sidekicks they are today. Entire books were rendered in the italic hand and typeset in italic fonts. They represented an independent way of thinking about the Latin lowercase that was separate from the Roman style and more connected to the flow of handwriting

Megazoid is about the furthest thing from handwriting. It’s a typeface built up from pure geometry—squares, circles, and trapezoids. But what if I attempted to harness those same shapes, and reassemble them with an Italic mindset? It feels like it shouldn’t work, but Megazoid Italic turned out to be one of the most perversely fun italics I’ve ever worked on.

Megazoid italic compare 2000

Megazoid is rooted in basic, unsophisticated geometry, so it was of paramount importance that its circles remained circular. This became my furthest foray into the exciting world of rotalics, where Italic letterforms are rotated more than they are skewed. It almost requires that you tilt your head, transforming the reading experience from 😂 to 🤣, at least when you’re reading something funny.

Even though Megazoid does not go full-on rotalic, there is evidence of the approach in letters like O/o and the circular counters, which are identical to the Roman. You can also see rotation at work more subtly in the curves inside the counterforms of letters like n and the slight curve on the bottom of p before it meets the descender.

I chose a 15° italic angle because it matches the 15° angles already present in the diagonal letters such as A/V/Y/v/y. These letters contain one slanted side and one upright side, and I found that they could work equally well in both Roman and Italic, so I left them untouched.

Megazoid italic lc2 2000

This juxtaposition of bold geometry and cursiveness has been simmering in my brain since I revived Erbar’s Lautsprescher in 2019, and it was reignited again in 2021 when I visited Cleveland, Ohio, for the first time. Aside from hosting some of the best transit logos in the country, Cleveland is where I happened to pass by Zagar Machine Tool Builders, whose distinctive logo emboldened me to draw what is probably Megazoid’s most objectionable letter, a zig-zag lowercase r. (Don’t worry, there is an alternate.)

This was the same year that Ricola moved away from the geometry in their original logo, and my original vision for this typeface was more along the lines of a connecting geometric script in that style. Over time, it distilled into a kind of Minimum Viable Italicness, with common Italic call-signs like a single-story a, rounded e, and descending f, as well as little horizontal tails protruding from the right side of letters like n/m/u/w

I might return to the idea of a connecting script for Megazoid someday, but I’m pleased at how effective these pared-down tails are at communicating a sense of cursiveness. They do disrupt the letterspacing quite a bit, and muddy the waters of Megazoid’s geometric purity. But they’re fun and weird—in the end, that’s what Megazoid is all about!

Megazoid italic caps 2000

September’s Font of the Month: Input Cipher

Font of the Month, 2023/09 Try Buy $24

The “font” vs “typeface” distinction has never been one that I’ve particularly cared about. I tend to use the words more-or-less interchangeably, and whether you are talking about an OTF font file or the designs of letterforms, I can always tell what you mean.

If we’re going to split typographic hairs, the distinction between “characters” and “glyphs” is far more interesting to me. By “characters” I mean the abstract symbols that get encoded into our documents (the concept of the letter A), and by “glyphs” I mean the specific drawings that represent those symbols (a particular rendition of the letter A in a particular font).

I don’t mean to get into a whole semiotics discussion here, but I think it’s useful to look at the typography we do as a veil draped over the underlying sequence of characters that make up our documents. In the Latin script, a lot of the time that veil is essentially transparent—you type an A, you see an A. But in other writing systems, and even in advanced Latin typesetting, the character/glyph relationship can become more important and more complex—think of ligatures, where multiple characters are represented by a single glyph, or OpenType alternates, where multiple glyphs can represent the same character.

A font is essentially a database that maps the characters that we type to the glyphs that we see. And this month I am sending you Input Cipher, a font that highlights the glyph/character relationship by completely destroying it.

Input Cipher is the typographic equivalent of the decoder ring that your childhood self might have found inside a cereal box. You can type out a message in the font, and then use a variable axis to “encrypt” the text using a handful of common substitution ciphers like ROT13, where the basic Latin alphabet is rotated 13 letters so that A becomes N, B becomes O, C becomes P, etc.

I put “encrypt” in quotes because your message is not actually getting encrypted: the glyphs you see will change, but the underlying characters you typed stay exactly the same. Try using a screen reader or copying some ciphertext and pasting it elsewhere—the original message is untouched! (A screenshot will capture it, though. 😉)

The cipher axes rotate through A-Z (Caesar’s cipher, including ROT13), the ASCII character set (including ROT47), and 0-9 (including ROT5). In addition, you can map A-Z to its reverse (Atbash), redact the text completely, and use the Decode axis to gradually reveal the original message. There are also bonus OpenType features that can read and write Morse code, which you can type with dots and dashes, like this: .... . .-.. .-.. ---

ROT13

I’m no cryptography expert, but even I know that these ciphers are of little cryptographic value—it would be easy for someone to crack these codes by tracking double letters, letter-frequency, and other codebreaking techniques.

But data security is not really the point of this font. The point is to have fun! Send secret messages to your friends…or your enemies. Decrypt messages from others by trying to locate the inverse axis positions. Use the Decode axis to quickly scramble and reveal your text in animations or interactive media. Or, just bask in the cognitive dissonance that comes with typing a letter ands seeing an entirely different one appear.

This isn’t the first font to encode ciphertext, nor is it unique in offering obfuscation and redaction (I love LTR NCND’s typewriter-y take). But I don’t know of many fonts that apply glyph substitution so extensively across variable axes. With over 11,000 letter substitutions occurring in rapid succession, Input Cipher turned out to be an interesting test case of where we are with variable font support at the moment. Web browsers, Photoshop and Figma seem to do fine with these axes, at least on my computer. InDesign does nothing, and Illustrator just crashes. 😂 So what I’m trying to say is…your mileage may vary! 

I don’t love the idea of sending you a font that doesn’t work everywhere, but I think it’s also helpful to have publicly-available edge cases for app developers to test with. And even if you can’t use the font in your favorite app, I worked with Nick Noble on a browser-based demo page that you can use for all your encrypting needs! 

If all of this cipher nonsense isn’t for you, I hope you enjoy the sneak peek of Input Serif Mono, the newest member of the Input family of coding fonts. Omitted from Input’s original release of Sans, Serif, and (Sans) Mono in 2014, it’s the centerpiece of a long-overdue update that I’ve been working on with the help of Ruggero Magrì. Like its sans serif predecessor, Input Serif Mono sets itself apart by offering a series of widths in addition to the usual weights, giving you the power to control the proportions of the monospace grid.

Instagram post 2