November’s font of the month: Roslindale Ultra

roslindale specimen

When making a type family, one of the biggest challenges is deciding how big it should be…sometimes it can be hard to know when to stop.

Expansive type families can be great, but there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns as one ventures away from the family’s “core” styles. (A font’s Bold Italic Small Caps will never get used as often as its Regular lowercase.)

On top of that, there’s always the question of how much can change in a typeface before some parts of the family start to feel categorically different than others. And that is precisely the question I am asking myself about November’s offering, Roslindale Ultra.

roslindale djr sample

As longtime club members may remember, Roslindale was inspired by De Vinne, a typeface attributed to Gustav Schroeder and Nicholas Werner and released by the Central Type Foundry in 1892.

But as you can see in the image below, this new style of Roslindale bears only a passing resemblance to De Vinne’s wider styles. The overall skeleton is virtually unchanged, but the originals never got this bold, and featured a lot more uneven angularity and wobbliness than I was able to retain in this latest rendition.

Cuneiform in use
De Vinne No. 2 in the 1912 American Type Founders Specimen.

In fact, whether I like it or not, Roslindale Ultra may owe more to the bold, high-contrast, Victorian-inspired serifs of the International Typeface Corporation (better known as ITC) and designers such as Herb Lubalin, Tom Carnase, and Ed Benguiat that came to define American typography in the 1970s.

I noticed a similarity early on between Roslindale and ITC Bernase, but as the font gets bolder and wider, the high contrast and buxom curves typical of the ITC aesthetic become more and more prominent, and the connection is harder to ignore.

LSC Caslon Roman
LSC Caslon Roman by Tom Carnase, transfer sheets from my collection.

As I continue to expand this family, I’m trying to figure out whether I’m okay with this. With all of these influences, does it feel new enough? Should I try harder to preserve some of that Victorian eccentricity in the far corners of Roslindale’s designspace, or is this just a natural progression of the design?

Roslindale Ultra is November’s installment of Font of the Month Club. As always, you can sign up for as little as $24!

roslindale ultra u&lc
roslindale ultra uc

October’s font of the month: Clavichord

clavichord djr sample

In my worldview, typography has always lived at this fascinating intersection of history, technology and problem-solving/design, and I often approach my work through one or more of those lenses. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how type can also work on a visceral level, designed to evoke an emotional response rather than a historical connotation or general sense of elegance or craftsmanship.

There seems to a moment happening right now for this kind of expressive type design. I had the privilege of attending Les Rencontres de Lure this summer and was able to discuss this topic with a number of boundary-pushing French designers (including several members of Velvetyne Type Foundry). It is also a recurring theme in this recent interview with Jules Durand.

All of this led me to unearth a spindly blackletter that I started a couple years ago and abandoned shortly thereafter. I didn’t return to the design because I love the style or because think it is particularly useful. I returned to it because it makes my skin crawl.

clavichord specimen

This month, I’m sending you that spindly blackletter, which I’ve called Clavichord. I found its jumping-off point back in 2017 while browsing the private library of a friend here is Western Massachusetts. (Fun fact: this was actually the same day that I encountered the book that led to the creation of Klooster, December 2017’s Font of the Month.)

I spent a bunch of time with an 1860 tome called The History of Ink, published by one of the largest ink manufacturers at the time. Thanks in large part to the help of Florian Hardwig and the Fonts in Use moderators, there is now a post on Fonts in Use that showcases many of the typefaces used in this over-the-top book.

Cuneiform in use
Italian Text / Cuneiform, as used in The History of Ink, 1860.

Of course, Madisonian steals the show as the book’s main text face, but my attention quickly turned to the bony, frail textura at the top of the first page. Called Italian Text or Cuneiform, depending on where you look, this typeface isn’t even the most beautiful American blackletter of that era. I guess what I appreciated about it was its ability to be both beautiful and a little icky at the same time.

This dichotomy is something that I tried to push even further in my interpretation of the design. Unlike the straightforward revival I took on last month, Clavichord takes many more liberties with the concepts set forth in the source material.

It is anchored by a distinctive “sparkle” shape, an abstraction of the diamond-like form made by a broadnib pen held at 45°. (It is certainly not alone in adopting something like this; recent examples include this striking piece by Wei Huang and Frida Medrano’s Jabin typeface.)

But Clavichord’s connection to the broadnib pen ends there; the rest of the typeface descends into lavish Victorian excess, with spirals, decorative ball terminals, and hairlines so razor-thin that they virtually disappear.

In the end, I added a variable Optical Size axis that allows you to control the hairlines thickness, keeping them at 0.5pt from 76pt to 332pt!

Clavichord variable font

I’ll admit that this was a hard typeface to draw, and it might prove to be an even harder typeface to use. But I hope you can find a place in your designs to add a little “ick factor,” even if it’s just a drop cap or some words on top of a big photo. Happy Halloween!

Clavichord is October’s installment of Font of the Month Club. As always, you can sign up for as little as $24!

Clavichord variable font

DJR Open Studio 2

Group

Photo taken by Angela, courtesy of Matthew

I can’t thank everyone enough for participating in my Open Studio earlier this month! I am so happy with the group we had…there wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch. 🍎

We had a great group of speakers on Saturday afternoon. We heard about everything from lettering to machine learning, from responsive design to font licensing, from impostor syndrome to augmented reality. I’m sorry I don’t have photos of all the speakers…as the sun went down, the photos got blurrier, but hopefully this will give you an idea!

I am so bad at taking photos, and I’m even worse when there are so many cool people around and so much cool stuff going on. I’m grateful to those who contributed their snapshots so that I could have some documentation of the event here on the blog.

Group
Friday hike, Rainbow over the antiques barn
Group
Friday hike, cemetery stop (Khánh is busy posting great instagram stories of the event)
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Stop at the Historical Society
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Dinner, drinks, and music at the Conway Inn
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
On our way to Apple picking
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Apple picking
Group
Sooo many apples
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Group
Micah hanging out at the orchard
Group
Maple soft serve at Hager’s
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Hanging out
Group
Browsing the bookshelves
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Gor speaking
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Lynne speaking
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Marie, Cem, and Nic speaking
Group
Mirko splits wood
Group
Joyce tells campfire horror stories (about font licensing, of course)
Group
Dinner
Group
Sunday morning view
Group
Hanging out at Elmer’s Store

Sketch supports variable fonts!

I’m very happy to share that my variable fonts are now supported in Sketch! Here’s a sneak peek of my in-progress Condor Variable working in the latest version.

sketch supports variable fonts

Announced this week on the Sketch blog, Sketch 59 also has improved support for OpenType features. Variable axis sliders can be found right next to the Font Style menu, just like in Illustrator.

Between this news and other design apps making strides to support OpenType features, I am very excited to see support and enthusiasm for variable fonts from the makers of the latest UI design tools. I hope this helps everyone use my variable fonts to their full potential!

Tortellini Hebrew by Oded Ezer

Tortellini Hebrew by Oded Ezer

Check this out! Oded Ezer just released a Hebrew extension of July’s Font of the Month, Tortellini! I love seeing how he adapted the design to a script where horizontal contrast is not the same as reverse contrast.

Existing Tortellini licensees can contact me to request a free upgrade, and the Hebrew version is available now at hebrewtypography.com!

Tortellini Hebrew by Oded Ezer
Tortellini Hebrew by Oded Ezer

September’s font of the month: Lautsprecher DJR

Lautsprecher DJR is September’s installment of Font of the Month Club. Sign up this month to get this revival as well as two mystery fonts for as little as $24!

lautsprecher djr sample

This club has explored many typographic genres in the past couple years, but there is one that I have conspicuously neglected: cursive scripts. I don’t have a lot of experience working in this genre, and I’m honestly not sure I’d be any good at it.

I mention this only to acknowledge that this month’s revival of Lautsprecher is the ultimate connected script cop-out. The typeface fills the role of a connected script, but is actually a curious hybrid of cursive capitals and an italic sans-serif lowercase.

lautsprecher specimen
Lautsprecher specimen, Ludwig & Mayer, 1931. Image courtesy of Letterform Archive.

Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”) was created by Jakob Erbar, a German professor and designer active in the early part of the 20th century. He is best known for his eponymous Erbar-Grotesk, a prototypical geometric sans published by Ludwig & Mayer in 1926 and recently reimagined as Dunbar by CJ Dunn in 2016. (CJ is also the person who taught me how to skateboard, but that is a whole other story!)

Ludwig & Mayer published Lautsprecher in 1931, and unfortunately, I don’t know much about the life of the design after that. Erbar died in 1935, and Ludwig & Mayer’s foundry in Frankfurt was destroyed in 1943 during World War II. When the company re-emerged after the war, Lautsprecher was nowhere to be found in its catalog.

lautsprecher djr

In 2015, a specimen for this funky pseudo-script made its way to Letterform Archive in San Francisco as a part of the Tholenaar Collection. And thanks to some cheerleading from Stephen Coles, that is where it caught my attention.

It has been said that not every typeface needs to be revived, and I don’t disagree. Even though Lautsprecher may not be the greatest typeface of all time, I think is just too damn charming too ignore.

I love its details, like the itty-bitty serifs, the hooks on the L and J, and the distinctive diamond terminal on the r. I love its subtle bottom-heaviness and how it incorporates both geometric and organic forms. And I love how Erbar dealt with the constraint of the metal block, chopping off letters like S so that they did not need to hang over the following letter.

I am someone who was taught that a typeface is “a beautiful collection of letters, not a collection of beautiful letters.” But Lautsprecher’s little idiosyncrasies are a helpful reminder that there is some flexibility in how systematic a typeface needs to be.

DJR at Letterform Archive
Me at Letterform Archive, checking stuff in front of bookshelves (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

After Crayonette in 2017 and Bradley in 2018, Lautsprecher is the third summertime revival I’ve done for the club. I’m thinking about making it a tradition!

Of course, many thanks to Stephen and Letterform Archive for providing these resources and for encouraging me to take on the revival. I encourage you to pay them a visit the next time you are in the Bay Area, and if you have a few bucks to spare, you can consider donating to their new home so they can continue preserving and sharing great design.

August’s font of the month: Map Roman Compressed

What follows is an abridged version of the Font of the Month Club’s August mailing:

map-roman text

Last August — exactly one year ago — I released Map Roman, a typeface based on the cartographic lettering of MacDonald (Max) Gill. This month I decided to return to the design with Compressed and Extra Condensed widths.

As you might recall, Max Gill is famous for saving the London Underground with his 1914 “Wonderground” map. But when I first encountered Gill’s work in La Jolla, the map that struck first most was actually Wonderground’s 1922 successor, “In the Heat of the Summer.”

map-roman font, uppercase
In the Heat of the Summer, by MacDonald (Max) Gill. Photographed by me at the Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla

As a rule, titling caps will feel elegant because we allow them to take up the space that they need. So what impressed me about the capitals on this particular map is that they managed to retain so much of their elegance despite being so aggressively crammed together.

map-roman widths

You might notice that I added a handful of Discretionary Ligatures (HE, MP, TT etc.) based on the “Summer” map. And I also had the chance to add a few alternate characters based on suggestions by Caroline Walker, Max Gill’s great-niece and curator of a website dedicated to his work. I was very excited to get feedback from someone so close to the source material, and I hope she enjoys the new round-top &, round-top 3, and curled 7 (and that you do too, of course!).

Map Roman Compressed is August’s installment of Font of the Month Club. Sign up this month to get Map Roman Compressed, as well as two mystery fonts, for as little as $24!

Map Roman Compressed + Tortellini
A surprising connection between July’s font, Tortellini, and Map Roman Compressed

Roslindale in use: Haus

“We wanted the Haus brand to feel simultaneously modern and timeless—and Roslindale captures that duality. It’s both old and new, elegant but indisputably bold.”

Haus is a new low-alcohol aperitif created by Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht that was launched in June 2019. The identity was designed by Kelsey Lim at Gin Lane and prominently features Roslindale.

Read more on Fonts in Use »:

Bottle
Bottles
Editorial insert
Editorial insert
Shipper
Shipper
Editorial insert
Editorial insert
Website
Website

Fit in use: Musical Script Books

Elvin Hu designed this book series of printed scripts from popular musicals as an unpublished student project. Read more on Fonts in Use »

Covers
Covers
Back covers
Back covers
Next to Normal, cover
Next to Normal, cover
Next to Normal, back cover
Next to Normal, back cover
Wicked, cover
Wicked, cover
Wicked, back cover
Wicked, back cover

July’s font of the month: Tortellini

Tortellini font, U&lc

What follows is an abridged version of the Font of the Month Club’s July mailing:

I’ve named my slab serifs after pastas before, and I’ll probably name my slab serifs after pastas again.

But this month’s font, Tortellini, is different. It goes beyond a mere connection to Spaghetti Westerns and the horizontal-stress “Italienne” style. Like the stuffed, ringlike forms of its namesake pasta, Tortellini is all about the round shapes.

I originally started this typeface intending to make a wide companion for the condensed Pappardelle (Font of the Month, October 2017). But I quickly realized that taking the same concept and making it wider was not going to be nearly as straightforward as I wanted it to be.

Tortellini font, uppercase

As the letters get wider, the slab serifs grow longer. Letters with asymmetrical serifs (like i and u) become even more asymmetrical and start to feel weird alongside the symmetrical letters (like x and o). And because the slab serifs carry so much of the weight in this design, this can throw everything out of whack.

Of course there are several contemporary exemplars of horizontal-stress slabs with a wider stance (Arbor, Brylski, Maelstrom, and Orwellian come to mind). But I decided to go back to the old specimen books and see how 19th-century Extended French Antiques addressed the problem.

French Clarendon Extended, MS&J
French Clarendon Extended, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, 1892

I was surprised by how round the round shapes were, and how off-balance they felt next to the long, squared-off slabs. I was intrigued by how all of these off-balance letterforms managed to come together in a funky, syncopated rhythm (the word “Golden” in the image above is a great example of this).

With Tortellini, I tried to take this unique rhythm and push it further…not only in terms of width, but also in terms of the contrast between ovals and squares. Tortellini’s proportions are wider (and more consistent), its hairlines are thinner, and the curves of its ovals are rounder and more elastic.

tortellini contextual alternates

At the risk of getting too nerdy, let’s talk about one last thing: serif gaps.

Bethany Heck recently mentioned to me how important the intervals between serifs can be in slab serif typefaces, especially when the serifs are as thick as Tortellini’s.

It can be tricky to maintain consistent serif intervals while also managing the space between the letters as a whole. For example, in a serif typeface the lowercase l is often spaced tighter than the lowercase i to compensate for the extra whitespace created by the l’s raised serif. However, this has the unfortunate side effect of making the serif gap tighter as well (see Fig. 1, above).

To address this, I’ve included a set of contextual alternate letters to “mind the gap” in certain situations (Fig. 2), subtly shortening certain serifs to maintain both serif gap and overall letterspacing. I don’t think this is a perfect solution, but I thought it was worth a shot!

In use examples

If you dive into the PDF specimen, you’ll see that Tortellini also comes with a set of alternate diagonals with fewer serifs, as well as some bizarre glyph shapes in the character set…check out the ß!

Tortellini is July’s installment of Font of the Month Club. Sign up this month to get Tortellini, as well as two mystery fonts, for as little as $24!

June’s font of the month: Forma DJR Chiaroscuro

forma-djr-chiaroscuro

What follows is an abridged version of the Font of the Month Club’s June mailing:

This month’s release is a (relatively) simple one: a pair of unreleased weights from Forma DJR. I have dubbed the set Forma DJR Chiaroscuro because it contrasts the heaviest and lightest weights from the still-growing family (and the Italian origin of the term doesn’t hurt).

After issuing so many serif faces last year, I’ve been making a conscious effort to spend more time in the world of sans. But for any club member who is shocked to receive two “conventional” sans-serifs in a row, please do not worry: weirder stuff is on its way. 😉

forma-djr-chiaroscuro display

I had never heard of Forma when Roger Black commissioned me to revive it. Forma was released in 1968 by the Italian foundry Nebiolo. Forma was more-or-less Nebiolo’s answer to the success of neo-grots like Helvetica and Univers, and they claimed that it possessed a warmth that was missing from other typefaces in the genre. You can read more about the unusual of history of the typeface on Type Network’s minisite, or in this recent history published by CAST.

I released the revival in 2016 as Forma DJR, with five optical sizes and five weights, from Extra Light to Bold. I had toyed around with the idea of pushing the design even bolder than Bold, but never seriously pursued it.

The following year, the branding agency Today commissioned a Black weight for Forma as part of their rebrand of VRT NWS, the news outlet for Belgium’s Flemish-speaking national broadcaster. Type Network did a great write-up of the rebrand, and I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to see Forma’s numbers in use for the weather forecast! ⛅️

forma-djr-chiaroscuro display

Because the family was always meant for large, fashiony displays, the next logical step was to go thinner. Forma DJR’s telltale rounded corners and tapered strokes made this a challenge; after the design is reduced to its skeletal form, even the most subtle shifts in weight become super-noticeable. In the end, I decided I was okay with it. Those adjustments are what sets this apart from most hairlines that are always trying to be clean and perfect.

Because the weights are so extreme and the spacing is so tight, I recommend that you use this typeface at large sizes. I hope that this release is useful to you, whether it is used alongside the retail family, mixed with Forma’s slab-serif cousin (issued six months ago), or used on its own.

Forma DJR Chiaroscuro was June’s installment of Font of the Month Club. You can still get it as a back issue if you sign up for the club!

Floppy disks at Typographics 2019

floppy disks

Attendees of this year’s Typographics Festival will receive a special gift from the Font of the Month Club: a free mystery font from the club’s back catalog chosen completely at random.

There is one catch, however: that free font is stored on a 3.5 inch floppy diskette. (Of course, thanks to their small filesize, fitting desktop and web fonts on a 1.4MB disk is no problem.)

If you left your floppy drive at home, have no fear! I will have a table at the Typographics Book Fair, open on Saturday June 15 and Sunday June 16 from 10am–6pm. And at that table will be a floppy-to-USB drive that you can use to uncover your mystery font and offload the font files for your complimentary use under the terms of my Mini license.

The table will also have Font of the Month Club subscriptions (it’s the gift that keeps on giving!), other back issues, silkscreen posters, and more. You’ll also be able to recycle your disk (if you don’t want to keep it).

Many thanks to Nick Sherman, who helped dream up the concept and designed the label.

floppy disks

May’s font of the month: Bild Widths

bild-widths

What follows is an abridged version of the Font of the Month Club’s May mailing:

As longtime club members might recall, Bild is a straight sided sans inspired by two outlier styles found in Trade Gothic, Bold and Condensed No. 20. These styles stand apart from the majority of Jackson Burke’s famous midcentury grot, with a clunky rigidity more in line with Alternate Gothic or Railroad Gothic. Back in 2012, Sam Berlow suggested an entire family stemming from these outliers, and I’ve been toying with the idea ever since.

In September 2017, I issued Bild’s Compressed Black, where the straight sides of “round” letters like C, G, and O are well suited to the narrow, dense headlines that it is meant to set.

More recently, I’ve been curious to see what happens to those straight sides as the letters gets wider. The straight sides of those “round” letters can’t stay straight for quite as long in wider shapes, and the curves become a much more prominent element of the design.

bild-widths display
bild-widths display
bild-widths display

This month I’m sending you three new widths of Bild’s Black weight, in Narrow, Condensed, and Extra Condensed.

These new styles are every bit as dense and blocky as the original, but take on a new rhythm now that things aren’t so squished together. In order to maintain this density, the stroke weight gets significantly thicker as the design gets wider.

I also tried to keep some balance of the rigid and organic forms in the typeface, contrasting straight-sided forms like c and p with the curves of s and a. My hope is that this will allow the typeface to walk the line between a “poster font” like Impact and a versatile sans serif.

bild-widths display
bild-widths display
bild-widths display

I’ve also included a Bild Variable font that covers the entire width range between Compressed and Narrow. Even though this is a relatively straightforward design, it still threw me a few unexpected curveballs along the way.

If you look at the Ty pair below, you can see that the y tucks underneath the T but that becomes impossible as the T’s crossbar gets heavier. This meant that I couldn’t rely on linear interpolation for these kern pairs across. Instead, I had to create a separate set of “kerning alternates” that allow the lowercase letters to snap out from underneath the T at the exact moment that they run out of room.

Likewise, I gave some special treatment to the dot on the i. In narrower widths, it aligns with the height of the uppercase letters, dipping below the lowercase l in an unintentional homage to Herb Lubalin’s Families logo. As the stem weight gets wider and the dot gets more elongated, it made sense to snap it up to align with the ascending lowercase letters instead.

bild-widths feature variations

And here what it looks like in Illustrator so you can see the feature variations for T and i in action:

bild-widths feature variations

Bild Widths is the twenty-fifth installment of the Font of the Month Club 🎉, available to members this May. Memberships go for as little as $6/month, so with a four-width headline sans like Bild as your first get, the subscription kind of pays for itself immediately! Sign up today!!

Fontstand conference

Had an amazing time in Porto speaking about interpolation at the Fontstand Conference!

Book covers challenge

April’s font of the month: Polliwog

Polliwog

What follows is an abridged version of the Font of the Month Club’s April mailing:

Conventional wisdom tells us that text typography and display typography have opposite goals: a typeface should never catch the eye in extended text, but on a poster, being eye-catching is kind of the point.

I’ve always been intrigued by fonts that occupy the space between text and display. Subtitles, decks, introductory paragraphs, and text in children’s books are all pretty niche use cases, but they all lend themselves to a certain category of typeface. This typeface can be distinctive and eye-catching on a structural level, but must be drawn plainly enough to be suitable for reading in short bursts. (It’s sort of the counter-approach to last’s month’s font, Gimlet Banner, which features a relatively conventional structure drawn with eye-popping contrast.)

Polliwog display

I’m not sure if there is an agreed-upon name for this genre; personally I think of them as “novelty text” typefaces. I also like the term “advertising text,” which I first heard from from David Berlow when describing intended uses for my typeface Trilby. The term recalls midcentury advertising that featured a paragraph of copy, much more than we typically have today.

It’s kind of a weird impulse to take a super-interesting idea and then execute it in a boring-ish way. But I think it can be a useful typographic exercise to distill a style down to its essential elements in order to truly understand how a system works. This is what I have attempted to do this month with the whimsical Jugendstil lettering of Max Joseph Gradl.

Lettering work from Gradl
Lettering work from Gradl
Examples of Gradl’s lettering, large and small. From Schriften-Atlas, courtesy of Jason Carne’s Lettering Library.

Active around the turn of the twentieth century, M. J. Gradl was a German artist whose diverse body of work in the Art Nouveau style covered jewelry design, wallpaper design, and advertising. There have been various typographic takes on Gradl’s imaginative alphabets in the past, including an early digital version for Microsoft by the aforementioned David Berlow.

While existing digital interpretations celebrate Gradl’s work in all of its wavy grandiosity, Polliwog thinks small. (The name “polliwog” is actually a synonym for “tadpole.”) The typeface suggests that all you need to create a compelling rhythm in a block of text is a single drop of Gradl’s proto-psychedelic Jugendstil energy.

Polliwog text

The core of Polliwog’s interesting texture comes from the juxtaposition of straight stems and broad, swinging curves. Even though letters like A, U, and V are distinctively asymmetrical, there is a great deal of symmetry in the overall design; curves are just as likely to swoop to the left as they are to the right.

Outer curves flatten out abruptly as they hit the tops and bottoms of letterforms, causing the weight to clump up momentarily and emphasizing the horizontality of the line. This unevenness in weight is echoed in the softened and tapered stroke endings, giving a bit of wobble to an otherwise-skeletal design. The font includes a handful of alternates, giving you the opportunity to fine-tune the flavor of your text.

Alternates

Polliwog is available this April for members of the Font of the Month Club; memberships go for as little as $6/month, so do yourself a favor and sign up today!

M