True Blue

I am truly impressed by this use of Fern in True Blue, a story by Eliot Peper with immersive illustrations by Phoebe Morris and design by Peter Nowell.

True Blue

February’s font of the month: Nickel Gothic Wide

Nickel Gothic Wide

Deriving a sans serif typeface from a serif is rarely as straightforward as I want it to be. And that goes double for a typeface like Nickel, whose serifs are so large and distinctive that it’s hard to imagine what it would look like without them.

Longtime club members might remember Nickel as the Font of the Month Club’s inaugural release. It’s a stocky engraver’s alphabet based on a banknote inscription that I found in a New York Times article about the design of money.

If you look closely at that banknote, you can see that it also features small supporting text rendered in a squarish sans. It is blocky like the prominent serif above it, but also a good deal wider and heavier. This became the jumping-off point for February’s font, Nickel Gothic Wide.

Lines

Seeing those tiny bits of sans serif on that banknote made me realize that, hiding behind Nickel’s oversize, swooping serifs, there’s actually a lot of subtle-yet-interesting stuff that could serve as the blueprint for a sans serif design. And I think this true of many sans distillations; with fewer opportunities to show off, they need to reach a little deeper into their bag of tricks.

The new sans serif retains the overall squarishness and closed apertures of the original design, but its heavier weight and broader proportions endow it with an intense energy of its own. There is an unusual tension between the round counterforms (with two straight sides) and the round outside shapes (with four straight sides), which sets it apart from other straight-sided gothics.

There is also a certain rawness to Nickel Gothic Wide’s drawing style. The stroke contrast varies greatly depending on the complexity of the letterform (compare the horizontals of B and T, for example), and the shapes are defined by abrupt, near-mechanical transitions between straight and curved segments.

Bearded and clean-shaven G
Nickel Gothic Wide’s “bearded” and “clean-shaven” G

Despite its 1918 roots, Nickel Gothic Wide has a certain ’70s vibe that I made no attempt to shy away from. I was told by multiple people that this type of squarishness reminded them of Neographik, a typeface designed by Robert Barbour in 1970. I’m not sure I had ever seen it before last week, but I totally see the connection!

Neographik got me thinking about drawing alternates that would allow you to calibrate the amount of “Grottiness” in the design. The Neographik-style curvy R pulls the design a step in the direction of the British Grotesques, while the G without the little beard on the bottom (I’m calling it “clean-shaven”) pushes it towards modernist extended faces like Information and Microgramma.

cyrillic

I was curious about how Nickel Gothic Wide would look in other writing systems, and kind of fell into a rabbit hole drawing matching capitals for Cyrillic and Greek. I’m pretty happy with the results, and I hope at least some of you appreciate the additional language support.

Special thanks to Masha Doreuli, George Triantafyllakos, and Irene Vlachou for their comments on the Cyrillic and Greek, and Sybille Hagmann, André Mora, and Nick Sherman for their general suggestions about the design. And finally, many thanks to María Ramos and Stephen Coles for writing/publishing the review of Nickel on Typographica, which convinced me to move forward with an expansion of the design.

Nickel Gothic Wide is available this February for members of the Font of the Month Club; memberships go for as little as $6/month, so be sure to sign up today!

greek

January’s font of the month: Roslindale Variable Italic

italic

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sending out Roslindale Variable Italic to the members of the Font of the Month Club. Try it on v-fonts.com to get a feel for what it does. Here’s a little bit more about the design.

As you may remember from previous months, Roslindale is my take on the style of De Vinne, a typeface attributed to Gustav Schroeder and Nicholas Werner and released by the Central Type Foundry in 1892. The family grew over the following years to include De Vinne Italic, which was essentially a sloped version of the original Roman design.

But I didn’t feel like a sloped Roman was enough for Roslindale. Like De Vinne before it, Roslindale combines a rational structure typical of the Victorian era with echoes of historicized “oldstyle” shapes. And because Roz has a foot in both the “modern” and “oldstyle” worlds, I felt that its Italic should as well. (I should say that I have no problem with sloped Romans in general…in fact, I’m particularly proud of Gimlet’s funky Italics that juxtaposed sloped Roman letters with exuberant swashy forms.)

specimens
De Vinne Italic, as shown in Pacific Coast Blue Book, American Type Founders, 1896

Compared to type family extensions like weights or widths, Italics can have an especially complicated relationship with their companion Romans. This is because they can differ from the Roman not only in slope, but can draw (to varying degrees) on an entirely separate calligraphic tradition of cursive forms with different letter structures, densities, and textures.

The recent(ish) introduction of OpenType Variations has made this complicated relationship more apparent: even though a variable font file can theoretically contain an entire family, it is often more pragmatic to maintain separate variable fonts for Romans and Italics if the designs are just too different to combine.

Variable Fonts also gives us an opportunity to rethink the role that an Italic plays in a type family. Could there, or should there, be a space between Roman and Italic? What would that even look like? Would it actually be useful to fine-tune the “italicness” of a font?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, or if taking the time to explore them makes any practical sense. But there is some precedent for this kind of thinking in families like Auto and Arietta and even Dwiggins’s Electra that were drawn with multiple italics, I figured it was something worth playing with. With a sloped Roman in its DNA, Roslindale seemed like a suitable playground.

Roslindale Variable Italic on v-fonts.com

So, in addition to issuing the self-explanatory Roslindale Display Condensed Bold Italic (which I hope club members find useful, by the way), I also issued an experimental variable font called Roslindale Variable Italic. This font allows you to manipulate Roslindale’s “italicness” independently from its slant. Rather than drawing separate Roman and Italic masters, I drew alternate cursive-style forms in both upright and optically-corrected-oblique configurations. These are available as OpenType Stylistic Sets and also begin to appear (in a somewhat-logical progression, maybe?) as the variable Italic axis gets more and more Italic.

upright

In addition to being able to customize the “italicness” of the Italic, this font also gives you the ability to incorporate Italic forms into the upright Roman as well. I was excited to see this part of the experiment dovetail with the upright cursive forms of ITC Bernase Roman, a 1970s interpretation of the same De Vinne style.

ampersand

Roslindale Variable Italic is available to members of the Font of the Month Club; memberships go for as little as $6/month. If all goes according to plan, I’ll also send out a bonus version of Roslindale Variable that will incorporate all of the extensions that I’ve offered so far (Weight, Optical Size, and Italic), but only to those members who have also received Roslindale’s previous installments. So make sure you grab those back issues on the signup form!

December’s font of the month: Dattilo DJR

envelope

Last summer, I received a big envelope in the mail from Roger Black. You might already know that I worked with him on a revival of Forma, the sans serif published by the Italian type foundry Nebiolo in 1968. But what you might not know is that Nebiolo also produced a slab serif counterpart to Forma in the early 70s called Dattilo. And what Roger’s envelope contained was a handful of original specimens of that design.

specimens

Forma and Dattilo share an interesting history as the product of a committee of eight prominent Italian graphic designers led by Nebiolo’s art director, Aldo Novarese. The struggling foundry assembled this committee to create a new “universal” typeface that would compete with the likes of Helvetica and Univers. Indra Kupferschmid documented this unusual tale of design-by-committee in an article that accompanied Forma DJR’s release, and even more detail can now be found in a pair of recent articles by Alessandro Colizzi. Just like Forma, Roger has admired the design for decades, even commissioning a phototype version from Jim Parkinson for a 1977 cover of Rolling Stone when the original metal was unavailable.

With our revival of Forma published in 2016, a complementary revival of Dattilo seemed like a natural next step for the design system. And this month I’m happy to share with you a preview of the lightest weight of the largest size of the new in-progress family: Dattilo DJR Banner Extra Light.

chiarissimo

Picking up where Forma DJR left off, my interpretation of Dattilo is guided by the things that Roger loved about this era of typesetting: the meeting of lofty ideals of universality and perfection and the realities of working with ink, metal, and paper. Rather than trying to achieve the most beautiful or perfect shapes, I was focused on conveying some of the design’s physicality. So you can see slight variations in stroke contrast, as well as blunted corners and ever-so-slightly tapered serifs…but no tapered stems this time!

One of Forma’s defining characteristics is its super-tight spacing, which is a bit harder to achieve in Dattilo with all those serifs in the way. But that additional space endows Dattilo with an interesting rhythm and a typewriter-influenced personality distinct from its sans serif counterpart. And the spacing still prioritizes closeness over a steady rhythm, giving text a 70s vibe.

A few of Dattilo forms diverge from Forma’s design, and instead borrow from Forma’s set of Swiss-style alternates, including the R with a curved leg and the bearded G. And while Dattilo retains Forma’s trademark single-story a, it does come with a two-story alternate.

alternate

Now that I’m sending the Extra Light to you, I’m going to use this as an excuse to spend some more time with the heavier side of the family, which diverges even more from Forma in its look and feel.

Dattilo DJR has already been used to great effect by Roger in the latest issue of Type Magazine (pictured below), as well as by Mark Porter in his recent redesign of Domus, the Italian architecture and design magazine. Now I’m excited to see what you do with it!

Dattilo DJR Banner Extra Light is available this month to members of Font of the Month Club. You can join for as little as $6/month, and gift subscriptions are available!

alphabet

November’s font of the month: Pappardelle Party

Pappardelle Party Font of the Month

It is no secret that I have a soft spot for fonts with horizontal and reverse stress. In fact, I was worried that this affinity would lead me to lean too much on the genre when choosing what I would make you for this club.

So I am celebrating a small milestone this month: I managed to make it a whole year without featuring a horizontal stress face in this collection. What restraint! And what better way to celebrate this milestone than to break that streak and send you one right now?

Pappardelle Party is a stencil version of Pappardelle, a twentieth century take on the French Antique that I released last October. Compared to its wood type predecessors, Pappardelle takes a more modernist approach, interested more in the abstract shapes than in their connection to the ruggedness of the Wild West.

The stencil version further abstracts the design into a geometric grab bag of lines, rectangles, and semicircles. Even though Latin stencil designs tend to have vertical “bridges” that hold the shapes in place, the bridges in Pappardelle Party follow its contrast, creating horizontal bands that cut across a line of text.

specimens

But Pappardelle Party’s true novelty comes from its unconventional combination of chromatic glyphs, Open­Type contextual alt­er­nates, and a variable axis. With a palette of four colors, the font cycles through four different arrangements of colors for each character that is typed.

The starting point of this endless cycle is governed by a variable “Color Spinner” axis. This allows you to vary the “seed” which begins the contextual cycle, and is also great for animation and interaction.

With all the things that Pappardelle Party does, it is also notable for one thing it doesn’t do: interpolate. Unlike other variable fonts out there, there are no changing weights or morphing outlines; the variable axis simply swaps out glyph after glyph (a big thank you to Irene Vlachou for her technical advice on this). I hope this will lead to more exploration of how variable fonts can give users new ways to access alternate glyphs.

There are a few flavors of color fonts out there, each with their own complexities and support issues. I am sending you two: COLR/CPAL, which has a smaller filesize and is supported by most modern web browsers, and SVG-in-OT, which is supported by apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator (Photoshop can be a little finicky though, so you may have to disable and re-enable Contextual Alternates to get it working).

And because alternative color palettes are not supported in apps and browsers quite yet, I now have a new and improved Color Font Customizer, where you can drag on your font, pick your own colors, and download a customized version. Many thanks to Chris Lewis for putting it together!

I fully admit that Pappardelle Party is one of the tackiest things I have ever produced. Try not to do anything too cringeworthy with it, okay? 😉

Pappardelle Party is available to order as a back issue for all members of the Font of the Month Club.