June’s Font of the Month: Merit Badge

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It’s hard to talk about recent developments in font technology without mentioning two hot topics: variable fonts and color fonts. As support for these two technologies has been improving over the past year, a natural question arises: “Can you have a variable color font?”

Well, as you can see with June’s font of the month, Merit Badge, the answer is a resounding “Yes! But…”

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Before we get into the technical nitty-gritty, let’s start with the design. The inspiration for Merit Badge comes from a Boy Scout guide that I found at a fantastic used bookstore in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts (not too far from my new house!). It featured a blocky slab serif with a striking inline stroke. Because of its modularity and relative simplicity, I thought it could be a fun (and manageable) starting point for experimentation at the intersection of color font and variable font technologies.

Many color fonts out there rely on embedded image data (SVG or PNG), which is great except that images don’t respond to OpenType glyph variations (only glyphs do). Fortunately, the COLR/CPAL approach takes normal glyphs and layers one on top of the next, making it perfect for a color variable font. Color font enthusiast Roel Nieskens used this same approach to turn my silly drawing into a variable color font proof-of-concept, and he provided invaluable feedback on Merit Badge as well.

animation

Variations-wise, the standard weight axis plays with the relative thickness of the interior/exterior and inline strokes (try animating it!). Meanwhile, the custom SANS axis will reduce the length of the slab serifs until they disappear, just in case this design wasn’t already basic enough for you (see also the recent Foreday which has a similar feature).

Color-wise, I’ve included a handful of color palettes in the font, but most software won’t let you see anything but the default palette of turquoise, blue, and yellow. With the help of Chris Lewis, I put together a simple minisite where you can customize the default palette of your font and make it whatever colors you want!

As of June 2018, Merit Badge seems to work nicely in recent versions of Safari, Chrome (depending on the operating system), and Edge. Firefox gets you the color font, but no variations (for now). Photoshop and Illustrator get you variations, but no color (they support SVG color fonts, though). But have no fear: you can always use OpenType Stylistic Sets 1–3 to access each of the layers, and then color and stack the text blocks yourself.

So, is Merit Badge the most usable or versatile font I will send you as part of Font of the Month Club? Probably not.

Is it a bit early to be considering variable color fonts for production-level work? Probably.

But I wanted to release this font to you now because, A) experimenting with this stuff can be fun, and B) hopefully it will result in better support for these kinds of fonts in the future. (I am proud that the development of Merit Badge has already yielded bug reports for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Illustrator!)

For those of you who have signed up for the club and got your copy, let me know if you hit any speed bumps, and I hope you enjoy playing with this font in all of its blocky simplicity and technical complexity. Have an excellent June!

April’s font of the month: Rumpus

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Distinctive serifs can be a blessing and a curse. The shape of the serif can get repeated so many times in a line of text that it can easily come to be the defining characteristic of a typeface, and consequently the glue that holds that line together.

But serifs don’t go everywhere. In typefaces that rely on distinctive serifs to be that glue, there is always a problem: How do you get unserifed letters like O to feel like they are speaking the same visual language as the rest of the typeface?

One of the things I love about Stephenson Blake’s 1883 Wide Latin is that it lets pointy stuff get super pointy and it lets round stuff get super round, but it all seems to kinda work. But I’ve been wondering what all this wonderful sharpness and roundness would be like if it just weren’t so…circus-y. And that’s where April’s Font of the Month Rumpus comes in.

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I started drawing Rumpus years ago in a variety of widths, and to be honest, I’m still not sure that I have a handle on the design. It abandons Wide Latin’s modern structure for a more humanist one, and is more consistently wide across both caps and lowercase. It also plays the round/pointy game a little differently than its predecessor, losing some of the extra serifs on letters like V and W, but making up for it with diamond dots and interior corners.

Rumpus is stilly very much a work in progress, and I think pieces of the design are still unresolved. Still, I find that it is an excellent choice if you don’t have a lot to say but have lots of room to say it!

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Using Output Sans Hairlines

I’ve been working on Output Sans a lot recently. And in anticipation of its upcoming release, I prepared a special preview of Output Sans’s thinnest weights for the wonderful members of the Font of the Month Club.

Output Sans Hairlines is not the thinnest hairline font out there (talk to Lucas de Groot about “The Thinnest”), but it is still pretty dang thin. One other notable thing about Output Sans Hairlines is that its stroke thickness and optical size are inextricably linked between 34pt and 166pt.

RRRRRRR

This means that, using its variable font, you can set text at 34pt and then set the stem weight of the letters to be 1px thick. Then you can double the size (or triple it, or quadruple it!), and then set the stem weight to remain (roughly) 1pt thick the entire time. Hairlines can be super finicky and sensitive to size, so this feature can be handy when you want to maintain consistency in weight across text of different sizes.

Setting these 1pt hairlines is pretty easy: just make sure that the value of the Optical Size axis is equal to the point size of the font. Here’s how that looks in the latest version of Adobe Illustrator CC:

Illustrator screenshot

In the future, I would love to see an optional checkbox that would link these two values together, so the optical size axis’s value can be set automatically.

This is not the only feature in Output Sans Hairlines…did anyone see the alternate forms? To all the Font of the Month Club members, I hope you enjoyed this month’s edition. And if you’re not a member yet, there are two days left to sign up before I send out April’s font!

A bit more about February’s font

more slabs

Photo taken by André Mora at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden.

At the Mölndals Stadsmuseum outside of Gothenburg, Sweden, the most interesting parts of the collection aren’t in the exhibitions. Instead, they reside in the museum’s “Open Storage,” which includes 10,000 everyday objects from 20th-century Sweden that visitors can see, touch, and wear.

When I visited the museum in the summer of 2016, one item that caught my eye was the midcentury Swedish garden calendar that is pictured below. Its title seemed like a condensed take on a geometric slab like Memphis or Stymie, and I loved how its rationalist letterforms contrasted with the organic shapes of the leaves behind them. But what interested me most about it were the atypical (some might say gratuitous) vertical slab serifs found on characters like e, a, and 9.

Me at the Mölndals Stadsmuseum Calendar

Visiting the Mölndals Stadsmuseum, and the calendar that caught my eye.

There was something that appealed to me about this overly-simplistic approach to modularity. If you’re drawing a slab serif, why not add a slab at every possible opportunity? So that is exactly what I tried to do.

As you might have guessed, the result is a slabfest. Rhody has narrow, straight-sided forms, rationalist curves, and extra-gappy inktraps that give it a little edge. Its mechanical nature is underscored by the unusually blocky shapes of f, j, and t, but the overabundance of vertical slabs prevents it from ever feeling sterile. I threw in a couple of weights, and some fun alternates and bonus features to explore!

Rhody

A note on the name

I had some trouble coming up with a name for this one until I looked outside my window. There aren’t many leaves on the trees right now in Western Massachusetts, but my rhododendron is still nice and green. Seemed like an appropriate inspiration for a font based on a garden calendar!

But, just the other day, I was reminded that Jitka Janečková did a type]media project called Rododendron in 2016 (that’s the Czech spelling, which is probably why it didn’t come up in a search). Not only was Jitka extraordinarily nice about the whole thing, but Rododendron is a pretty kickass typeface, so you should go check it out!

Rododendron Rododendron

Rododendron, by Jitka Janečková

So for now, I’m just nicknaming my design Rhody (which, of course, gets close to the classic Font Bureau grot, Rhode!) So we’ll see what happens to the name if/when I return to make this a full-fledged release.

Regardless of what you call it, this is the last day of February, so I encourage you to pick up your copy today!

NEW: Fit supports Hebrew

Fit Hebrew ABC אבג

Israeli designer Oded Ezer and I are very excited to announce Fit Hebrew, a Hebrew-language expansion that Oded drew for my typeface Fit.

Using my Latin version as a starting point, Oded adapted Fit’s rigid design to suit the needs of the Hebrew alphabet. Taking into account the squareness of the letterforms and the direction in which they open, Ezer sensitively applied Fit’s system of alternating curves and corners. And just as my Latin mixes uppercase and lowercase forms to take up more space, Fit Hebrew seamlessly mixes block and cursive forms. Ezer pushes Fit’s Hebrew alphabet to surprising extremes, making it an unforgettable and adaptable tool for titling and poster work.

See Fit Hebrew »

Fit Poster

But wait…there’s more! To celebrate Fit’s first birthday, I’m also giving away this poster of Fit’s Sator Square to all Fit licensees who want one. You can also purchase the poster separately for $15.

See Fit Sator Square Poster »

A look at January’s Extraordinaire

It’s hard to believe we are already halfway through January. Here’s a bit more on the design of Extraordinaire, this month’s font for the Font of the Month Club.

Stacked and justified specimen

When I started my typeface Bungee in 2011, I originally drew its shade as a simple “pin-line” stroke. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated; because the shade never touches the letterform, it was hard to know how to end the stroke or what to do when one disappeared behind a curve. In the end, I was never able to get this to feel right for Bungee, and eventually abandoned it in favor of a more conventional drop-shade. But I didn’t let go of the idea.

Variable font in use

Bungee’s original pin-line shade

I figured that a single-stroke shade might work better with a single-stroke typeface, but there’s just one problem: hairlines can be kinda boring. So much of what I love about drawing type comes from the contrast of thick and thin, and a hairline has none of that.

So I looked to Art Deco, as practitioners of this style did a ton of weird, interesting stuff with the skeletons of letters. I confess I am a sucker for their high and low waists, exaggerated proportions, and letters like C and S that can get so narrow that they almost disappear.

I found the final piece of the puzzle just last month during a visit to São Paulo for the amazing DiaTipo conference. Wandering past beautiful Art Deco buildings in the city center, I kept seeing this diamond-shaped O appearing in the signage above the doorways. It dawned on me that a pin-line shade would never have to awkwardly disappear behind an O with pointy tops and bottoms, so it would always feel well-defined.

Predio S. Frederico Banco de São Paulo S.A. Edificio Pau D’alho Edificio Rio Branco

Signs I saw during my day wandering around São Paulo. Many more examples at Tipos Paulistanos.

Out of all this comes Extraordinaire, my proof-of-concept for a variable single-stroke shade. Not unlike my revival of Crayonette, its capitals descend below the baseline so that the small caps are vertically centered. The round endings of the strokes give the face a breezy, informal look that is distinct from the sharpness that I usually associate with Art Deco.

One last thing: Extraordinaire is meant to be used big. Super thin strokes can be tricky to work with and are always a challenge for printers and rendering engines. I hope that club members will take advantage of Extraordinaire’s adjustable weight and shade distance; by using its assortment of styles and/or its variable fonts, you can maintain a consistent stroke weight across different sizes, or layer multiple shades together to create a variety of dazzling effects.

Variable font in use

Using Extraordinaire in Adobe Illustrator CC 2018

Variable font in use

Managing hairline weight and shade complexity across multiple sizes

That’s all for January! If you aren’t already a member, I hope you’ll consider joining Font of the Month Club and putting this font to some extraordinary use!

Klooster: December’s Font of the Month

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The uncial script was a particularly interesting step in the evolution of the Latin alphabet. Characterized by round, open forms, some uncial letters resemble Roman capitals as we know them today, while others begin to lean towards the forms that would eventually become our lowercase.

While uncials date back to the fourth century, the inspiration for Klooster is much more recent. Flipping through a friend’s copy of the D. Giltay Veth’s 1950 book, Dutch Bookplates: A selection of modern woodcuts & wood engravings, I was struck by the expressive energy of the woodcut lettering, particularly in the uncial-esque ex-libris of A.J.E. van den Muijsenbergh.

Italic Specimen
A.J.E. van den Muijsenbergh, from Dutch Bookplates by D. Giltay Veth

Even though this typeface ended up looking pretty different from the bookplate that inspired it, I sought to capture a bit of that rawness and angularity in Klooster’s loose drawing style. I also gave the face a fair amount of width and bulk, which I think adds to its expressive potential. And it comes with an assortment of alternates, which you can utilize to fine-tune the placement of ascenders, descenders, and uncial forms in your text.

Specimen

When designing this typeface, my imagined ideal use for it was on the packaging of a beer brewed by monks. So I dubbed it Klooster, the Dutch word for monastery. Klooster is the final Font of the Month Club installment for 2017, but I am already hard at work on a variety of projects for the coming year. Think about joining the club today!