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 »:

Editorial insert
Editorial insert
Editorial insert
Editorial insert

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


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


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!!

April’s font of the month: 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.


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!


March’s font of the month: Gimlet Banner

Gimlet Banner

Gimlet is one of my most extensive type families, released in 2016 in three optical sizes, four widths, and five weights. Many large serif families use thick/thin contrast to create dramatic tension, especially in display sizes, but Gimlet is different. Gimlet’s contrast remains relatively low throughout the series, owing mainly to the slabby roots of its inspiration, Schadow, designed by Georg Trump in 1938.

My interest in Schadow started with Nick Sherman, who suggested that I use it as a jumping-off point for a new design. Gimlet has always had an unusual relationship with its predecessor; rarely do my typefaces owe so much to a single source, yet strive to be so different from it. Gimlet isn’t really a “revival” even in the loosest sense of the word, but it draws so much from Schadow that it’s also hard to think of it as an entirely original design (in John Downer’s helpful classification, I think/hope it would be considered an homage).

Following in Schadow’s footsteps, Gimlet’s serifs aren’t quite slabs, but they’re not too far away from slabs either. But in my mind, Gimlet was never supposed to be a slab serif. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I took the design one step further from its source material and started to amp up the contrast.

comparison between Schadow, Gimlet Display, and Gimlet Banner

This month, I’m sending you an exploratory style of Gimlet Banner, a font intended for very large sizes that eschews Schadow’s low contrast in favor of razor-thin serifs and hairlines. I use the word “exploratory” to describe this exercise because, in a family as large as Gimlet, it’s nice to dip my toe in the high-contrast waters before committing to the development of 40 new Banner styles.

I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on this yet, but I’m warming up to it. The extreme thins are inherently brittle, and I might have gone a little too far. But I do like how the Banner style exaggerates the unusual thick/thin/thick transitions between stems and arches in letters like n or d.

Gimlet Banner

Interpolation has been a crucial part of Gimlet’s development (as it is for many large families); I was able to generate many variants from a relatively small set of master designs. But for this exploration I’ve chosen to work in the Bold Condensed style precisely because it is not one of the original masters.

This may seem counterintuitive at first. I’m creating extra work for myself, and should I choose to pursue Banner styles for the entire family, I’ll probably have to discard this version and redraw the family in a more systematic way.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about how easy it can be to rely too much on interpolation, and how difficult it can be to maintain a sense of individuality and specificity at any given point in a large, fluid designspace. (This is especially apparent in Gimlet, which has already taken many style-specific quirks from Schadow and ironed them out into a more unified family.)

So despite the inefficiency, this exploration has forced me to spend some time drawing in a less-familiar area of the designspace. And hopefully I’ve learned something in the process.

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

Alternate ampersand

DJR Open Studio

← Fonts

One week ago, over twenty passionate and awesome font enthusiasts attended my Open Studio, braving great distances, mud and ice, and multiple flat tires in order to be here.

Stephen Nixon already posted a great thread summing up the event, and I just wanted to follow up so that there is some record of it here.

The weekend began with some sledding, followed by dinner and drinks at the Conway Inn.

Welcome sign
CJ hits the slopes
CJ hits the slopes
Photo by Stephen Nixon
Lily chases Josh
Lily chases Josh down the hill, as CJ walks back up

Some of us started Saturday with a hike through the woods.

Starting out the hike
Photo by Stephen Nixon
On the hike
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug

James documented some of the interesting things that we passed in the big field.

As we got closer to our destination, we started to see tapped trees with tubes and buckets.

On the hike
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug
On the hike
Group shot by Mary Catherine Pflug

We finally reached Boyden Brothers Maple, operated by Jeanne and Howard Boyden. They gave us an excellent tour and demonstrated how maple syrup is made, and then gave us samples of syrup, maple cream, and maple candies.

Boyden Bros Maple
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug

After a few hours of hanging out and enjoying each other’s company, and maybe even getting some work done, we sat down to see some presentations.

Micah at work
Photo by Stephen Nixon

Stephen Nixon kicked things off, presenting about Recursive, his Type & Media project.

Stephen Nixon
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug

Eben Sorkin introduced us to a new tool called EQX that can help designers review, document, and improve their typeface designs.

Eben Sorkin
Photo by Stephen Nixon

Next, Jenn Contois gave an eye-opening presentation on signage and ADA-compliant typography. We had a lot of questions.

Jenn Contois
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug

We then moved on to the business track, which was totally unintentional but also totally awesome. Mary Catherine Pflug crunched data from MyFonts in interesting ways to tell stories about how folks buy and sell fonts.

Mary Catherine Pflug

Matthew Rechs shared some invaluable tips about doing business as designers.

Matthew Rechs

And Joyce Ketterer closed out the talks with campfire horror stories about font licensing. 🔥

Joyce Ketterer
Photo by Mary Catherine Pflug

After the talks, we had some hearty vegetable soup and fresh-baked pies from Baker’s Country Store and chatted the night away.

What a great group we had. I’m looking forward to opening my studio again soon!

The group
Photo by Stephen Nixon

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.


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.


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!