Archives for category: Typesetting

At Deviant Art Martin Silvertant tells you how to get started designing a typeface — something I know you have all been dying to do. For ultimate success you’ll need some sort of vector program. He recommends Fontlab Studio, though he doesn’t use it himself. He tells us that many designers do the job in Illustrator, a program lots of production people have access to, if only in the office. (Link via Erik Kwakkel.)

Here’s his typeface map:

There is also a second part to Mr Silvertant’s course which moves on to italic and bold. This can be found here.

The Digital Reader sends a link to Ugly Gerry’s font made up from congressional site outlines.

Lots of us live in congressional districts which are distinctly odd-shaped. There are often (occasionally, maybe) good reasons for these tricky outlines.

Though Ugly Gerry clearly wants us to raise some protest about gerrymandering, I think that in his alphabet D and O look about as basic and un-gerrymandered as could be — of course you’d have to be there to be sure. Maybe if they’d had a hole in the middle we might raise an eyebrow. The two New York City examples, L and M, are both reorientated through 90º — probably lots of the others are too. The top of the vertical stroke of the L is in Queens and the horizontal bar is Brooklyn as is the bottom of the vertical. The little knuckle at the join is a small bit of Manhattan! The District is currently represented in Washington by Nydia Velázquez (Dem).

I suppose everyone knows the derivation of the word: they almost never say the word on NPR without reference to Elbridge Gerry who as Governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill in 1812 which created a partisan district compared by critics to the shape of a winged salamander, as shown in this contemporary cartoon. Attitudes towards gerrymandering tend to be rather partisan: what we do is a sensible readjustment of districts; what you do is underhand vote-rigging. It is perhaps comforting in the context of these arguments that Elbridge Gerry, who went on to be America’s fifth Vice President, is described at Wikipedia as being a Democratic-Republican.

There appear to have been two or three biographies of Gerry. Amazon offers one of them at $14.24. Let us hope that the gentle trend towards making district redesign subject to independent rather than political party control is allowed to continue and even accelerate.

Europeans are more down-to-earth here: Germans call it fett, fat; the French say gras, also fat. The Italians have neretto (black) or grassetto, and Spaniards go for letra negra or just negrilla. The Oxford English Dictionary gives c.1871 as its earliest quotation for bold in the sense of boldface type. (The use of boldfaced as describing an impudent person goes back to 1692, not really all that much earlier.) What did we call boldface type before that? No trace.

The fact is that prior to the nineteenth century we didn’t call bold type anything because it simply didn’t exist. Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson’s Dictionary edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott (CUP, 2005) informs us “The use of bold type for headwords in English dictionaries seems not to have come about until the 1870s, some thirty years after the introduction of the first boldface types, called Clarendon, by a London type-foundry [Robert Thorne’s Fann Street Foundry]. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, black-letter had provided a color contrast analogous to the use of boldface with roman.” Originally bold types were cast in larger sizes since they were really intended for advertising and posters.

But why did we English speakers opt for a word meaning courageous rather than the more obvious fat, heavy or black?  Well, recall that as time passes the meaning of simple words can migrate. In earlier times bold also meant big, plump, well-filled. One example quoted by the OED from 1787 is “Being a bolder and better grain, weighed heavier”. Thorne’s original faces do seem to have been referred to as fat at the time. Maybe Victorian prudery took over and demanded a less physical term.

Nowadays we have semi-bold and bold, extra bold, heavy, grotesque, and yes, fat. There’s no reason why you can’t call that typeface you just designed whatever you want, and there are no hard and fast boundaries between these terms, but I list them roughly in ascending order of fatness. Fonts in use has a nice survey of fat faces, with lots of graphic examples.

I find this one a bit shocking actually.

If you are taking care of an architectural masterpiece, visited by thousands every hour as it seems, don’t you think you’d want to be careful with your renovations. Clearly the doors of the Duomo in Florence were rebuilt not that long ago. They called on some letter-carver to include on the lintels the “captions” for the art high above. Thereupon the clerk of works stopped paying attention. I can’t imagine how they allowed this mess to appear. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”. Better; keep your eyes closed.

It’s almost as if the guy was told he had eight feet at his disposal and off he went, only to realize as he got got towards the end that he was running out of room. No problem thinks he, I’ll just scrunch up the last few letters and Roberto’s your uncle.

The inscription starts off quite nicely. ECCE is fine, though I might prefer a tiny bit less space between the second C and the E. We are already floundering a bit in ANCILLA where the C badly needs separating from the N. The I to L transition is clearly far too close especially if you’re going to allow extra space between the Ls and before that A which really looks like it’s an indefinite article — oops, but no, we’re not in English, this is Latin whence we came all our knowledge of the proper spacing of inscriptions, so maybe it looks more like a preposition. Our carver, obviously influenced by the luxurious spacing between that A and the L before it, starts DOMINI with similarly generous spacing between the D and the O. It’s at this point that he actually steps back and looks at what he’s doing and realizes he’s running out of room. MINI lives up to its name in terms of spacing, though our artist puts an extra twist on it with a flourish of even smaller space between the N and its neighbors that he allows after the M.

The little crosses are nice.

This door is the south door on the front of the church, facing the Baptistry. All the people who are going into the Duomo enter this way (those paying to go up the tower or into the dome enter elsewhere). We queued for an hour and chatted with a couple of students from Texas Tech who were in town doing their foreign study. They were business majors and had had half a dozen lectures on commercial law (American) while in town, though they appeared to have made side trips to rather more cities than that. Sending your students to Florence seems quite a common trick. We saw evidence of students from New York University, Kent State, and Pepperdine. And why not? Everyone wins; even the parents who pay, who can rest assured that someone over there is looking after their little treasure. Our Texan friend said she was sorry to be leaving town on the morrow. I suggested she could come back some time, but she allowed as how this would be the last time she could do so on her parents’ dime.

The word ligature comes to us straight from Latin where it lives as the verb “to bind/tie together”. The most common context for the word is medical, though let’s hope we are all more familiar with the musical usage, a joining together of two notes, rather than the surgical one of joining together two sides of a wound. To the book-making-fixated the first meaning of ligature to spring to mind is that of two (or on glorious occasions more than two) type characters joined together as one. Try to fit together an f followed by an i and you find the dot on the i getting in the way of the top of the f. Solution: out, out damned spot — cast both letters on one piece of metal tucking a dotless i under the loop, as in this example from Wikipedia.

This example is even more interesting to the maniacal typophile, in that it’s actually a ligature not of fi, but of long s and i.

The typographical ligature most familiar to us is probably the ae combination, most commonly found in “mediæval”, the Oxford spelling for what we in Cambridge think of as medieval. The ligatured version just seems so much less serious: it’s so “romantic” and picturesque. Ye Olde Tea Shoppe is surely a very mediæval usage. Æsop’s Fables provides another common locus. Oe is another fairly familiar ligature: I guess œnophile may be the place we are most likely to meet it. These two, plus fi and fl are available via Apple keyboard shortcuts (see Glyphs. But fi and fl are not supported in this font).

These all started out as short cuts devised by scribes who no doubt were subject to production quotas just like any other manual worker. This had the effect that these scribal time- and space-saving dodges became part of the time-honored tradition early typesetters struggled to preserve. Printers of the first books would strive to have their pages look as much like handwritten ones as was compatible with using metal type. Many ligatures are of course undeniably more aesthetically pleasing than their alternatives, and up until recently (during my working life) aesthetics were a constant matter of concern to most printers involved in book work.

Quoted in a piece from The Collation about ligatures in Aldine type, “Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book defines ligature as ‘two or more letters joined together and often cast on one body’ while M.B. Parkes defines the terms more extensively: ‘there are two categories: (a) when two adjacent letter forms have been disarticulated, and their elements reassembled to create a single form: for example, e and t to produce the form &; (b) when two adjacent letters have been linked, and one has been modified in the process, whilst retaining its recognizable basic shape, for example in the ligatures ct and st.'” The use of ligatures tends to lend an old-fashioned artsy-crafts look to a page of type which can be useful in certain contexts but would look ridiculous in say a book about computer programming. Thus you should not be surprised to meet them in Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, whereas most modern books will eschew them just allowing the dot on the i to crash with the loop on the f. Hey, nobody’ll notice!

The ampersand started life as a scribal ligature but is now considered a logogram. The same is doubtless true of @. The German double s symbol, ß, a combo of long s and short s, is another of these.

Well, I don’t know about Your Thos, but My Thos is in need of some help.

You can see what’s gone wrong: the amount of space between the Y and the T is exactly the same as the space between the T and the H. This is unfortunate after the designer decided to tuck the spreading M under the top left arm of the Y. From the detail picture you can see this: a transparent ruler confirms that the end of the lavish serif at the bottom on the M’s right leg is actually about 1/32″ to the right of the similarly extravagant serif on the Y’s left arm.

This tucking in of the M sets up a conflict along the line,  exaggerating the appearance of space between T and H and especially of course between Y and T. What needs to be done to make the whole line one word again is to move the M back to the left, add a little bit of space between H and O, and maybe the tiniest amount between O and S. The rest should be OK as is I think.

Pity really because at Michael Joseph (now part of Penguin Random House) they obviously went whole hog on this cover: the title on the front and that sort of line of cloud above it have been embossed* while title and author on front and spine have been foil stamped. I don’t especially like the design but that’s no problem; in matters aesthetic opinions are bound to differ. Blame the Greeks: it’s probably the fault of Apollo, Hermes, and Euterpe. I expect Epimetheus, Titan of afterthought and the father of excuses, gets a toe in too. No designer is credited — the only credit is “Cover Illustration © Sarah Young”, which please note.

As may be seen, our copy is signed by the author. We bought it at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year when Stephen Fry was performing/reading bits of the book on stage. The book is written in a chatty style and doubtless took minimal editing for performance. He covers the ground in an engaging and untaxing manner. The slightly jokey, knowing style ends up being a little hard to take, but whatever Stephen Fry does will forever be OK in my book as a result of this wonderful interview with a really gob-smacked interviewer from Irish television.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.


* Embossing a cover or jacket involves making a metal die — in this case in the shape of the word MYTHOS together with that grey contrail above it, and, after the covers have been printed, putting them through a stamping machine, thus recessing the paper in the area hit. This is really clear when you look at the back of the paper where the reversed image appears as a raised bump. This hit can be made as a blind hit (i.e. with no foil) or with some foil between the die and the image, as is the case in this instance with the word MYTHOS where a patterned gold foil has been added to the brown tints printed onto the cover.

All this requires quite careful make-ready, which makes it quite an expensive way to obtain an extra bit of texture and contrast.

Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography does a review of campaign websites for Democrats vying for their party’s nomination as Presidential candidate in 2020. Though he doesn’t beat you over the head with it, letterspacing is part of the discussion: particularly in the problem name (typographically problematical) SWALWELL. Those two Ws call for some spacing judgement — which they actually manage to get here. Is it surprising that almost all of these candidates opts to have their name in all caps except for Bernie Sanders? Amy Klobuchar uses Cap and lc in her 3-letter “word mark” — which seems to be the word for that label which appears everywhere in campaigns.

As an ostensibly well-informed political observer I am struck by the number of these names I didn’t actually recognize at first sight! And there are already three more than appear on Mr Butterick’s list: Mike Gravel, Seth Moulton and Michael Bennet are in too. Yes, yes, that makes 22, but Marianne Williamson is still at the exploratory committee stage though Practical Typography went ahead and reviewed her (rather wimpy) website. Our Mayor deBlasio is rumored to be about to announce his entry: The Daily Beast tells us he unites the nation — no-one wants him to run! And what about Elizabeth McCord? I know she already declared — but no, wait a minute, that’s a television show, Madam Secretary.

LATER: It turns out that the McCord campaign already has a word mark:

Fans can also buy a T shirt at Etsy. I don’t think CBS has set up a site requesting campaign donations just yet.

My Modern Met shows us a typewriter which could type music for you. (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.) It looks horrendously intimidating.

The Keaton Music Typewriter was first patented in 1936 with a 14 key-arrangement, which was raised to 33 with a new 1953 patent. There were two keyboards: one a rotating keyboard with notes, and another, which didn’t move, with symbols like bar lines whose vertical alignment was constant. The fixed keyboard consists of the nine keys at the right hand end of the ring. The curved bar at the side enabled you to move up and down to place your note at the right height on the staff lines. Each notch on the bar moves the print head 1/24″ — the system requires you to have preprinted paper with the staff lines 1/12″ apart. A needle arrangement enables you to see where the next note is going to be typed.

Here’s a one-minute video showing the machine in (tentative) operation.

If you do not see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

It is assumed that most of these machines would have been used by music publishers and printers rather than composers, who would surely have found it much easier to write their music out by hand.

Music Printing History is a trove of information about the different techniques which have been used in reproducing music over the last 1,000 years.

See also my earlier posts Music engraving, and Typewriter music.

A fleuron is an ornament on a printed page in the shape of a small flower or leaf. It is sometimes called a printer’s flower or floret. It can also be found in discussions among aesthetic architects and numismatists. The Oxford English Dictionary even shows us a quotation referring to pastry flourishes. It is also used to refer to a bookbinder’s tool, carrying such an ornament for stamping on a case cover.

The most common fleuron is perhaps this one, derived from an ivy leaf, and apparently sometimes called a hedera, the botanical name of ivy. These flourishes were often brought together to form borders and rules, though modern taste has moved away from the clutter this often produces.

Here are a few examples from my Linotype Collection book published by the Mergenthaler Type Corporation. On the right hand page you can see how these ornaments could be combined in bravura arrangements. In the hot metal world these fleurons would be available in various sizes — digital or film setting enables you of course to output various sizes from a single “master”, which is why the Linotype book only shows one size. They refer to them as flowers, the least flowery of the possible appellations.

Stanley Morison, a strong advocate for clutter-free typography, was involved in the setting up of the typographical journal The Fleuron; indeed it was he who proposed the name in a letter to Oliver Simon in October 1922. “I should like you to consider re-naming our Typographical Annual. The name I recommend is The Fleuron. This would be an advantage I suggest. In the first place the title ‘Typography’ is very stiff and not absolutely free in the public mind from technical connections. The Fleuron possesses just that note of historical & romantic feeling which we need to express.” Volumes 5, 6 and 7 were edited by Morison (Simon edited the first four) and Morison’s volumes were typeset and printed in Cambridge at the University Press, where as Typographical Advisor to the Press he could supervise the entire process of production. Only these seven volumes were published. The publication was losing money, as anything as lavish almost must, and the demands on Morison’s time became too much to be manageable. Plus, to a large extent, the intention of the journal, to raise standards of British printing, had been achieved after the seven years of The Fleuron‘s life.

The combination of type ornament elements on the title page is obviously an appropriate use of fleurons.

According to The Bookman’s Glossary (R. R. Bowker, 4th edition 1961) Lettre de forme, lettre de somme, lettre de bâtarde are “the three general classifications of Gothic type forms as found in the 15th century. The first is the Pointed and most formal; the second is the Round and less formal; the third is a Cursive form. They correspond to similar classifications of lettering used in the manuscripts that preceded printing.” Nomenclature is of course confusing with something as old as this: lots of people referred to the same thing by different names, and some minority usages still survive in unexpected corners. Just choosing to privilege the French terminology represents a choice of road taken.

In the examples below “Pointed” is referred to as Textura.

From The Dawn of Western Printing at Incunabula.

Here, from Incunabula, is a full discussion of the three forms. It tells us that Gutenberg’s type was based on the script textura quadrata, commonly used for bibles and derived from the “protogothic” script which developed in northern France around the eleventh century. A more rounded script, called rotunda, evolved in Bologna in the 12th century. Lettre bâtarde derived from less formal writing and tended to be used for documents in the vernacular, not in Latin.

Of course it was all more complicated than this, but we can think of scribes using half uncial, chancery hand, and insular scripts, which began to seem unreadable to many as different regions of Europe favored one version over others. Different scripts would be used for different types of book. Alcuin of York (c.730-804) succeeded in persuading scribes to use the more elegant Carolingian minuscule for most purposes, thus allowing international comprehensibility. While the Pointed, Textura style was the basis for the type used by Gutenberg in his Bible, the Carolingian minuscule, a few years later formed the basis for the types which we recognize today as Roman which were introduced by printers in Italy.

Simplified relationship between various scripts, showing the development of Uncial from Roman and the Greek Uncial. From Wikipedia.


Any account of these matters must inevitable over-simplify. Researchers look back on what was the individual practice of thousands of scribes and printers, and impose a pattern on their myriad activities. Such a pattern does provide a sort of history, but doesn’t of course imply any intentionality on the part of the actors. It’s not like Gutenberg said to himself, let’s copy the pointed script. He just knew that this was how you wrote bibles, so, obviously, that’s how you’d print them too. No doubt Aldus Manutius didn’t sit there musing “Why do we have to copy this barbaric Gothic nonsense? Let’s go back to Alcuin and start anew”. He followed the style of earlier classical and secular works, formalizing things as printed types will inevitably do.

My post on Black letter may have some relevance in this context.