History, Tips & Techniques, designers - Parachute® on Wednesday, May 05th, 2010

Hermann Zapf is one of the most prominent type designers of the 20th century. He is best known for designing typefaces such as Palatino, Optima and Zapfino. Back in 1967, Hallmark Cards commissioned an educational film which documented Zapf’s techniques on type design and calligraphy. The purpose of this insightful film was to introduce aspiring calligraphers and art students to the art of calligraphy. Watch it in its entirety as you don’t get to see often this type of educational material by this master of the trade.
Mr. Zapf is a self taught typeface designer. It was during an exhibition in 1935 in honor of Rudolf Koch, when he got interested in calligraphy, so he purchased two books which introduced him to the art of calligraphy. Later he developed his craft with intensive periods of study at the Nuremberg City Library.
During his military service Mr. Zapf was placed in the cartography unit and due to his talent and his excellent eyesight on writing small size letters without using a magnifying glass he was never transferred to another unit. After the war Mr. Zapf moved to Frankfurt where the Stempel type foundry offered him a position as artistic head of the printshop. It is there where he created his first masterpieces Palatino and Optima. Sure Hermann Zapf’s life and work is a very important case of study for all us younger designers.

More info on this video

Tips & Techniques - Parachute® on Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The October issue of Computer Arts Magazine speaks to 30 type practitioners around the globe who offer their expert advice on type design. From leading and kerning to managing fonts, designers reveal 114 pro type tips they follow to the letter. Here is a small excerpt with some of them: “…Never just shrink full-size caps down and call them small caps; they aren’t. If you are willing to go to the trouble of using real small caps, be sure to letter-space them properly, a little looser than lowercase” by John D Berry. “…Don’t bastardize type by stretching, skewing or altering it’s dimensions. Just like you wouldn’t stretch a photo or illustration, don’t do it to type. The results are ugly and will mark you as an amateur” by David John Earls. “…Find inspiration from other sources: anatomy, music, architecture, fashion or beyond. Typography is about finding relationships, contrasts and underlying tensions between elements and concepts” by Heist Toronto. “…Give more than expected, add this extra value to your typeface without raising the price. But more is not always the merrier, it must be useful as well. You may decide to add some ornaments or concentrate on extra ligatures, but whatever you do, make sure it serves its purpose” by Panos Vassiliou. “…Although the MacOS doesn’t understand windows type 1 fonts, most Adobe applications do and there’s a special folder you can put the fonts in: library/application support/adobe/fonts” by Thomas Phinney.
In another section of the magazine, Erik Spiekermann offers his opinion on what makes a good typeface “…Well, it’s the 95% that has to be like any other typeface. We’re talking about text here, not headline faces. The alphabet hasn’t changed. If it deviates too far then it will be disturbing. A shoe is a shoe. A triangular shoe is not going to work. But, it has to have that little element in there that most people will not even notice –something a little different. It has a (slightly) different take; it may feel a little warmer or colder or squarer or whatever.”

Tips & Techniques, experimental - Parachute® on Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


Setting type for better or worse.
// by Panos Vassiliou

It so happens that the more you use type the more you become aware of the fundamental differences of typefaces and their ability to establish a diverse environment through which a message, an idea or a culture is communicated. What is it that makes a typeface suitable for a job and how do we measure its effectiveness? Are there any rules to go by, or it’s strictly a subjective process which depends solely on the individual designer’s education, experience and aesthetics?
There are 2+1 basic concerns when setting type:
1. Functionality
2. Aesthetics
3. Details

When setting type for a newspaper, a magazine or anything else used for heavy reading, we are mostly interested in typefaces which are ‘invisible’ i.e. those which do not distract the reader’s attention, but instead make him concentrate on reading the text with comfort and ease. Readability (visual comfort) and legibility (the speed we perceive characters) are the two terms we use when we measure the effectiveness of a typeface with respect to reading. However, these two alone are not enough. Over the years, certain so called ‘rules’ have been established for the shape and proportion of characters. These rules are mostly based on visual observations and not on any scientific facts. They are there to set the base for the ‘natural’ characteristics of letterforms. As the structural part of the basic letterforms is almost fixed, there is no much ground for differentiation among typefaces. In his quest for the best fit, a designer needs to look for a quality of distinction which will differ from the qualities presented by other typefaces. It is these aesthetic characteristics, additional to the functional, which provide the difference in expression.
Another aspect that is often overlooked is the reader’s cultural needs. The designer must be able to select a typeface with familiar shapes which reflect the cultural identity of the reader, as this is a major factor for legibility.
There are several factors that affect the structural and aesthetic features of a typeface. The proportion of the letterforms, the relative thickness of the strokes, the texture of type as a result of the contrast or black/white balance, the stress of certain characters, the x-height, the shape of serifs, the spacing of characters and a few other less important. One must realize that it’s not only the internal characteristics of a typeface which are responsible for the appearance of a document but equally important is the environment within which it is called to be performed as well as the treatment received by a designer through a software program such as the adjustment of the text column, leading, wordspacing, kerning, background, etc.
Finally, one aspect often overlooked is those little details, the additional qualities, the extra characteristics -which possibly nobody asked for- but they are there to remind us of superior craftmanship and added value.
This post will serve as a preface to a series of typographic tips for those who actually use type. These tips will hopefully serve as a quick reference or some kind of a reminder when setting type. We will explore some fundamental principles of type, how type works, what qualities to look for when choosing a typeface, how to choose type for various projects. Stay tuned!!

Tips & Techniques - Parachute® on Tuesday, May 06th, 2008

The Centro Pro Project. A mixed type system.
Three related superfamilies.
// by Panos Vassiliou

The Centro Project started out as a small serif family of eight, but it grew to become the largest and most versatile set of related superfamilies. The result is a series of three families, Centro serif, Centro sans and Centro slab for a total of 40 weights. Each font contains 1519 glyphs and supports simultaneously Latin, Greek and Cyrillic. It is recommended for magazines, newspapers, catalogs and corporate identities.

//centro serif
The Centro serif project was initiated in 2005 with specific requirements in mind.


basic requirements
1. Design a contemporary typeface with square-like characteristics, which will be legible and perform very well at small sizes, but at the same time create a striking effect at large sizes. This would eliminate the need to modify the letters (optical compensation) and create an additional version for small sizes.
2. Balance out legibility with aesthetics in order to establish a distinct identity. Text typefaces have to obey certain rules so that they retain their natural (familiar) features which are particularly important when legibility and readability are of major concern. This, of course, leaves not much space to the designer for absolute originality. Eventually, distinctive identity would have to rely on a mix of differentiations mostly in the contrast, the stress of the letters, the serifs and the joints.
3. Perform equally well in Latin, Greek and Cyrillic (visual match). Often designers rely on outdated references for scripts other than Latin. This eventually creates a visual mismatch when mixed scripts are used in a modern document.
4. Incorporate special symbols for publications and packaging.
After setting the basic requirements of the new typeface, I went through the long process of deciding what the design aspects are going to be. It always helps to look back to what the masters of the trade have done. Some characteristics of Centro serif were modelled after W.A. Dwiggins’ experiments with type (fig.2).


The angular slanted serifs of Centro, in letters like ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘r’ etc. (fig.4), while they foster a distinct identity at display sizes, they tend to look like curves at small sizes. Other characteristics like the abrupt cut at the joints were influenced by Galfra (fig.3), a typeface designed in 1975 by Ladislas Mandel for the Italian phone directories.


These cuts add a certain flair to Centro serif (fig.4) especially at display sizes, but they are functional as well, since at small sizes, while they disappear into rounded curves, they compensate for over-inking.

Other characteristics (fig.4) include:
1. Letter ‘e’ with a slanting bar (reminiscent of Jenson’s types).
2. Wedge-shaped serifs (at x-height) which are not steep but almost horizontal, in order to foster an even appearance when reading body text.
3. Balance the effect of the strong angular serifs by introducing ‘tear-shaped’ ball terminals to letters like ‘c’, ‘f’ and ‘y’. The terminal of letter ‘r’ follows suit.
4. Triangular letters like ‘v’, ‘w’, ‘y’ with a pronounced stroke shape.
5. larger than usual x-height to make it more legible at smaller sizes.
6. Stress not quite vertical but slightly inclined.


7. Robust, low contrast typeface. High contrast between the thin and thick strokes is often the reason text becomes difficult to read. (fig.5) shows a test page of an early discarded version. Contrast was later decreased and several letters replaced with alternate forms.


8. Stroke thickness. Several classic serif typefaces were examined and their proportions measured and averaged in order to decide on the proper stroke width for Centro serif. This process would insure getting as close as possible to what is normal color for regular weights, bold weights etc. Fine tuning is performed on-screen along with contrast adjustments.
9. Finally, capitals should become a bit heavier to compensate for the additional white in their shapes.

Having now a clear view of how Centro serif is going to look like, implementation begins.
First I start with a very rough sketch of as many lowercase letters and as many characteristics as I can fit on paper (fig.6). Then I create a more elaborate sketch for several but not all characters, starting with ‘a’, ‘n’ and ‘o’ (fig.7).


These are the three letters I always design first since they contain many of the characteristics I need as a guide for the design of other characters (fig.8). Contrast is not a matter of concern at this stage, as it will be adjusted on-screen at a later stage.


The pencil outlines are only used as a basis for digitisation (fig.9), whereas further adjustments and corrections as well as a large number of characters are drawn on-screen. In most cases I design first a regular weight.


During this process several alternate forms for each letter were tried before the final version (fig.10).


Of major concern, right from the beginning, is not only the shape of the characters but the rhythm of text as well. If letters are not properly spaced the text will be hard to read. First, the basic spacing (sidebearing adjustment) for capitals ‘H’ and ‘O’ as well as lowercase ‘n’ and ‘o’ is set. Then, for every new character created, the sidebearings are adjusted based on the similarities of its straight or round strokes to the letters used as reference. Further fine tuning takes place when the basic alphabet is finished (fig.11).


Throughout the implementation process numerous pages were printed to check the typeface under operational conditions while contrast was adjusted.
The design of Latin lowercase characters was followed by the design of Latin uppercase, numerals, punctuation marks and other special symbols in order to complete the basic Latin 1252 codepage. This was followed by the design of the Greek characters i.e. codepage 1253 (fig.12).


Extended codepages like Central European as well as Greek Polytonic were taken over by designer George Lygas who also worked on initial drawings for Cyrillic. Proper positioning of accents was double-checked and adjusted (fig.13). Then, initial drawings for Cyrillic were sent back for further fine tuning.


Finally, every font in this series was completed with 270 copyright-free symbols, some of which have been proposed by several international organizations for packaging, public areas, environment, transportation, computers, fabric care (fig.14).These will prove to be quite useful and handy to designers involved with branding, packaging and products with international appeal.


Kerning is as important as the rest of the design process. This typeface series supports three major scripts like Latin, Greek and Cyrillic, soseveral thousands of kerning pairs were included (fig.15). The better the letterspacing the fewer kerning pairs needed.


Taking advantage of opentype programming, Centro serif was loaded with 21 advanced features, a procedure which takes place after everything has been tested thoroughly (fig.16).


This concludes the design of Centro serif regular. The long process of designing the other members of the family involves the creation of 3 to 4 extremes (depending on the number of weights per family) and interpolation. For Centro serif I only needed the black version. Interpolation does not translate into an automatic production of other weights. In most cases an exhaustive number of corrections and adjustments must be performed.
There’s only eight variations to Centro serif. The strong character of its serifs does not allow as many variations in weight and width as the sans or slab versions.

Quality control
The Centro Pro series supports more than hundred languages and each font contains an enormous number of glyphs. This situation may easily get out of hand as some glyphs could be placed mistakenly in the wrong position. In order to overcome such problems, we devised a quality control method i.e. two sets of tables which we use to check the proper position of glyphs as well as the opentype features (fig.17).


The italic has much softer serifs than the roman, is less wide, a bit lighter and constructed with an Aldine touch. The implementation process follows the same steps as with the roman. Several rough pencil sketches in the beginning (fig.18),then a few more elaborate sketches for certain characters (fig.19) and (fig.20), followed by drawings on-screen.


//centro slab
The design of the other members of the family started out in a different way than I usually operate. For the case of the slab version, I did have on the side a few black slab characters, left from a previous unfinished custom project, but I wanted an ultra black version as well.


As this was my first attempt on such a heavy face, I was not sure this would turn out to be acceptable. So instead of starting the slab version with a regular weight, I decided to focus first on the ultra black version and design it almost independently. If it turned out well then I would continue with the rest. Otherwise, I would completely discard it. After several attempts I ended up with a satisfactory version, one that based on my visual observations was close enough to the original serif. A complete set of lowercase and uppercase characters were designed. Several versions for each letter were tested (fig.21).


Before I moved on to design the rest of the characters, I spend some time comparing the new slab with the serif version, correcting shapes, adjusting the x-height and counters so they come closer as part of related families. One important drawback I tried to overcome is the decreased legibility attributed to the heavy slab serifs. I created a somewhat ‘semi-slab’ version where certain serifs had to be dropped to increase inner white shapes. Take a look for instance at letter ‘h’ (fig.22) where the serif of the left leg was discarded whereas the slab on the right leg has been designed with a softer forward direction which establishes a smooth flow of text and connection to the next character.


The other extreme weights, like regular and extra thin, were designed on-screen using as reference the ultra black version as well as Centro serif, in order to keep close family ties.
When you compare Centro serif with Centro slab and later with Centro sans, it becomes apparent that they are not mechanical equivalents. They may have similar attributes and optical similarities but they are not identical in construction. Later I will elaborate on this further.
When the full character set is completed for the basic weights, the rest are created through interpolation as mentioned in a previous section.
The slab italic is not an oblique version of the roman. It is based on its serif cousin but is less elegant and more sturdy (fig.23). It has a smooth character with a slight influence from Noordzij’s more conservative Caecilia.


//centro sans
The construction of Centro sans was more or less straightforward. This is a Centro slab, sans the serifs. But not quite so. Several other major or minor adjustments had to be performed before this becomes a whole new family.


As mentioned earlier, the three different versions of the Centro series were not designed to be exact mechanical equivalents (fig.24). This decision does not follow any rule but it is rather quite objective. The individual nature of each one of the families as well as the diverse applications they may be used for, calls for a slightly different treatment. But it is mostly personal aesthetics which define these minor differences. Simply put, it just looked better this way and not the other way around.


It was fun designing Centro. Getting involved with such a project, gave me the chance to discover ideas from the past, implement a few of them and create an exciting new versatile series of related superfamilies which may be used in a variery of contemporary applications.
The roman letterforms, while discreet at small sizes, maintain a clean, sturdy and unique personality which motivates the reader, furthermore, they attract attention at display sizes with their distinctively sharp characteristics. Italics, on the other hand, are charming and exciting, clearly distinguished from the romans. Finally, Centro is extremely designer friendly, as it is loaded with a vast array of opentype features and numerous -hard to find- useful symbols for diverse design applications. Enjoy it!

Note. In case you may be wondering…The Centro series originally came out in May 2007 with a different name but was changed later to Centro.

More on Centro serif
More on Centro sans
More on Centro slab

Tips & Techniques - Parachute® on Friday, February 29th, 2008


As presented at the 3rd International Conference on Typography & Visual Communication (ICTVC) - June 2007, Thessaloniki, Greece.
// by Panos Vassiliou

PF Champion Script Pro is the most advanced and powerful script ever made. Developed over a period of two and a half years, each one of the 2 weights is loaded with 4253 glyphs (now 4280 glyphs), offering simultaneous support for all European languages based on the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic scripts.


The decision to develop such a typeface was taken during my trip to London back in 2001, while doing a research at the St Bride Library. It was then that I came across some beautiful 18th century manuscripts written by English calligraphers. I was particularly impressed by the writing of Joseph Champion, somebody whom I had never heard before (fig. 5).


Being myself a self-taught type designer and not a calligrapher, the idea of pursuing such a task seemed at the moment unattainable. Nevertheless, it haunted me for at least three years before the project got started.
Joseph Champion (1709-1765) was born at Chatham in 1709 and was educated partly at St Paul’s School and partly at Sir John Johnson’s Free Writing School in Foster Lane under Charles Snell to whom he was afterwards apprenticed. Champion contributed no fewer than 47 plates to Bickham’s Universal Penman. His most important work, “The Parallel or Comparative Penmanship Exemplified”, was published in 1750. The Parallel consists of reproductions of the work of foreign masters like Materot, Barbedor, Van den Velde, Perlingh and Maria Strick, with corresponding plates by Champion. Following these plates come some alphabets by Champion. His last published work was “The Penman’s Employment”, 1762.


His manuscripts (fig.6) were embellished with several beautiful swashes, frames, ornaments, endings and beginnings, all written with such a precision that seems very difficult to achieve in our days.
The first known attempt to decode Champion’s writing, was done in 1989 by the French typographic designer François Boltana. Later, in his published paper “Ligatures & calligraphie assistée par ordinateur” (1995), he proposed a couple of alphabets, based on Champion, with a minimal set of alternate glyphs (fig 7). These did not really make it into a commercial font as he passed away in 1999.


The development of Champion Script Pro started in 2004 with the intention to design a contemporary typeface with classic roots which, for the first time, would be able to fully support three major scripts such as Latin, Greek and Cyrillic, as well as document at the same time alternate glyphs and ligatures (for all three scripts) never before released. The result of this project I present to you today.

concept & guidelines
Three basic requirements became clear right from start. The new typeface would have to loose its deep classic calligraphic roots and instead acquire a clean contemporary identity; retain the handwriting elements without the mechanical repetition of identical glyphs for the same character and finally, apply similar design aesthetics to Latin, Greek and Cyrillic, without compromising the domestic characteristics of each script. The intention was to design this typeface in a way that works equally well for a variety of projects from music, fashion, lifestyle to business, communication and life’s best.
On a practical basis the following guidelines were followed:
1. Lowercase characters were designed so they are less inclined, have a higher x-height and are less condensed than the original. Uppercase letters were corrected accordingly to follow suit (weight, stress, etc)
2. Several characters were stripped-off their connecting lines in order to enhance legibility.
3. Design four sets of alternate swashed capitals.
4. A plethora of ornaments and frames (117) was included.
5. Small caps and their alternate forms were designed to replace the capitals which disrupt the flow of text within a sentence with their extravagant swashes.
6. All characters were carefully designed with the proper weight in order to sustain harsh printing conditions (on special papers), a situation which affects mainly the light connecting parts of calligraphic typefaces.
7. A wide selection of alternate forms and ligatures (never before released or incorporated within the same font) was included for all languages, in order to accommodate diverse design aesthetics and preserve handwriting qualities. These alternates are either applied automatically through an advanced programming scheme, or manually through several opentype features.
8. Apply a programming scheme which will balance the frequency that ascenders, descenders and swashes appear among the various scripts in order to achieve a homogeneous optical effect.
9. Embellish the endings and beginnings of letters with several alternate swashes.

After having examined thoroughly the particulars of Champion’s writing, the development of the typeface had to be properly organized into well defined steps which were strictly followed.

stage 1
Selection Tables. During this stage a number of tables was created which documented all possible versions of characters which were numbered. Later on, the dominant glyphs were chosen and highlighted in order to be used for the basic alphabet. Several others were dropped from the list whereas the remaining were used as alternate forms.


stage 2
Uppercase. The list for uppercase letters was passed on to my two assistant designers George Lygas and Sophia Kalaentzidou who put together all the glyphs that were chosen from the manuscripts for each character and prepared them for digitization (fig. 8). Sophia run the initial digitization process, made corrections and passed it on to George for further adjustments based on above guidelines. Finally, they were sent to me for the final adjustments which were performed when most glyphs were put together as a font. Figure 9 shows the resulting glyph for “A” from the original which sits in the background.


stage 3
Lowercase. Meanwhile, I was busy designing the lowercase glyphs. It was realized right in the beginning that instead of digitizing lowercase characters from the manuscripts, it would be easier for me to set them up right from scratch. So starting with letters like “o”, “n” and “i”, I built the basic letterforms and afterwards I designed the rest, based on the initial guidelines and a visual reference of the original. A key point, is to set, right at start, the spacing of the characters for proper interlocking between the letters (fig. 10). Later begins a long process of proofing the letters and amending the shapes, so that they harmonize in form and weight.


stage 4
Endings / Beginnings. A special list which was created in stage 1, documented a large number of swashed endings and beginnings for lowercase characters. By incorporating the information from this list into the original lowercase characters which were designed in stage 3, I created several new glyphs to be used as alternate initial and terminal forms (fig. 11).


stage 5
Small Caps. Small caps were created during this stage. These are not scaled-down versions of the capitals -just like the ones we see in other fonts- but rather small and simple capital forms, whose main purpose is to replace the capitals which disrupt the flow of text -when used within a sentence- with their extravagant swashes. Furthermone two more sets of stylistic variant small caps were created to be used within a sentence, in order to connect words which are separated with space, thus creating the effect of a continuous text flow (fig. 12).


stage 6
Alternates. Hundreds of alternate glyphs and ligatures -for Latin, Greek and Cyrillic- were created either based on the original manuscripts, or right from scratch (fig. 13).


stage 7
Ornaments. A total of 117 ornaments/frames were digitized (mostly done by George and Sophia) and incorporated into this typeface (fig. 14).


stage 8
Kerning. Best designed calligraphic typefaces don’t need kerning. There are a few exceptions though, as is in the case of Champion Script Pro, where there are several occurences of letters which do not interconnect and kerning had to be applied (fig. 15).


stage 9
Programming. This involves the automatic replacement of a glyph into an alternate form, which either looks better in a certain sequence of characters, or avoids clashing with neighbouring glyphs (view sample here). This was a painstaking process as specific parameters had to be taken into consideration, such as possible neighbouring characters, frequency of occurence, etc (fig. 16). Furthermore, many groups of glyphs were established in order to facilitate the manual selection of alternate forms. Finally, several more opentype features were incorporated into this typeface, in order to manage its vast array of glyphs.


stage 10
Bold. After completing the design and programming for the regular version, it was decided to complement it with a bold version. Initially, the lowercase glyphs were designed using as reference the regular version and the rest just followed.

In conclusion, PF Champion Script Pro exceeded my initial expectations. What I presented to you today is the first version which is expected to be released right after summer (2007). I consider this being a typeface which evolves with time, as new ideas and comments from colleagues and users come through. Thus, a second release is due sometime at the end of the year and a third is planned for early 2008

Further links
Champion Script Pro (more info)

font lover
Tsevis Blogspot
ninja vs penguin
Youtube video
aol video
ministry of type

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