9. Even weight (monoline)
Sans serif typefaces are
more popular than ever right now. In the WebINK webfont service I run as
my day job, nine of the top ten typefaces for 2013 are not only sans
serif, but also monoline—where the strokes are of even weight, whether
horizontal, vertical or curved.
Or are they? It turns out that our
eyes fool us here as well, and to achieve the appearance of a monoline
typeface, the designer needs to create optical compensations. All of the
earlier issues apply here, but also at least one new one: In type, it
is rarely desirable for horizontal elements to be heavier than vertical
ones, unless an "old West" or circus look is desired. But in amateur
monoline typefaces, the horizontals look just a bit heavier than the
verticals. The reason is simple: they are actually the same weight, but
to make them appear to be the same thickness, the type designer needs to
make the vertical strokes a bit thicker, on the order of 10%. This
applies to curves as well, as in an “O.”
Top letters uncorrected and mathematically even; bottom adjusted.Left letters uncorrected and mathematically even; right adjusted. 10. Stretching and squishing
All these delicate balances get distorted when type is stretched or squeezed, as it not only changes the widths of letters, but also the relative thickness of vertical and horizontal strokes. That’s why pro typographers tell folks not to do it, and why a
condensed or expanded font made by simply stretching or squeezing will
look like hell. “Proper” condensed and expanded fonts maintain the
relative horizontal and vertical stroke weights.11. Midline position
features such as the crossbar of an H are deliberately high or low. But
to look vertically centered, the crossbar must be 2–3% above the
midline. If it is drawn at the exact middle, it will appear lower.
Similarly, if a font has strokes that taper toward the middle, the
thinnest points on the vertical elements should be 2–3% above the middle
to seem symmetrical.
Left H crossbar is mathematically centered vertically; right is corrected. 12. Perfect circles
already know that an apparently circular O must be slightly taller than
it is wide, and have heavier vertical parts than horizontal. But even
then the “corners” tend to look just slightly squashed in. Bulging them
out just the tiniest bit can help achieve apparent circularity.
are countless markers to look for, but these are the biggest ones (and a
few of the small ones) that should help you distinguish most of the
junk fonts out there from the good stuff—and perhaps make better fonts
if you are just getting into that. Happy fonting! ca
READ THE FINE PRINT
Like most other software, fonts are licensed rather than sold, under an End User License Agreement (EULA). The font’s license is a functionality every bit as critical as the outline quality and the spacing. The terms of the EULA tell you what you can and cannot do. Most font licenses don’t let you modify the font. Most expect you to pay separately for privileges such as using the font on the web, embedding it in an e-book for sale or letting more than five people use it. A few even charge extra to use the font in a logo, or on merchandise for sale! So the first rule is to check your license terms and make sure that you can do what you need to do.
These and other restrictions have led to an increased interest in “libre,” or free, fonts, which have an open-source license that allows you to do almost anything you want (although some require you to change the name if you modify the font). Libre fonts are also free in price, which is nice from an end-user perspective. Sadly, while there are some real gems among libre fonts, economic and historical factors have led to inferior quality on average in comparison to proprietary fonts—though there are plenty of the latter that suck, too.
These top-twelve markers of quality are best judged by cracking open a font with a font editor. I suggest you use the free FontForge app, try a demo version of FontLab Studio or go for an inexpensive font editor such as FontLab TypeTool or Glyphs Mini for less than $50.
For further study on type design, read Designing Type
by Karen Cheng and Fontographer: Type by Design
by Stephen Moye (out of print, but a great intro even if you don’t use Fontographer). Also recommended, but less narrowly focused: Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst; Logo, Font & Lettering Bible
by Leslie Cabarga; Anatomy of a Typeface
by Alexander Lawson; and the sadly out-of-print Letters of Credit
by Walter Tracy. For web resources, try Typophile.com
and even my own ThomasPhinney.com