The lack of aesthetic compatibility between Latin uppercase and lowercase letters has long been a topic for discussion among type designers. The mismatch is particularly apparent in written German in which the first letter of all nouns is capitalised (see Part I for more background). In the 1920s and 1930s, experimental proposals to harmonise German were put forward. Attempts ranged from reformations of spelling and grammar, to designs for universal alphabets which tried to connect the various languages of the Latin writing system. This is a very brief introduction to some of those ideas.
A recent conversation on TypeDrawers about cultural preferences in typography threw me right back to 2011 and the months before I submitted my dissertation for the MA in Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Back then I attempted to find out if there are typefaces that suit some languages better than others and whether or not we can draw conclusions from their designs.
I was inspired by Ladislas Mandel who said that the designer ‘needs to analyse the characteristics of his supposed reader socially and culturally and choose shapes accordingly’ in order to achieve high legibility . Richard Southall also touched on the topic in his article ‘A survey of type design techniques before 1978’ . In his opinion, one makes different decisions on the fitting (spacing and kerning) of a typeface depending on the language the test document is set in.
I was left wondering if, for example, condensed typefaces are especially suited to typeset languages with a high frequency of long words. Or, if languages which make heavy use of diacritics require a lowered x-height. Should language be design criteria?
For the scholars among you who are looking for peer-reviewed places to publish their research papers, the following publications and journals may publish articles on type and typography related topics, visual communication, etc.
Academia.edu (online forum, may not count as peer-reviewed)
British Journal of Educational Technology
Convergence — International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
Communication Design — Interdisciplinary and Graphic Design Research
Design and Culture
Gutenberg Jahrbuch (DE, submission guidelines)
Information Design Journal
International Journal of Design
Journal of Artistic Research
Journal of Design History
Journal of the Printing Historical Society
The Design Journal
The International Journal of the Book
Tools and Techniques for Computer Typesetting
Visible Language (of which Amy just co-edited the latest issue!)
(The International Journal of Digital Typography seems to be discontinued.)
If you know of other relevant journals or publications, please let us know in the comments. I’ll update this list as I hear of more, too.
A recent visit to the Gerstenberg type foundry let me finally wrap my head around the different methods of making matrices for foundry type, and how to distinguish them:
Striking a punch into copper
This is the traditional method mostly used in conjunction with hand-cut steel punches, later only used for smaller sizes until ±28pt; larger sizes are hard to strike totally level. Also, the larger the size, the more the copper block gets deformed from the extrusion of the material.
Stamping a matrix with a machine
Often done in conjunction with machine-cut punches, especially for the production of Linotype and Monotype matrices, and for foundry type when the design is supposed to match Lino or Mono typefaces. And for sizes above 28pt. Machine-cutting of punches was also used for very small sizes that were almost impossible to do by hand, e.g. 2pt or 4pt. Stamped matrices can be made of copper, steel, or other alloys.
Widely used in Europe in the 20th century. Usually applied in conjunction with the cutting of patrices (cutting “punches” into soft type metal alloy, called Zeugschnitt in German), mostly done for sizes from ±28pt up. The model gets placed into a galvanic solution for 24–60 hours, or longer, to produce the matrix layer. These forms, cut up, make up the “eye” of the matrix, which is filled out with zinc, tin, or brass, later also steel or other alloys. Material for the matrix-part was copper, nickel, or brass, with copper being less durable for use in the complete caster (also a reason why the traditional method was not much used in the 20th century) but the fastest to grow matrix-layers with.
Cutting matrices for poster type
Type larger than 96pt was usually produced in wood or resin, because metal type gets very heavy and “material-intensive” at large sizes. Still, large-sized matrices can be made via a patrix (type metal or wood) and electrotyping, or by cutting the form out of 3–4 mm thick copper sheets and mounting these on thicker sheets. Alternatively, a cut-out brass form can be pressed into type metal to form a (pretty soft, so not very durable) matrix. Or you could go all old-school and make a sand mold, preferably using beer to moisten the sand, more sticky.
Machine-engraving matrices from patterns
Widely used in Europe in the 20th century. A pantographic milling machine, adjustable for different sizes, engraves the matrix in several step following a pattern. The material used is sometimes bronze, later usually (high speed) steel. Getting an even, plane bottom was hard to achieve in the beginning, so engraving was occasionally combined with galvanic methods, but especially for scripts or other typefaces with large overhangs and kerns because those matrices had to be deeper.
Mark Jamra’s site Type Culture hosts a couple of very interesting research papers and similar texts, for instance:
Oldrich Menhart: Calligrapher, Type Designer and Craftsman
by Veronika Burian
This extensive dissertation presents the versatile work of the great Czech calligrapher and type designer Oldrich Menhart in his most unique and interesting period between 1930 and 1948.
French Type Foundries in the Twentieth Century
by Alice Savoie
The value of this dissertation lies not only in what it imparts to the reader, but also in its rarity, since relatively little information on the recent history of type in France has been written in English. To people who are less than fluent in French, most information about the state of affairs in French type and typography is woefully out of reach. This well-written study focuses on the activity of French foundries, their fateful decisions regarding the adoption of new technologies and the evolution of French type design throughout the last hundred years.
This essay relates the origins of the typeface Perpetua and Felicity italic which were designed by Eric Gill and produced by The Monotype Corporation. Although the type and the collaborators are well known, the story has had to be pieced together from a variety of sources—Gill’s and Morison’s own writings and biographical accounts. There are accounts similar to this, but none could be found that either takes this point of view, or goes into as great detail.
PDF (1.3 MB): The Story of Perpetua