Awards & Engraving

April '18

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A&E APRIL 2018 • 25 LETTERFORMS Letterforms evolved into symbols rep- resenting specific sounds from pictographs — simple recognizable pictures of basic things such as a house, water, cow, etc. By around the first century in Rome, those symbols had become a unified, formal set of letters used in signs, stone inscriptions, and in hand-lettered books. They were what we know as capital letters and were a few short of the 26 capital letters we use today. Other than that, they looked much the same as our own serif capital letters. For everyday use, these forms were used in a more relaxed manner, often slightly sloped to the right and with shortcuts taken in their execution in order to speed things up. Eventually these formal shapes evolved into more informal shapes that were easier to read and faster to write out. Folks eventu- ally came up with a few variations on what we now call the lowercase letters. (fig 1) I mention this brief history to shed some light on the thousands of font pos- sibilities we have access to today. Regardless of a font's peculiarities, they all must have a basic recognizable structure so that we can read it. There are some variations in basic structure for the capital letters and even more variants for the lowercase letters, but all in all, not too many, otherwise we would have a hard time with recognition. (fig 2) However, there is no limit when it comes to how we dress up those forms and that is why we have thousands avail- able to choose from. Initially, the basic letters got dressed up by the manner in which they were created and by the tools that were used to make them. For instance, reeds and quills formed to a flat edge instead of a point were used with inks to write books and other docu- ments. The flat-edged pen is responsible for giving us the thick and thin varia- tion that we still see in most fonts today. The repetition of the thick/thin varia- tion from letter to letter gave the whole alphabet a visual consistency and unity that is the hallmark of any well-developed font. Proportions of the letters, overall thickness of the strokes, and the ways letters were finished off at the ends of the strokes also contributed to a unified look. (fig 3) That consistency and unity is what distinguishes a particular font. The sub- tlest changes in proportion, stroke thick- ness, and finish can alter the personality of a font and make it quite unique. The development of the printing press in the 1500s was a huge innovation that had a similar effect then as personal computers have had on our culture. Because the type used was metal, it was possible to shape the letters more as individual drawings less attached to the pens, brushes, and chisels previously used in letter making. With the advent of film and now digital construction, fonts generally begin their life in the form of drawings with far fewer restrictions placed on how they appear. As a result, we have thousands of fonts to choose from, which fall into two camps: text fonts and display or expressive fonts. (fig 4) Text fonts all have subtle characteristics making each font unique in how it visu- ally expresses itself, but the main purpose of these fonts is to facilitate reading. They are designed to be read easily so that con- tent can be absorbed without distraction whether as a descriptive paragraph in an ad or the contents of an entire book. (fig 5) Display fonts are all about calling atten- tion to themselves and accurately expressing the nature of the content being presented, even if they sometimes become difficult to read. The majority of the fonts available are display fonts since there is so much that we want to express about our lives. If we can instantaneously capture the imagination of the reader and hint to them the nature of the content, then the viewer can quickly decide whether or not to read on. (fig 6) The odd thing is that if you are trying to express a particular feeling through your choice of display font, it's often difficult to find the right font to convey that feeling. Corel's new font manager allows you to type in a phrase such as, "Eat at Joes," and Graphic Design fig 1 fig 2

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