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A Closer Look at Typography by Kulraj Singh

Picture you say is worth thousand words. Well, there is some truth to that. But, imagine if pictures or images were the only form of communication. Where do you think we would be today? How do you think our beloved Information Highway would look like? You get the picture. (smile)

The most intense form of communication today still is typography. Most people consider type just fonts. There are so many things that go on in type yet we miss them completely. We take it for granted. And my intention here is to prove Typography as art that should be taken seriously by designers and all.

We will start by looking at major components and anatomy of Type.


Major Components of Type.


Anatomy of Type.

Figure 2

Now, pick two fonts, Serif and San Serif (hint: Garamond and Helvetica). See if you can figure out the anatomy of that font.

Now lets look at proportion of type. In order to explain or demonstrate the proportion aspect of typeface. We must look at the four variables if not all of them, that control the typeface proportion and its visual appearance.

There are four major variables.

1. The stroke to height ratio. (see figure 2 for stroke)
2. Contrast in stroke weight.
3. Expanded and Condensed styles.
4. X-height and proportion. (see figure 1 for X-height)

Let's take a closer look at all four variables.

1. The stroke to height ratio- I think demonstration will be much better to explain this. Take a look at Figure 3.

Figure 3

You can see that in the first B a stroke width is 1 grid and the height is ten times the stroke width. If you increase the width of stroke to nearly two grid, see how it changed the appearance of the letter. And if you decrease the stroke width to one half of the grid the appearance changes again. This means if the stroke width is increased or deceased you see noticeable changes in letterform.

2. Contrast in stroke weight- Look at Figure 4. There is a contrast between the thick stroke and the thin strokes. If the contrast is increased or decreased the appearance of a letter will again change.

Figure 4

3. Expanded and Condensed styles- I very sure that we are all familiar with these type of typefaces. You can try this in any illustration program. Type a word. select it and increase the width of the word. You will notice how it changed the overall appearance of the type. Decreasing the width will do the same. Very good examples of type faces created with this variable in mind are Zurich and Compacta as shown below in Figure 5.

Figure 5

They are both the same point size but as you can see strokes width, height have been changed to produce a completely different appearance.

4. X-Height variable- In this variable there is a relationship between the X-Height and ascender and descender (see Figure 1 for ascender and descender). Look at Figure 6.below.

Figure 6

The point size is the same for all three figures but you will notice there x-height is not the same. And how changes in ascender and descender also effect the appearance of the Type Face.

You should be able to notice these changes in a type face now. But, there are yet, many factors that are involved in a type face. We will
now look at-

Optical relationships within a font.

When typesetters create a font, they keep these relationships in mind at all times (at least the professional typesetters do). Take a look at Figure 7 and you will notice the small differences within a font of which i am talking about.

Pointed and curved letters have less weight at the top and or bottom (there are exceptions). This will make them appear short if not adjusted. They must be extended slightly above the baseline and cap-line. Here is little exercise for you. Draw a Circle, Square and a Triangle, all the same size. Notice that the circle and triangle appear shorter than the square. And that's the point.

Yet more differences next time.

In the next part of this article we will look at even more differences within a font and we will also talk about basic classification of typefaces. (coming soon to the features section)

Copyright 2000-2002, Kulraj Singh, All Rights Reserved

This article was published on Wednesday 15 November, 2006.
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