Trouble with typography? This is what I discovered. PART 1.

Typographic Trouble.

Typography, you love it or you hate it. If you really love it you are most likely a graphic designer who loves to put the tekst in the right place, designing layouts of magazines, posters and many more beautiful communicative things. When you are that kind of person who likes to communicate more through drawings and/or paintings or whatever you are using, letters and words are not the first thing you are working with. 
At art school I knew a lot of people who even feared using any form of typography. That was what a graphic designer should do, not an illustrator. I was not that kind of person who feared it, but I didn't knew noodles about it. Besides that we only got one lesson about what letters kind of were. I think the idea was that illustration is closer to animation than to graphic design. Well, I am not ready for moving image magick and I think Illustration still is closer to graphic design than to animation. So let's read some stuff about letters.

WHY should you learn about typography?

The main reason is quite simple: Because you should. You are a damn visual designer, you work for clients who want to print their stuff on paper or on a book cover or whatever they want. You should know what the text is going to do with your drawing even when you are not putting any text on it yourself. You don't want to make it hard for someone else with your artwork.
Second reason is even more obvious. Typography is everywhere and most of your life you are working with it. You are writing, reading, buying stuff because the package asked you so friendly, stayed away from that certain sign because it warned you. That is what typography does. It tells you quite precise why you should or shouldn't do something. There is even a deeper layer to typography, it helps you understand the text you are reading more easy. For example, the fact I am not using a helvetica type of font on this text is because a serif type of letter reads more easy. You find this in your every day book too. This reads a lot less easy, AND THIS IS EVEN WORSE BUT YOU PROBABLY READ THIS BEFORE YOU READ ANYTHING ELSE FROM THIS ENTRY. 
That is what letters do, they communicate. Before we learn to write we are drawing everything, when we learn to read and write we discover that it is a lot more easy to write something than to draw a tree or something else. Since we are working so much with text our eye will first read something and after we read it we are going to pay more attention to the drawing.
So for the illustrators: Your drawing is shouting all the time "HEY LOOK AT ME!" and then your audience is going to read the text. When completed the text they are going to look some more to the image. (This is not in all cases the truth but in general this is what happens)

So this is why you should learn about typography even when you are not working with it on a regular basis. I learned about this the hard way and I warn you, you can destroy your own drawing by using the wrong font.

Some basics..

I don't think I have to know everything about typography. There is no reason for me to learn everything about the layout of a magazine, or how to design a logo for a big brand or do the layout of a website. But this doesn't say I shouldn't know anything about it because I do encounter it on a regular basis. A colleague and friend Maarten Donders told me some days ago that the font I used on a Roadburn Backdrop kind of destroyed a good illustration.
I mentioned in a blog entry before I should do more research to this phenomenon. So here you have it, I am walking though some important things. Yes, I know, this is not a complete record of everything that is important to design the perfect typeface or layout. These are just some basics and mentions to show you where I am thinking of while choosing a font.

Serif typeface

Serif typefaces.
Let me start with the one you see mostly while you are reading stuff in books. I know Facebook is not using this typeface so shut up about that. Facebook is not a book either even when when they call it faceBOOK.
In the example above you can see the a lovely font called Garamond. I like this font a lot, it is easy to read and looks really balanced. Just like the Times New Roman and some other fonts you can read this without your eyes getting tired. This type of fonts are highly recommended to use for a lot of text.
But in my case I am looking for letters that would suit a poster design or a backdrop projection. Just one word or some band names or the name of a festival. Is this font usable on a poster? No, not really.  Garamond is a beautiful font type but a bit boring as a header. In the first place this is not going to draw attention. But I could imagine in some cases of a classy party for a golfclub or something you could use Baskerville or something similar.
But in general serif typefaces are used for body text.

San Serif typeface.

San-serif typefaces.
This is a typeface most young people are more familiar with since they are almost always on the internet or mobile phone. I know Facebook used to use this font type above, Helvetica. But later on changed it to a bit lighter variation of Helvetica. It appeared to look a bit more modern and light. So now you know what you are reading.
Mainly these san-serif typefaces are used for headers, not body text. Exception on this rule is the internet. These letters are bigger and more heavy and draw attention more. There are lighter variations on this family but I will come back to that later on. Good examples of what this font type can do is when you look at the Mad Max Fury Road poster(below). Here you can see how heavy this font is. Not only because it is BIG but also because the lines are HEAVY. 

MAD MAX Fury Road poster design.
Script typefaces.
This is something a lot of people know as the Vivaldi font in Word. All curls and beautiful lines. I don't know where I could use it for. A wedding invitation or something? This is called "formal script" This is based on hand painted or calligraphed letters, but made digital.
You probably know another terrible thing that happened, Comic Sans MS. That font was highly popular in the 90's and still is that childish cheerful font you shouldn't use at all. 
In the name Comic Sans is the word "Comic" so yes, Script typefaces are also used in comic strips/graphic novels. But this is not comic sans. A lot of comics are still hand lettered and else they are other designed fonts for that particular comic.

I can't tell a lot about this typeface since I would prefer to use my own skills and knowledge to write text like this. Even on my own wedding card I wouldn't like to use all curls or whatever. If I ever would write and draw my own comic I think I would prefer to hand letter it too.. I don't know. I can't say I could use it on a poster or backdrop either at this moment.

"hand lettering"
I don't know if it is a hype abroad too but in the Netherlands this became a hype. This is when you design your own letters. This is NOT per definition your own handwriting. Hand-lettering is drawing your beautiful letters to give the letters a beautiful look by itself. There are some trends in this like using your own handwriting for your own illustrations as thin lined helvetica fineliner letters or those 3d inspired letters you see here and there. Handlettering is not using a shitload typefaces in one piece but it is choosing your typefaces very wise and draw or paint them as you can see below.

But I saw letters who are different from what you told me about!
That is possible. These are kind of the basics of the letters. Three groups of fonts and one type that was before the age of printers, plotters or other printing press techniques.
These basics are worth it to study because then you can choose how and what letter you are going to use. Sometimes you can see combinations of two or only capitals or letters who are completely different from the other letters. Everything is possible but you have to follow the anatomy of the letter and sometimes design your own anatomy.
For the illustrators amongst us it is a bit like drawing a human being from nature and then a disney cartoon. A disney cartoon character has a anatomy of its own. Same thing with letters.

But how to build your own letters?

I touched the different kinds of letters above. I am not going to explain deeply what every font type is and what fashions you can find through time. This is a huge spectrum of different letters and there are many ways of using them in your own work.
So let's talk about how a letter is build, or the anatomy of a letter. When you understand this you can make your layout better.
Here you can see how letters work with each other and the names of every element.
The most important elements are the Baseline, X-hight, Descender and the Cap Height. You can't really fuck with these things! Keep this constant to avoid a disturbed font. For example, when your baseline is not present the font would most likely look like a mess letters are floating all over the place and this looks messy and that is one reason why it would not me pleasant to read. Same thing with the X-height. It would't look like the same typeface at all. So keep this constant. Cap hight is the hight of the capitals. As you can see above there are some letters like the 'l' that is even higher than a capital. It depends on what typeface you use how this functions.
Last thing you should't forget is the Descender. The 'y', 'g', 'q', 'p' and 'j'. these are equally high (or low) as the the cap hight.

The bowl of a letter is to be found with all the round shaped letters on the bottom and with the 'o' on both sides. As you probably see on the image above this bowl or round shapes are a bit below the baseline. The reason for this is optical. When these letters would follow the space between the baseline and X-height, they would look smaller then the other letters. How much this is, varies from typeface to typeface.

Serif is what the word says. It is the little stick of the serif-fonttypes. The Sans-Sarif don't have these little serifs and that is why they can be putted closer together.

There are many more parts like the stem, the spine, ligature and more to be named bit I am not here to tell you about how the letter exactly work. If you want to read more about this you can take a peek on this page


There, we are not here to build our own letters these were just some things where you should pay attention to when using a typeface. If you are using a typeface in word you can sometimes see that letters look weird or it looks like you placed a space in between two letters. When you click on it it is not there. In photoshop, illustrator and Indesign you can adjust this. So if you really like a font and you are not going to type a complete book in that certain typeface you can adjust it. But before downloading a font you should pay attention how all the letters look like and if they work in harmony. That is why you need this basic knowledge of letters.
Again, in the link I posted you can learn a lot more about letters. It is explained way better than what I can write over here and it is complete. Stay focused! It is a lot and it is a bit boring but without this knowledge you can't do shit if you want to design your own letters.

What do letters tell you?

They tell you words but they can create ambience too. This is a bit closer to the illustrative spectrum. This is where we are talking through shape. Below I gave some examples of how words work. If you are talking about heavy you should use a heavy font. Beautiful should not be written in a cold heavy font but you can create beauty with this script letter. Busy should not be a balanced, easy to read font but a distorted dynamic one. At this point I haven't done anything yet with italic or bold options. This is just how they are as standard. But here you can already see how the words are shaped add something to how you read the word.

This was it for part 1

I hope you are still alive at this point. This was a lot to read, I know... And I tried to keep it short already. That is why I cut this journey into several pieces so I can try to discover more on my way. Next week I am going to show you some examples of my own drawings where I failed at putting typography on the drawing in a way it looks a lot more pleasant and then I am going to correct it. Some examples are not really failures but they can become a lot better with the knowledge I gained over time.

Hope you enjoyed it and you come back for part two next week!

Kind regards,



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