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Help me save these forgotten fonts from the dustbin of history! These classic Victorian fonts need a proper digital revival. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on June 18, 2012.

Help me save these forgotten fonts from the dustbin of history! These classic Victorian fonts need a proper digital revival.

Merry Christoforo-mas! Italic build available

Holiday greetings to my loyal cultists and true believers!

The holiday season has been a great opportunity to both spend more time with my family, and get some serious work done on Cristoforo. I have really been cranking on the italic for the past week or so, and it is starting to bear some fruit.

I will be emailing the current working font to backers later today. Be warned that this is a very early pre-release, which has a very limited character set, as shown above. There are no OpenType features and no kerning as yet. Of course, I have already noticed errors. For example, I have the “old” asterisk in the italic. That is fixed for the next release.

Also, soon we will say goodbye to my intern, Andrea. She is off scoping T-shirt production and design now, and probably won’t be doing more font work. This project is much larger than either of us originally envisioned (darn stretch goals!), and she didn’t get into the italic as quickly as either of us had expected, as I spent a lot of time wrestling with design questions and direction there, as well as some practical font production questions. But now she just doesn’t have the time available, with a busy teaching schedule and some other client work.

Gruesome details follow on the font development, only for the truly interested....

* * * * * *

While spending lots of time looking at the original “American Italic” and comparing it to Columbus, I have again been struck not just by the (expected) similarities, but by the differences. I think I finally understand something that had puzzled me at first: why did American Type Founders give the italic a completely different name and market it with no reference to the original? I think there were two reasons. One was that Columbus had not sold well. But the main reason is that this italic was really intended as a stand-alone typeface and was never designed to be directly compatible with Columbus. Yes, it was based on italic versions of the Columbus letterforms, but American Italic was bolder, had a significantly larger x-height, and was not even sized the same on the type body.

This last was briefly a surprise, but yes, the caps of 60 pt Columbus No. 2 are about 25% taller than the caps of 60 pt American Italic. Of course, Columbus was issued in 1892 and American Italic in 1902. American Type Founders made the transition to standardize the alignment of their typefaces (position of the baseline on a given point size) around 1900-1903, so presumably American Italic was on the new alignment system, while Columbus predated that change, and was dropped from production rather than making the transition.

Anyway, in making a new unified typeface from Columbus and American Italic, we had to make these sorts of global changes to make American Italic compatible with Columbus. Unfortunately, although font making software is great, and scaling the whole font is easy, there are no magic buttons one can press to do things like adjust x-height or weight—at least not in this situation. It was all very painstaking. Sigh. But all this groundwork has put me in a much better place to add more glyphs more quickly, moving forwards. Still, it has a long way to go.

For the curious, below is some detail of what I have done on the italics in the last eight days. Below you can also see a before-and-after on a text sample, including the numbers for the spacing in the top part of the panel.

Before, version 043:

After, version 046:

First, I worked on the spacing. Because italics are slanted, it is much harder to use simple measurements to keep the spacing consistent. I had made some approximations of spacing already, but I needed to really dial it in well. Although the measurements on either side of H and I didn’t really change (these were setting the pace for the whole font), just about everything else did, including the width of the H itself.

Second, I reweighted the letters. Originally I had set a weight for the italic that was noticeably lighter than Cristoforo Regular. I did some tests after my spacing refinements, and decided I had just been wrong. Drats! I went back towards something heavier, just the slightest bit lighter than the regular. That took a while. I rushed a bit in re-weighting the numerals last night, however. They need a bit more fine tuning in their stroke weights.

Third, while doing the weight revisions, I made assorted fixes to the outlines. In some cases, subtle differences between the upright and the italic had been inadvertently missed/suppressed in the process of adapting slanted versions of the upright outlines to the italic shapes. Some shapes and transitions could be executed more elegantly or subtly. Now they are.

Bad transition from stem to flared serif:

Transition improved:

Fourth, I added some characters to try to get to a minimally useful set of characters. I focused on punctuation and basic symbols that are really necessary to a basic, working font.

Next on my list is to add diacritics (accents) and create accented characters. Until I have that, it is still a very anglocentric font. You can tell I have that in mind, as I have already dealt with the particular quote marks needed for many non-English languages, and the euro symbol. Accents next!

Or should I lose steam on the italic, I will go work on the symbol font....

Comments

    1. Creator John Hawkinson on December 28, 2012

      It's not soooper-relevant, but since this font is so Cthulu-oriented, in the spirit of the holidays, tor.com has posted Neil Gaiman's story, "I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9’ S, Longitude 126° 43’ W)?": http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/12/i-cthulhu

      A fun and quick read! (Too bad it's not set in Cristoforo!)

    2. Creator Thomas Phinney on December 28, 2012

      Lorenz:

      (a) I'm probably going to do all the accents at once, do the anchor points on the letters, and generate the whole lot of them. So the next release will have a whole boatload of accented letters. At least, that is my first thought.

      (b) In lowercase “hamburgefonstiv” is notable for covering all the key shapes from the alphabet, as well as making a pronounceable word of sorts. The cap version is not bad either. There are other common nonsense words and phrases one sees used, such as “verbs go human” (with or without spaces).

    3. Creator Lorenz Thor on December 28, 2012

      (a) Do the Umlauts first, for no particular reason...

      (b) any reason you chose "Hamburg" as a placeholder word?

      cheers, keep up the good work and have a good start into 2013
      Lorenz