Ten years ago, when I first released Bookmania, I mentioned in the specimen book that there would be a user guide showing how to take advantage of the hundreds of swash and alternate characters. While the concept was clear in my mind from the start, it became one of those projects that was perpetually on the back burner, the kind of project I procrastinate about in order to get other things done.
But recently, after getting yet another email from a user asking how to access Bookmania swashes, I finally found the time and energy to finish The Bookmania Cookbook.
It starts with an overview on how to access swash and alternate characters in desktop apps and in CSS for the web. It then goes over some of the do's and don'ts of using swashes.
This is followed by a "serving suggestion" section where I prepared over a dozen examples of Bookmania swashes in use to give you some ideas and inspiration for your own designs.
Finally, there is a reference section which includes a table of Stylistic Sets and a complete "recipe" section that shows you how to produce every swash and alternate character using Stylistic Sets and other OpenType features, which is especially useful on the web.
Sorry it took so long to put this together. If you're a Bookmania user, I hope you will find this "cookbook" helpful. You can download it here.
Variable fonts (a.k.a., OT-VAR, or OpenType Variable) started to become a thing in late 2016, with backing by Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and Google. The standard took a while to be worked out, but it's fairly settled now.
The good news is that variable fonts work great in all the major web browsers, and the web is where variable fonts make the biggest difference. It lets you put an entire font family with unlimited styles into a single font file that is about the same size as a few traditional fonts. This gives the web designer a much larger typographic palette without the bandwidth penalty.
On the desktop, variable fonts are not as well-supported. Adobe Creative Cloud apps (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign) have good support at this point. Others include Sketch and Corel Draw. You can see a current list here. I expect this will improve over time and, eventually, they will work everywhere.
I knew from the beginning that I would want to do a variable version of Proxima Nova. I started work on it in late 2017. This was when support was low and the standard was in flux, so it sat on the back burner after some initial tests.
In Spring of 2019, I enlisted the help of Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer and his team at Schriftlabor for technical and production assistance. Although I'm an old hand at making OpenType and other kinds of fonts, I felt a bit out of my depth with variable fonts. Given the amount of user stress that a variable version of a face as popular as Proxima Nova would need to withstand, I needed to bring in an expert. Rainer has been at the cutting edge of variable font technology, including being one of the developers of Glyphs (the app I use to make fonts), so it was in good hands.
Nearly two years later, I'm ready to introduce Proxima Vara. (You can try it out here.)
Proxima Vara is a completely new family, not an update to Proxima Nova, and there are some differences. One is that the default figure style is tabular rather than proportional. This was often requested by Proxima Nova users, but changing it would have affected existing users' documents. There are also improvements to character shapes and spacing.
Proxima Vara, as a variable font, contains built-in weight and style "instances" that match Proxima Nova and can be selected in font menus, as if they were separate fonts. There are six new styles, in the new Extralight weight, making 54 styles, up from 48.
Unlike Proxima Nova, you are not limited to these built-in styles and can specify any arbitrary style along the weight, width, and slant axes using sliders or by specifying values, for example in CSS. In all, there are 5,000,000 possible styles, going from Thin Extra Condensed to Black Italic.
Licenses for Proxima Vara start at US$99 for a basic desktop license and will be rolling out at most of my distributors starting today. (See "Where to Buy" on this page.)
The one exception is Adobe Fonts (a.k.a., Typekit), which is unfortunately not yet ready to host variable fonts for web or desktop use.
I've made a big update to one of my most popular type families, Mostra Nuova.
First, I've added three new weights: Semibold, Extrabold, and Extraheavy. The Semibold weight was based on a request from a user. He had a good point. There was a big jump in weight between Regular and Bold. Sometimes you need something between those. While I was at it, I noticed that there were similar jumps—maybe not quite as big, but jumps nonetheless—between Bold and Heavy, and between Heavy and Black. You'd rarely need all these at once, but it's easier now to get just the right weight.
Second, I've added support for Cyrillic. I've been doing this a little at a time with my existing type families. So far, I've added Cyrillic to Proxima Nova, Proxima Soft, Goldenbook, Refrigerator Deluxe, Changeling Neo, and Felt Tip Roman. It was quite fun to do Cyrillic for Mostra Nuova. I found lots of examples of Cyrillic Art Deco lettering online to get an idea how it should work. But I also got feedback from Russian type designer Ilya Ruderman, to make sure what I was doing made sense to native readers. (I've gotten to know the Cyrillic alphabet fairly well over the years, and can sound out words, but I can't really read it.)
Of course, there are all the same kinds of alternate characters in the Cyrillic as there are for the original Latin characters.
It also features Bulgarian variants. Bulgarian Cyrillic is pretty interesting. A lot of the letters, especially in the lowercase, look more like the Latin alphabet.
Finally, based on a user request, I added a narrow alternate D to match the narrow C, G, and c. And, based on no requests at all, I added the capital sharp S for German users who might want it.
The new version of Mostra Nuova is already available at some of my distributors, and the rest should soon follow.
Goldenbook and Refrigerator Deluxe have become two of my most popular type families in recent years. The last couple of months I've been working on big updates for both of them.
I first released Goldenbook in 2003 in three weights—Light, Regular, and Bold. It was based on the logo of the 1930s literary magazine The Golden Book. Over the years, I've made improvements to the fonts and added more language support, but this is the first major update.
Eve Heavy was the inspiration for adding an ultra-bold weight to Goldenbook.
The three weights I did originally were all fairly light. But I'd long thought about going super bold with it, the way Klingspor did with Eve Heavy. It was really fun to see how bold I could go with it. I initially considered raising the x-height as it got bolder, as Klingspor did. This trick works especially well for low contrast designs, like sans serifs, but Goldenbook has enough contrast that I found I could get away with keeping the x-height the same across the weights. The result is three new styles—Extrabold, Heavy, and Black.
Adding new weights to Goldenbook was not on my to do list. It was something that'd been on my back burner forever, like a lot of things. But I got an email back in December asking whether Goldenbook supported Cyrillic. I had to say no, but the wheels in my brain started turning and the next thing I knew, I was adding Cyrillic to Goldenbook. Once I got going, I figured I might as well do the bold weights while I'm at it.
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I had a pretty good idea what I thought the Cyrillic should look like, but I'm not Russian, so I got help from someone who is, type designer Ilya Ruderman. Ilya critiqued my designs and pointed out things I never would have noticed (and a few I should have). Thanks to him, I feel confident that Goldenbook will find an audience among Cyrillic users. And it looks super cool.
I made many other improvements to Goldenbook, like extending language support to add things like the acute IJ/ij for Dutch and the controversial capital sharp S for German. I also added an alternate long-tailed R (a user request), a more traditional-style alternate ampersand, a full set of "f" ligatures, and the historical ct and st ligatures, and long s.
Refrigerator Deluxe began life in 1988, one of my earliest attempts to make a digital font. I've updated it, added new features, and expanded the number of styles over the years, but this new version is a complete overhaul.
Like Goldenbook, this new version started from a user request to add Cyrillic, but I took the opportunity to make other changes, such as adding a new weight, Extrabold, between Bold and Heavy. Given that I'd started Refrigerator when I was just a beginner at making digital fonts, there were some weird things about the way I constructed it, things I would never do today. So I went through, character by character, and fixed all of it, making optical adjustments and other tweaks to bring it up to my current standards. Most of these changes are subtle and you might never notice, but overall it should be much nicer to work with, and I tried to minimize the impact they might have on existing documents if you are upgrading from the older version.
Ilya helped me out on adding Cyrillic to Refrigerator Deluxe as well. Just like the Latin characters, the Cyrillic includes numerous alternate characters to change that you can use to change look and feel of the font to your taste. Like Goldenbook, I extended language support, adding things like the acute IJ/ij for Dutch and capital sharp S for German. I also redesigned the diacriticals (accents) and many other characters outside the core alphanumerics.
Goldenbook 2.0 and Refrigerator Deluxe 2.0 started rolling out to my distributors yesterday, and some of them (Fontspring 1, 2, MyFonts 1, 2, and YouWorkForThem 1, 2) have already made them available. If you previously purchased a license for any of the existing styles of Goldenbook or Refrigerator Deluxe, you can get a free update for those styles. Check with the place you got the license from to find out how to get it.
When I was asked in 2014 by Bill Moran, artistic director of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, to come up with an original wood type design for The Hamilton Wood Type Legacy Project, I wanted to do something that would take advantage of the unique properties of wood type, but also something that hadn't been done before.
One thing I’d never seen was a monospaced or fixed-width wood typeface, and I thought this could be an interesting idea. But then I thought, what if the characters were not only the same width, but square? That way, the characters could be arranged vertically or horizontally and in any orientation. To a traditional letterpress job printer, a font like this wouldn’t make much sense. But to a modern letterpress printer, who tends to be more interested in self-expression and artistic effects, it could be an unusual and creative design element.
For the letterforms themselves, I decided to use a bold gothic style, reminiscent of gothic wood types but more geometric. Since the characters are meant to be used in any orientation, I set aside some of the usual optical adjustments, such as making verticals thicker than horizontals and making tops smaller than bottoms. This, combined with the distortions needed to get all the characters to fit into squares, results in a quirky but (I hope) charming design.
To provide more design options, I came up with a modular system consisting of three sizes: 12-line, 8-line, and 6-line. These three sizes can be used together like Lego® bricks, with endless arrangements possible. The sidebearings match so that characters always align when the three sizes are used together.
The digital version of Konop replicates the wood type version as much as possible, including the three different size designs. It includes OpenType stylistic sets that allow most characters to be rotated in place, 90° left, 90° right, or 180°, just like the wood type version. I also includes extra characters not available in the wood type version.
Even so, since Konop was designed primarily with wood type in mind, it’s actually simpler and more fun to work with the wood type version than the digital version, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.
Production on the wood type version is just getting under way. Sample characters were cut last weekend at the Hamilton Wayzgoose by Georgie Brylski Liesch on the pantographic cutter (above) with hand trimming by David Carpenter (below).
The photo below shows the finished 12-line pieces they cut, with the patterns behind them. The patterns are traced with a guide on the pantograph and a high-speed router cuts the type. The size depends on how the pantograph is set up, but it's always smaller than the pattern to get the best accuracy. Inside corners and small details are cut by hand.
Here it is (below) on a proofing press along with the first proofs. (The right side on the K isn't quite right, but the finished fonts will be correct.)
I'm not sure how soon the wood type version will be available for purchase, but you can get the digital version now from P22.
After years without a proper newsletter, I decided it might be a good idea to send out occasional updates. With a bunch of new fonts coming down the pipeline, these emails will keep you up to date with announcements you may have missed on social media.
I don’t plan to send it out very often—no more than about 6 times a year. It's mostly to announce new font releases. If that’s still too much for you, you can unsubscribe anytime.
The first issue will be out on Tuesday, September 4. A regular feature of Font News will be sneak peeks of the fonts I'm working on next.
You can subscribe here. If you know anyone who might also like to get the newsletter, feel free to send them to the signup page.
September 6, 2018 Note: I originally called this Letter News. Turns out, Jill Bell (lettering artist, type designer, and long-time friend) has been doing an email newsletter also called Letter News for the last ten years. Oops! Sorry about that, Jill! It's now called Font News.