Sélavy (dotted font loosely based on Duchamp artwork)

nina's picture

This is a quick project, a little display font I’m making for a project of my friend Paul Soulellis.
He was looking for a typeface reminiscent of the dotted one in this 1934 artwork by Marcel Duchamp.

After a quick back-and-forth on Twitter (which revealed there was apparently nothing reasonably close available in digital) I spontaneously started sketching a font inspired by those letters. (I only looked at the 13 letters in the French version of the project – there is also an English one that has more letters, which however differ from mine.)

I like the quirkiness of the original caps, including that cropped “S” and the half-circular “C” (which led me to make the “O” quite round). In the lowercase and other glyphs I tried to strike a balance between simplicity / geometric clarity (well, can’t have too much detail with these dots) and (potentially historic-feeling) quirkiness. Hence the straight “y” descender, the funky “g”, etc. In some glyphs (for instance, “a” and “e”) it has been rather hard to find a solution that would work for all of (1) glyph proportions and implied stroke construction, (2) dot density, and (3) desired character/design.

The design is now roughly complete, with some of the glyphs still needing some tweaking and a couple of minor glyphs still missing. Spacing still has some kinks, kerning is in its first iteration and shouldn’t yet be looked at too closely, and some of the diacritics need readjusting; so it’s very much in progress.

Anyway I’d love some more eyeballs on this though and would appreciate any and all feedback! Like I said, it’s a bit of a quickie – Paul needs the font in a week or so, and we’re planning to make it available as a free download then, too, just the one style.

130415-Selavy-Alpha.pdf108.45 KB
nina's picture

Some things I forgot to mention (then I’ll shut up for now):

– There are no actual ligatures in the sample above (or the font), and none are needed I think. Part of the fun in working this out has been observing how patterns and apparent “ligatures” form by themselves with judicious placement of dots, also by way of spacing/kerning.
– For future reference, here is a link to the original Twitter conversation (or more precisely, Paul’s original post) of a week ago.
– As an aside: Look ma, no FontLab! This is the first project I’m doing in a complete UFO workflow (RoboFont, MetricsMachine). So much more pleasant.

eliason's picture

For the /A/ crossbar, how about two dots that align with the third dots up on each side? Perhaps you don't want such "normal" proportions...

The /C/ looks meager and could use two more dots (reverse the /D/ and drop the five dots in the middle of the stem. Here again maybe I'm "normalizing" more than you want, but I think an issue with this is that the uppercase and lowercase are feeling different in character. It's like the caps are quirky in both structure (many) and proportion (most), and the lowercase quirky in only structure (some). I might suggest the charming naivete of what you started with got lost in the sophisticated letters you added. Duchampian caps, Kochian lowercase?

I think a one-story /g/ with a descender that comes halfway around (cf /j/) might fit better with the other letters.

5star's picture

Nice work Nina.

nina's picture


“and the lowercase quirky in only structure (some).”
Well, there is the “c”. And the “s”. But, yes, I see what you mean:

“Duchampian caps, Kochian lowercase?”
Well put, and a valid point. If you knew how long I had a Koch “g” in there, too...

I think I did it semi-consciously, making the lowercase more texty than the caps, although I may have taken it too far. What struck me when testing is that, Display or not, if you make it very large (or view it from close up) the letters invariably disintegrate into a pattern of dots – especially since the “resolution”, if you will, is pretty coarse. When set smaller, however, it becomes quite legible. Hence I figured it might be a cool idea to have a lowercase that breathes a related spirit to the caps but can work for a sentence or even a short paragraph here or there – which needs it to be less DIY-coarse, and more texty. But, yeah, I guess, I will have another look at simplifying / de-textifying some of the lc a bit, along with what you suggested about the caps (especially maybe the “C”).

eliason's picture

Display or not, if you make it very large (or view it from close up) the letters invariably disintegrate into a pattern of dots

Yes, I love that effect. Really more Seurat than Duchamp! This is a fun design.

1996type's picture

I like it.

But why use an /f_j lig and not /f_i ? (edit: no actual lig, but it still looks like it)
s and S look a bit uncomfortable. I think you need to get more of the top into the bottom part. Maybe allow it to lean back a little.
Connecting baseline at EEZ is interesting, but not great for legibility.
I actually like the C and c. Perhaps give it some more space on the right.
I think the slant in e's crossbar could be steeper.
Especially at the bottom of d, where the bowl meets the stem, I think the dot at the joint could be raised a little.
Top of 1 could be wider.

Good luck with the deadline!
Cheers, Jasper

hrant's picture

Sélavy. Funny. :-)

This sort of thing seems easy at first, but it's actually quite hard! I think you've done a great job, but there are some places I'd say you're being too ambitious/optimistic; especially in the lc where the dots are pretty far apart I think you need some different compromises.

Some specifics:
- Could you make the top of the "a" denser?
- I didn't like the tilt in the "e" crossbar at first, but I think it's firm enough to work.
- I love the "g"... on its own. But it just seems out of character here. I'm surprised the Koch "g" didn't work - it seems like a natural here. But a mono "g" seems like it would be a lost opportunity.
- I would dump the "i"/"j" tittles! A gap of one dot seems insufficient to support them.
- Unlike in the "e" I think the curl in the "el" is a mistake.
- The "S"/"s": it's tempting to like them, but they still look like a dot went missing, like it's a mistake. I don't know if there's a way to make the top flatter.
- Can you make the tilde less disjointed? One day you might need a double-acute, and then what?! :-)
- The ring diacritic isn't working. Why not just one dot? Or is that its own accent...
- I'd make the cedilla longer. It is a French design! :-)
- I think the zero is a bit much.
- Love the asterisk! (Is it one? :-)
- The pilcrow is very pretty, but it needs more weight to work; try doubling the stem on the inside of the bowl. But maybe I'm thinking too texty.
- I think the BP is too narrow.
- Lower the bar of the Yen?

Your "dot-wise" ligation is brilliant! I wonder if there might be a way to take that idea further/deeper...

And a semi-crazy idea: if you built all the glyphs as composites, you could change the "foundational dot" into something else (like a diamond, a star, or even a letter :-) and the whole font would change!

BTW, I don't know if looking at this might help in some way, but:

Good luck with your deadline!


nina's picture

Thanks for all the feedback so far! (Here and elsewhere)
I think this is getting better.
EDIT: I can’t find how to edit the original post, so here is a link to the new PDF: 130416_Selavy_alternate.pdf
(Note: this screenshot doesn’t have all the dots aligned right, check the PDF)

– Simplified/clearer shapes for “b”/“d”/“p”/“q”
– Changed “g”/“a” accordingly. I have a bit too many variants of these now. Must say I’m quite attached to this new double-story “g” and reluctant to give it up – the old one was too busy with the ear and all but this one might work, no? Not sure what to do with the “a”. The double-story one doesn’t seem to want to belong. Boo.
– Straightened the lowercase “l”.
– Lengthened cedilla, tweaked the tilde.
– aring: Hrant: Our Norwegian friends have convinced me a dot for an aring is not a good idea (btw: “one day you’ll need a dotaccent, and what then?!” ;) ) – but I’ve rotated the “ring” by 45 degrees, probably better like this.
– pilcrow: I tried, but doubling the stem doesn’t seem to work very well with these dots. I concluded that this was a display face and would need to be able to handle a single-“stroked” pilcrow.
– I’m still a bit unhappy with the “s” but not entirely sure yet how to fix it.

BTW, yes Hrant, they’re all components. This font has exactly one drawn outline. :-)

nina's picture

(Also, Hrant: the Koch “g” did work. I was just not so crazy about the idea of putting the same “g” in all of my typefaces. ;) )

hrant's picture

The mono "a" is bad news; I think your bino one is fine (although I'd tighten up the top dots).

Your bino "g" is improved, and to me definitely better than the mono (which is blending in too much).

Koch "g": Ah, you don't want to be typecast. :-)
But do you really think people would say "bah, this chick only knows how to make the 'g' one way"? Plus it would make the font more usable with Ernestine.

The rotated ring makes a huge difference.

they’re all components.

Hmmm, imagine making the dot huge, and making the overlaps negative...


eliason's picture

I think I prefer the earlier /b/d/p/q/ to these "spurless" types; they were more in keeping with the circular shapes of /O/o/C/c/.

Would a much narrower double-story /a/ have potential? Could the bowl approximate a circle? Sindre's Telefon might be worth looking at.

I’m quite attached to this new double-story “g” and reluctant to give it up

"Kill your darlings!" :-) I do think it seems a bit like a gimmick on top of a gimmick.

I thought your line of accents in the specimen was Braille!

Frode Bo Helland's picture

“rotated the “ring” by 45 degrees”

Was gonna suggest that. Nice.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Have you tried echoing the e in g?

Btw, the C seems to always connect with the next character: e.g. CE becomes Œ.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Or the y. Quick-fix & too tall, but you get my idea.

nina's picture

Hrant, not every typeface I ever draw needs to (or will) be optimized for combination with Ernestine. Really. :)

Still, I’ll show the Koch “g” tomorrow. Frankly, I had thought that one was the darling that needed killing… But maybe it is a smoother, more fitting option.

“I thought your line of accents in the specimen was Braille!”

“Btw, the C seems to always connect with the next character: e.g. CE becomes Œ.”
I noticed. I strangely like it (it also echoes the “ŒLIBATAIRES” in Duchamp’s original). Optimal legibility is not always the goal… But maybe it is a little bit too open.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

About the C: It might help with just a tiny bit more space to the right. Just enough to make a break in the imaginary line.
About the g: Just silly old me, thinking out loud. I am not convinced your open binocular g works in itself, and certainly not sure it works in this context.

Bendy's picture

Hey Nina, nice design! Here's my two pennies' worth.

I think most of the changes you've made are good (like the longer /L/, the newer /bdpq/ and the straight /l/).

I'd agree with Jasper about the /e/, I think the slope is almost gentle enough to look horizontal, and then because it's not, it catches the eye a bit. I'd make it more definitely sloped.

Original /hmn/, I think are better. The /m/ especially I think is too wide in the newer version.

I prefer the original /a/ where the bowl comes in at the bottom. I know that's not consistent with the new /bdpq/, but it's a different bowl anyway, and it's probably a good idea to distinguish them more in a font like this where things can easily get confused. In the newer version, the flatness of the bowl is making the whole shape look a little stretched horizontally/flat/wide. Maybe just the bottom could be flat? Or Craig's Telefon suggestion might be worth a try.

Did you try a round /y/? (I mean like the /u/ but with a curved tail.) Or a goblet shaped /y/ like a /u/ with a centred straight descender ?

That /g/ is hard. I think the way you're treating the ear at the moment is somehow anachronistic. This seems to want to be essentially a geometric typeface and having the bowl so asymmetrical gives a very different feeling. I didn't find the original ear busy. And although I don't think a Koch /g/ should become your signature glyph, I think a) that it might actually fit very well here and b) you don't have too many options with only two or three discrete layers/levels of dots for the descenders.

The cap /S/ is bugging me. I think it's the way the dots aren't quite aligned horizontally. Geometrically, it's constructed of two circles, and your circles have dots at predictable places. I'd try aligning like this (sorry, I can't explain without actually drawing it). I think the second works better.

nina's picture

Ben! Thank you. Sorry for not replying earlier, life happened ... that “g” is still coming up, promise. (I don’t have it with me here at home now.)

I’ll look at your suggestion for the “S”. Your sketch does look much neater in terms of placement; note though that density (closeness) of points is quite a bit higher in the top of the letter in your version, which is the kind of thing I’ve tried to avoid; been trying to keep even distance / even grey.
Also, I just realized I’m probably not thinking like a display type designer here ... :-|

Also: The longer I look at this, the more I’m getting tempted to return to the original round counters.

hrant's picture

I'm starting to think that Craig is right about both the b/d/p/q and the ear of the "g". Those corners are feeling too... techno.

BTW Ben's nice "s" mod makes me think: maybe just like it's important to have extrema on curves, you need a dot at the extrema of your "curves"?


Bendy's picture

Yes, it does mess up the even dot-spacing, hope there's a way to make that not too noticeable.

nina's picture

Haven’t re-done the rounds yet (which I will– so please ignore the “d” in the screenshot below) but here’s the Koch “g” I promised to show. It’s not really clean/done yet, but something in this direction could maybe work (although I don’t think it’s very good friends with the “y”, and there’s no compelling “gj” insta-ligature – which only Norwegians will probably notice though) –

I’m busy with other stuff yesterday and today, but rest assured I haven’t forgotten you and am thankful for all of your comments! I’ll be working this out tomorrow and the weekend.

hrant's picture

Cute! But why do you always make your "g"s like that? ;-P

I'd just make the head a little smaller, to give the bottom gap more presence. The whole glyph is actually looking a bit big, so that's actually good news.


eliason's picture

I like it, better than the original /g/. Would you consider shortening the tail by a dot?

Bendy's picture

Think it's going in a good direction, but I'd tuck the ear in a bit, so it's symmetrical with where the tail comes out. Looks slightly separated.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Have you tried a tailless j?

nina's picture

Doing a bunch of tweaking on the “n”/“m”/“h”, “b”/“d”/“p”/“q”, “e”, “a”, & “g” … et al. I think it’s getting somewhere :)

Still struggling with the “S”/“s”, “C”, “y”, & “j”; will post again “properly” (= with PDF) on the weekend.

Bendy's picture

Now you're talking! That /g/ is very clever!

Did you try pulling the crossbar of the /e/ down slightly on the left, to bring the four dots into a straight line where it hits the bowl?

I'd love to see an outlined version of this! :-)

nina's picture

Oh, of course you’re right with the “e” crossbar, now it looks like it should be aligned but isn’t …

“I'd love to see an outlined version of this! :-)”

hrant's picture

BTW, I first thought you'd missed an "e" at the end of that "Merd"... :-)

Outline version: now make the circles like five times bigger. :-)


nina's picture

OK! Here’s the almost-final ☛ PDF link

– There’s a new “y” which I rather like, it’s maybe also better friends with the “j” and “g” now
– n/m/h are almost like the original ones again (same proportions) but with a slightly improved join and top “curve”
– b/d/p/q are like the original version, hopefully with ok joins
– “e” has a stronger/straighter crossbar now, very diagonal
– Lots of little fixes (cap accents; tweaked S/s; wider pound sterling; fixed v-position on dashes and math stuff)
– I’ve also added some new glyphs (some accented characters, ©/®/™, daggers, some more math stuff, arrows, and a lozenge! – need to stop…)

I’m going to fix the kerning now, if anyone has any other feedback on this (mostly re. glyph design) I’m all ears :-). Thanks again!

eliason's picture

Looking great!
/K/k/'s limbs look sparsely dotted. Could you try 3 dots for the arm and 4 for the leg for /k/ (4 and 5 for /K/)?
In /b/d/p/q/, lowering that last dot before the join near the top of the bowl make the bowl look pointy on top. Bottoms of the bowls look less troublesome to my eye, but at the top I think that in the compromise between bowl circularity and smooth juncture, you may want to adjust placement of that dot to favor the former a bit more.
I still think /a/ looks too wide.
Love the asterisk!
I bet you see dots everywhere you look now!

Bendy's picture

Looking great! Let's all jump over the lazy dog indeed! :-)

I'd agree with Craig, the bowl of the /a/ could be a notch narrower.

/S/ is looking great. I guess it wasn't possible to do the same alignments with /s/. But it's not too noticeable (I'm only aware of it because I'm looking hard.)

I wonder if a geometric design should have a /y/ made of two straight lines.

If you're trying Craig's suggestion about the /Kk/ having more dots, you might pull the knee right into the stem so they share a dot.

I might pull the diagonal of /2/ up slightly, top counter is slightly big.

It looks surprisingly good in text. Can't wait to see it in use. And definitely do an outline version. Clever to use components, that way you can easily generate new versions with different thickness outlines. Love it.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The ampersand looks a little off. The top part especially, but changing it might require the bottom to change as well. Love the z. Overall, I’d love to see more quircks like z/s/x. 2 appears to be leaning right, but this quirck is a different kind than the previously mentioned. Watch the shapes of 6/9 (or maybe just watch the spacing of them?). Is the bowl of Thorn too small?

nina's picture

Ooh, thanks! That was helpful.
Corrected PDF: PDF Link

There’s a narrower “a”. This may very well be better. :)
And I’ve fixed the K/k. Didn’t see this option before! Thanks.

– fixed b/d/p/q as per Craig’s suggestion.
– fiddled some more with the “s” but that one is crazy hard…
– tweaked “2”
– yes, Thorn’s bowl was too small. I’ve made it bigger.
– I’m fine with the ampersand, I think.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

About the ampersand: The flipped S/spine/youknowwhatImean aligning on both sides of the diagonal forces the upper part out of (the expected) geometry.

nina's picture

Yes, I see it. But to my eye it’s really not that much of a problem, dunno.

(Edit: OK, I did tweak it a little)

Bendy's picture

Don't forget /æ/ :-)

nina's picture

Yes! Coming up soon as the “a” is final :)

(Kerning all these dots is a pretty funky experience… Funny to have a design where the acts of “drawing”, spacing and kerning kind of all do the same – define gaps between dots)

hrant's picture

I was just going to say that much of this (like Craig's "K"/"k" trick) must enjoy some cosmic connection with making bitmap fonts.


nina's picture

It’s out! And it’s free:

Direct link to project info / download page:

Thanks again to everyone here, you’ve been a great help!

David Vereschagin's picture

I’m having a problem with the OpenType font file. Mac OS X Lion doesn’t show a font preview when the file is selected, and when the file is installed it doesn’t show up in font menus.

nina's picture

Huh, that’s strange. Would you mind trying again, I’ve just re-uploaded the OTF as a ZIP...

David Vereschagin's picture

Still not working, unfortunately. Font Book reports a “System Validation” error.

nina's picture

OK! Now it should work. I think I have found and fixed the error now (generated a new OTF; this one I was able to redownload from the server and have it work, also on OS X Lion).
Very sorry (but thanks much for letting me know).

David Vereschagin's picture


It’s a very pretty font. Interestingly, it gets more legible, and more pretty, the smaller you set it. It would seem to call for a bold version, but I doubt I’m the one to tackle that project.

Thanks for a lovely font.

hrant's picture

Nina: Very nice, especially considering the quick turn-around! Your presentation -as usual- is stellar as well.

David: Actually making a darker weight would take about 1 minute! :-)
I suggested Nina make one with this "dot":
http://v2.centralstory.com/_gfx/squiggle.png :->
I'm realizing now that there's some great animation potential in this as well...


Chris Dean's picture

Beautiful work, and Amazing turn-around.

Thank you Nina.

nina's picture

You’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words and the help. I’ve been meaning to try making something a bit quicker and looser – a fun exercise (also in self-control: if this were a commercial project I would have added more weights, an italic, etc etc, but this had to be quicker). Releasing it for free is just the right thing to do for this kind of project I think, and is a bit of an experiment in itself (for me); probably don’t get too used to it from my side, though :)

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