Spacing method

Miguel Sousa's picture

I would like to share with all of you, the spacing method I used on Calouste (PDF file), the typeface I designed at Reading.

After trying out a few spacing methods with no success, I felt the need to devise my own system, which has proven to generate fairly good results (not just for me but also for other people that have used it). The method is definitely not an outstanding innovation, nevertheless I haven't come across anything exactly like it elsewhere. Basically I took advantage of adhesiontext, the text tool I had developed earlier.

I can't guarantee this method will work on every typeface. However I'm able to say that it made miracles on mine, as some could attest. Perhaps with a few adaptations it can still be useful and applicable in other cases.

I would also want to warn that, as it will be obvious, this is a REALLY tedious process. Nonetheless, the outcome will most likely be quite rewarding, and time-saving.

Finally I would like to add that this procedure might also help to drastically reduce the number of kerning pairs needed (at least that's what happened to me...).

The Method Used

1. I divided the lowercase alphabet in 3 groups, bdhilmnopqu, acefjkrt and gsvwxyz, on the assumption that:

a) the space on both sides of each element of the 1st group can be determined, and relates to the space attributed to, at least, one side of another element in the same group, which has a similar shape. (e.g. the space on the right side of b and p is the same as o. Or, the space on the left side of h is the same given to the same side of l);

b) the space on one side of each element of the 2nd group is determined, and is equal to the spaces given to the elements of the 1st group with a similar shape (i.e. the space on the left side of k is the same given to the same side of h, despite the fact that the space on the right side (of k) has no relation with any character in the 1st group);

c) the space around the elements of the 3rd group has no direct relation with any of the other characters in the alphabet. (this is very design-dependent, as for example if g is not binocular-style, it should be included in the previous groups).

2. I spaced n and o visually, balancing the white area between and inside the characters (the string noonnon is good for that). Then replicated those amounts (with the necessary adjustments) to the rest of the elements on the 1st group, always keeping in mind to assign the same value to similar/equal shapes. (e.g. the left side of m might receive the same amount of the same side of n. But (for a serifed typeface) p might need less space on the left side, because it might not have a serif on the baseline)

3. I printed a few test documents only with words that could be set using characters from 1st group, and made the necessary corrections/adjustments.
Note: Here I would like to say that, in this first trial, it was clear that some of the glyphs had to be slightly changed (specially the o), because they were "breaking the rhythm/pattern".

4. After a *few* other print-outs and tons of adjustments, the elements of the 1st group were finally acceptably spaced, so it was time to do the next step.

5. The next step consisted on adding, sequentially, each element of the 2nd group to the 1st group, and space it against the elements of the 1st group. This meant generating test documents with the set of characters bdhilmnopqua and space the a, then bdhilmnopquc and space the c, and so on.
Note: It's very likely that the elements of the 1st group will still need some fine adjustments along the way, which could also be used on characters with related shapes.

6. The following step was simply doing the process described above, but this time with each element of the 3rd group.

7. Finally, I set a "normal" text and the overall spacing was just about right. Some fine-tuning, and from this point on was "kerning time"...

That's about it.

Si_Daniels's picture

The proof of the spacing is in the setting. Which pages of the PDF showcase the spacing the best? The typeface looks lovely by the way. Has someone snapped it up or are you licensing it yourself? We're always on the lookout for good multilingual typefaces.

Cheers, Si

eriks's picture

spaced n and o visually, balancing the white area between and inside the characters (the string noonnon is good for that)

I’ve been doing that with l/c HOHHOOH for 30 years. Print out large proofs, hang them on the wall, walk away until the letters look like 12 pt, have someone adjust the distance between them with you shouting instructions from a few meters (or feet) away, and finally take a pencil and divide the space between the letters on the wall. That gives you the initial sidebearings for straight and round sides. That was the method at Do-I-Get-Sued-For-Mentioning-Berthold way back in the 70s. A picture with me in front of H and O is around, but not published anywhere except on an old FontShop xmas card which made use of the
HOHOHO. If only posting images were easy.

eriks's picture

and in colour…

thank you, Simon. It’s 2am here in London, and I was too lazy to check.

Si_Daniels's picture

No problem, hopefully you're not up watching the Word Series. ;-)

<-- My latest icon is White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle (Steve Kuhlman of Ascender swears he’s my long lost twin)

Stephen Coles's picture

Erik - Posting images is now activated. Need Flash 8 installed.

dezcom's picture

"HOHOHO. If only posting images were easy"

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

HoHo's in U.S. are the staple of the American couch potato vending machine diet :-)

ChrisL

Miss Tiffany's picture

... and Dwiggins had been doing that combination 40 years before that ... Chris, you are funny and I now dub thee Sir Pun-a-lot.

Si_Daniels's picture

It's all making sense now...

http://www.twinkies.com/hohos.asp

"Apparently, rice isn't the only San Francisco treat. The history of Hostess Ho Hos dates back to 1967, when a San Francisco bakery began hand-producing the Swiss-filled chocolate cakes elegantly enrobed in delectable confectionary coating."

... so it's all part of the vast Bay Area Font Conspiracy.

Exactly how the Ding Dong vs King Dons controversy plays into this is beyond me see...

http://www.twinkies.com/dingdongs.asp

http://knightsrealm.com/archives/2004_07.html

hrant's picture

Miguel, I'll have to look closer at the spacing aspect of this, but for now I just wanted to say that Calouste is amazing. The Latin is superb and the Armenian is inspired*, in fact better than some of the best native designers. Shnorhagaloutioun.

* A big smile on my face seeing that gentle incline!

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Miguel, although the basic spacing procedure you describe is quite sound, I do note some problems in your PDF, but these are typically kerning issues. For instance there is too much space between the roman wa combination.

The biggest problem I have with your approach is that it seems to presume that the glyphs themselves have already been design and grouped prior to spacing. I space as I go along, and consider spacing to be intrinsic to glyph design. I don't think you can correctly judge the relative widths of letters without previewing them in words or pseudo-words, and this means that spacing has to be done as part of glyph design and not as a secondary stage after the outlines are complete. Calouste has many very nice features -- kudos on the Armenian --, but the r is a bit too wide and the s is a bit too narrow, and I wonder if this would have been so if you had addressed the spacing concurrently with the design of these letters.

eriks's picture

watching the Word Series. ;-)

is that a deliberate pun? Do they play word sports at Microsoft?

Miguel Sousa's picture

Simon:
The proof of the spacing is in the setting. Which pages of the PDF showcase the spacing the best?

Well, can't really say. Maybe the ragged-right columns, but the paragraphs on pp. 10-11 are not that bad. Nevertheless you'll definitely have to print it out to see it properly. On screen things don't look as good.

The typeface looks lovely by the way. Has someone snapped it up or are you licensing it yourself? We’re always on the lookout for good multilingual typefaces.

Thanks. No, not yet. I'm opened to proposals. Meanwhile I'm designing more weights, small caps and the other needed bits.

Erik:
have someone adjust the distance between them with you shouting instructions from a few meters (or feet) away

Nice. This year's students should try that. It surely will make spacing more interactive and less boring. Besides, there will be more than a pair of eyes judging, which might be a good thing (or maybe not...).

Hrant:
The Latin is superb and the Armenian is inspired*, in fact better than some of the best native designers.

Uau, thanks! As I didn't know the script, or the language (which unfortunately I still don't), I had to do a substantial amount of research, to inform my design decisions. Then it was submitted to people that can actually read it, and the necessary changes were made.
There are still a few things that I will like to change, but the essencial is there.

John:
For instance there is too much space between the roman wa combination.

Yes, you're right. I'll have to check that. (Although it's not as noticeable as when printed)

and this means that spacing has to be done as part of glyph design and not as a secondary stage after the outlines are complete.

I completely agree with you, and as I say in the note to point 3, the glyph outlines are likely to have to be changed. Otherwise certain letter combinations will never work, despite of how well the typeface is spaced.

I space as I go along, and consider spacing to be intrinsic to glyph design.

Absolutely, can't agree more. However, one can do that once he/she is experienced, like you. The experience that enables one to pinpoint that the problem is on the glyph's design, and not on the space around it (or vice versa).
Since this was the first typeface I designed, I felt the need to fix one of the variables (the design) and tackle the other (the spacing) separately. Then whenever I felt that changing the spacing was no longer useful, I would turn to the design and make the necessary adjustments. Then go back to spacing, and so on.
Of course, it goes without saying that Gerry (Leonidas) played an important role here, telling me when I should put the design in stand-by, and start caring about spacing. That was when I approach the problem and developed the method.
But as you might understand, when learning typeface design, it's difficult to handle these two issues (glyph design and spacing) at the same. Despite of the fact that they're interdependent, one has to come aware of that gradually, otherwise things will end up all over the place. At least that's how I felt.
All in all, I simply wanted to share the method that worked for me. I thought that it would eventually be helpful to others, and, at the same time, use all your comments to improve it.

kudos on the Armenian —, but the r is a bit too wide and the s is a bit too narrow

Thank you. You might be right about the r and s, but this might also be one of those situations where the designer's experience, sensibility and/or views (about how the structure of a certain letter must be) enter a subjective and more personal area. For example, for some reason I can't really explain, I'm very sensitive to the sa combination, and will almost like/dislike a particular typeface just based on that. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), go figure...

Jack B. Nimblest Jr.'s picture

HHDHOHODOO, and nnpnonopoo are normal. Then the D and p, respectively, are replaced by whatever you are "looking to space." There is also an initial process of HnHing and at the end, there is an HOLA and a norv added for kerning, (HHAAAHOLA) to make sure nothing gets too tight...this worlks for all fonts that have H, O, n and o...

dezcom's picture

Miguel,
Sorry I missed your PDF link in the first line before (I just saw your Zip file).
Now I see what all the fuss is about! I don't mean the spacing, that has already been discussed. I mean the passion in the forms of the letters! Quite beautiful--I hope to see many books set in your Calouste in the future.
Also, the way you presented your work is a very good tool for those interested in learning the nuances of type design.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

For lowercase, I use: nuonubnuvnupnu first. This gives a straight-against-a-straight rhythm that helps me see the basic side bearings in a symmetrical space. I then reverse the n's and u's (unounbunvun) to see if it still holds up. I also use the typical "o" necklace. I am new to type design so I wonder if any of you see a problem with this process? (Is there a madness to my method). My basis comes from Calligraphy classes I took from Arnold Bank some 40 years ago.
For the caps, H and O necklaces (as shown by others)

ChrisL

hrant's picture

> spacing to be intrinsic to glyph design

Indeed - a critical factor, often ignored.
To me, even the kerning is (and maybe you meant that too).

hhp

John Hudson's picture

To me, even the kerning is (and maybe you meant that too).

I'll sometimes add kerning to preview strings in FontLab while I'm working on glyph and spacing design, but I'll always remove all such temporary kerning afterwards, and tackle kerning from scratch in a systematic way once I am happy with the glyph forms and spacing.

hrant's picture

When kerning affects my glyphs, it's not in any qualitiative way,
it's more of an "abstract nudge" - if that makes any sense...

hhp

Miguel Sousa's picture

Chris: I then reverse the n’s and u’s (unounbunvun) to see if it still holds up.

—And how do you then translate those values (sidebearings) to the rest of the alphabet?

John: and tackle kerning from scratch in a systematic way

—Do you mind revealing?

Hrant: When kerning affects my glyphs, it’s not in any qualitiative way, it’s more of an “abstract nudge” - if that makes any sense…

—Not to me... can you be more specific?... please.

dezcom's picture

"And how do you then translate those values (sidebearings) to the rest of the alphabet?"

With those, I have the sidebearing for every permutation of straight, curve, diagonal, and semi straight (left side of u, right side of h, etc). I only have the left ide of the a and the s and x. They are all between two of the given values (n b o v).

ChrisL

hrant's picture

Miguel, the thing with me is that I -generally- oppose the conventional wisdom of making the base spacing work "perfectly" without kerning, and only using kerning to polish things up. The main reason for this is that I feel that users who don't have kerning enabled aren't picky anyway; so if you can assume that kerning is available, you can streamline things a fair amount. Another reason is actually related to Armenian type design, where relying heavily on kerning, especially positive kerning, can save you a ton of effort - noting here that (to me) in Design, economy of effort is central - and the time I save NOT making "fool-proof" kernless spacing is time I can use for things that are needed more.

Anyway, in reference to what I wrote before what it boils down to is that when my black bodies start getting affected because of spacing considerations, sometimes this is "damped" by the eventual presence of kerning too, depending on the character and its probable adjacencies*. But it's not numeric, it's more... fudgy, although it's also iterative (of course) so subject to tweaking.

* http://typophile.com/node/5106

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Miquel, my approach to kerning is to use a list of real words that show combinations in context, so I start with a word that include an 'aa' combination, and then one with an 'ab' combination, and so on. I have good lists for Latin and Greek, and a slightly less good one for Cyrillic (it is Russian-centric, and isn't reliable for other languages). Once I've done this, I extend to diacritic letters either using classes or simply by copying kerning, depending on the size of the project. After that, I do diacritic exceptions e.g. 'Tä' as distinct from 'Ta'.

If I'm working on a script for which word lists are difficult to obtain, e.g. Ethiopic, I use class-based kerning and make it as thorough as possible, even if this means including kern data for combinations that may never occur in natural language. I'd rather try to ensure that any combination will look good, rather than trying to guess what might be common or not. Nyala, which will ship with Windows Vista contains the class-based equivalent of more than 65,000 kern pairs. I usually enjoy kerning, but I didn't enjoy that! If I don't have an actual word list, I create FontLab preview lists that show pairs in context of regularly spacing glyphs.

Because almost all of my projects involve OTL tables developed in VOLT, I use Sergey Malkin's excellent 'kern2volt' conversion tool, which examines expanded kern table data and builds efficient classes based on kerning values. So my workflow is FontLab class kerning -> expanded (flat) kern table values* -> VOLT via kern2volt.

* FontLab Studio 5 includes special handling for very large kern table export as a result of one of my extended Arabic projects that had more than 72,000 expanded kern pairs.

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: The main reason for this is that I feel that users who don’t have kerning enabled aren’t picky anyway; so if you can assume that kerning is available, you can streamline things a fair amount.

Given my market, I have to assume that large numbers of users are working with MS Word. Kerning is off by default (although not for complex scripts, thankfully), and most users don't know how to turn it on. I think such users may well be 'picky', but if they see a font that has bad spacing because kerning isn't on, they're not going to spend time finding out why this problem exists and how to turn on kerning: they're just going to blame the font and use a different one.

Miguel Sousa's picture

I agree with John. Although MS Word users don't get everything out of their fonts (because kerning is not on by default), they will still get the most out of it, given that the font is well spaced. Glyph sidebearing values have to exist in the font, either we want it or not. Kerning information doesn't. So, relying on kerning and adding superfluous pairs to the font (and I'm not refering to the extra kerning data that John included for the Ethiopic font, for example), simply makes its size bigger, and adds more data that the applications have to deal with (which means it's more prone to errors and will use more resources).
My view is, if you can do it with spacing, don't do it with kerning.

Randy's picture

Miguel: Congratulations! I came and sat in on an early critique when I was visiting Reading. The quality of your final project is a testimony to your hard work and the excellent program Gerry and crew have crafted at Reading.

All: A nice tool would be a database of words in multiple languages with extensive sorting. So you generate strings containing select groups of letters in select languages. Perhaps this exists already? It would be pretty easy to do if one had access to a multilanguage open source dictionary database.

David Berlow: HnHing and HOLAing are new verbs for me. Would you elaborate on these steps? Thanks!

Randy

hrant's picture

Most of my users (and probably most every other designer's) are on Word too. But I really don't see them minding slightly funny spacing. And I will note again that design isn't about perfection; the time one saves on not making his spacing "always perfect" can benefit the user in other ways... like starting on a new design!

> relying on kerning and adding superfluous pairs to the font

Actually, what I'm describing ends up with fewer pairs to arrive at like 95% of the quality.

hhp

Miguel Sousa's picture

Randy: Congratulations! [...] A nice tool would be a database of words in multiple languages with extensive sorting.

Thank you! Have you tried adhesiontext? Does it address your idea?

Hrant: can benefit the user in other ways… like starting on a new design!

Or using another font... :^/

Randy's picture

Have you tried adhesiontext? Does it address your idea?
Duh. Note to self: Quit skipping over wiki links. Nothing like brainstorming a solution to a solved problem!

It would be pretty easy to do if one had access to a multilanguage open source dictionary database.
Note to self: Quit trivializing said solution when it probably took a great deal of effort.

Thanks Miguel, that is a really useful tool. Not my most graceful moment on typophile :-)

Jack B. Nimblest Jr.'s picture

"David Berlow: HnHing and HOLAing are new verbs for me. Would you elaborate on these steps? Thanks!"

I use large "unkernable" pairs, like "rv" and "LA" to make sure the kernables, like "AV" and "ra" do not end up "overkerned." HnHing is to make sure, after the HOD and sometimes V are spaced, that the "n"fits nice to them, so then it can be the prime control for the l.c...clear?

Randy's picture

Yes that makes sense. Thanks.

dezcom's picture

If anyone is interested, I just uploaded a text file in my Blog area which has strings (necklaces) and assorted other pairings that I use to test spacing and kerning.
Here is the link:
http://typophile.com/node/15898

The link is at the top where it makes no sense. The explanation is at the bottom of the thread.

ChrisL

AGL's picture

Miguel, the first thing that come to my mind with Calouste is that museum near Spain Square in Lisbon :-) I love it. And adhesiontext is a very good tool. I am sure I will learn something from your sample pdf sample of Calouste. Awesome.

robarnow's picture

I'm working on an expressive brush drawn typeface, and I need a extensive list of words that contain ALL possible letter pairs in the basic Latin character set (ideally 3 examples of each combination, so as to give a good representation). Does anyone know of how to do this, or have such a list?

The methods mentioned above are useful, but it doesn't seem they'll quite do this.

It appears to me that AdhesionText is useful, and but does not cover ALL possible combinations. While I could create overall good kerning with this tool, I might end up missing many combinations.

The method of listing like this "abacadaeafag..." etc. is also helpful, but realistically it's very difficult to eye how kerning will really look once tranlated into actual words....

Thanks,
Rob Arnow

Fonzo's picture

thanks everyone, I was looking for some spacing help.

saleem Ali's picture

Dear John Hudson,

My font is working on PC properly good, but this font is not working on Mac adobe indesign ME version some word does not join what problem i develop on PC my font extension is .otf plz how i do that my font is work on Mac image describe problem.

Thank you john

froo's picture

Saleem, you should find an option for ligatures support, somewhere in the program. (I don't have it, so I don't know where it could be found).

dezcom's picture

I don't know about the Arabic version, but in the Latin Adobe versions for Mac, there is both a "Ligature" and a "discretionary Ligature" check mark that may need to be turned on. The first one is under "Character" and the second one is under "Character-> Opentype."

froo's picture

OK. Do you use unsymmetrical spacing for caps sometimes? I mean, having the minuscule and majuscules "well spaced" - "HnHing" can reveal a gap between H and n. One could leave it (and kern later), but how about trying to manage it by changing the symmetry axis in caps?

John Hudson's picture

Saleem, a font that works in Word on Windows should work in InDesign ME version on both platforms. I am surprised by what you are showing, because I wouldn't expect this kind of problem, and have not seen this with any other fonts.

I note also the very tight spacing between the ر and ک near the end of the first line in the InDesign example. Is that intentional?

[Marcin, Chris, this isn't a ligature on/off issue. The correct Arabic 'init' and 'medi
shaping is not occurring for some letters in some situations.]

AzizMostafa's picture

In reply to:
http://typophile.com/node/15794?page=1#comment-428123
http://typophile.com/node/16288?page=1#comment-428035

Say: Even Adobe Arabic does not work on InDesign correctly?!
To position themselves in the Arabic World,
Adobe + WinSoft must digest what is explained here:
http://www.khaledhosny.org/node/142

froo's picture

John, my fault - I didn't look at it carefully. Anyway, the "Mac CS4" example looks like it's not the font "from PC".

dezcom's picture

Thanks, John. I really need to learn more about Arabic :-)

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