Poetry in Electra? Tilting at Windmills?

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David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
Poetry in Electra? Tilting at Windmills?
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Okay, so I'm afraid I have an Electra (original typeface) fetish when it comes to poems - and I'm trying to make it work via the digital version & high quality laser printers.

The attached document is a mock up of a poem/layout in Electra. Does it sort of work? Any suggestions?

I am a complete newbie in this area, so be nice :-)

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Of course, it would help if you could actually read it, wouldn't it?

Bob Evans's picture
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Joined: 18 May 2005 - 7:20am
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A bit of minus tracking would help - seems a bit spread to my eye.

William Berkson's picture
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Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
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The indented title above the rag-right layout seems neither here nor there. I think it will work better left aligned or centered over the longest line of the poem--something Bringhurst mentions.

Is the title's font Univers? I would think that something more 'flavored' might work better. Just Electra in a heavier weight or larger size may work very well, depending on the nature of the poetry. Using all the same typeface will give a quieter effect.

Also I don't know about the grey. If you want grey you will probably have to up the weight of the title so it balances with the text.

On tracking: Since you said your concern is how it will look laser-printed to send to publishers, you would best experiment with its effect on the printed product. How it looks on screen is not reliable, as the laser printing will thicken it, and screen always looks different anyway.

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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bojev & William, thanks so much.

I agree completely with the title placement - somehow wherever I put it, it draws too much attention to itself, which is why I eventually greyed it out a little - perhaps I'll try electra for it, and fool around with it more.

No doubt Bringhurst - when he arrives! - will shed some light on all this. cheers!

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I'm not sure the sans adds anything in the title, I'd probably go with the Electra for that too. I'm pretty fond of Electra despite the basic thin-ness of the digitization.

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Thanks Pattyfab,

have you worked with Electra? Perhaps you have some advice on using it?

I purchased mine from Linotype - is the adobe version exactly the same?

Are there any things I should keep in mind when using Electra? I'm very new to this sort of thing, but it seemed to me that when I included a lot of interlinear spacing, it sort of balanced off the lightness of the text, if that makes any sense.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I don't feel the need to track or kern Electra - I find it pretty well done. I agree with Bob that you've maybe overtracked it a little. Use the ligatures if you have the complete family.

And yes, I just did a book in Electra. It also has a nice italic.

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Pattyfab, on ligatures: I'll try that - the only thing I'd worry about is a "too precious" look, if you know what I mean? Do ligatures help to weight the type somewhat? Also, do you happen to know if there are any differences between Adobe's Electra and Linotypes? Thanks again and cheers!

Bruce Kennett's picture
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Joined: 2 Dec 2006 - 8:08pm
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I wonder if it might be worth trying to output your pages with an inkjet printer. My Epson 900 (PostScript, quite old now) and Epson 2200 (bought in 2004, not PostScript) both make the color of the type significantly darker than my Apple LaserWriter 360 (13 years old and still going strong!!!). The LaserWriter is truer to the digital original, but in the case of what you desire for the Electra, you don't want faithfulness, you want fullness!

As Patty said above, the digital version of Electra is pale and skinny compared to the original metal version, I think in large part because what's missing in the digital is the effect of the ink squeeze that would always be present in letterpress printing on uncoated paper. Let me be clear about results, too: this is with digital type fonts output to an imagesetter and printed by offset, vs. brass matrices used to cast lines of type which are then printed by letterpress, well printed and not overinked.

Below you will find a comparison between the original 12-pt. Electra set in metal, and a digital version also set at 12-pt. The scan of the metal Electra was carefully made and was not altered to make it look heavier. It comes from the actual booklet released by Mergenthaler Linotype to announce the type in the 1930s.

No wonder you think there is a difference!

So I'd say if you like Electra (and it's a wonderful type!), play around with different papers and output devices to see if you can gain some body weight in your final printed versions, even if the type looks too scrawny on-screen. After all, the only thing that matters is the appearance of the final printed result in the hands of the reader, not how you got there.

Hope this is of some help.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Yes, obviously there were subtle changes whenever any font was adapted from metal to film to digital, but for some reason the digitization of Electra is particularly anemic.

I find that I get a slightly fuller look from the laser printer than the inkjet though. I use a Ricoh laserprinter which can go up to 1200 dpi but I usually print at 600. My inkjet is 2880 dpi. But you should play around until you get the look you want.

Dan Reynolds's picture
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Joined: 20 Jul 2002 - 11:00am
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>I purchased mine from Linotype - is the adobe version exactly the same?

Adobe licenses the font from Linotype. So, it should be the same version.

Dan Reynolds's picture
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Joined: 20 Jul 2002 - 11:00am
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>Yes, obviously there were subtle changes whenever any font was adapted from metal
>to film to digital, but for some reason the digitization of Electra is particularly anemic.

I suspect that this is because, while metal fonts were designed to be point size specific (10pt was different from 12pt, which was different from 24pt, etc.), photo and digital fonts tend not to be. Often, the new digital font is based on one of the older specific sizes only.

Electra's digital version has both text and Display cuts (http://www.linotype.com/363/electra-family.html). I know that even the text is light, compared with the metal version. I don't know much about the birth of the digital version. I think it was prepared at Mergenthaler Linotype in the US, while there was still a design office there, in the early 1990s.

William Berkson's picture
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Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
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I think I remember reading that Electra, like many of the initial digitizations, was based on the 14 pt metal. This was an initial fundamental mistake, which is only now being gradually corrected for great metal typefaces like Electra.

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Extremely interesting, thanks all!

@Bruce, thanks for the comparison - what a difference in warmth.

It reminds me of Frost's line, something like..."there's nothing like the straight crookedness of a good walking stick."

I'll try various papers/printers to see if I can arrive at something a more substantial.

Bob Evans's picture
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Joined: 18 May 2005 - 7:20am
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Electra set at -10 track in InDesign

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Bob, I see what you mean. Just curious, what point size were you using?

Bob Evans's picture
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Joined: 18 May 2005 - 7:20am
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12 point but also looks good at 10

David Smith's picture
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If I used 10 would i need to change the tracking from -10 to something else, or does tracking work proportionally to font size? Thanks & sorry if my questions are too elementary! Cheers!

William Berkson's picture
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Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
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>tracking work proportionally to font size?

Generally speaking, large sizes need to be tracked tighter, unless they are 'optical sizes' designed for that size.

That's why the screen is unreliable, and proofing highly desirable: at large screen sizes--necessary because of low screen resolution--what will look good will be too tight in a 10 or 12 point print out.

Because of the lightness of Electra (a fault in the digital type), Bob may well be right that it benefits from tighter tracking at text size. From a type designer's point of view, at text sizes the designed spacing should work well as a default.

Tiffany Wardle's picture
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Joined: 13 Jul 2001 - 11:00am
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I might suggest using the italic version of Electra for the titles of the poem. Somewhat larger and algned left. Electra is such a pretty typeface. Yes, yes, the digitization is missing some of the warmth, but it is still a beautiful typeface.

John Nolan's picture
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Joined: 6 Dec 2002 - 11:00am
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There are a few typefaces that give somewhat the same feeling as Electra, but don't have the digitization problems: FF Seria, Font Bureau's Prensa, and OurType's Fresco Plus all seem like good alternatives to me.

David Smith's picture
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John, I must say Prensa looks very interesting indeed; the font bureau is not too far away from me (I live in Boston), so I'll stop by this week. Thanks for the heads up!

David Smith's picture
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Just in case anyone is interested, I did find a font (from Monotype Imaging) that exactly matches the original electra typeface/impression. It's called Elante and it's also based on Dwiggins, but from a typeface that was apparently the same but went by a different name...or something like that; I was assured by the distributor that this practice was and is legitimate/legal, etc.

In any case, it's very faithful to the original. I'd love to put up an image of it but for some reason the "insert image" doesn't work.

Thanks & Cheers!

William Berkson's picture
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Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
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I wouldn't get too happy too soon. It does look like Elante has somewhat reduced contrast, but it also quite a bit shortens the ascenders and descenders. That means at a given nominal size it will be blacker and reduced contrast--and so resemble more the print, though I don't know how closely. However, squashing the extenders (especially the g) seriously changes the look of the face.

Maybe some of the Dwiggens experts can tell us more about the history of Elante.

edit: looking a McGrew's "American Metal Typefaces", I don't find it. So it was never available generally in metal. I am guessing it was a modification for phototype, as in that era they *loved* the big x-height. There are probably other differences, but the extenders was the first thing that hit me.

John Nolan's picture
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Joined: 6 Dec 2002 - 11:00am
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I think Elante was the Compugraphic version of Electra.

Jackie Frant's picture
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Joined: 24 Feb 2005 - 9:18am
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John Nolan, I think you may be right...

CG Elante set 12/16 -8 in Quark
put into .eps to open in Illutrator
then outlined and .jpg in Photoshop
Wonder why Photoshop doesn't want to recognize an old Type 3 Compugraphic font - lol!

David Smith's picture
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 - 11:16pm
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Thanks all for your expertise...and...ummm, upon closer examination I find you are right.

What do you think of the Antique fonts from Stormfont; or the Fells Types from Hoefler - both or either for poems? They're gorgeous - I'd love to use them, but they may be a bit "too much," as if I'm reaching for effects.

I suppose I'm dreaming of escape the seeming "perfection" and coldness and "efficiency" of digital fonts; I'd rather slow the reader down with "imperfections" - the ever-so slightly unreadable - and close the gap between content/meaning and type.

*sigh*....but that's a bit of a mirage, isn't it?