Spiro 0.01 release

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Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Metafont does support outlining and not just expanded strokes, but the only real reason to use Metafont is its parametric abilities, and (please correct me if I'm wrong) these only work with strokes. What would be amazing is if somehow we could use parametrics with outlines; even more amazing would be a GUI for that!

The variation angle you mention seems very interesting, although
I don't get exactly why spirals would be better at it than beziers.

> lossless round-trip

Do you really mean that?
1) I thought it can't be lossless.
2) It really only has to be one-way to be sufficiently useful.

hhp

Stephen Hartke's picture
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@hrant: Metafont does support outlining and not just expanded strokes, but the only real reason to use Metafont is its parametric abilities, and (please correct me if I’m wrong) these only work with strokes.

MetaPost (essentially MetaFont for Postscript) supports outlines, and of course since everything is scriptable, parametric abilities are available to work with strokes. MetaType1 is a set of MetaPost macros that makes it easy to make a CFF-based font (Type1 or CFF-flavored OTF). My font Aurulent Sans is being developed using MetaType1. The use of a weight parameter can be seen when comparing the regular and bold weights.

What would be amazing is if somehow we could use parametrics with outlines; even more amazing would be a GUI for that!

The ability to script is much more powerful than just the parametrics, and GUIs aren't very good for representing scripts. If you're just interested in the parametrics, then it might be possible to represent them graphically, but here the main problem is that the dimension of the parameter space is probably too high to represent visually in a meaningful form.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> parametric abilities are available to work with strokes.

So has anybody designed a MetaPost outline font where the x-height is parametric?

> Aurulent Sans ... weight parameter

It's nice to see such an effort. The question is (and this might be difficult to answer) was it worth the effort, compared to a "plain" interpolation setup in FontLab?

> the dimension of the parameter space is probably too high to represent visually

Maybe I'm not getting you, but for a font that's meant
to be read the parameters can't really stray too far...

> The ability to script is much more powerful than just the parametrics

But FontLab has the former, but not the latter,
so the valuable sort of power is in the latter.

hhp

Stephen Hartke's picture
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@hrant: So has anybody designed a MetaPost outline font where the x-height is parametric?

x-height is a parameter in Aurulent Sans, and I imagine it is as well in other MetaType1-designed fonts, such as Antykwa Toruńska, Antykwa Półtawskiego, Kurier, and Iwona.

The question is (and this might be difficult to answer) was it worth the effort, compared to a “plain” interpolation setup in FontLab?

To me, scripting the outline of a glyph is MUCH easier than drawing it graphically. I find it much easier to say "Put point A here. Put point B here. Put point C here. Put point D 1/3 of the way between B and C. Draw a smooth curve from A to D to E, etc". That way I don't have to worry about whether the curve is smooth or not, where to put control points, etc. (Well, that's a bit of lie, often I need to give MetaType1 a little bit more help, but not too often.) And if the width changes, or the x-height changes, then the position of point A, etc is automatically recalculated when the scripts are run again.

The ability to script is much more powerful than just the parametrics

But FontLab has the former, but not the latter,
so the valuable sort of power is in the latter.

I have never used FontLab, so I don't know its scripting language. However, based on your comment, it sounds like it is not as powerful as MetaType1. Can you do the type of outline construction I described above? The parametric power comes from using the parameters in the construction. Of course, it is also (somewhat) difficult to create construction scripts that capture parameters. See this discussion and this discussion for thoughts on why a more parametric approach has not been more frequently used.

Rodrigo Saiani's picture
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I like this a lot, this should be a great option to Bezier editing, hopefully it will make my s (no pun intended) look better!
Congratulations, and I think we are in front of the next Pierre Bezier right here...
Very honored cheers
Rodrigo

Raph Levien's picture
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@abattis: Python scripting got added to FontForge last week

That's seriously cool news. I can still imagine that most professional type designers would rather use FontLab though.

@hrant: > the dimension of the parameter space is probably too high to represent visually

Computer Modern has something on the order of 60 parameters for things ranging from the obvious ascender/descender height to more subtle things like the parameters for the serifs. That's a very high dimensionality of the parameter space, even if the amount of the change is subtle.

The key to making variation work for people who don't have advanced computer science degrees is to keep the number of dimensions down. Here's an outline of my ideas for that:

1. For optical scaling, use stroke offset for the bulk of the effect, with a little optional squooshing.

2. For things like ascender and descender lengths, allow points to be put on frames which can move independently of the main em. So, then, to lengthen descenders, pull the descender frame (global to the font) down.

3. For everything else, do interpolation. My gut feeling is that 2-dimensional interpolation (the corners of a quadrilateral) is the most that is intuitive to work with, and, if you can keep it to one, that's even better.

The number of active frames in any one glyph should be no more than three or so. The main thing interpolation is used for is weight (like the above image).

Also note that one of the most important aspects of optical scaling is the spacing and kerning. That can probably be done using simple interpolation between a "big" and a "little" size.

@rosaini: Thanks! Nice spirals in your avatar.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> That’s a very high dimensionality of the parameter space

OK. Was that what Stephen was talking about? Also: assuming
the parameters don't interact (too much) couldn't one decide
to display/manipulate one or two at a time?

> x-height is a parameter in Aurulent Sans

Could we see how [well] it works out?

> based on your comment, it sounds like it is not as powerful as MetaType1.

What comment?
FontLab's scripting is Python, and everybody says it's plenty powerful.

What would be nice is to fold in parametric design.

> See this discussion and this discussion

The two links are the same.

hhp

Stephen Hartke's picture
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@hrant: Was that what Stephen was talking about? (regarding high dimensionality)

Yes.

sgh> based on your comment, it sounds like it is not as powerful as MetaType1.

hrant> What comment?
FontLab’s scripting is Python, and everybody says it’s plenty powerful.

The comment I was referring to was:

sgh> The ability to script is much more powerful than just the parametrics

hrant> But FontLab has the former, but not the latter,
so the valuable sort of power is in the latter.

You seem to be saying that parametric design cannot be done with FontLab's scripting tools. As I mentioned, I have never used FontLab, so I have no idea what the actual capability is. Just because FontLab uses Python, though, does not mean that the FontLab Python interface allows the needed operations. Possibly more importantly, is whether the interface makes it easy to design glyphs parametrically.

Here's an easy test for someone who knows Python scripting in FontLab: given the parameters of width, cap height, left and right side-bearing, vertical stroke width, and horizontal stroke width, draw a sans serif uppercase H. Then draw an uppercase O. If this can be done easily, then FontLab scripting has the potential for parametric design.

The two links are the same.

Oops. The two links should have been this discussion and this discussion.

Stephen Hartke's picture
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sgh> x-height is a parameter in Aurulent Sans

hrant> Could we see how [well] it works out?

What would you like to see?

Claus Eggers Sørensen's picture
Joined: 17 Jan 2007 - 5:49am
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Did anyone ever get to play around with FontChameleon Pro before it was pulled from public consumption? Voices seem to rave about how fantastic it was. I guess it was not fully parametric, but relied to some extent on some predesigned endpoint to interpolate from? The reason I'm thinking about it is the fact that a number of parametric type engines have come and gone through the years. There is Metafont, FontChameleon, Incubator(?), LiveType and some HP stuff i forgot the name of. Why where they never successful? I can certainly understand why Metafont never went of the ground as it's made for the programmer and not for the designer (correct me if I'm wrong here). Is this parametric approach simply too complicated for the designer to take anywhere, or was it just the lack of GUI that kept it off? FontChamelon seemed to go all the way to the user, skipping the designer, which was it's point I guess.

@Raph: That interpolation you showed is exactly what I want.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> You seem to be saying that parametric design
> cannot be done with FontLab’s scripting tools.

No, I don't know enough to say either way (and I don't see how I implied otherwise). On the other hand Python being a fully capable language shouldn't have a problem. The real problem is that there's not enough money in type for something that hard to happen, at least not quickly.

> whether the interface makes it easy to design glyphs parametrically.

To most people that means a GUI, and the answer is definitely
No in the case of FontLab... but really just as No for anything else.

> What would you like to see?

Let's say "skagy" varying from a pretty small to a pretty large x-height.

FontChameleon: I think I had a copy once, didn't get to really use it, and
then something quite mysterious happened and we've become deprived.

hhp

Stephen Hartke's picture
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sgh> x-height is a parameter in Aurulent Sans

@hrant> Could we see how [well] it works out?
Let’s say “skagy” varying from a pretty small to a pretty large x-height.

Sorry about the delay in doing this, but I was traveling and then forgot about it. I've posted a sample that shows varying x-height in Aurulent Sans in that font's critique. The amount of time it took me was changing one line and hitting recompile. The tricky part was figuring out how to install several different versions of the same font. :)

The ability to change basic parameters globally over the entire font is quite nice, but it does require planning the scripts (somewhat) carefully. For instance, I can't push the x-height much over 600, because then the script that generates the question mark barfs. Of course, as Hrant pointed out, it's presumed that the parameters won't vary too much from the value in mind when the scripts are written.

Christian's picture
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Wow. This is really nice. Kudos for sharing the code. I'm hoping that we'll see more in the future.

Any thoughts on releasing the code under a more permissive license so it can be used in a certain well known commercial app? I realize that there is the remote potential that you might be able to license it, but it would be a real shame if the stuff never got picked up.

Christian's picture
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If you need any convincing about the value of this technology, sit down and try to draw an s. It's fantastic. What took me forever to figure out with beziers happened almost automatically here.

Raph Levien's picture
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Christian: suffice it to say that I've put a lot of thought into my licensing strategy, and am pretty happy with it.

Basically, if you're a type designer and want to have this kind of curve drawing tool in a production environment, you have four choices:

1. Learn to code and do it yourself.

2. Show some love to the free software community, and encourage them to integrate it into their leading design apps (Inkscape, FontForge).

3. Lobby the proprietary app vendors to license it.

4. Sit on your @ss and hope somebody else does 1-3.

Glad you like it!

Rodrigo Saiani's picture
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This makes my self esteem rise a million percent. It was done in 10 minutes.

Wish I could export it to illutrator and to hell with the pen tool ;)

William Berkson's picture
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>Million percent

Hate to burst your bubble, but your S doesn't have the curves of Christian Robertson's S--and it isn't as good. You can debate how much it is Christian and how much the spiral tools. But here Christian says it was natural and easy for him to get a result with the spiral tools that would have been difficult and laborious with Bezier curves.

David Berlow's picture
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This is extremely interesting and I'm sure useful. The "traditional" S test, however, is of a specific S. And even before that, the "traditional" contour format test is to scan and digitize an FC-339 8 1/4" French Curve. e.g. http://www.steinlaufandstoller.com/French%20Curves%20Plastic.htm, and then, in this case, do post digitization traslations to CB and QB, so you can see it filled to black in output, or on the screen as the case may be.

William Berkson's picture
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>French Curve

Looking at some internet sites, it seems that the most widely used French Curves are composed of sections of parabolas, hyperbolas, and elipses. These are all conic sections, can be described by quadratic equations, and hence can be drawn perfectly by quadratic bezier curves.

The Cornu spirals here are different. If I understand it rightly, sections between knots cannot be drawn accurately with either a *single* quadratic or cubic curve, though of course they can be approximated with multiple curves of either type.

I don't know if the Cornu spiral is on any French Curves.

Raph Levien's picture
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@dberlow: The fact of a standardized test for drawing ability is most interesting. Do you have a cite in a book or journal for that test? If not, I can always do "personal communication".

I took your challenge, starting with an image of the FC-339 from the C-thru site. The drawing took about 8 minutes, and there are a total of 50 points.

And the conversion to Beziers (43 segments, each of which has 3 control points):

And here it is filled (PDF here if you want to print it out).

How'd I do?

@William: I believe it is used on some real french curves, because it's one of the relatively few analytical curves that has a nice inflection point in it. But I don't have a good cite. Again, one would be useful.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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William, as I explained in the other thread, it's not about evaluating the results out of context, it's about how much effort Raph's method saves. Whether Rodrigo's "S" is better or worse than Christian's is irrelevant; the point is to consider how much effort each of them saved in getting to that in-some-way satisfactory result.

> the “traditional” contour format test is to scan and digitize ...
> http://www.steinlaufandstoller.com/French%20Curves%20Plastic.htm

Why does one have to wait 9+ years to be told something this relevant! :-/
When you think about it though I guess it's common sense. Aaah, hindsight!

BTW, what exactly is the traditional "S" test?

> ... can be drawn perfectly by quadratic bezier curves.

Yet once more: it's not about this being possible
or not, it's about this being worth doing or not.
"Perfectly" should not come into the discussion.

It's possible to go to the grocery store crawling on
your back, naked. This does not make it worth doing.
And the "imperfection" of using a car, a bicycle or
your feet does not make any of those a bad idea.

> The drawing took about 8 minutes, and there are a total of 50 points.

Now this is getting relevant. How much time would it take you to do it with beziers? It would be useful here to ask David to time himself with both methods too, since you'd like to get the view form both ends: somebody used to drawing with cornus more and somebody used to drawing with beziers more.

Also, some overlays would be very useful, since your "thresh" and "optim" settings don't mean anything to us. An overlay of the spiral original over the converted bezier, and one of the end result black shape over the original piece of plastic. Please? :-)

hhp

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Christian:
> What took me forever to figure out with
> beziers happened almost automatically here.

That implies cornus are better when you're starting out in type design; but an equally important issue is: for somebody with experience with beziers, would you say they're about the same in the end, or do cornus have an advantage there too?

> 3. Lobby the proprietary app vendors to license it.

To me adding cornu support seems like just the ticket to encourage upgrades to FontLab 6... In fact right this minute they might be desperately trying to figure out how to add value to their product to keep the upgrade money coming! That said, an email campaign by users can only help.

BTW Raph: what term should we be using for this - cornus, spirals, or what?
Something short would be great.

hhp

Kent Lew's picture
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Hrant: BTW, what exactly is the traditional “S” test?

David will correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand from a conversation with Mike Parker, the traditional test administered to someone applying for employment in the Linotype drawing office, in the "good ol' days," was the task of reproducing freehand (I'm talking about drawing here -- pencils and paper, you know) a specific 'S' from a given model typeface, in order to gauge their innate talent and skill.

I don't know if it was the same 'S' each time, or if there was a time limit.

-- K.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Maybe not a strict time-limit, but I'm sure at least an
internal biological stopwatch would've been running! :-)

BTW, isn't today's "freehand" direct-digital?

hhp

Raph Levien's picture
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@hrant: An overlay of the spiral original over the converted bezier

The Bezier version is a 1px red stroke, and the spiral version is on top in black. You can see a teeny difference on the left hand of the top curve. If you tweak the "thresh" parameter, it'll add more Beziers to make the error go as small as you like. I picked the .01 number as the default for my work because the error is just below the threshold of what you can see when you look at the shapes side-by-side. Setting it to .001 adds nine beziers (for a total of 52), and the visual difference becomes undetectable even when zoomed. Btw, if you want to zoom in on the above comparison, I put up a PDF.

I tried overlaying the black-filled version over the original photo, but I couldn't get anything that seemed as clear as the first image above, partly because of the low contrast of the original. I have done the same thing with letters - maybe I should post some images from that?

what term should we be using for this - cornus, spirals, or what?

I kinda like "spirals". Cornu spirals are actually only one case. The most general case is a third order polynomial spiral, which I sometimes abbreviate "spiro". Incidentally, Cornu didn't invent the spiral bearing his name, Euler did, so they should really be called "Euler spirals".

How much time would it take you to do it with beziers?

Well, for me to do it wouldn't exactly be fair, because I want my tools to win. But I'd be very interested to learn how long it takes you, Hrant, and whether you're as satisfied with the technical quality.

Actually, what I think I'd like to do is pose a real challenge. Maybe a neutral Typophile person (Tiff? Stephen?) could serve as moderator. It would go something like this: the moderator selects a high quality image of a predigital glyph, something like 1000px square, and posts it at a pre-arranged time. Then, people post followups to that thread containing their best shot, using the tools of their choice - Spiro, Illustrator, FontLab, QB's, CB's, IkarusMaster, whatever. Reports of drawing time can be verified by the post timestamp, and then the moderator would judge the quality.

Sound like fun? I would write up the results in a section of my thesis, as part of the case I'm trying to make is that spirals are more intuitive, more productive, and more conducive to high-quality results. Going up against the best skills of Typophiles would be a real way to falsifiably test those claims.

Jason Pagura's picture
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Raph:
I managed to make your test program crash.

PID: 901
Thread: 0

Exception: EXC_BAD_ACCESS (0x0001)
Codes: KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS (0x0001) at 0xc0000000

Should I send you the full report?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> The Bezier version is a 1px red stroke, and the spiral version is on top in black.

Oh.
Well goldangit then that's plenty close enough!

It's nice to see that such a close approximation
doesn't result in an infestation of vertices.

What does the "optim" setting do?

Concerning an overlay of the physical French curve and your end-result, we don't really need the former, we just need the original (1-bit) shape you started with. But if you think the threshold for that is as tight as the first overlay, don't bother.

> Cornu didn’t invent the spiral bearing his name, Euler did

Well, and apparently Pierre didn't invent beziers, Paul de Casteljau did, but these things can stick and trying to unstick them distracts from true work! On the other hand Euler was da man (as Laplace* found out the hard way) and it's early days so maybe we can do something.

* Or was it somebody else? I'm vaguely it might have been an Englishman instead. Whoever it was invented some polynomial math, and then found out it was merely a special case of something Euler had done long before!

> I’d be very interested to learn how long it takes you, Hrant

Yeah, me too. Windows version please!

Your broader challenge sounds fun and relevant.
But no need to bother with formal timekeeping - we can trust us.

hhp

Raph Levien's picture
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What does the “optim” setting do?

It's a speed/optimization tradeoff. At zero, it's interactively fast but generates about three times as many Beziers as is needed. At three, it (currently) takes about a minute, but generates something like the absolute most optimized cubic Bezier representation possible for the curve. The main thing it's doing at level 3 is exhaustively searching all points along the curve to find the best points to break - at the lower levels, it just splits the curve in half whenever a single Bezier is not sufficient. There'll be more detail in my thesis, of course.

But no need to bother with formal timekeeping - we can trust us.

I think we can too, but I'd like to remove as many variables that could spoil the results as I can.

Rodrigo Saiani's picture
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Not trying to compare to his at all William (his S sure is a very nice S), it'll probably take a million years till a get the letter s to look like I want it to... It may not look perfect, but it certain took 1/millionth of the time to get done. If the tool is useful only to know that I suck at drawing "s" in less time, it's fair enough for me.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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I'm surprised the conversion is so computationally intensive.
Must be a good sign. :-)

hhp

Graham Taylor's picture
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raph,

May I ask how you converted to beziers?

I am unable to export my doodlings in any way, and the save option doesn't appear to do anything.

I do find spiro a much quicker and intuitive way of drawing. I have used the bezier tool for many years and feel that I am quite proficient, but this is so quick. It seems more natural.

Thanks,

G

Raph Levien's picture
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@Graham_Taylor: May I ask how you converted to beziers?

This part of the code is very rough and unfinished. When you press Apple-S, it saves the file "plate" into the file system, into the current directory, not sure exactly where that is by default on a mac. (a quick test reveals that it seems to go into / , which is not friendly behavior). Similarly, when you press Apple-P, it saves a PostScript file to /tmp/foo.ps. I then use some command-line scripts (mostly written in Python) to optimize the Beziers, etc. These scripts ship in the spiro tarball, but not in the ppedit.dmg disk image.

Dave Crossland (abattis) is planning on writing better documentation soon, which I think will be very helpful.

@biddy: thanks!

Graham Taylor's picture
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raph,

Thanks, although i only get the part about where it saves (and although I get it, am unable to find these directories), rather than the 'command-line scripts' bit as i'm fairly (completely) ignorant when it comes to whatever that entails.

I guess i'll just have to wait until some bright spark puts it in some software I can utilise.

I wish I were more patient.

Thanks for sharing all this though.

G

Terry Biddle's picture
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This looks like some amazing stuff. I'm surprised more type designers haven't chimed in on this conversation. Where are you all?

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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Didn't have time until now to test it. I learned to digitize type with Ikarus, so it's not completely unfamiliar. It seems to be flexible enough to allow the fine tuning I want, but right now, I'm so acclimated to beziers that I'd need more time to get used to the different behavior. I couldn't necessarily compare my drawing speed between Beziers and spirals because most of my actual design work is spent adjusting existing outlines. I don't do a lot of revivals, and I don't do big finished drawings anymore, so the speed at which I can digitize an outline isn't a big factor. Major editing happens after the first round of proofs. I can already slap an outline together in bezier format in record time. It's not finished no matter how much I fuss over it initially.

Raph, I don't want to rain on your challenge, but this means I can't gauge quality or speed based on immediate digitization results; it's very iterative, and "accuracy" isn't my concern, rightness of design is, which is revealed with testing and use.

Raph Levien's picture
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crossgrove: You make a very good point. Making good, quick digitizations isn't the only way to evaluate curve-drawing techniques.

My subjective experience is that Spiro is extremely good for making fine edits. You can tweak points around without having to worry about technical details like extremal points, and, in general, the changes "make sense". I've done quite a bit of this with both my revivals and my original designs (Inconsolata and Cecco). The warm, fuzzy feeling that I get when drawing has done a lot to motivate me to go more deeply into the math behind the curves, so that I know at multiple levels that the curves are "right."

At some point, you go beyond what can be quantified, and into the realm of what it feels like to use the tool. I'm hoping that enough people spend enough time playing with it that I can start to get more insight into that, in addition to my own personal experience.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> You can tweak points around without having to
> worry about technical details like extremal points

This I don't get. You don't have to worry about extrema when you're doing bezier drawing either - you can add those in later, which furthermore is something you'd have to do with/after spiral-to-bezier conversion anyway.

> into the realm of what it feels like to use the tool.

Yyyup.

hhp

Claus Eggers Sørensen's picture
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Raph, I don’t want to rain on your challenge, but this means I can’t gauge quality or speed based on immediate digitization results; it’s very iterative, and “accuracy” isn’t my concern, rightness of design is, which is revealed with testing and use.

Carl I tend to agree. The S-test is not quantitative enough, I mean, what will it show? That some people drew the outline to be the 'right' design, so that it looked right independently from the scan. While others tried to make it very close to the scan, while again others tried to make the curves look very smooth?

The proof is in the making of great looking type – fast. With all the complications of automatized interpolation, with all it's stretching, squeezing, tilting and embolding. I have the feeling that the true value of designing in spirals lies in the automatization of these things, which leads me back to my earlier fantasies about Metafont. So Hrant, when you say that the idea that letters should have skeletons is fatal, what do you mean? Others are welcome to enlighten me on this as well.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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What I mean is that when you look at glyphs as being built up from "fattened" skeletons (for example if you see an "A" as being made up of a right thick diagonal, a left thin diagonal and a thin horizontal) you're not designing what people read, hence you're designing the wrong thing; and the "reality" of serifs for example intimately fits in to this issue. I know it's hard (I mean I personally know!) to not think in this way, but you simply cannot arrive at "ideal" (which does not remotely mean "perfect") text type by thinking in terms of skeletons.

hhp

William Berkson's picture
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Carl "I can’t gauge quality or speed based on immediate digitization results; it’s very iterative, and “accuracy” isn’t my concern, rightness of design is, which is revealed with testing and use."

I feel the same way. It's not getting it, it's getting it right. At least for me, I have to do this by trial and error, both to see how the glyph works with the rest of the face, to find a 'sweet' curve, and to see how it works at intended size. What would be great is if you get to 'sweet' quicker or more naturally with the spirals. I suspect this is so, at least for some situations, but of course I don't know.

By the way, I remember reading that Matthew Carter said something like "Watching me design a typeface would be like watching a freezer freeze ice cubes." That is, the process involves so much incremental change, much of which might not mean much to someone else, but it is intense and dramatic to the designer.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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I'm not seeing how the intensity/speed with which a person works has make-or-break relevance here. Sure, some people will find spirals less intuitive, but among those who find them more intuitive the practical benefits will come, either when you're digitizing, or when you're tweaking. Yes, some people do more observation/thought in between the design iterations, but you still have to tweak the outlines in the end! And if a new tool makes creation and/or tweaking more "natural" then it's nominally worth using.

The practical question really is, lacking full integration
into something like FontLab, would it still be worth it?

hhp

Christian's picture
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Joined: 16 Apr 2005 - 10:57am
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There's another factor, beyond which is faster or more intuitive. Any time you allow an algorithm to determine a curve for you, it will influence what the design looks like. Bezier curves can describe almost any shape, if you add enough anchor/control points, but they become difficult to manage very quickly once you start adding points beyond the extremes.

As a result most type designers don't add that many points resulting in predictable curves. What percentage of type these days use control points *only* at the extremes of the curves? A lot. How many designs born in the bezier age have slightly tapered stems? Not many. Why? Because it's harder to draw that way. Here the medium influences the message.

From my short experience with these curves, it is much easier to manage additional knots, which means that lazy type designers like me will likely add more. The resulting designs will look at least different from the current batch if not more creative.

If it doesn't go into FontLab, though, I'm unlikely to use it :( I might give FontForge another try if it goes in there, though, even though X11 on OS X is gross.

Dave Crossland's picture
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@Christian: I might give FontForge another try if it goes in there, though, even though X11 on OS X is gross. X11 on OS X is gross, so why not try out a GNU+Linux distribution and see what free software has to offer all round? :-)

William Berkson's picture
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Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
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An interesting side point, Raph, is that in the Underware 'Type Basics' they explicitly compare good straight-to-curve outlines as a path like driving around a curve in a car.

According to the wikipedia article on Cornu spirals, the Cornu spiral is actually used to lay railroad tracks going from straight to curve, because it is in one way the 'ideal' for this purpose. Apparently it is the only curve in which the rate of change in radius is constant. This means that there is a continuous linear increase in the centrifugal force of the train laterally against the tracks. This linearity helps preserve the track, as well as jostle the passengers around less.

Anyway I found it interesting that this analogy of moving around a bend is already discussed in type design, and relates to the Cornu spiral.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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I also read about the relevance of cornus to transportation in the wiki, and I guess it makes sense that that would ensure smooth transitions! The Underware stuff though is corny (pardon the pun :-) because beziers don't have that attribute and they're basically just having fun.

Another interesting angle is that Renault (where P Bezier worked) apparently chose beziers over cornus. Now, that was for the design of bodywork and not test track design or something, but I wonder what their reason was for not going with such an industry precedent. Maybe beziers are computationally much lighter, or maybe they wanted to "invent" something New, as managers too often want to.

hhp

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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"Any time you allow an algorithm to determine a curve for you, it will influence what the design looks like."

I think this is an excellent point. It ought to be discussed more often generally. It's hard enough to get full control of Beziers, and unfortunately too many type designers can't separate their design choices from their digital construction choices. Many of Emigre's types, even the recent classic revivals or homages, have this 'digital' gloss.

I do indeed welcome an outline format that doesn't seem to favor grid-based alignment. I know very intimately why rasterization is a major concern in imaging type, but I do think, as Christian says, this kind of thing should not have the influence that it currently has on the design process. Unless a design is being made specifically for low-res use, I'd rather focus on truly ideal node placement and efficient, precise editing, rather than accommodating extrema.

I will need to spend more time drawing with this tool in order to get used to the way the curves work and feel. Therefore, I need to have the tool built into, or accessible in, my current workflow (I don't have time to experiment in a separate environment). Raph, I would prefer to find this drawing environment as an option in FL, FOG, DTL FontMaster or other commercial product.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Well, a digital gloss is still less bad than a chirographic gloss.
But I agree, we should design what we really want as much as possible.

> I would prefer to find this drawing environment
> as an option in FL, FOG, DTL FontMaster or other
> commercial product.

Me too. But we need to tell them, not Raph! :-)

hhp

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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Joined: 8 Sep 2003 - 2:07pm
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"Well, a digital gloss is still less bad than a chirographic gloss."

Matter of opinion. I think you should consider this carefully. Since type is evolved from written language, it's a lot easier to use chirographic type than type made from geometric modules. When I say "digital gloss" it refers not only to the finish but the structure and the approach to letter- and type-building. Losing every element of chirography that has led to printed language (which is indeed very much a concern, look around) is much less preferable than losing technological constraints. When the tools have no influence, you can still make any kind of typeface, from radically reformist to traditional (or some combination thereof?...).

Randy Jones's picture
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Joined: 10 Jun 2005 - 8:54am
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I wonder what would be required to add a third curve space to FL. Fontlab is really the only option to make this mainstream. My impression is that they have the major market share, and given all the Fontographer pining that goes on here, transitioning to another program is something type designers are pretty resistant too, even if cornu's are better.

I agree with Christian's interest in designing without the bezier propesity to become more unrully the more points you add. We've both talked about this in other threads before. (That said, using the FL interpolate tool instead of simply moving points is a decent work around for curves with many points).

R

Peter Enneson's picture
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Joined: 21 Mar 2005 - 1:17pm
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…but can spiro find a frontal logic?

translation:

translation in the downstrokes; rotation in the upstrokes: