Byzantium: wondering if worth expanding into complete font

agisaak's picture

The attached sample is of a typeface that has somehow evolved out of my efforts to learn OpenType feature coding and which didn't begin with any serious goal of creating a complete font (especially given that I really have no artistic or typographic background as I fear is probably reflected in this sample). Now that I have a complete alphabet, though, I find myself wondering whether it might be worth expanding this into a full character set. Unfortunately, I'm not the most objective critic, so I was hoping for some feedback. I'm worried that the uppercase is slightly too heavy for the lowercase and may need to be redrawn.

Any feedback would be appreciated.


Alice2010MR16.pdf92.39 KB
anhng's picture

I agree with you that the uppercase is heavy compare to lowercase. I can read the alphabet lines, but couldn't read the paragraph because the letter are intertwine with each other, look like Thai script/ language. Or some kind of scifi out of space language in a movie. I think this is a fun experimental typeface to explore more.

You said you didn't begin with any serious goal of creating this typeface, do you have any goal now? I'm just curious. If you create another typeface, what would you do differently based on what you have learned? (My instructors asked me that all the time?)

agisaak's picture

responding to anhng

legibiility wasn't really a goal, but perhaps next time I should choose a sample in English rather than gibberish since context is important here.

I'm not sure how to answer your questions. I'm not a designer, simply someone interested in the more technical details of fonts, and had originally created glyphs as little more than placeholders to allow me to explore a variety of opentype coding issues (hence the very uniform and simple geometric forms). However, I liked the effect created by the uniform internal spacing created by the letters I had, so I completed the alphabet. It actually works better IMHO for the condensed version, but I didn't post a sample of that since I'm still working on the glyph variants and calt code necessary to create the intertwining. I'll likely post a sample of that, though, in the next few weeks.

If I were to create another typeface, I'd want to spend more time trying to conceptualise what I wanted from the overall alphabet before I started actually drawing glyphs. When I did opt to complete the basic alphabet here, I had to rethink lots of things to get the glyphs to work together. I'm not really sure though if that is what you are asking.


riccard0's picture

Really interesting effect. While there are plenty of techno/futuristic typefaces out there, the exploitation of the power of Open Type give yours a edge that I think could be appreciated by designers.

anhng's picture

You are now a certified designer agisaak (hehehhe), because you're learning an understanding the technical aspect of creating letters. If you have a concept and know what you want it's more easy to focus, instead of wandering around (it could be fun sometimes). I think it's worth expanding into complete font, on the way you will learn a lot of thing and know what to do for the next typeface.

DizajnDesign's picture

Hi André.
I am looking at your typeface, and even the shapes are not so original, the opentype features make's it quite worth to have it finished. So if you have plenty of free time, just continue :)

Only some comments:
"lover"case: looks nearly finished. the small caps forms of f, g and q are bothering me a little. You can keep these as backup and try some true lowercase variants.
look at k and x, maybe there is a way to make them fit the rest of letters better. maybe disconnect the shapes?

uppercase: i only like the normal version (i am not sure if the alt version makes much sense with this typeface, because it makes the typeface a little boring). So i recommend you to work much more with the upper row. You can try to use the same principle as in the lowercase and look at the letters like B, D and try to disconnect them. K and X fits here more than in lowercase. Work also on R, probably the version from the second row will be more clear. But anyway, lowercase looks much more complete than uppercase, so you can play more to make the uppercase some sort of mixed upper-lowercase.

ligatures - are quite hard to read, but i dont like some of "a with something" ligatures.

Good luck.


agisaak's picture

As mentioned earlier, I'd been working on a condensed version as well. The connections are still under construction, but I thought I'd post the basic alphabet here. There's also some preliminary cyrillic glyphs shown. The mixed-case forms don't translate well to cyrillic, but I thought I might be able to create a similar effect by using cursive letterforms, but I'm not sure if that works for a sans serif -- feedback from anyone more familiar with Russian than I (which means pretty much anyone) would be appreciated.

Jano: I appreciate your comments and suggestions. I will definitely consider them. The upper-row 'majuscules' were intended as the basic uppercase -- the second one is available as a stylistic alternate. I agree that R in particular needs some work.



agisaak's picture

Here's a revised uppercase (only B, D, and R have been changed)


johnnydib's picture

I like the overall colour, the negative space created between and within the letters is pretty nice.
Let's see some numerals.
Obviously one big concern is legibility, I'd say since you're exploring the possibilities of open type, give the user a conventional legible alternate just in case they need it for setting certain words that would otherwise be too ambiguous. My first suggestion is the J to look something like the L.
The uppercase G in the second line in the previous post, I don't like that, I get the point that it lines up with the S and the Z but otherwise it doesn't look like a G.
But I like that typeface. So you have some good language support there, just add Greek and Arabic (Arabic: that's some coding isn't it?)
Oh and I just realized how this typeface is crying for a Hebrew companion, that squarish look!

agisaak's picture

Here's a slightly revised sample which includes some figures for Johnny Dib.

The first line is the regular uppercase, whereas the second is intended as a 'legibility alternate'. I've also shown a few alternates at the end. The alternate capital F, R, Z and lowercase z and possibly g and q will probably become the 'standard forms'. The others I'm still thinking of as alternates.

I may end up ditching the oldstyle figures and just keep the small figures since I don't think they're really appropriate for this sort of face.

As for Greek, Arabic, and Hebew, I think I work on the basic roman before introducing new scripts... I did play with greek for awhile but had problems visualising a decent lowercase.


Sindre's picture

In general I'm no fan of this style, but I must say this is really great! I wouldn't be too concerned about legibility, I think what is really interesting here is the texture your typeface weaves, especially with the OpenType tricks turned on. This gives an almost textura-like quality, which I have never seen in such a typeface. The internal white space-pattern in the text-setting is a thing of great beauty.

I guess the basic idea is the same as with textura, few but very distinct shapes repeated and combined, with the white even more important than the black.

Your typeface immediately reminded me of the famous blackletter calligraphy of Rudolf Koch:

(Sorry for the small image, couldn't find anything larger online.)

I don't have time for a detailed critique now, but I'll get back to this. Keep up the excellent work!

agisaak's picture

Jano had complained about the lowercase x and k and suggested opening them up like the b and d. I don't like the results of a pure 'stenciled' form like the second example below, but what about the third form? I think it works much better than the original form. Do others agree?

For some reason, though, this doesn't seem to work as well for the k (at least to me, but I'm starting to lose objectivity)

Also, I'm wondering whether maintaining the original uppercase (which Jano felt worked better) still makes sense, or if it should adjusted to match

I've been working on the connected forms a bit -- still nowhere near complete (anhung had asked at the beginning of this thread what I had learned from this -- answer: if you're creating lots of connected forms don't go overboard with the diacritics. At least I never had the masochistic urge to add Việtnamese), but I thought I'd give an example here. It also I think shows that having multiple different forms of the letters, including the more boring standard uppercase ones, leads to a fair amount of flexibility.

As always, feedback is most welcome and appreciated.


agisaak's picture

What's in a name?

I'd started off with the working title of 'Byzantium' because the patterns formed by the negative space reminded me somewhat of a maze (I hadn't thought of the textura analogy which Sindre raised, though I quite like it -- the negative space was very much focal for me). However, I'm starting to rather dislike that name since the letterforms themselves clearly bear no relation to anything Byzantine. I'd thinking of 'Miasma' as an alternative. But I'll probably come to dislike that as well...


anhng's picture

It's interesting that today, as we know that it is digital age, media everywhere and all that. When people read something, they want to get the information right out of it right away and don't pay any attention to the typeface. If they do, they'll expect it to look legible and look kool. If they can't read it or not appealing, they'll close the window.

Anyway, there is a chinese artist, Xu Bing. In 1994, he did a project re-inventing roman letter with chinese aesthetic and written in english, all the letter are intertwine to each other. Below is the link to his project.

Xu Bing/ Square Calligraphy Classroom

At first, nobody can read it, but if you pay more attention to little detail, form, and understand the system, you'll understand it, it's very beautiful.

Well, this is more about fine art academic work, not commercial marketing base work. It is maybe something for you to consider to, either academic fine art or popular commercial marketing design.

Another thing, as far as the legibility concern, i can't read the word "LAZY DOG" and "AXLE"

agisaak's picture

I've been working on my OpenType features and now have a more complete set of connecting forms, though the algorithm still has some kinks that need to be worked out. While this face isn't really designed for long texts, I've provided several samples below simply because they are more illustrative than a few words in isolation (and also are more useful for finding those kinks...).

The following is a passage from Jules verne. The sample below is a reference sample without any OpenType goodies active:

The two samples below are the same passage using the OpenType features. The first is exactly what the font itself generates, whereas the second has undergone a bit of manual tweaking, especially wrt lowercase 'r' which needs some rethinking. Lowercase i and l are also causing me massive headaches because they have the annoying properties of having a left vertical stem and a right vertical stem which are the same stem, and this keeps introducing interesting bugs into my features.

Some of the forms illustrated here will probably be removed from the final font since they don't work very well, but I won't say which since I'm hoping others will be able to offer some unbiased opinions on which connections work well and which are truly heinous.

I've also included the Verne text in French, along with a passage from Karel Čapek to illustrate some diacritics (since Czech would be Greek to me were it not written in the Latin script, the Čapek passage was chosen completely at random and may be something incredibly dull). -- there's some spacing issues with the haček which I am aware of.

Finally, I created a Q-variant which sits directly on the baseline rather than descending below it to allow for very tight all-caps settings which preserve the texture of the face vertically as well as horizontally, but I'm not sure if this alternate works very well.

Feedback appreciated,


anhng's picture

Surprisingly, I can read the English version, when OpenType isn't active, then it get harder to read with some of the word because letter are intertwine to each other.

I like this typeface because it seem relate to some of other culture, like Thai script, Arabic, some of it look like Korean script. I think as far as the legibility, you should print it out, giving out to other ppl, ask them to read, and see what they'll say. Or ask little kid to read it, might be a fun experience. It might be great if you can find and asked a Thai, Korean, or Arabic people, they might give you some interest idea or inspiration.

Sindre's picture

Any development on this?

hrant's picture

I just saw this. (Thanks, Sindre.)
André, this is awesome - please do finish it!


Sindre's picture

Awesome indeed. The world needs this typeface. And I want it.

Jongseong's picture

I was skimming through this thread and when I saw Anh's comment about some of this looks like Korean, I was puzzled. But then I saw:

That's 잉 in Korean! But I have no idea what it's supposed to represent originally, although I can tell the surrounding text is in French.

hrant's picture



eliason's picture

It's also what my face looks like when trying to read this font! ;-)

Martin Silvertant's picture

Wow, very interesting project. Obviously legibility is a concern, but since that is not the important aspect of this project, I suppose I could call this a thorough success. I've never seen such use of OpenType before. I also find it interesting that you have no background as a designer, yet you've designed a typeface that seems to fascinate full-fledges typographers. Great work here.

Bernard B's picture

The funny thing is that when I looked at this topic for the 1st time, I closed the window as soon as I saw the first preview, I tought "déjà-vu".

But I've been a little further today, and then I looked at a whole paragraph, and I love it, it makes a very nice combination of lines.

But I think ligatures on the last preview (Mme de Villars) makes it really too hard to read, It took me maybe 2 minutes to read.

Also, maybe it's because of my quite poor english, but I was really surprised by the difference of time needed to read between english & french.

agisaak's picture

Sindre writes:

Any development on this?

I'd taken a bit of a hiatus from this project and didn't even realise that this thread had continued. However, I am getting back into the swing of things and hope to post some additional samples at some point in the near future.


The 'Hangul' ing (I think that's what that syllable that would be) was in fact an ampersand.

Sindre's picture

Great! Looking forward to it. By the way, I agree that "Byzantium" might not be a very suitable name for this typeface. "Miasma" sure sounds great, and while that word's connotations are largely negative, there's a very suitable mysterious ring to it.

agisaak's picture

For a variety of reasons I took some time off from this, but I'm trying to get back into the swing of things now. One major problem I was facing earlier was that I wasn't really thinking ahead when I developed the earlier version and had rather foolishly added fairly comprehensive international support before I'd actually finalized the basic letterforms and the calt routine. The result: changes to the calt routine were both time consuming and error-prone since because of the large number of glyphs in all of the classes which I'm using. Adding and removing glyphs from classes would often result in classes with the wrong number of members, or with members which were misaligned, and tracking down these problems was becoming rather time consuming (plus the fact that FontLab's error-reporting isn't usually very informative wasn't making things any easier).

I've created a new version without any accented characters and want to focus on just getting the basic algorithm down before adding the accented characters back.

I've uploaded a new .pdf file which contains some samples (the text is the first paragraph of Alice in Wonderland which contains all 26 letters). Note that this is still very much a rough draft. The connected samples represent the 'raw' output of my current joining algorithm, and there are many joins which are somewhat ugly as things stand.

My current goal is to come up with a general algorithm which produces as few problematic forms as possible before I start adding code to deal with specific exceptions (I suspect there will be quite a few of these even once I finalize the basic algorithm, but hopefully I can arrive at an algorithm which minimizes the number of special cases needed).

The new font includes both the interleaving joins found in the previous version, as well as more 'script-like' connections. I'm not 100% sure how well the latter work though, and would appreciate feedback. It clearly needs refinement, but that refinement is only worth the effort if it actually 'fits', so to speak.

Currently, I think that there are far more problems with the lowercase joins than the uppercase ones. There are quite a few lowercase joins which I am not comfortable with. I'm curious to see if people here dislike the same one that I do.

I'm also rethinking what the basic uppercase should be -- Currently, the font has a 'biform' uppercase with a more standard majuscule one available as a titling alternate. I think the biform works well in all-caps settings, but less well in mixed-case settings. I'm debating between two options here: (i) simply swap the two sets of caps so the biform becomes the titling form, or (ii) make the biforms accessible via the 'case' feature so it becomes the default in all-caps settings, and then using the 'titl' feature to restore the standard majuscules, but only in all-caps settings.



agisaak's picture

Just a quick addendum to my previous post:

I've illustrated three different connection algorithms here. The one I've labelled 'Connected III' is intended to be a stylistic alternate. I'm debating between 'Connected I' and 'Connected II' as the basic 'calt' algorithm. The other will likely also end up as a stylistic alternate.

Connected I favours interleaving joins over fully connected ones.
Connected II favours fully connected joins over interleaving ones.
Connected III favours interleaving in the opposite direction from Connected I.

There's also a stylistic set which allows one to 'tweak' the results by mapping numerals onto non-printing 'joining directives'. I haven't used this, though, to correct any problematic cases in the attached .pdf.

The reason I'm using full paragraphs to illustrate something which clearly isn't intended for text is simply because it illustrates a greater number of character combinations than a single word or pangram does. Also, picking new random passages for different test runs makes it more likely that I'll be able to identify the problematic cases.

agisaak's picture

I've been working on superiors to use in fractions etc. I was wondering if anyone has opinions on the optical correctness of the two versions below. I don't have a good eye for such things.


agisaak's picture

In working on the joining behaviour, I wanted to allow the lower bar of letters like 'E' to join to the character to the right, but I didn't want to simply extend the bar out horizontally since that would create huge amounts of whitespace which would destroy the overall texture of the font. I've opted instead to lower the center bar. In the image below, the second example shows what the font would previously produce, and the third example shows the new joining 'E'.

I'm wondering whether this 'E' looks OK, and how acceptable it is to have the joining form make such a major departure from the basic 'E' form. One option would be to make available a similar unjoined E as a stylistic alternate, but if I do that I'd probably need to add similar variants for A, Æ, B, H, K, Œ, R, X and possibly P, S, Y and Z. I'm a bit reluctant to add so many new alternates (along with their corresponding joining forms -- and some of these characters require a substantial number of those) unless this actually looks reasonable.


johnnydib's picture

I like the last E. Don't bother with too many variants, all the letters don't necessarily have to have similar alternates, and all the combinations don't necessarily have to exist. And if you can avoid a bit of coding it's better.
After all this typeface has a concept that paves the way for endless derivative work. You've made it so easy for a designer to expand the outline and create custom titles, headings and logos that any extra Open Type features are really extras.
And for text setting the texture in the PDF looks really good everywhere. And page 5 of the PDF has some particularly useful variants, I can think of pull quotes or captions set in these fonts.

I think everyone here loved the idea behind this, you figure out the last bits of execution on this but don't go crazy either :P

And yeah Byzantium is a great name release it before someone else takes the name :D

agisaak's picture

Thanks for the feedback.

My question about the E's isn't just about matching other letters, but also about matching itself, so to speak. Right now, there are three versions which might appear depending on the following character.

The first appears when E can't join to the following character, the second when it can, and the third when the second can't be used.

There are a variety of other joined forms which are causing me headaches, so I thought I'd take a bit of a break from thinking about them so I can come back with a fresh mind. In the meantime, though, I sketched out some ideas for expanding this into an actual family with additional weights. Unfortunately, if I want to maintain the same sorts of behaviours across weights, the design imposes some rather severe restrictions on the weight of horizontal stems, so in trying to make bolder weights, I've ended up with a situation where the contrast increases with the weight. I'm not sure how unnatural that is. Anyways, I've just done basic alphabets, but here's what I have so far.

regular weight (for comparison sake -- this is the one I've been working on all along)

medium weight:

bold weight:

The black departs a bit from the progression above:


intermalte's picture

The characteristic changes totally for the black version and even the bold one has a different feel. It does not seem to be the same family.

agisaak's picture

Yes, that was my concern (not so much for the black one, where that was rather intentional, but for the medium and bold).


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