Aaron Sittig's picture


PDF - GIF - Project History

Sonoma is my first serious attempt at completing a font. I was inspired by Evert Bloemsma's Avance to build a font with severely asymmetrical serifs. In the spirit of not wandering aimlessly, my goal is to make a font with which I can set papers for my college courses.

At the moment, I've completed the lower and upper case basic alphabet. I want to reorient myself now before I embark on the full character set. I have a few concerns:

1 The character spacing seems wrong. Maybe it's too tight?
2 Some characters (e, s, etc...) seem too dark. Maybe this is caused by the spacing?
3 The character spacing for upper case only works when preceding lower case. Is it normal to have 26x26 kerning pairs to make all upper case text look alright?
4 Some of my glyph shapes (d, g, k, q) may be too crazy for a typeface intended for continuous text. Should I cave in an conventionalize them? (I refuse to budge on Q; the tail stays)
5 The bowls in b, d, p, and q may be too large.
6 My upper case forms are rough because I have less practice drawing them. Any ideas for improvement?

I may be overlooking far larger problems here. If so, please set me straight! Assistance will save me trouble down the road and will be tremendously appreciated.

hrant's picture

Actually I think your spacing is in fact too tight overall. However:
1. It seems that some areas (like the "ven" sequence) are fine, and in fact some are too loose - so it's still too uneven to tell.
2. There's no easy way to be sure anyway without a physical printout in the intended medium - probably through lino, right?

The "s" is in fact too dark - because of its density it always has to be lighter than you think.

> Is it normal to have 26x26 kerning pairs to make all upper case text look alright?

No, although I happen to think it's a great idea to use such an exhaustive matrix to loosen all-caps setting.

Your "bdpq"... it depends who you ask: some designers will say they are "wrong". But I think they're more than fine. In fact, I've only seen such a wonderful "d" structure one other place - in my Patria... :-> But be careful of getting too attached to individual glyphs: taming overly flamboyant characters can be very painful but is usually necessary.

Your main problem right now is the "g" (by far the most difficult character in Latin). Don't let dogma ruin it for you. Some otherwise wonderful designs (like Matrix) really need a much smarter "g".

As for your uppercase forms, what I might advise is something I hinted at in the thread about Avance: go orthodox. Those puppies are really gloriously stiff - it's all they got - let them shine in their own way.

BTW, your comma is amazing! But do make its tail longer.


aquatoad's picture

Like the commas also. Maybe use the same structure in the quotes.

In the text sample the g next to the o adds to its wormy look. IMO it could use more volume in the top and bottom and less in the middle. Maybe the tail could start a bit more left to give it more baseline stress and less like it's floating.

Like what you've got going. Also like the name Sanoma.

Aaron Sittig's picture

Haven't had time to work on Sonoma recently, but the weeks ahead look promising. I did have time to find a couple designs that not only have half-serifs, but also have flares for balance.

Seagull, by Adrian Williams and Bob McGrath, has a design based on handlettering, with asymetrical serifs, where with start of the serif stroke draws the balancing flare.

Sierra, by Kris Holmes, has flares which occupy a greater portion of their side of the stem than Avance or Sonoma, starting to flare about halfway down, and ending closer to vertical.

hrant's picture

Wow, that Sierra is a find!


Christian Robertson's picture

I've been trying to figure out what I like so much about this
face. I've decided it's the clunkiness of the serifs combined
with the overall inconsistency. It's really alive. I've long
loved the clunkyness of slab serifs, but most are a little too
mechanical for my liking-- too perfect. This has more

I think it looks great in the setting. I would polish a few
characters, but nothing to change the overall feel. And
don't even think about taming the k. If you really want to
make a font to set a book in, start over. If you want a really
funky cool something for small blocks of copy, you're right

A few suggestions: The spur on the d and the q have got to
go. They are awkward, and don't fit the other characters.
They imply a line that doesn't line up with anything else.
The d could take a cue from the a. I would work on the
terminals on the S, the j and the y. The terminals on the C
and the G are also a little awkward. The G feels a little

Don't polish too much though. It would be a shame to loose
the rough, chunky feel that makes this face so cool.

Aaron Sittig's picture

This is going to totally disappoint Christian, but I've radically changed the feel of Sonoma. I dug this heap out of the garage a couple weeks ago and gave it some good polish. But I've learned lots and developed a certain taste since I worked on the poor thing last so a good polish turned into an overhaul. So I present the new Sonoma:

Um, Click Here (cause image uploading is broken)

There is a pdf version of this specimen over here and if you'd like so see a pdf of the same specimen layout as the old Sonoma but with the updated design, take a look over there. Let me know what you think. I like how things are going so far, but I'd like to hear if this looks like a design that people would want to actually use for, you know, a real project.

If you're interested in knowing more about this update, there's a bit more detail over on my type design work blog

pablohoney77's picture

very nice! looks like your baby has done some growing up and become a very well-mannered text face with a lot of character. I personally think it's beautiful and would use it if i had the chance. keep up the good work!

Forrest L Norvell's picture

That p looks like it got stuck in the stairwell between Gill Sans and Cheltenham. It's kinda clunky but I really like it, as well as the g and k. I like this direction a lot.

eomine's picture

Looks pretty good.
I think I'd like to see an alternate "g"; it may be too 'exotic' for some uses.

Aaron Sittig's picture

Here you go Eduardo. If it weren't for Opentype, I don't think I would have made a more conventional g, because I want my design to include a few unconventional choices of form. But now I'll just stick this more conventional g in the Opentype aalt feature so you can switch to it if you want. Now what I really wish is that there was a way to define my own features that would show up in the Opentype menu in InD etc so that you could apply the feature to a block of text at once.

Alternate G
Alternate G Text Setting

(I can't ever get images uploaded. At the preview screen I hit post and then the next page times out and I can't upload the images at that point. Am I missing something?)

pablohoney77's picture

Now what I really wish is that there was a way to define my own features that would show up in the Opentype menu in InD etc so that you could apply the feature to a block of text at once.

you kinda can do this now with stylistic sets. with the advent of Adobe CS2, we now have support for this feature. just set up your feature to work how you want it and call it ss01 (for stylistic set 1). For mor sets call them ss02, ss03, etc.

Aaron Sittig's picture

> you kinda can do this now with stylistic sets.

Hot damn. This opens up all sorts of chances to try new things. It seems like I always pull ideas that might impress 5% of people with the idea of pleasing 80%. Now I have a way to still get to those 5%.

> Don't forget the original design.

Well I'm not planning on finishing it any time soon. Maybe later. I have too many other type projects that I'm more interested in.

> Small caps? Bold? Black? More samples to see?

How about some old style figures? This new design is still young and my free time these days is small it'll be a while before I have bold and black versions.

GIF Sample of 1234567890
PDF Sample of the figures alone and with text

(I still can't get image uploading working. Ideas? Just wait for typophile 2.0?)

Forrest L Norvell's picture

The 3 looks excessively bitey. Also, I like the traditional, perfectly round text figure 0 better than the disturbingly o-like figure you've got now. It's rare enough that it looks radical when you encounter it in print. Other than that, nice figures!

Aaron Sittig's picture

Yeah! Booo to stressless zeroes, at least in this design. The logic of the shapes just doesn't want it.

I do have a specific question. Does anyone else think the numerals are too wide? I keep going back and forth on this, which probably means that they are.

> The 3 looks excessively bitey.

What does bitey mean?

Forrest L Norvell's picture

I think of the stressless 0 as being a Gill-y feature, but that's based on gut feel rather than actual knowledge, so I'm probably out to lunch. If you're not going to use that, then I think you ought to make the 0 more ovoid. It really strongly resembles an oversized 'o' right now.

I don't think the numerals are too wide. I guess I am kind of curious why the 1's serif structure is different from the letters', though.

"Bitey" means the way the two serifs close in on the middle of the 3 makes it look like it's biting itself. It's too closed in, I would say.

eomine's picture

I agree that the figures are wide, and sometimes I think they look too big.

One way of solving it is by making the shorter. And smaller, in consequence. This typeface is narrow, so I guess it is appropriate to have narrow figures.

In general, I think that typefaces with low x-height are the ones that benefit more from having this kind of "floating" oldstyle figures (figures taller/higher than the x-height). But this is a typeface with a generous x-height, so I think the figures should be closer to the x-height. (But don't align them with the x-height! :-)

Stephen Coles's picture

The character spacing seems wrong. Maybe it's too tight?

I think it's just right. Many modern faces are too loose.

Some of my glyph shapes (d, g, k, q) may be too crazy for a typeface intended for continuous text. The bowls in b, d, p, and q may be too large.

Naw, they're not too crazy. I think the biggest problem is
the bowl of the 'g' is too small in comparison to the others
which are lovely.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Overall, the face reads well. The spacing is just fine. And I
love that quirky k.

The g seems wormy (weak), although it performs
ok in the text sample you show.

Miss Tiffany's picture


¶ Don't forget the original design. I hope you will revisit it under another title and perhaps revive it for us later.

¶ This "new version" is gorgeous. As a user I am thankful that you do have normalcy in mind, but I really appreciate that you have quirky alternates.

¶ Small caps? Bold? Black? More samples to see?

Stephen Coles's picture

I'm usually in line with Forrest, but I say BOO to stressless, geometric zeroes
Yours looks great - in harmony with the rest of the face.

Miss Tiffany's picture

IMHO The stressless zero is an effect and/or an affectation that may have some history behind it but is rarely appropriate to use.

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