5 April 2018

Creating our
own font

Author: Jort Lanting
Reading time:
4 minutes
design, font, typeface

Maybe you’ve already seen it on our website or social media; we’ve got our own font! For me as a designer, creating my own font was a cherished dream come true. And it’s there! We can now open a Word document, and fill it completely with our own letters and characters. 

Designing our own font started with our logo. This logo is a word mark, made up of self-designed letters. We’ve used geometrical forms to create these letters, which have given the letters their own personality, which fits Publiek. We couldn’t find this look and feel back in any existing font. That’s why we’ve decided to create our own. 

As a designer, I found out that creating your own font is a very work-intensive process. For days I was struggling with the spaces between characters and their individual heights. Let me explain a little bit more about the process!

It starts with a base line

After you’ve developed a design for your font, like we did with the letters from our logo, the first step is to determine the size of its characters. This starts with a baseline, the line on which you place all your characters. Once you’ve collected all characters on a baseline, you’ll find out that some of them drop below the baseline. Think for example about the ‘j’ or the ‘p’. The space underneath the baseline we call the descender.

Determining the height

We determine the height of a character based on the so-called X-height. This is the horizontal line which touches the top of each character. Just like with the baseline, some characters extend above the X-height, like the ‘k’ and the ’t’. This overflow we call the ascender. We have chosen to use the same size for our capitals as we have done for our ascender but this is not a must.

The curvature of the characters are incredibly important. Characters with curves, such as the ‘p’ or the ‘o’ seem to be visually unbalanced compared to straight letters. Although it’s just an optical illusion, most font builders chose to eradicate this illusion by increasing the size of curved letters ever so slightly, so it extends just fractionally above the x-height. This we call the overshoot.

Determining the space between characters

Once you’ve determined the size of your font, it’s time to have a look at the horizontal space between characters. These spaces are important to the readability of the font, and determining them is a bit of a chore. You need to judge per character exactly how much space is needed on each side. 

It’s important to do this for each character individually. The curves of a character determine exactly how much space is needed on both sides. Typographer Ilene Strizver has drawn up a few simple rules for this. The space between two characters with a straight side needs to be bigger than the space between a character with a straight side and one with a rounded side. The space between two characters with rounded sides, needs to be even smaller. The space on the left side of a character we call the left side bearing, and the space on the right is called the right side bearing. 

The last step is checking if the spacing is right, using the rules drawn up by Ilene Strivzer. This is a precision job, and requires a trained eye. If you don’t get it right the first time, just remember that practice makes perfect!

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