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A New Christoffel Beta: Life After Thesis

June 10th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I’ve tinkered with the key dimension settings in FontLab, hopefully solving the strange MS Word behavior. If anyone wants to test this latest beta in Word and let me know if it’s still acting up or not, I will be eternally grateful.

Here’s the font!

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Short update

May 21st, 2009 by Noam Berg

Tomorrow I will be donning cap and gown, and receiving my MFA degree in Design and Technology. And no, I’m still not quite sure what that means. It’s been two crazy years here at Parsons, and I’m amazed I made it through them alive. Christoffel will continue to be developed after graduation, fear not. I have a few things I’d like to accomplish over summer:

  1. Make some really nice demo videos of working in Fontlab
  2. Expand Christoffel’s character set
  3. Create optical-size-specific versions
  4. Possibly do a “smooth” version

I will be working at Darden Studio, crafting fonts with my man Josh Darden, typographer and thesis adviser extraordinaire. Greenpoint, represent!

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My sartorial and typographic obsessions gratified simultaneously

May 5th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Now this, I can get behind!

Posted in Art & Design, Off Topic, Typography, Uncategorized having 2 comments »

Troubleshooting: Troubles with MS Word

May 3rd, 2009 by Noam Berg

As noted, a user recently pointed out some odd behavior when Christoffel is used in MS Word. I’m working at school right now so I don’t have access to all my tools and files, but I have enough here to work with to recreate the problem and analyze it a bit.

Here’s Christoffel being used at 12 points in Word, no extra formatting done:


Notice how the extenders are getting lopped off like somebody was after them with the Slap Chop:


Not good.

One naturally wonders if this is universal. Certainly I haven’t had any problem using Christoffel in Keynote for my recent presentation. What about other apps? For the time being I resolved to see what would happen with TextEdit and Firefox. Here’s a side-by side comparison:


I’ve tried to keep as many variables constant: 12 point text, default leading, same paragraphs. The text, incidentally, was ripped off from a recent James Mosely blog post.

There is good news here: although the leading is certainly an issue, neither TextEdit nor Firefox see fit to go at my text like a drunken pirate with a cutlass thirsty for blood (or ink, I suppose). Even better, Firefox is making use of the ligatures! Happy day.

I’ll have to do some more testing and tweaking to figure this one out, but the bottom line is: more proof that MS Word is a typographically inferior product to, well, pretty much anything. Perhaps excepting Notepad.

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May 3rd, 2009 by Noam Berg

Parsons MFADT had our end-of-the-year symposium, out high-tech alternative to the traditional senior show. As a part of this symposium, I presented my project on a panel with fellow designers, colleagues and good friends Erik Burke, Dan Willig and Alpay Gumrukcu, moderated by the amazingly talented Andrea Dezsö. The presentation went well, and already inspired some interest in Christoffel! Somebody who was in the audience downloaded the font and wrote me to report a glitch…oops. It seems the tops of the ‘f’s are getting cut off in MS Word. If you have experienced similar behavior, please let me know so I can fix this for the next release.

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Revival at St. Bride

April 25th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I am writing from London, in the early morning hours as jet-lag has its evil way with me. AS you may have guessed, I got the funds together and made it to the Friends of St. Bride conference. I was joined at the conference by my dear friend Adrienne, currently completing a graduate degree in book arts at Camberwell. The talks were diverse enough that we both got our fill of relevant info.

Indeed, the conference was a treat. Of special note to me were talks by John Hudson, James Mosely and Will Hill. Hudson’s talk wasn’t as much about revival as about dealing with multiple scripts, but still interesting. James Mosely did a nice overview of revival techniques, and gave Mrs. Eaves a good drubbing. Will Hill recently completed the Typeface Design program at Reading, where his dissertation dealt with historical revivals. Adrienne and I agreed that his talk was frustratingly short, giving us a taste of what we’d loved to had spent the entire conference discussing. I got to chat with him a bit, really lovely chap. He’s interested in a lot of the same stuff I am, and he speaks about it much more eloquently. He’s going to be in Atlanta for Typecon, and hopefully I can meet up there and pick his brain some more about this stuff.

Aside from the conference, I had a nice time visiting my parents (who are in London for the year, on sabbatical) and my mom’s cousins (visiting for a spell). I wish I had a few more days before I go back to spend with them.

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April showers bring…font betas!

April 20th, 2009 by Noam Berg

What’s that you say? You’d like to play with the latest beta version of Christoffel? Well then, my friends, have at it!

Download christoffel-rough-2009_04_18_1750.otf

Posted in technology, Thesis, Typography having 5 comments »

Spring final presentation video

April 19th, 2009 by Noam Berg

After the break, my final critique for thesis!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Back on track, and some OpenType wizardry revealed

April 17th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I got my computer back on Monday, restored all my data from the backup and got back to work. I scanned in the proofs from Bixler at 1200 DPI (in 8-bit grayscale, to cut down on file size). the results worked just fine in ScanFont. Speaking of which, the more I use ScanFont 5 the more I like it. In theory, you’re supposed to separate all the letters in your artwork so that they’re not overlapping each other’s bounding box. I didn’t bother this time, and Scanfont managed just fine. It even properly defined the sidebearings for he letter Q.

Caps in ScanFont 5

Lowercase in ScanFont 5

Q and sidebearings

With limited time ad hand and a presentation to put together, I put together four character sets from the proofs: upper and lowercase letters plus numbers and ampersand. I grafted in the punctuation from Christoffel Atlas, and programmed in auto ligatures and contextual alternates. I was able to get a behavior where the alts cycle through regardless of what letter is following: if it sees a preceding letter from set 1, it’ll use a letter from set 2, etc. This ended up mucking with my ligature code, for which I had to create classes instead of simple substitution. In plain English:

Fontlab lets you define classes when you’re programming OT features. Class in this context just means a group of characters (set, list, whatever you wanna call it). It looks something like this: = [a e i o u];
@Vowels.uc = [A E I O U];
@Vowels = [ @Vowels.uc y Y];

The @ symbol here is the syntax for defining a class, with the members of the class listed in the brackets. As you can see, a class can be composed of other classes for convenience. Set theory at its finest!

For doing contextual alternates, you create a class for each set of alternate characters. I have the sets @default, @calt1, @calt2 and @calt3. I write the calt (as in contextual alternate) feature so that whenever a character is encounters from @default, the next character will come from @calt1.the ‘ in the code means this is the anchor or target character, the one to be substituted depending on the context of those around it. So if two consecutive characters from @default show up, change the second one to the corresponding character from @calt1. If a character from @default is preceded by one from @calt1, change the target to @calt2. Finally, if a character from default it followed by one from @calt2, change the target to @calt3. You can do this for as many character sets as you have handy.

feature calt {
lookup rotate {
sub @default @default' by @calt1;
sub @calt1 @default' by @calt2;
sub @calt2 @default' by @calt3;
} rotate;

lookup rotate;
lookup rotate;
lookup rotate;
lookup rotate;
lookup rotate;

} calt;

For ligatures, you use a slightly different substitution scheme. You’re swapping two characters for one, regardless of the context. Simple ligature code looks like this:

feature liga {
sub f i by fi;
sub f l by fl;
sub f f by f_f;
sub f f i by f_f_i;
sub f f l by f_f_l;
} liga;

Simple enough. But when the calt routine has been swapping around your characters, it will break the above code. The solution is to define classes for ligatures:

@f = [f f.alt1 f.alt2 f.alt3];
@i = [i i.alt1 i.alt2 i.alt3];
@l = [l l.alt1 l.alt2 l.alt3];
@fi = [fi fi.alt1 fi.alt2 fi.alt3];
@fl = [fl fl.alt1 fl.alt2 fl.alt3];
@f_f = [f_f f_f.alt1 f_f.alt2 f_f.alt3];
@f_f_i = [f_f_i f_f_i.alt1 f_f_i.alt2 f_f_i.alt3];
@f_f_l = [f_f_l f_f_l.alt1 f_f_l.alt2 f_f_l.alt3];

Then modify the code:

feature liga {
sub @f @i by fi;
sub @f @l by fl;
sub @f @f by f_f;
sub @f @f @i by f_f_i;
sub @f @f @l by f_f_l;
} liga;

Now, instead of looking for the characters f and i when you want an fi ligature, you look for classes that contain them and all their relevant alternates. Problem solved.

Having all that in place, I used the resulting typeface to put together my presentation. I went for brevity whenever possible, but I knew there would be at least one critic who hasn’t seen my work before. When the slides were all assembled I did a run-through, timed it at 9 minutes (we were allotted 10) and went looking for my index cards.

The presentation itself, I’m happy to say, went off without a hitch. I brought along some books, the iRex iLiad reader I’ve been using, and the Bixler proofs as props. I think they complemented the presentation nicely, and the proofs especially were nice for getting across the tactility and physicality of letterpress that I’m trying to emulate. I got some good feedback from the critics, especially from Ethan, my writing instructor from last semester. He had very high praise for the work I’ve done, which meant an awful lot to me. My friend and classmate Alpay was kind enough to video the presentation for me, and I’ll be posting that as soon as I can convert it to a web-friendly format (as it is, I have a 1.58GB AVI file that’s too big for Vimeo). Also to come, the latest beta of Christoffel, with alt character sets.

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Facing the Inevitable

April 10th, 2009 by Noam Berg

My hard drive’s short-lived resurrection is at an end. I took the computer in to be serviced today and will probably get it back Monday. I seriously do not need this right now, with presentations coming up on Thursday! Now, to work out some alternative.

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Special Delivery!

April 8th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Mr. Bixler’s proofs came in the mail today, finally! I was beginning to get a bit anxious, but they’re here now and I can scan them and proceed. The good news is that they are gorgeous. I have twelve copies, giving me an ample reserve of alternate characters. The not-so-good news is that the sample is not as complete as I was expecting. The closest to a complete character set I have is the 24-point, with all the letters, ligatures and figures, but no punctuation. Oye! I will make do with what I have, and plan for more specific jobs in the future.

First set of proofs from Bixler


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Updated Atlas: Now with OpenType

April 5th, 2009 by Noam Berg

As I eagerly await the proofs from Bixler, I give you the latest builds of Christoffel Atlas roman and italic. OpenType ligature substitution has been implemented. Let me know if anything is buggy. I’m still holding off on kerning—that’s something I want to tackle with my advisor.

Posted in Thesis, Typography having 2 comments »

Murphy Strikes Again

April 2nd, 2009 by Noam Berg

Grad school corollary of Murphy’s Law: if your final thesis presentation is in two weeks, your iMac’s hard drive WILL fail. Thank heavens everything is backed up, but still…what a deuced inconvenient time for my computer to die!

Update: the hard drive is definitely screwy, but one in every 20 restarts or so will actually boot. As of this writing, the computer works (temporarily) and I’ve verified that all my critical data is fully backed-up. I will still have to replace the HD though.

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Interviews, part the First

April 1st, 2009 by Noam Berg

True, I should have started these a while back, but better late than never. Today I conducted a phone interview with Robert Slimbach at Adobe. Robert has produced many fine revivals and embodies the kind of approach to historical designs that I want to promote with my work. We had a lovely and informative chat. Robert’s not nearly as publicly visible as some other figures in type design, so I was lucky to have this opportunity to talk with him. I won’t be posting a transcript or anything (80 minutes is more than I have patience for) but some parts will probably show up in the final document.

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Proofs are Positive

March 31st, 2009 by Noam Berg

I spoke again with Michael Bixler this morning. He’s going to pull me some proofs of an already-set synopsis of Van Dijck, and mail them within the next couple of days, first class. The ball is rolling!

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Bikes + Fonts + 3D = Awesome

March 31st, 2009 by Noam Berg

I try not to re-post every cool little thing I see on type blogs, but this one seemed like a lot of people in DT would dig it. A quick summary: a fellow in Japan mounted  camera and GPS logger to his bike, and rode around his hometown tracing letters. The data gets uploaded and turned into a font. Each letter is not just the trace of his route, but includes elevation data for each point, making it 3D. The end result reminds me of Evan Roth’s Graffiti Analysis in some ways.

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Scanfont Redux

March 31st, 2009 by Noam Berg

I got ScanFont 5 running at home, and took another swipe at digitizing the sample I have of Van Dijck from the Atlas of Typeforms. It went better this time. ScanFont 5 can handle a larger source file than 4, so I was able to capture all my characters, roman and italic, in one fell swoop. That takes care of the scaling issue—I am assured that the upper and lower cases are proportional and to-scale in the imported font. Same applies to the italic, a nice bonus. You may recal last time I tried this, importing the lowercase separately ended up with glyphs that were a little bigger in relation to the caps than they should have been. Trying to scale them down manually is a royal nightmare that I shouldn’t have to deal with, frankly! And behold, now I don’t. And it is good.

All together now:


Things I do like about SC5: global baseline detection is pretty good. It scans across a row of letters and makes an educated guess about where the baseline runs. Most of the time it’s on the money, and even when it’s not, it’s an easy fix (I’d say more about it, but it’s better to show. I think I’ll put together a video demo of working with SC5 later in the week). Spacing is decent off the bat, it even got the side-bearings right on the cap Q.



Here are the not-so-nightly builds, roman and italic. I’m too tired tonight to do any more work on them, but some time during the week I’d like to get OpenType ligatures working and some basic kerning. I’m going to try using kerning classes, which I’ve never messed with before. It’s time to learn something new!

I picked up a specimen of Arno Pro from James Puckett tonight, which has a lenghtly interview with Robert Slimbach. Plenty of good info to sink one’s teeth into.

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Eyes on St. Bride

March 30th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I went ahead and got a ticket for the conference. I still don’t have the cash to travel, but I figured it’s better to have the ticket in hand and be safe. I’d hate to raise enough money and then discover it’s sold. Worst case, I’m out about $73 which isn’t the end of the world. Anybody wishing to contribute to my travel fund, please feel free: the link’s right over there on the right. Even small donations help. A dollar helps. I will return with wondrous photos and amazing stories. I really want to make this happen.

There’s an ever-so-slight chance that Josh will come along as well. He’s been thinking about getting back on the conference circuit (we’re thinking about TypeCon ’09 this summer in Atlanta, GA and maybe even the AtypI conference in Mexico City). If the studio continues to do well, then many things will be possible.

In theory, I have enough money in the bank to book plane tickets right now. However, this wouldn’t leave me with enough to pay rent past April. I don’t want to do anything rash that might jeopardize my living and eating situation. That’s been under enough stress these past few months.

On the agenda for this week: writing some of the documentation, getting the ball rolling with Bixler Foundry, laying the foundations for final presentations, and hopefully one very exciting interview.

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An interesting detour into 17th century lettering

March 23rd, 2009 by Noam Berg

Having completed my digitization of Van Dijck as represented in the Atlas, I’ve devoted some time to a side project. My good friend Melody is working for the Getty Research Institute, digitizing rare books so that they can be made available online. A recent example she posted was Kunstrichtige Schreibart, a book on the art of writing published in 1601. The woodcut illustrations show several alphabets, slowly becoming more and more ornate. By the end of the book, each letter takes up a whole page.

th011 th021

th031 th041

th051 th061

th07 th08

The original files are available for download, so I grabbed them and opened them up, to see how the auto-tracing in Fontlab would handle some of the more intricate letters. Unsurprisingly, it choked on the really large ones. Smaller letters worked better, but since the outlines are so rough and the original prints rather salty, the resulting traces are full of redundant nodes and “pock marks” in the main stems. Some letters come out totally fragmented, so heavy was the erosion of their forms in the original manuscript. I tried a few other tricks, such as Adobe CS auto-tracing (using Photoshop’s magic wand, then converting to paths). I got a better result, but very hard to tweak. I wanted something that I could easily smooth out into “rationalized” shapes. I decided to try tracing some of the mid-level caps manually, following the shapes as the artist might have drawn them, slowly building up the forms. I have some letters completed, and they’re rough, but satisfying:



This is a very different kind of revival. There is none of the economy and restraint of a text face in these versals. There’s barely a complete character set: no punctuation, no numerals, no lowercase…these sets don’t even have U and J in them! What they do have is an audacious level of ornamentation. Looking at the final pages, my mind boggles simply tring to imagine how these letter were conceived and constructed. I may eventually try tackling those behemoths, but for now it’s enough work doing letters that fit 15 on a page. If nothing else, tracing these shapes and building up these amazing capitals swash by swash is educational. It gives you a keener insight into their structure. You begin to understand the system used for ornamentation, the internal logic. If I wanted a really clean version of these caps I’d probably have to redraw them fro scratch. Doing these tracings first makes that seem less daunting. If I tried it cold, I’d probably go nuts.

Melody is thinking of starting a blog, detailing some of the more interesting stuff she comes across in this collection. I really hope she gets that going. Looking through, it’s overwhelming how much stuff is in there! It would be good to have some highlights recommended.

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Custom proofs: back on the table

March 16th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I spoke on Friday with Michael Bixler, who was very receptive to the work I wanted to do. He estimated that he could print me up a “synopsis” of Van Dijck in one or two sizes for fifty bucks. How about that for competitive? This is great news, it means that getting commissioned proofs done is once again a feasible option. I was upset about having to compromise on that front. No longer!

This weekend I worked on digitizing the specimens of Van Dijck roman and italic found in the Atlas of Typeforms, using Scanfont 4 for the work. To say the least, I’m unimpressed with Scanfont. The file size it can work with is pretty limited. The way it scales outlines when importing into Fontlab seems to be inconsistent. I imported the upper- and lower-case roman using the same settings, into the same font file, and the uppercase came out larger than it was in the specimen. I had to mess around with manually scaling the lowercase and figures to make things match.In a perfect world, I would have imported the whole specimen in one fell swoop, but Scanfont has an upper limit on how wide a file can be. It’s not as bad in Scanfont 5, but we only have 4 at the studio. This means I had to break up my specimens and import letters in several shifts. It’s almost worth the effort to do it one-by-one like I used to, just to know that all the characters are to-scale. Sometimes I wonder if the folks at Fontlab Inc. have a special committee whose only purpose is to ensure a level of mediocrity is maintained across the product line. I might look into a better way of doing this…perhaps tracing in Illustrator or some other software that can handle a large file size. My original scans from Chelmaxioms were at 3600 (or was it 3200?) DPI, this time I scanned at 1200 DPI. I think people generally work in the 300-600 DPI range for this sort of thing, but since I’m trying to capture fine details I need higher res.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s a PDF specimen of what I have so far. Want to play with the fonts themselves? Here are TTF files for the roman and italic. Feedback is always welcome.

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Scanning Sources, Fundraising, and (finally) a Friendly Foundry!

March 12th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I scanned in Van Dijck from the Atlas of Typeforms at 1200dpi. Looks good so far.


I had a one-on-one chat with my thesis instructor this afternoon. I updated her on the state and projected form of my deliverables, talked a bit about the idea of a nonfiction graphic novel on typography, and discussed where and how to get funding for the next steps after school is out. there aren’t that many grants out there for designers (as opposed to artists) but I don’t need all that much to make things happen.

In the making things happen department, I called up the Bixler Foundry. I’d called before and left a message, and forgot about it. The same day I got in touch with M&H who estimated my project would cost a cool grand, so I was put off from talking to foundries for a while. This time I got a real human being on the line (the very charming Winifred B.) who couldn’t give me a price estimate, but assured me enthusiastically that they can do the kind of work I’m after and would get back to me on Friday to discuss specifics. the folks at M&H could learn a thing or two about customer relations from her, for sure. The Bixlers are just a bit southwest of Syracuse, NY, so I could potentially come out there and document some of the printing. Big plus! I doubt that it will be financially feasible without some funding help, but it’s good to know that they’re open to the idea.

At my internship yesterday I got to play around with Superpolator a bit, which was interesting to see in action.

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Visual Explanation and the Graphic Novel

March 12th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Someone in my Narrative Strategies class today presented an idea for a story where she’s exploring some identity issues, rlating to Plato’s theory of forms. We talked about the graphic novel as an educational form, specifically the “Introducing…” series. It reminded me of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, one of my all-time favorites, and I realized how incredibly cool it would be to have my thesis be in comic format. Imagine a nonfiction graphic novel about type Revival! Unfortunately it’s too late in the game for me to pursue that now, but it’s something to think about for the future. I really wish this had occurred to me sooner.

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Road Atlas to Success

March 12th, 2009 by Noam Berg

And the award for cheesiest post title goes to…

All joking aside, Josh lent me his copy of “An Atlas of Typefaces” which contains a full specimen of 30pt. Monotype Van Dijck Roman and Italic. It’s not letterpressed, but it’s a start. I can have a functioning proof of concept which can be used later to get grant money for proper proofs to be commissioned, or perhaps for institutional/corporate support.



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Available sources

March 11th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I went back through my photos of material from St. Bride, looking for anything usable as source material for Christoffel. There were several samples of the complete font, but all my photos are either too small, unfocused or at an odd angle to the page, giving a perspective distortion. Lens distortion is also an issue with some. To wit:

I have a few books with incomplete character sets, plus some running text in Van Dijck, but nothing comprehensive enough for my needs. Frustrating!

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Oh, the Things I’m Missing

March 10th, 2009 by Noam Berg

The 8th Annual Friends of St. Bride Library conference is going down this April, and the subject is revival. I’d give my eyeteeth to attend this shindign, but…finances and school being what they are, this is not a practical option. Too bad…I’d love to see London in better weather, and it looks to be a killer conference. Curses! Profanity!

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Alt Glyphy Goodness

February 24th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I now have Christoffel cycling through all alternate glyphs it has on hand. I could collect some more, but I’m not sure that would serve any practical purpose. Once I have my proper source materials I’ll go about collecting glyphs in a more orderly way (like maybe, in one fell swoop using Scanfont instead of hand-picking glyphs one by one like a dork).

alternate glyphs

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Opentype and Optical Size: will it blend?

February 21st, 2009 by Noam Berg

One of my goals for the Cristoffel typeface is to have it be able to adjust its optical size automatically. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this work.The basic idea is as follows:

When fonts were boxes full of metal type, each size was designed individually, and the designer would make subtle changes to the relative weight of the characters where needed. Larger display sizes would be thinned out a bit, and small text sizes would be thickened up. That’s the basic idea behind optical size. When Photocomposition machines came along, different sizes were derived from the same film negative. One outline, scaled up and down. All the subtlety of optical size went right out the window.

Digital fonts follow the same mechanic: one outline scales up and down to achieve different point sizes. the plus side is that you can have any damn point size you please. The downside, again, is that there is no optical compensation. nowadays many foundries are releasing their workhorse text faces in several optical variations, each one covering a range of point sizes. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it requires a designer to knowingly specify the right font in the family for the text they’re using.

Optical Size Illustration

I would like for Christoffel to have a series of optical alternates for each character in the set, and for them to be substituted automatically depending on the current point size being used. There are two main challenges here, the first being how to encode this information into the OpenType code. the second is how to ensure this code can be used by applications. OpenType features depend on applications that can recognize and execute their features.

The good news is that the OpenType specs include a “size” tag. From the spec:

Function: This feature stores two kinds of information about the optical size of the font: design size (the point size for which the font is optimized) and size range (the range of point sizes which the font can serve well), as well as other information which helps applications use the size range. The design size is useful for determining proper tracking behavior. The size range is useful in families which have fonts covering several ranges. Additional values serve to identify the set of fonts which share related size ranges, and to identify their shared name. Note that sizes refer to nominal final output size, and are independent of viewing magnification or resolution.

Example: The size information in Bell Centennial is [60 0 0 0 0]. This tells an application that the fontâs design size is six points, so larger sizes may need proportionate reduction in default inter-glyph spacing. The size information in Minion Pro Semibold Condensed Subhead is [180 3 257 139 240]. These values tell an application that:

  • The font’s design size is 18 points;
  • This font is part of a subfamily of fonts that differ only by the size range which each covers, and which share the arbitrary identifier number 3;
  • ID 257 in the name table is the suggested menu name for this subfamily. In this case, the string at name ID 257 is Semibold Condensed;
  • This font is the recommended choice from sizes greater than 13.9-point up through 24-points.

Application interface: When the user specifies a size, the application checks for a size feature in the active font. If none is found, the application follows its default behavior. If one is found, the application follows the specified offset to retrieve the five values.

the bad news is that it’s a very obscure tag that isn’t really in use.A thread on Typophile mentions XeTeX as the only app that’s ever implemented the size tag. Here’s what Yannis Haralambous has to say about the size tag in O’Reilly’s Fonts and Encodings:

this feature is a notorious hack to enter information on optical size into a font. Adobe asks us to include this feature in a GPOS table, but without associating it with any lookup. This table contains the optical size and perhaps also the ranges of optical sizes at which the font may be used. (p.818)

The size aims to make up for an enormous shortcoming in PostScript (other than MultipleMaster, with their “optical size” axis) and TrueType fonts, which is that they completely disregard the optical size: there are, infact, fonts named Times New Roman Seven, Times Ten, and ITC Bodoni Seventy-Two, but the fact that their optical sizes are, respectively, 7, 10, and 72 appears only in their respective names,5 nowhere in the fonts themselves. The syntax for size is as follows:We use the keyword parameters followed by four numbers. The first is the font’s optical size, expressed in tenths of a point. The second is for fonts issued in multiple optical sizes; we can say that they belong to a family and that the members of this family are numbered sequentially, starting at 0. Finally, the two remaining numbers express the range of optical sizes at which the font can also be used. Let us take, for example, the excellent font ITC Bodoni. It is issued in three optical sizes: 6, 12, 72. We could thus include the following feature in the font for optical size 12:

feature size {
parameters 120 1 90 299 ;

which means that it has an optical size of 12, which is the second member of the family. (p 565)

This means that even if I use it in my fonts, a program like InDesign won’t know how to use them. How then to make this feature functional?

One Idea I had was to try creating a plug-in for Creative Suite that would make text size-sensitive. I know people write plug-ins for Photoshop and Illustrator, but I’ve never tried before and i don’t know what’s involved. I am by no means the world’s best coder, and there isn’t much time for development, especially if I have to learn a new language and API.

The other idea I had along these lines was to create a Firefox extension. Instead of addressing the optical size issue from the designer’s starting point, this takes it directly to the people. On-the-fly interpretation! Or perhaps it can be built right into the next build. Firefox 3 supports automatic kerning and ligatures, so obviously there’s somebody in the Mozilla community who cares about type. Again, this is getting heavily into the coding arena, not my strong suit. Firefox extensions require JavaScript, which scares me a bit.

Oh, and the kicker: what about zooming? As the OpenType spec points out, “Note that sizes refer to nominal final output size, and are independent of viewing magnification or resolution.” What is final output size in a web browser? How to account for individual users’ screen resolutions? What happens when people start zooming in and out? Ultimately, such is the blessing and the curse of mutable type. The designer no longer has complete control over the design. The user can screw up your pristine layout with a single keystroke (ok, maybe holding down shift or something too). Sometimes, you just need to accept that you have no control and get on with life. In the meantime, you do the best you can to ensure your type looks as sharp as you can make it.

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Fall 2008 Thesis Presentation

February 21st, 2009 by Noam Berg

Here it is, my end-of-semester presentation from Fall semester. The video’s 31 minutes long, just to warn you.

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Contextual alternates are go

February 18th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I finally got my contextual alternates working! I went back to an OpenType tutorial by Thomas Phinney (the MAN, by the way) and tried adapting the code in the first example. Seems to work…I can get my font to cycle between three alternate ‘e’ characters when they’re set next to each other. This is encouraging progress  in the code department.

Another thing I’m getting some practice with is regular expressions. They’re scary to look at, but once you get the hang of them…they’re so damn cool. And you feel like a total badass. A colleague at my internship was teaching me on Friday how to use them in TextWrangler, where they came in very handy.

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Fontlab demo precedents

February 18th, 2009 by Noam Berg

There are some fontlab demo videos floating around out there, created by (an incredibly good type blog , serving up inspiration by the shovelful on a nigh-weekly basis). So far none of them cover contextual alternates, and they’re comparable to my two recent videos in terms of format and pace. I’m gonna see if I can up the ante a bit.

You can see the videos after the break.

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Video feedback

February 18th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I showed the two Fontlab videos to some classmates today, in the context of user-testing. The feedback I got was that the process is interesting, but the videos need to be tighter. As they are, they’re kind of stumbly, boring screencasts—of which plenty exist, but I can do better. It was suggested that the video be shot and edited separately from the audio. This way I can speed the footage up, cut out middle bits, and focus on a script instead of working and talking at the same time. I’m going to update my version ov iMovie so that I can do overlays, picture-within-picture, etc. With some work, these could end up being really cool.

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Possible press

February 11th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I contacted M&H Type in San Francisco, and they told me that they can do the work but it would be rather expensive. They’d done something like this before with four sizes of Centaur and it cost about $1,000. Yikes! I’m probably a bit late to shop around for grants. I’m kicking myself for not taking care of this stuff earlier in the game.

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Contextual alternates: video!

February 11th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Folks seem to like it when I show videos of my Fontlab work, and who am I to deny the people their entertainment? I’ve been working on contextual alternates for the rough draft of Christoffel. After the break here is some video documentation of the process. Get some popcorn and enjoy!

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Strike One

February 9th, 2009 by Noam Berg

I contacted Woodside Press about getting proofs of Van Dijck printed, but they have neither the font or Monotype equipment. Apparently the guy doing the casting left the company, and didn’t have Van Dijck anyway. Bummer! Back to the phone book…

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Ebooks and Mobile Phones

February 9th, 2009 by Noam Berg

My sharp-eyed colleague Carrie Mae brought to my attention an article in the New York Times discussing the plans of both Google and Amazon to get more books on mobile devices. This means Google books accecible by iPhone/T1, and Kindle books for sale on non-Kindle devices (does this mean no more nasty .AZW files, or will there be an iPhone app for reading them?). It’s an interesting development, considering Amazon have their own device they’re pushing (Kindle 2.0 due out “any day now”) whose main selling point is the large amount of available cntent and the ease and convenience of purchasing it (the content, certainly not the Kindle itself). It feels like their shooting themselves in the foot. Still, this may be a realization on Amazon’s part that despite their “best” efforts, iPhones are the #1 ebook reading platform out there, and that it may be the best move to eventually ditch the Kindle itself and make their massive content base available on other platforms.

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Oh the horror

February 9th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Comic Sans was based on the lettering in Watchmen? Shameful…

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On Reading

January 29th, 2009 by Noam Berg

The questions raised on Tuesday have me thinking a lot about reading. I’ll get into that more later*, but for now here are some interesting articles that relate variously to reading, ebooks, literacy and technology:

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Stupid Making Us Google?

People of the Screen

*I’m going to try something a bit different with this blog from now on. Instead of just typing whatever comes to mind when ruminating about some aspect of my thesis, I’m going to write it down as a proper, well-considered essay before I post.

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Americans Are Reading

January 29th, 2009 by Noam Berg

The NEA published a study this month (PDF file here) showing that reading rates in America are going up, for the first time in 25 years. The last two studies they did, in 2004 and 2007, were very pessimistic documents which reported a steady decline in reading. This time around, it seems they’ve takin online reading into account, surely something that’s gonna change the stats. Also, they’re mainly concerned with literary reading. Lots of other reading is going on. News, non-fiction, correspondence, blogs…the definition of reading, its domain if you will, is evolving.

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Back in the USA

January 27th, 2009 by Noam Berg

Winter Break is over, and I am back in New york. London was a blast. Among some highlights were lunch at the Dove Pub in Hammersmith, namesake of the Doves Press. My good friend Adrienne and I also made it to th St. Bride Printing Library, a wonderful resource off of Fleet st. in Westminster. I got my hands on some good materials relating to Jan Van Krimpen’s work and Christoffel Van Dijck’s original types. the staff were very helpful, the holdings extensive, and the photography policy refreshingly lenient. In their display cases I saw my first real live Monotype matrix, as well.

Back stateside, we had our first metting for thesis studio today. About half the class presented work (myself included). There were a few projects I hadn’t seen yet, and others that had changed significantly from last time I saw them. Sadly, there is nobody in class from last semester’s studio, but it’s a good group nonetheless and I think Colleen and Barbara are going to be a good fit for the work I’m doing. I got some good feedback in class, including:

  • Think about the reader’s interface with type: what are we reading?
  • What kind of type and typographic treatment suits the different kinds of text we encounter on-screen?
  • What makes for a good reading experience in different settings?
  • Look at the project from outside the field: why type? why now?

I have a good feeling about the semester. I’m certainly nervous, but at least I have my ducks in a row.

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V&A and books

January 12th, 2009 by Noam Berg

My friend and colleague Adrienne’s class had a field trip today to the National Art Library, housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum. I was able to tag along for the fun. We saw a sampling of their artist’s books collection. In case you’re wondering, I mean books created as works of art, not regular books written by or about artists.  There were some pretty neat ones, especially a Flying Fish Press book that unfolded to create a cave, at the end of which lurked an octopus. Very cool.

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British Library & British Museum

December 31st, 2008 by Noam Berg

We stopped in at the British Museum the other day and saw their “Roman Britain” room. Among other cool things, they had several very nice stone inscriptions. Some were from doorways, some were from soldiers’ graves. It was interesting that some of them were in rustic capitals. I also saw the Rosetta Stone (that sucker’s big!) and some cool Anglo-Saxon artifacts.

This morning my Mom and I saw the “Taking Liberties” exhibit about the struggle for freedom and rights in Britain. Stuff like the Magna Carta, suffragette literature, good stuff all around. The Magna Carta (at least the copy they had out for the exhibit) was written in a lovely civilité hand, as were other documents in the exhibit. It was hard to get good photos since the light was very low and I didn’t want to use a flash. Still, some came out nice and are going online.

Speaking of which…Here’s the Flickr set I promised. Expect frequent updates. Additionally, here’s a video I took of a well-done interactive display in the foyer of the British Library.

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December 27th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Fall semester’s over, and I’m spending my vacation with my folks in London. It’s so nice to be on a subway system without a trace of Helvetica. In fact, so far I’ve seen a lot less grotesks around here. Everything seems to flow from Johnston and GIll. I like it…makes for a different feel from NYC. I’m thinking of starting a Flickr photostream of all the signage I see. The British Library has a gate that’s a typographic delight.

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The State (proof) of Yosephson

December 15th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Typeface Design had its final meeting today, and this is the final proof I submitted for my font, Yosephson. It still needs more work on the spacing, and no kerning has been done yet. Still, the charcter set’s pretty robust.

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A little bit of Fry and Gutenberg

December 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Found this video, a BBC 4 documentary on Gutenberg, hosted by Stephen Fry. Not only does he traipse around Deutchland in the footsteps of the Gutmeister, he participates in a recreation of a Gutenberg-styled press, cutting puches and casting type, even making paper. Totally old school.

I think sometimes I was destined to be some sort of craftsman. Digital type just ain’t gonna cut it (no pun intended).

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A Sad Story

December 11th, 2008 by Noam Berg

NPR is covering Henington Press in Brooklyn, which will be closing after 3 generations. Video after the break…get a hanky ready.

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Domains, anyone?

December 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

As part of our domains assignment we needed to make a vsual map tying up all the different areas our project covers. I’m not a big fan of these things: trying to convey complex relationships in 2D will rarely result in anything less than a hard-to-follow mess, or will simply oversimplify things. Honestly, I wanted to submit my domains written out in set notation instead of a map. Maybe even graph notation, if they insisted on a visual. But noooo…we’re a design school, and although they barely teach us anytihng about designing visual materials, we’re expected to be whiz kids at it. Here, at any rate, is my attempt to deal with this mess:

(click to enlarge)

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Back In from the Cold

December 7th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Man, I’ve been bad about posting here. Lots going on, I’ll try to get everything down over the next few posts.

First off, I’m working on numerals for the typeface I’m making for Josh’s class. I’ve been building quasi-Jensonian letters out of bits of Hadassah, a Hebrew font designed in the fifties by Henri Friedlander. When I say quasi-Jensonian, read quasi-pseudo-sorta-kinda-maybe. I used the letters from Jenson Pro as guides for the proportions of my new glyphs. Very little resemblance to a Venetian humanist type after that.

In honor of its mixed-up heritage, I’m calling it Yosephson (or Yosefson? Not sure about the spelling yet). Josh thinks it as a shot at being a text face, but I’m not so sure. I’ve been working on the numbers today, old-style figures in the finest Humanist tradition. In the course of looking over my proofs, and trying to figure out why the 3,4,5,6,8 and 9 looked so out of proportion, I decided to do some quick research on the true nature of text figures. I pulled up some figures from the usual suspects:

I realized that I’ve been working under many, many mistaken assumptions. I’ve been learning a ton today about the preconceptions I have been working under with regard to how numbers look. Mostly I’d been assuming that the extenders in oldstyle figures use the same descender height and ascender height (or at least cap-height) as the letters. Wrong! Thank you for playing. They’re quite a bit shorter. The waist of the 8 does not correspond to the x-height. Nor do the waist of the three or the bowl of th 9 sit on the baseline. Sometimes, neither does 4.It’s helped me make muuuuch better figures for Yosephson.

Notice also some change in weight on the 0,3,4 6 8 and 9: trying to get them in line with the rest of the alphabet. I like the new zero. Eight’s problematic. I tried applying the sort of super-ellipse-parallelogram thing I used for the O in my ill-fated previous design (Binary Sort…although I’m gonna recycle that name, it’s too good to waste). The counters live in a a universe from the rest of the letterforms. Maybe they can coexist. That’s another fun thing about type: often what works is something that in theory shouldn’t work at all.

Typography, especially type design, is all about discovering how letterforms and figures really work. When you sit down to design them, you start realizing really fast how little you know. It’s about seeing the world as it really is, not how you think and assume it is. Now go work on your kerning, young grasshopper.

Dammit, I told myself I’d get to bed early tonight and it’s almost 1:00.

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Size matters…it solws you down

November 16th, 2008 by Noam Berg

We got a new shipment of e-readers, and they ain’t iLiads. We got us some iRex Digial Readers, the DR1000S model to be precise. With a 10.2″ e-ink screen, I believe it’s the largest e-paper display commercially available (not counting E-Ink corp’s horrendously expensive $3,000 prototyping kits).

I have to say, driving all those microcapsules seems to slow it down some. In terms of text, the display is gorgeous. Really something. But when it comes to interface and use…meh. To be fair, it’s meant for business documents more than for reading, but the iLiad is the other way and you know what? I hate to say it, but the kindle has the jump on both of them for book reading. Sure, the UI sucks, the hardware’s cheap and the type is an unholy abomination in the eyes of Gill, but it gets you to your book the fastest. A paper book doesn’t have to load. You pick it up and there it is, ready for your eyes to peruse. Electronic devices have to turn on and get their act together. from the time you hit the power button to the time you see your text in front of you, Kindle takes all. both iRex products take a century to boot, and you have to do some navigating to get to the content. Another thing that helps the kindle is that if you turn it off in the middle of reading a page in the book, the next time you turn on the device it’s at the same page you left it at. The iLiad does this as well, but it seems the DR1000S does not. It’s an important feature when you’re in the subway or elsewhere and on the go, and you’re reading in bried snippets. Getting on the train today, by the time I had this thing out of my bag and loaded the document I wanted to read, I only had time for two pages before I had to turn it off ( a process that taes longer than it should) and get off the subway. With the Kindle I could’ve read half a chapter by then. Probably on the iLiad as well. Hopefully they’ll do some upgrading to the software and overcome this nuisance. The iRex people seem pretty responsive to suggestions on their forums.

Lesson: the Kindle may be quick and dirty, it’s true. But the key word here is “quick”. It gets the job done, sloppily and without grace, but it succeeds. you flip a switch, wait 10 secods max and Bob’s your uncle, there is a page of text on your screen.

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Help my friend out!

November 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg

My friend and colleague Katrina is gathering input for her thesis project exploring ubiquitous computing. Answer a few questions and help her out, will ya?

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Kindle Vs. Iliad: Native text

November 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg
Comparison: full image

Detail shot: iLiad on top, Kindle on the bottom. I think we have a clear winner here folks.

For the record: The Kindle’s default typeface, as mentioned previously in this blog, is Caecilia. The iLiad’s font is a bit ambiguous: from what I’ve read online, it’s either Bitstream Vera Sans or DejaVu Sans. DejaVu is really just an extension of Bitstream Vera, so it doesn’t matter that much which if them is the actual thing. Bitstream Vera was designed by Jim Lyles, and is very similar to an earlier Bitstream design of his: Prima. Interestingly, when I ran a sample through’s WhatTheFont typeface identifier, the colsest result was in fact Prima Sans.

Both Vera and Dejavu are open-source projects. Wikipedia says DejaVu family is being used a lot as the default typefaces on Linux systems.

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About the Mad Scientist Running this Show

Noam Berg is a graduate Student in the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons School for Design in New York City. He is also the (debatably) creative force behind Exfish Studio. Noam is obsessed with old vacuum tubes, type design, computers, guitars and comic books. Noam likes Thai sweet chili sauce, hats, suits & ties, Wacom tablets, Japanese green tea (with the toasted rice), nerdy science girls, many varieties of music, SLR cameras, AnarchoJudaism, lithography and pocket watches. Noam's not a big fan of cell phones, the cool kids, ugly and over-used fonts (you know who you are!) and talking about himself in the third person. Seriously, this is really weird. I'm gonna stop doing it now.