Before we start exploring type design, let’s have a minute to talk about what font design is not. If you already know these basics, please feel free to move to the next section.
Here are some terms you need to understand because I will be using them a lot:
Typography is an art of arranging written characters while working to enhance their readability and appearance. To do that, a typographer will use different typefaces and play with their sizes, kerning, leading, line length, etc.
So, typography is basically the art of using different typefaces in multiple settings (like web design, packaging, books, etc). What is important, typographers may or may not design the types they are using.
Type design (or font design) involves creating the look of visual characters (glyphs). These will include letters, numbers, and other symbols. Within one typeface, glyphs will have similar recognizable features. They will also be arranged in sets of fonts and share certain characteristics: weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicization, and ornamentation. This means that there are multiple fonts available in a single typeface family like Arial or Tahoma.
As we can see, designing typefaces includes creating fonts. However, you can create an alternative font for a typeface that already exists. By doing so, you will become a type or font designer. These terms “font” and “type” are being used interchangeably over and over again these days.
Most foundries use the terms font developer or font designer to refer to the same thing. Foundries are online marketplaces that sell online the types produced by employed or independent type designers. In the digitalized era, the line between typefaces and fonts has become very fine.
Table of Contents:
Type design is a great opportunity for a graphic designer (or an aspiring one) to specialize and build a successful career. It involves creative work and passive income. Who wouldn’t’ want that? I certainly would.
We will discuss the risks and possible pitfalls of a career in type design in the next sections. But first, how can you be sure that this profession is for you? Are you sure that type design will help you make most of your skills and passions?
Here’s a brief checklist. You can build a career as a font designer if:
If most of these statements ring true to you, a career in type design is likely to make you successful and satisfied.
Just remember that it is a long way to go.
You need to be motivated by something more than curiosity and the desire for passive income.
If you have a deep passion for letterforms, getting to know the craft from the very basics will be an exciting adventure.
There are multiple ways to earn a living from selling types. Let’s take a close look at the most popular of them.
Finding a corporate job as a type designer is not an easy task. It is all the more difficult if you don’t have an art or design school diploma and a solid portfolio.
Many young font designers do an apprenticeship with design bureaus while still studying in art-schools. Afterward, they may or may not get the job.
The best thing about apprenticeship is that you work on bigger projects alongside experienced font designers. This is a great opportunity to grow professionally, though rarely well paid.
Professional designers usually work alone and only share the results of their work online. So, if you want to specialize in type design only, it wouldn’t be easy to find a corporate job. When it comes to developing fonts, many businesses choose to cooperate with freelancers on separate projects rather them employ an in-house designer. But If you are ready to work as a graphic designer and perform various tasks, even those that have nothing to do with typography, your chances to get a well-paid job at an agency go up.
In the US, an entry-level graphic designer would earn from $35k per year, a staff level designer would get $45k, and a senior designer could earn up to $75k per year depending on a company. A typographer can expect a yearly income of $45k and up to $60k.
|Predictable income and working schedule (all stipulated in the contract).||You cannot choose the projects you work on.|
|The opportunity to concentrate on type design tasks without having to do any promotion or marketing.||Little control of the tasks you are assigned, especially on an entry level. You may have to do a lot of design chores until you get the chance to work creatively.|
|Predictable career growth.||Fixed working hours.|
|The chance to work on bigger projects even as an entry-level specialist.||Office work and the need to commute.|
|The chance to join multinational teams and work closely with experienced colleagues.||Corporate discipline, dress code and office politics.|
|Standard benefits like health insurance, paid vacations, etc.||Always being accountable to seniors about for work you do. Little freedom.|
If you have a free and independent spirit, you can try selling your fonts by yourself. To have a stable income with time, you will probably need a website and a big enough portofolio.
While working alone, you will have to master all the nuts and bolts of your business and do lots of negotiations with clients. You will also handle individual sales and customer support. There will be many ups and downs, but the independent road towards success is very exciting.
The only condition of entering the market as a sole type seller is to be ready to invest much time, patience and money in your new business.
Also, you will need a marketing plan that includes multiple promotion channels (including organic promotion, paid ads, and SMM).
|You get the full revenue from every sale of your font.||You have to do a lot of stuff that is not connected to design. You will have to create a website and take care of all the maintenance and expenses.|
|You are totally independent and make choices about everything in your business: from design ideas to pricing and marketing.||It’s very likely that you will have to invest money into marketing before you get the first customers or clients.|
|You know all your customers directly and have higher chances to establish strong longterm relationships with them.||You will have to be half businessmen and half type designer.|
|With every new project, you are developing your own brand and enriching your personal design portfolio.||Your income will be very unstable and unpredictable until you establish a big enough clientele.|
|You will have to take care of all individual sales and do customers support.|
Tips for sole type sellers:
Resellers are websites that find fonts in foundries and make contracts to sell them over to their customer base. Often, they have a market niche and seek fonts of a particular style.
Many font designers enjoy working with resellers because retailers do all the marketing. They will make sure your fonts are sold in as many foundries as possible. Resellers have contracts with major foundries and act as middlemen between designers and font libraries. Reselling companies work across many promotion channels and are very good in delivering fonts to end users.
Some resellers will want to sell your fonts across all foundries, others prefer selling products exclusively to one marketplace. Resellers have huge libraries, so your font will have to stand tough competition. Do a risk/benefit analysis before making any decisions.
Type reselling work for commission and retain on average 40-65% from the font price.
|Your font gets promoted across many channels. This means that you would get more sales than if you market your product alone.||You lose a part of income.|
|The ability to reach distant markets.||You depend on the reputation of the particular reseller and its ability to promote your fonts.|
|Resellers sometime have better payment policies than foundries.||There may be tough competition among different fonts in a particular reseller library.|
|Reseller may work in very specific genres ignoring all the other fonts that do not match this style.|
Tips for selling fonts through resellers:
Selling fonts through a type foundry is the most popular earning option among type designers.
A foundry is a resource that sells typefaces. Nowadays, most of them do it through websites in a digital form. Foundries can also offer a nice package of design services to go with a purchase.
Once you have submitted your font to a foundry or an online marketplace, you are no longer in charge of promoting and selling it.
The foundry will take care of all the marketing and administrative tasks. They will also deal with resellers and anyone who shows interest in your font. A foundry will use its reseller network and marketing resources to get your font out there and sell it as many times as possible.
Some foundries may pay you a percentage of each sale, whether it was made directly off the website or through another distribution channel. Other foundries pay a percentage of a wholesale price. In that case, your revenue from a particular sale will depend on the number of channels through which the sale was made. The more parties involved, the less money you get.
After you’ve invested time and effort into creating a font, you wouldn’t want it to be buried in oblivion. So, working with a popular and trustworthy foundry may be the optimal choice for an ambitious type designer. Just make sure your font meets the quality standards of that foundry and is unique enough to compete with other fonts in the foundry library.
|You will hand over all marketing and customer care to the foundry. They will also deal will resellers for you.||You have to let go of a percentage of every sale.|
|Foundries have big customer bases and websites with huge traffic. Your fonts will be seen and bought more often.||You don’t control how the foundry sells your font.|
|You can focus on creating new fonts without having to handle any administrative tasks.||In many cases, you sign an exclusive contract and can’t sell your font outside of the foundry.|
|You are still free to set your own schedule, choose which fonts to work on and how to price them.|
|Foundry will take care of your author right and protect you from pirates.|
The best thing a foundry gives to a font designer is the opportunity to have passive income from every sale of that font.
You also get a guarantee that your fonts will be seen by many people.
Masterbundles gives you a 50% commission from every sale FOR LIFE.
You submit a font and we market it through our channels. The money will keep coming as you mind your business and focus on the things that are important to you.
No marketing, no administration, no dealing with customers – Master Bundles will take care of everything for you.
Also, make sure you are subscribed to our blog and get the heads up about the latest trends in the industry.
|Kids Zone – Playful Layered Font||Figuree Studio||$4|
|Font Bundle: 16 Stunning Fonts OTF/TTF/WOFF||CreatypeStudio||$29|
|Funkie Bunny Easter Font||Figuree Studio||$4|
|TypeFaith Grunge Bundle: 18 Creative Fonts||LeonHulst||$9|
In this section, I will try to give you a glimpse of the knowledge you should have before you start designing your first type.
The lists of terms I’ll try to explain are not full. I provide links to awesome resources, use them to deepen your knowledge on a given topic. If you are not new to the field, just more to the next section that is more practical.
The prehistory of typography dates back to Sumerians knew formal writing as early back as 3500 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were the first to use symbols in art, and Phoenicians created the first written alphabet in 1000 B.C.This alphabet was later taken over by Greeks and Romans. In fact, many aspects of it are still familiar to us in 2019.
The Middle Ages are famous for their love for calligraphy and lettering that is obvious from the beautiful manuscripts that have survived until these days.
The advent of typography as we know it today began in the 15th century when Gutenberg invented the printing press and moveable type that could be used with it. Since then, people started experimenting with types, their sizes, boldness, shadows, and styles. The oldest serifs and sans serifs actually date back to the times of the Industrial Revolution.
The next major shift in the industry occurred when line-casting machines like Linotype and Monotype were invented. These allowed to use a certain type and have it circulate back into the machine automatically. This dramatically eased out the printing process because manual typesetting was no longer required.
In 1885, we saw the dawn of optical scaling when pantographic machines became able to expand or condense characters and images. This allowed typographers to use different sizes of the same font in their works. Also, the “point” font measurement system that we now take for granted was invented at that time. Before that, you would call different sizes of the same font different names.
From the 1950s to 1985 prototyping was the dominating trend. This technology involved projecting characters onto a screen and using lenses to adjust the resize images and scale types. The dawn of the digital era in 1980 first gave way to half phototype half digitized machines, each of which had its own formats for fonts. The standard for digital typesetting, the PostScript evolved in the late 1980s and gained popularity from being included into the first Macintosh and Page-maker (desktop publishing program).
Now, we have a variety of page description languages and font formats, like Postscript Type One, Multiple Master, Truetype, and Truetype GX, Open Type, etc.
Links to know more:
Over the years, many efforts were made to categorize typefaces and create a structured classification. The most popular approach is to distinguish four basic categories of types: serifs, sans serifs, script types, and decorative types.
Below, we will explore every category and basic subgroups it consists of. This classification is by no means an exhausting one, and I will add some more links at the end of the section for those who want to know more.
These typefaces get their name from the small strokes we see at the ends of lines. These elements make serifs very readable and widely used in printed media. Most go-to serifs include Times New Romans, Georgia, Didot, Garamond, Baskerville, etc. While serifs are also great for titles and logos, they are not perfectly readable online. Nowadays, serifs are appreciated for adding a hint of reliability, sophistication, and formality to a design project.
|Old-style (humanist) serifs are the oldest. You can tell them by the diagonal stress. Stress is the angle of inwards pressure onto a character which makes the lines thinner depending on the axis angle. So, in Adobe Jensen, for instance, the thinnest lines are those angled, not vertical or horizontal.||These types speak history and mystery. They look||Adobe Jenson, ITC Berkeley Oldstyle, and Goudy Old Style|
|Transitional serifs include our beloved Times New Romans and Baskerville. You can tell them by the difference between the sick and sinner strokes which is bigger than in humanistic serifs but smaller than in modern ones.||These types communicate formality, tradition, and reliability.||Americana, Baskerville, Perpetua|
|Neoclassical Serifs would have a vertical stress and smaller brackets. The contrast between thick and thin lines is even more pronounced.||These are glamorous, vintage, fashionable and luxurious.||Walbaum, Didot, Bodon|
|In Slab Serifs, the contrast between lines reaches bare minimum and the letters have chunky serifs. Slab serifs would have fixed width sometimes and remind you of Sans serifs.||These fonts look very authoritative and demand attention. The impression you get is of your message being impactful, bold and important.||Clarendon, Rockwell, Archer, Courier, Excelsior|
These types got their name from lacking the serif elements at the end of each character. They look more modern and read better on digital screens. These types seem to have more open and humanistic personalities. They look clean and tend to make your message look universal. We see sans serifs everywhere – on websites, in logos and headlines, in small texts and product packaging.
|Grotesque Sans Serifs look very much like Serif types but without the serifs. You can also recognize them by monotone weight stress and characteristic gs with a loop at the end. There’s also some squareness to all the curves in these types.||These types look simple, neutral, easy to read, and sensible.||MS Sans Serif, Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, Neo Grotesque|
|Humanistic Sans Serifs follow the proportions of classic Roman inscriptions, they also have greater line width variation and contrasting weight of strokes. These types are considered most legible of all sans serifs.||These types look colloquial, decorative, and distinct.||Tahoma, Optima, Gill Sans, Frutiger|
|Geometric Sans Serifs are inspired by simple shapes and look the most modern of all sans serifs. Paradoxically, these monolith-looking types are less readable than grotesque sans serifs.||They look trendy, bold, oblique, and sharp.||Avenir, Futura, Harmonia Sans|
These are obviously inspired by handwriting, which makes them fluid and decorative. These types usually have connected elements.
You get a feminine, fancy, elegant and personal impression from these types.
|Formal Scripts look very 17 century and some of them use the handwriting of famous calligraphers as a benchmark.||They look stylish and chic but not too readable.||Bickham, Elegy, Helonda Book|
|Casual Scripts are inspired by more up-to-date handwriting, you will recognize them by the 20th style. These types look like they have been drawn by a brush. The strokes are also more powerful.||Casual, cool, unique, alternative, embellished.||Limehouse Script, Freestyle Script, Brush Script, Mistral|
These types are the most decorative. This category is the broadest and the types are mostly used for headlines, signage, tattoo art, etc. to make a stronger statement. Many display types are dramatic and contain unexpected letterforms or psychedelic and grunge elements.
|These types are prominent, quirky, friendly, and eccentric.||Shoreditch, Arnold Circus, MO Funky Fresh, ITC Airstream|
|In Monospaced types, all characters are given the same amount of space, regardless of their actual width. In proportional scripts space is distributed depending on the character width.||These types look edgy, technological, code-based, and sophisticated.||Courier New, Monaco|
Links to know more:
A grid is a backbone of a page layout, the inner structure of placing text and images on a page. It is impossible to build a good enough typographic layout without internal coherency. Grids include guides and columns that make the layout balanced and predictable Layout grids can be symmetric or asymmetric depending on whether they follow a center line.
Hierarchical grids are for organizing content on websites. Modular Grids have both columns and rows and allow organizing content in a more structured way than with just columns. These grids are also the best for charts and schedules. Baseline grids determine the spacing between lines of text and create a flowing rhythm to it. They are usually combined with other types of grids. Column grids are most popular in magazines where they simply arrange text into columns. Manuscript grids are used where there is much plain text, like in pdf documents.
Measure refers to the length of a text line. This length applies to both paragraphs and columns. Measure makes the text more readable because a line that is too long would be too hard to follow. Alternatively, very narrow lines would make readers shift their eyes to and fro all the time which is exhausting.
Leading is the distance between one baseline of text to the next minus the size of the type itself. Longer lines of text require more leading, and larger characters need less leading. Good spacing makes the text more readable and easy on the eyes.
Left alignment is how people naturally view text so it’s better to arrange your content this way. You can align all headline to the right and justify no more than a few lines of text on the whole page. Justification within one column makes the lines shorter and adds chaos to the layout.
A text rag is a messy side of a paragraph when the text is aligned to the opposite side. Having aligned the text, a typographer needs to take care of the rag and make the line ends move to and fro less. A paragraph with very uneven line endings will have a bad rag. Such rags are tiresome to the eye.
Kerning is the distance between two characters of the process of setting this distance. You will inevitably do kerning when working with headlines, logos or other prominent text pieces. Tracking refers to adjusting the distance between characters throughout the whole document automatically.
Widows are lines of text that get separated from the rest of the paragraph and end up in a different column or on the other page. Orphans are words or short lines that end a paragraph leaving lots of white space. Both widows and orphans should be avoided to increase the readability of text and make it look harmonious.
We have a checklist for everything. Here’s your type checklist:
Make the font bigger if:
Make the font smaller if:
Reduce the text measure if:
Increase the measure if:
Increase the leading if:
Arm\leg – A stroke that has one side attached to the rest of the character and the other floating. Can be upper, lower, horizontal, or diagonal.
Ascender is the upper stroke of vertical letters like “b” or “d” that reaches above the x-height.
Aperture – open space between legs on a baseline.
Descender – the part of the letters like “y” that goes below the text baseline.
Bar – the horizontal line on letters like “h”, “r”, or “f”.
Baseline – the line on which the characters sit. Some letters like “g” will reach below the baseline.
Bowl – a stroke made in a curve that creates a closed space in a character (a counter).
Cap Height – the distance between the baseline and the top of uppercase letters.
Stem – the “spine” or “body” of a letter, like the vertical line in D and diagonal stroke in V.
Counter – the white space created inside a bowl.
Ear – the small element at the right top of the letter “g”.
Glyph – one symbol in a set of symbols that are or should be readable.
Shoulder – the curvy element that stems from one vertical stroke to another, like in “m”.
Loop – the lower element of the letter “g”.
Ligature – joining two letters together in one glyph.
Link – the element that connects the bowl and the loop (the upper and lower elements) of the letter “g”.
Spine – the main curve of the letter “S”.
Meanline – the line that could be drawn at the top of lowercase letters and in the middle of letters like “h”.
Stress – making the stroke thicker.
Stroke – a line in a letter, straight or curvy.
Tail – the small stroke at the end of letters “R” or “Q” that goes down.
X-height – the distance between the men line and the baseline. Or, the actual heights of lowercase letters minus ascenders and descenders.
If we compare designing a font to an adventure, a brief would be a map. If you set off down the road without a map, you will never know whether you have arrived in the right place. Here are the main questions you should set straight in a brief before you draw a single line:
Let’s say you will be creating a sans serif in Illustrator and FontLab.
Let’s go through the most basic steps you need to follow to come up with a new typeface:
If you prefer drawing everything by hand and working in Illustrator and Fontself maker, here’s a short algorithm for you too:
Find out more about the type design and appropriate tools:
Choose a niche
This tip sounds almost cheesy but what can we do if the font market requires making smart and educated choices. Before you start making your first brief, think hard about the main need your font will fulfill and the audience it will serve. You cannot create a successful product in a vacuum: look around, get inspired by other authors and then make something better than them.
Be generous with styles, weights, and stylistic alternates.
Choosing a font is very personal. So, the more alternatives you offer, the higher the chances that your font will have to be appreciated. You can’t offer regular and bold and call it a day. Think about going extra bold, Semibold, Hairline thin, etc. Your effort will be repaid when customers start choosing your type over all the rest.
One more important aspect is to increase the adaptability of your font by including stylistic alternates. By adding multiple ligatures, stylistic sets, and combinations, variable caps you will make your font way more useful and attractive to customers.
Pay attention to kerning
Character spacing that we notice viscerally, on an unconscious level. So, if you haven’t paid enough attention to kerning your type, even non-professional customers will notice it. And a professional designer will never choose a font that is unreadable and hard on the eyes. If you put characters too close to each other, the words will look cluttered and difficult to read. If you go to the other extreme and make the letters too distant from one another, the viewers will notice the discomfort it creates for their eyes.
Create an amazing presentation and add a few bonuses
No one will fall in love with your font if you do not take pains to present it beautifully. Think about the purpose and character of your font and try to create a presentation that reflects its best qualities. Don’t show your font with ADCs but use nice popular words like LOVE and FRIENDSHIP in your presentation. You need to choose the right angle, color, size, and background to show off your new creation. And of course, the font name should be catchy and inspiring.
Also, add a few goodies to your font package to impress and excite your future customers. The free goodies may include thematic badges, various insignia, additional symbols, or even holiday-inspired fonts. It’s also a very nice idea to create special cute versions connecting words for headlines (like prepositions, the words FREE, ONLY, BY, etc) and add them to your pack. Be generous and you will see feedback from customers in no time. And one more thing: make sure that your font package includes more than two different file types.
To be successful, you typeface needs to fulfill a certain purpose AND be original. Sometimes, it’s hard to take a fresh perspective on creating fonts because there are millions of them already. Can you come up with something unique but not too crazy? The market always has voids that your creativity may fill. The most important part is to be observant and find your own take on the styles that are already available. Also, you could ask yourself ”As a designer, would I be excited to use this font?” If your answer is “yes then you’re on the right track.
Don’t stop learning
Typography market is a very competitive and technological environment. If you want to succeed in this market, you need to invest in forever learning new tools and methods. Watch Youtube tutorials, attend masterclasses, follow blogs, take online courses – do whatever it takes to be aware of the latest trends.
Find the right tribe and get feedback from them
When you become a part of the professional community and put your works out there for everyone to see, you will get feedback. And this is awesome even if the things you read from peers and experienced designers are not as flattering first. Join forums and professional online communities to grow as a font designer and be aware of what’s going on in the market. And one more thing: it’s always better to create something, show it to people, receive feedback and correct mistakes than sit still and do nothing.
Make a video about your font
Have you thought about it? If you want to let the world know about your new creation, make a video about it. Moreover, fonts are visual in nature, so making a video is a wonderful chance to show off your font from various angles. Get creative with your promotion and let people see how they can use your font to make the most of it. Show how your type can be used in different contexts to make even more people excited about it.
As I was gathering material for this article, I asked Tarif Khan, the Head of Design of LogoDesign.net to share his recommendations to young type designers and photographers. Here’s what he came up with:
Did you get inspired to start learning typography and type design? Well, we’ve got some resources for you. Most of them are free, some are paid. You can decide to start formal education, or be content with taking an online course – it’s all up to you.
What you definitely need to do is follow the links with inspirational blogs and web resources and subscribe to them (and don’t forget about our Musterbundles blog!). These resources will entertain you and make you a better professional absolutely free of charge.
Online courses are so popular right now because they offer the same level of knowledge as formal ones. If you need a certificate for accomplishing a course, check out the description and make sure the class provides one. By the way, if you choose your courses wisely and spend some money on them, you can impress your future employers no less than by a formal university diploma. But of course, it’s 2019 already, so we’re all after practical knowledge and not certificates.
Who doesn’t like a good video tutorial? We have some for you in the list below. It is in no way full, there is much more educational content about type design that you can find on Youtube.
Putting a good book on your bed table and looking through it daily is a luxury you definitely need to allow yourself. All these books can bring you to the next level as a font designer and typography-lover.
The pages below should be your everyday go-to resources if you want to immerse yourself in the world of typography and type design.
Here we have useful tools and professional communities you need to be aware of to grow as a type designer. No man is an island, and no successful type designer is either.
Well, that’s basically all I wanted to share with you. Did you enjoy the article? Was it helpful?
Please leave us feedback in the comment and let’s get the conversation going!