The reason the "Story of a Font" at the top of the page looks very different than the words you are reading now is because they were made with different fonts. Fonts are the way the letters of the alphabet are artistically expressed. Originally this was accomplished with handwritten letters in the style the author chose but now we can pick from hundreds of selections of fonts that can be installed in our computers. You can even design your own style of font and I have the pleasure of presenting the author of the magnificent font at the top of the page to explain how this is done. Presenting the author of the Civilité font, Hans J. Zinken:
Since my early childhood - among other interests - I am interested in printing. Other than helping out in a printing shop, I didn't have a chance to use letters until the age of the home computer. In 1986, when I was 38, and working as a computer specialist, I started with an ATARI ST, where you could design your own fonts for 24 needle printers with the "Signum" Program. That was a real breakthrough at that time. I transferred a couple of fonts for the use with the ATARI like Nicolas Cochin (a font, that I still like very much), Avant Garde and others - and had a first success with my self printed letters when I was looking for a new job in 1992.
In 1993 I decided, it would be nice to learn a bit about calligraphy in my spare time. So I came in contact with the "Museum of Work" in Hamburg. They taught me to write humanistic cursiva, and some broken scripts and by the way I learned to love old types. My best teacher, Günther Vortisch - an excellent calligrapher - one day showed me a paper with a strange but interesting looking quill script - the French Civilité of the 17th century. I was fascinated. Some weeks later a friend gave me a freeware true type font called "civitype", which I immediately tried out. However, what a pity, this font had little to do with French quill writing. So I decided, I had to make my own font.
The easiest thing was to find a tool for the digital design. I already had played around with "Type Designer", an excellent and cheap program, which I had used for the design of logos and special glyphs. The difficult thing was to decide how the new letters should look like. Civilité at its time was a "bastarda" type script used for everyday writing and for documents. As it was in use for more than 200 years from the 16th to the 18th century there are many variations. Foundries in Paris and Antwerpen had cut it into printing letters. I started to collect literature and samples of old prints, and tried to design the first letters - the result was awful and I gave up.
It was Günther Vortisch who encouraged me to go on, however he thought, as a prerequisite it might be useful to learn a bit about book printing in the museum print shop. It was great fun to learn how to use the old lead letters, printing with 150 year old manually driven machines, and being instructed by wonderful people with decades of experience. Well, a year later - must have been 1995 - I was bold enough to try again. The next attempt was to create a font very close to an original design from the Fonderie Peignot, Paris from the 16th century - however - some of the old letters are really unreadable nowadays and the result was just a poor copy of the original. So I thought, it might be better, to create a font which transmits the feeling of the old writing into letters for todays use.
I selected the best letter designs from the printings ...
... of Plantin, (Antwerpen, 1569-79),
... the sample prints or Fournier (Paris, 1742) ...
and others and drew them letter by letter into the Type Designer software.
I used different techniques: - sketching the letters on transparent paper, glued it on the screen and drew the outline around the letter form - scanned some of the capitals, used them as background images - "borrowed" similar letter designs and altered the outline until it fit into the new letter form. I also tried to convert the scanned images into outlines using corel trace. However the result is so poor, that you better draw the outlines manually.
Some letters, like the capitals E, K, R, S, W had to be "reinvented": as their original forms are hardly readable (The original R looks like a P with two horizontal bars). The most difficult one was the S, which went through about 20 or thirty variations. I also tried out different variations of the minors - implemented the typical "thick-stem" long s and f - and moved them to the alternates, until I was happy with the ensemble of the new alphabet. "Civi1" was born.
I would not have believed that adjusting the letters is such a time consuming job. The trick is, to find the right compromise for the space between different letter pairs before you use kerning. To adjust the spacing took nearly as long as the letter design itself, and it consumed piles of paper and maybe a liter of ink for my deskjet printer. However, for the old style scripts it is a bit easier, as the old masters tried to create their fonts so that the reader should have the impression, that all vertical stems have nearly the same distance to each other. Well, I tried to do so. This was "Civi2". The interesting thing is, that there is no mathematical rule for an ideal spacing. You have to look at the printed result and change it various times until you are happy with the result. Later on, a professional type designer who had worked for the URW type foundry told me, that they worked exactly the same way.
No font is complete without ligatures. The common ones are fi, fl. Most of the broken (black letter) scripts also have ligatures for ch, ck, si, sl, tz, ss ... and others. Civilité has a nice ligature for st and, due to the form of the glyphs, ligatures for tt, ff, ll, ss, and ch. As the font originates from a hand written script, there must be alternate letters to be used as starting letter or middle word letter. So I added the typical "thick long stem d", to be used as a starting letter, the "thick stem long s" and f and some nice alternates for the first-letter v, n and m and the the middle and starting g. For the beginning af a paragraph I added variations of A, D, and E. Some ending lines made the font complete. So, after two (calendar-) years the first complete version of the font was ready.
Sure, with the new software tools you may save a lot of time for the design, and a normal font design should not take longer than three month, especially a "modern" font may be designed in some days or even hours. However it is a great fun to find out the secrets and the beauty of old fonts and scripts, to go into museums an libraries, collect old books, learn about old techniques - all that just for fun. It is the process that counts, and so it is the ideal contrast to a professional work where only the result is important. That is why I dedicate this font to all those, who like to use it, and encourage everybody who likes fonts to be creative and make computer writing a new art."
You can visit Hans and download his font for free here:
If you're interested in trying your luck at creating your own font
or glyphs, there's a great program in this issue that will let you do just that here:
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