HOW A SCRIPTORIUM FONT IS DESIGNED

There are a number of different methods by which our fonts are designed. Some are based on antique typefaces, many are patterned on historical calligraphy and some are new and completely original designs. Regardless of their origin, a great deal of work goes into every font to make sure it is unique and up to the standards of quality which set Scriptorium fonts aside from the legion of clones and old standards.

The techniques used to design our fonts vary as much as the sources of inspiration, and several of the fonts featured this issue illustrate those techniques quite well. By looking at the design process for several of these fonts you can get an idea of what it takes to make a font.


Ranegund typefies some of our most traditional design techniques. It originated in a page of calligraphy from a document of the Merovingian court. From that document I copied as many characters as I could by hand and then developed a full calligraphic alphabet of the Merovingian Courthand style. All of the characters were drawn by hand using a calligraphic pen. In most cases two or three versions of a character were drawn with slight variations so that they could be viewed in combination with other characters to determine which forms worked best together. The calligraphic characters were drawn based on the small circular portions of characters like 'a' and 'o' having a height of half an inch. Once the full character set was created it was scanned using a 1200dpi Sharp scanner and Adobe Photoshop 3.0. Characters were then placed into Fontographer and traced using a relatively tight setting. Once the characters were traced in Fontographer the full set was printed out as text samples. Character shapes were then adjusted for uniformity and some alternate forms were brought in to replace characters which just didn't fit well.

The design of Rackham, Sangrael and many of our art fonts followed a similar method to Ranegund, with the difference that with these fonts rather than working from our own hand-drawn calligraphy we worked directly from original printed copies of the artists work. Because Rackham's ornaments and calligraphy exist in excellent printed forms and are available in our collection of early Rackham illustrated books, we scanned the samples we had and worked from them.


In the case of the Rackham calligraphy font we didn't have a complete character set to work with, since the samples we had lacked about half-a-dozen characters. Some original design work was required to fill that gap, developing original characters derived from the style and shapes found in the samples we had.


With Sangrael, as with many of our art fonts, just tracing the scanned images produces characters with pathing errors or which were far too complex. Both MacOS and Windows95 limit a character outline to about 1500 vertices or points, and older version of Windows have an even lower limit. To deal with that problem in Sangrael we had to edit individual characters by hand to reduce the complexity of the outlines as well as ultimately limit the font to only 24 characters to keep the total complexity of the font within viable limits. Without this rather tedious and exacting modification many users would have been unable to print some of the characters from Sangrael or even view them on their screens.


Angelus represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Ranegund and other hand-drawn fonts. It was created entirely on computer, in fact it was designed entirely in Fontographer without the use of any other programs. Because of its relatively angular nature and simple letter forms, each character was created in Fontographer to meet specific mathematical ratios and positions. As an interesting side-note, Angelus was originally intended to be a proportionally spaced display font, but when it was nearing completion it became clear that almost all of the characters already had the same width, and it would require only small modifications to a couple of characters to make it a monospaced font. Given the great need for stylish monospaced fonts, we made those changes with excellent results. Designing a font directly in Fontographer presents some technical problems, even working with a high-resolution optical mouse or a painting tablet. Except with fonts like Angelus which are exceedingly regular in form we generally find that hand-drawing the characters produces a smiither, more elegant result. Even some of our basic text fonts like Centurion were at least partially hand drawn to make sure that the curves and the serifs were exactly right.