The Pioneering Days of Multiple Master Fonts

Conrad Taylor (http://www.conradiator.com/) recently came to our office to share his experience of publishing tools used before the desktop computer was commonly available. In his presentation he described some old typesetting machines, among them the Berthold Diatype. At this point, I recoiled in terror as dark memories surfaced of a time when I operated this machine, created by what I still regard as some of the most evil minds on the planet. This got me thinking about some of the important advances that have been made in type design technology.

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Today, our font developers use Multiple Master (MM) technology to create multi-weight font families. This process allows the designer to draw the extreme weights of a typeface, say Thin and ExtraBold. The designer can then interpolate any point in between, and relatively quickly achieve a large range of weights. The interpolated weights have to be manually optimised to ensure they perform exactly as intended, and the larger the difference between the extreme weights, the more manual work is required.

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Interpolation helped our designers expand Aktiv Grotesk to a super family with 8 weights and 2 styles.

MM fonts were first pioneered by Adobe around 1992. It was a great idea that ultimately failed as a font format. Users barely understood how to use normal fonts on their Macintoshes at that point, and support by programs and printer drivers was erratic. However, it also provided opportunities for those of us who were tenacious.

In 1994, I was commissioned by Paul Luna at Oxford University Press to design a titling font for the Oxford Dictionaries, the Thesaurus and other publications in the same series. The aim was to have a typeface that could always be set at the same type size, irrespective of the length of title. MM fonts were the answer to the problem, and fortunately, Fontographer 4 had just been released allowing the creation of MM fonts.

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Multiple Master fonts allowed the designers to optically match weights across different font sizes.

As I was working on the project, it became clear very quickly how buggy the implementation was. Over a period of about two weeks, I was in daily contact with Altsys, the developers of Fontographer, to provide test reports. The engineers would release a bug fix overnight, and in the morning I would dial up with my modem to download the latest update, a process that took several hours. Eventually, however, I had a reasonably stable version that allowed me to finish the font successfully.

The resulting typeface was a two-axis MM font, weight and width. It consisted of caps only, sufficient for the setting of the titles. When working with MM, it is important that a glyph in the various extremes – in this case four – has a design and digital compatibility. The number of nodes, their numbering and direction of digitisation must all match. Not doing so will result in some unexpected interpolations. Font developers now have automated tools to help them achieve this compatibility, but I had to manually ensure that all the glyphs across the four designs resulted in the same structure. This manual compatibility check had to be done not only across the glyph design, but also across kerning and other font related data. To say that it was a painful exercise is an understatement.

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The Oxford Dictionary font, Bruno’s first ever Multiple Master, in development.

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The Oxford Dictionary font, Bruno’s first ever Multiple Master, in development.

I think that this was the first custom MM font ever produced in Europe, and I’m proud of the result. It’s a nice typeface that fulfilled the brief. It was used for a number of years by OUP, but I guess once the MM format was no longer supported, the font disappeared back into the drawer. Creating it was a great learning experience and it felt like pioneer work.

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Type Camp Chennai, India, 2014

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In late February, Hanna Donker and Kalapi Gajjar, both Font Developers at Dalton Maag, attended Type Camp Chennai 2014. “Since 2007, Type Camp has held type camps in 8 countries on 5 continents and has helped hundreds of people at all levels of experience and knowledge to learn more about typography”.

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Image courtesy of Daria Lanz

Here are Hanna’s reflections from the week:

Type Camp Chennai 2014 was an educational workshop led by Type Camp instructor, Shelley Gruendler, and held in the city formerly known as Madras, a city in South East India that contains roughly nine million people and which has a tropical climate and a very fast pace of life.

The camp dedicated a whole week to discussions, projects, visits, talks and workshops – all focused on Tamil and South Indic typography. It brought together a group of enthusiastic creatives from around the world with a shared interest in Indic type. We shared our knowledge and learned from each other throughout the week by collaborating on projects and presentations. And to be honest, the sharing went even further as we crammed 4 people into a tuktuk – which was obviously very cosy!

Type camp was an amazing opportunity to expand my expertise in South Indic scripts by learning about local lettering from sign painters and by seeing and feeling the historical and cultural context.

Visiting the ancient temples in Mamallapuram and seeing Grantha script engravings was quite special to me as it isn’t very common to come across. And when we made Kolams in the streets of Chennai, local woman joined the group by a mutual curiosity in each others worlds, which left us amazed and very humble.

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Type Camp strengthened my understanding of the function and use of typography within the specific cultural context of South India. I also learned Tamil script through some amazing lectures from Rathna Ramanathan and Nia & Selvan Thandapani, and all the incredible sign painted logos in the streets of Mylapore neighborhood.

The colour, speed, food and smell of India all add up to an amazing experience. It was a wonderful journey and I don’t think I can thank Dalton Maag enough for this opportunity.

You can read Type Camp instructor, Shelley Gruendler’s blog of the week-long type camp and see some great pictures at  http://www.typecamp.org/incredible-india-2014/.

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Font Launch: Prometo and Soleto

Today Dalton Maag is adding two new font families to its library. Prometo and Soleto are available for sale from Dalton Maag’s website.  If you purchase one or both of the fonts before 9 a.m. Thursday, 27th February you can take advantage of a 50% discount on the usual price. Follow this link  http://www.daltonmaag.com/discount/SOLPROMO and when you put the fonts in your basket the discount will be applied.

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Prometo and Soleto are siblings, two approaches to an idea that grew from a single design concept. They were created to work and play together, giving designers room to explore their potential separately and in tandem. Prometo is optimised for display, and Soleto is more text friendly.

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Soleto

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The design process began in early 2012, with the first sketches for Prometo done by our Brazil office. The font is squarish and geometric in design and was originally planned to be a display typeface, most suited to wayfinding and use at large sizes. However, as the project progressed, the potential to add another dimension to the font family was realised, and it was decided to also take the design in a direction that was more appropriate for text use.

Soleto is the softer and less angular companion of Prometo. It takes much of the original structure and texture of Prometo into its makeup, but is more traditional in shape and has a refined elegance to it that works well for large areas of text. Soleto is a freshly modern font with a quietly confident character, but one which is still distinctive enough to make it stand out from the crowd.

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In contrast, Prometo has an industrial feel to its personality, as if it has been built rather than drawn. It is a font with presence and movement and is clearly out to be recognised.

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This addition to our library provides two new and contemporary styles, but with very different goals in mind. We want designers to explore the relationship between the two fonts, and put them to work wherever they need a contemporary sans serif font that is more than the sum of its parts.

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TransGourmet Focus on Foco

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Towards the end of 2013 we produced a modification of Foco for TransGourmet as well as some logo modifications. Bruno, Alex and Eleni talked to us about why TransGourmet chose Foco and the modification process.

Why did TransGourmet decide to modify Foco? What was it about the font that they liked?

Bruno: TransGourmet is Europe’s second largest Cash and Carry food service enterprise. It has a presence with large retail outlets in Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, Romania and Russia. The outlets are customer facing and accordingly, it needs to have a friendly and approachable feel. Foco was chosen because it has the right blend of friendly and clean visual expression. The rounded treatment of some strokes break the corporate and impersonal feel that so many sans serif fonts have, yet as the design is deeply rooted in very traditional typographic principles it does not disrupt the functionality of what a typeface is supposed to do – to be read.

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The original version of Foco

The original version of Foco

Were there any particular brand values that they wanted the font to embody?

Bruno: Cash and Carry outlets by their nature provide good quality products at very affordable prices. The typeface needs to reflect that low price does not mean cheap. It does so by restraining the more playful elements such as the dis-jointed Q-tail, for example, or lowering the tip of the two diagonals in ‘M’ to sit on the baseline. Redesigning these elements to be a bit more traditional reduces the playfulness and expresses the solid quality values of the products.

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By modifying a few characters we were able to give Foco a serious twist.

By modifying a few characters we were able to give Foco a more traditional feel.

What modifications were made to Foco?

Alex & Eleni: We made some slight modifications in a few terminals so as to bring some forms closer to a classical interpretation like the bar in the “f” and “t” as well as removing some of the stencil features that one could find in the “k”. We were pleased to be asked to exchange the single storey “g” for a spectacle one, since usually this kind of request is the other way around. In a second stage we incorporated those changes in the Cyrillic meaning the modified font family would support more scripts that would be useful for the client’s business.

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Although subtle, when you combine all the changes TransGourmet has a font that is unique to them.

Were there any specific challenges for you in this project?

Alex & Eleni: For us it’s always a good challenge to review work from the past. We were able to define what needed to be modified to combine the client’s request together with our improved quality standards. We ended up with an outcome that would please both sides.

Working together with Facing from Zurich was a very good and straightforward collaboration as the scope of the project was well defined from the very beginning.

How did the font modification fit with the logo project?

Alex & Eleni:  The client asked us to use Foco for some sub-labels of the brand that would appear in different variations, side-by-side with the logotypes. Therefore, we had to be sure that all letters would be equally legible in small and big sizes without taking away from the personality of the logo. I think the font and logo work well together.

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The logos used some custom lettering which had to work with the Foco modification.

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A Font Called Grueber

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In early 2008 I was visiting Burg Hochosterwitz, an impressive medieval castle. I noticed some interesting architectural drawings in the fourteen gates that lead up to the castle, with lettering that showed some majuscule letter-shapes that I had never seen before. The style was roughly what we would describe as a mono-linear slab-serif style. The letter W drew my attention because of it’s unusual construction. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the serifs had an unconventional trapezoid shape, which I found interesting as well.odd w

But the letters did not come from a typeface, they were hand-drawn. And the lettering on these architectural drawings was clearly not executed by a calligrapher or a person that was used to dealing with letters; the quality was not very good, the shapes changed slightly from word to word and the letters seemed to be drawn with the same tools that the person used for the drawings.

What was particularly interesting to me was that the upper-case characters that usually are constructed with diagonals such as A, V or W were constructed only with round and straight segments. I took some photos on site and I tried to do some further research on these drawings. The creator was an Austrian architect and historian called Paul Gruëber (1852-1924). In the early 1900′s, he had analysed the old castle’s gates and drawn architectural plans. Copies of these plans are displayed in the gates, and this is what I saw.

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In autumn 2008 I joined Dalton Maag as an intern and I got the chance to work on a project of my choice. I had the chance to show Bruno and Ron my sketches and ideas for the font which ended up being Grueber. I learned what font design is all about, and it was a pretty steep learning curve, as all I had as a starting point was the inspiration of a small set of uppercase letters, executed in a crude and inconsistent way.

After I had decided on how the uppercase shapes would be constructed in detail, and what the serifs would look like, I added the rest of the majuscule set. After that I came up with a matching lowercase design. These design decisions were not all made straight away, it was an evolution and involved constant refining. And after weeks and months the concept seemed to take shape.

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During this process it became clear that the unusual shapes of some of the upper case letters were perhaps a bit too extreme for usage in text, and therefore we made the decision to draw conservative shapes for these letters. This made the font a lot more usable and legible. But I didn’t want to lose the original quirky letters that inspired me and were the reason for starting the project. So the decision was made to include them as a set of alternative letters via OT feature, which seemed the perfect solution.

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For the bold weight, I wanted to go for a fairly extreme weight to create enough contrast to the already strong Regular. The extreme weight meant that some serifs had to go. It wasn’t really a problem, it actually gave the bold weight an interesting character and a very unique design.

Weights

The Dalton Maag Team decided that they liked the typeface enough to include it in the library, but by then my internship was over, so I finished the work from home. Shortly after this, I was offered a position at Dalton Maag — so although the font has never been a best-seller, for me it paid off, and it means a lot to me personally.

Lukas Paltram
Creative Director

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