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The Codesmith's Library

Digital Typography Sourcebook

Written by Carsten Whimster



First off, there will be a change to the rating scale this month. I find that the old scale is more complicated than it needs to be, so I have replaced it with a simpler 1-10 scale. From now on (and I will make this retro-active when I get the time), all books will receive a rating out of ten. This scale is quite intuitive to most people, having a close relationship to percentages, and is sufficiently granular for our purposes.

This month I will be revewing a book which are superficially somewhat unrelated to OS/2. It is about fonts, pure and simple. OS/2 did use to have a native font design package, FontLab from Pyrus, but I am not positive that it is still around. I tried to get a review copy once and came close enough that I received a letter in the mail describing the various items I would find in the "package", but the rest never showed up, and then I lost touch with Pyrus. If anyone at Pyrus is reading this, I would appreciate an email.

Digital Typography Sourcebook

This book claims to introduce over 400 fonts, including some new designs, including many of the stories of the people who created them. It discusses which fonts to buy, and when to buy them, as well as converting fonts between platforms. It ostensibly shows when and how to modify and design fonts, but I will have more to say about this later. These are the chapters:

1.  Why Type Matters
2.  The Kinds of Typefaces
3.  The Anatomy of Characters
4.  Old Style Typefaces
5.  Transitional Typefaces
6.  Modern Typefaces
7.  Slab Serif Typefaces
8.  Other Serif Typefaces
9.  Sans-Serif Typefaces
10. Script Typefaces
11. Blackletter and Uncial Typefaces
12. Display and Novelty Typefaces
13. Typeface Utilities and Special Effects
14. Creating Your Own Characters and Typefaces
15. Using Type in Layouts
16. Building a Library
    The Type Specimens
A.  Sources

Type matters. For any designer, type is one of the key components to a design or a layout. The wide variety of available typesfaces help the designer to choose a suitable font for anything from newsletters to flyers and right up to newspapers or professional designs for competitions and advertisements. Each font has a particular history and feel to it. It helps to know this history as you look for a font for the particular job at hand. You would never choose the courier font for a art deco job.

The first step in knowing how to choose an appropriate font is to know a bit about the fonts available and their history. Some modern fonts have no particular history, but most have one or more influences or purposes. This book motivates this by showing several examples of appropriate and inappropriate usage, and explains why each is right or wrong. Then it moves on to explaining the terms necessary to understand fonts and their lingo, as well as the basic font formats and platforms. This treatment moves to the individual characters and the various parts of a letter.

From here the history of fonts is traced through a series of very thorough chapters, outlining the typefaces in chronological order. Starting with old style, we move through transitional to modern, and beyond. The particular categories are of course not rigid or even generally agreed upon, but the author's experience helps him to group the families into large well-chosen groups. Some of the groups are a little more clearly delineated than others though. Display and novelty typefaces is rather a large and diverse group, which might be well served by being broken up a touch, but then each designer will break things down differently.

After this we get into a part of the book that I felt was a bit neglected, the "how to" part. Some fonts are designed to be alterable within a narrow set of parameters, and programs exist to manipulate these fonts. Other programs create fonts from scratch. On the back of the book, and inside the book itself, we are led to believe that this book will teach us how to design fonts. In fact, a short mention of several programs used for this is all we get. We get a few tips and some heavy warnings about the amount of work involved, but then the material peters out and moves very quickly through it, skimming over much. FontLab gets a single page, for example, and there is really no general section on font design. I found this rather disappointing, since this was why I originally requested the book, and since the descriptions lead one to believe that this material is actually covered in far more depth than is the case.

Following this we get a quick-n-dirty whirlwind tour of how to use type in designs, but again, this felt rather rushed, and some of the examples were not as good as they could have been. Some of the supposedly elegant designs looked a little too empty or quickly thrown together.

At the end of the book we are given some good tips for buying fonts, and then we are treated to a large selection of fonts in a pseudo-appendix. The book comes with a CD, but this CD has only very few fonts on it, and is actually missing some of the programs that are promised, or at least I was unable to find them. There are some demo programs but some are old versions.

Overall, I quite liked the book, but I would hesitate to recommend it for anything except a good introduction to the various typefaces. The "how to" sections are short and disappointing, and the CD incomplete. I get the feeling that the book was started very carefully, but rushed at the end.


I really like this book. Nonetheless, a few things keep me from giving it a better mark. On the back it promises to teach you to "identify different fonts, where to buy them and how much you should pay, what fonts to avoid, and how to create professional looking fonts." It is this last point that is the sticking point. It doesn't really do enough here. In addition, some of the promised programs seem to be absent from the CD. Other than these points, the book lives well up to its promise, in spite of the sometimes slightly drab design examples. In a future edition, expanding the chapters on creating fonts to include design tips, step-by-step instructions, and do/don't checklists, and adding in the lost programs on the CD would get 9 or 10 from me.

I give it 7/10.

Digital Typography Sourcebook, Bryan

  • Wiley, ISBN 0-471-14811-3, $39.95 US, $55.95 CAN
  • Intended audience: Beginning artists and desktop publishers
  • Rating: 7/10

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