The life of a type designer
Craft and creativity

The Art of Eyeballing

A series of articles by Fábio Duarte Martins (aka Scannerlicker) about the less tangible aspects of type design: Overshoot, prception versus geometry, mass, whitespace, counterforms (negative space), optical adjustments and other esoterica.

One of the things that our brain excels in is recognizing faces: it has to deal with a lot of details, within a very extensive catalog of faces, and yet we recognize people we barely know in a split second.

I’m sure everyone knows identical twins. If we don’t know that someone has a twin, we easily mistake two people as being the same. But if we know that someone has an identical twin and never met them, chances are, we can spot the difference. And by spending time with one or the two of them, it gets easier and easier to tell them apart, up to the point of saying “but they’re so different!”.

So, with type, it’s the same thing: the more of your time you spend looking at subtle differences, while preserving a need to spot them, the better you get.


So take what you’ve learned today and trust your eye. If it looks awkward, well, it’s awkward. Teach yourself to pay attention to the forms, counterforms and whitespace. Inspect the curve/line segments on by one and compare them to the whole form. And to the whole group of forms.

Even if we dabble in maths and geometry, here, keep in mind that these are means to an end, not the end itself.

Scannerlicker has some other excellent educational on typography, like 10 Tips On Kerning And Metrics and How much is an em?

Caslon No. 540, American Type Founders 1906 Tobias Frere-Jones had a similar post recently on ‘typeface mechanics’ that’s well worth reading. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

Also, there’s a great introduction to this topic from Thomas Phinney: Make Your Fonts Suck Less:

See also: Letter Fountain and other posts tagged typography.


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