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#76 • Trimming the Stems

Type friends, Despite being a web developer and spending 97% of my waking time online, I don't yet ha
Coffee Table Typography
#76 • Trimming the Stems
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #76 • View online
Type friends,
Despite being a web developer and spending 97% of my waking time online, I don’t yet have a Reddit account. No, I’m not allowed to go into that rabbit hole. However, on occasionally slow evenings when no one is looking, I browse /r/typography. Last week I stumbled upon this 3D scene, a 10 second video rendering of New York style architecture + subway Helvetica, and I can’t stop daydreaming about it. It both makes me want to pick up a 3D software, and an actual paint bucket and a brush. It’s no secret that urban typography is a great passion of mine, but I always feel powerless knowing that it’s unlikely I’ll ever put any typography skills into the real, touchable, physical world.
But, that’s okay. Urban typography is best left for those who truly understand and speak the heart and language of a city. Heck, not even a whole city, but individual neighbourhoods. Take Berlin, for example, whose individual streets and neighbourhoods can easily make up for a book of their own. Even in the 2000s, you can easily be transplanted into Kurfurstendamm in Berlin and recognise it by looking around; identifying the typeface styles in storefronts, neon signs, churches. Drop me in a city that uses and abuses Griffon, like Porto, and I’ll know I’m in the heart of the city. Interesting cities have interesting text. Interesting street signs. Standardise a city too much and its text and design become just that, too — standardised to a point of being blended into another city.
I digress perhaps because I miss travelling. I miss my cities.
—From my dining room table,
Ricardo

Leading-Trim: The Future of Typesettings
Let’s start with an article that could have easily been the whole newsletter: Ethan Wang writes about the new and ever so exciting leading-trim property, something that should excite both web developers and designers alike. Even if you’re not in any of these fields, there’s still something interesting to learn about typesetting in this article.
For as long as, well, ever, setting spacing in typography has had a big problem: inconsistency. Let’s go back 140 years ago, to a time where type was still set by hand with lead boxes. Typesetters would insert strips of lead in order to space lines of text, making the line height the sum of the height of the type block + the leading. This was the line height, as we knew it then.
But then the Web, and CSS1 came along in 1996. In order to make it easier to set type on the web, this spacing (leading) was split in half in order to ease making text boxes look more evenly spaced. Half-leading meant we had half of the spacing at the top, half at the bottom. An example, dating from Internet Explorer 3:
But this is problematic.
While half-leading creatively avoided uneven bounding boxes, it introduced its own problems. Each font size in a font family comes with a default line height. Default line height is usually designed to be taller than the text it contains to accommodate certain characters and accent signs. Increasing line height then adds two half-leadings, making the text box even bigger. Half-leading, together with the extra space reserved in the default line height, is the root of our text box frustrations today.
But today, the CSS Working Group is working on the leading-trim property, a new CSS prop that cuts the spacing away from the actual text height, like a scissor, and doesn’t include it in its calculations.
The example above first uses text-edge (also a new property) to tell the browser the desired edge of the text is the cap height and the alphabetic baseline. Then it uses leading-trim to trim it from both sides. Note that leading-trim only affects the text box; it doesn’t cut off the text within it.
This means that the following situation of vertical text alignment, well known to every web developer, is finally getting easier to fix without hacks like tweaking or resetting the line height (or negative margins):
There is so much more to unpack in this article, so if this sounds interesting to you please refer to the original Medium article.
Letterform Archive: From Paper to Screen
In case you’re new here and you didn’t know, we love the Letterform Archive. Their online archive is an endless well of gorgeous designs, of beautiful typographical scenes frozen in time (the Emigre series is particularly enticing), and it’s a fantastic idea to keep checking back for more.
Last June, LfA published a short, but interesting article about their process of capturing the paper to screen, or putting it in their words, “The Archive’s digitization librarian offers a glimpse at how we digitally capture the artistry and craft of our physical collection.”
In order to preserve the collection in digital form, the LFA isn’t just scanning the books. Oh no, that would be a little bit too vulgar, wouldn’t it? No, instead, they’re photographing the books in high-fidelity, and sharing a bit of their process along the way:
High-fidelity digitization is an important part of our mission. While there is no substitute for holding a rare book or designer’s sketch in your own hands, we want to offer the Letterform Archive experience to those who can’t visit in person. This goal has never been more vital than right now, in the midst of a pandemic, but it was always central to what we do. Digital images preserve the collection for posterity, and make it shareable worldwide through Archive publicationssocial media, and the Online Archive.
The goal is to capture the smallest details of a book or print or poster: the texture of the paper, the inky brushstroke, the impression of type in the surface. Each item is documented in its essential form — not as a flat image, but as an object with a story, using methods like stochastic screening.
A gorgeous photo of a page from W.A. Dwiggins from LFA
A gorgeous photo of a page from W.A. Dwiggins from LFA
An example of some of these photos can be seen in their Archive Publication No. 1, for the Life in Design book. But back to their process details:
Regardless of the format or material, we never scan objects for digital preservation. Instead, we use a high resolution camera on a stand. A camera can capture much more detail, as well as the relief image of letterpress or engraved printing. We typically light books and other bound materials from the top (as one would be looking at it) and angle the light almost parallel to the surface of the object, which captures the detail and texture of paper and ink. Raking light is widely used in the art world to emphasize painting strokes and paint texture, as well as to assess the condition of an artwork by a conservator. 
Scan on the left, photo on the right
Scan on the left, photo on the right
Going into more detailed evidence, the picture above depicts Herbert Bayer, World Geographic Atlas. Scan on left; photo on right. The photo more accurately captures the color and depth of the book’s edges, material, and metallic title.
There’s a lot more to read and learn from in the article, from image formats, more techniques on the photo process, and of course, more beautiful book samples, so don’t miss it at the LfA.
Step by Step Guide for Pairing Fonts
Here’s the guide I wish I had written about pairing fonts, written recently by Erik D. Kennedy. This is the question I get asked the most, and let me tell you, there is no quick answer to this. Google Fonts does a terrible job at recommending pairs (often based on popularity, but quite meaningless), and most articles out there essentially tell you to “just develop some taste”.
Here’s a quick recap of what Erik mentions in this article, summarised for a newsletter, but not enough for you to learn much:
1. Determine your brand
A font pairing that works great on one site may look ridiculous on another. You probably know enough not to use Baskerville for a children’s book, or Comic Sans for a hospital. The author has released a video on YouTube that goes over brand adjectives – how to find them, and how they influence a design.
2. Brainstorm fonts that subtly convey your brand
Two of the biggest beginner mistakes in choosing typefaces are:
  1. Choosing a font that doesn’t match your brand
  2. Choosing a font that matches your brand in an over-the-top way (i.e. a novelty font)
3. Choose a body typeface by legibility
I’ll leave at #3, because I think this one is the most important. As pointed out by the author, the body copy font is the one with the most constraints, and it should be picked first. Throw a long paragraph at it, and see how easy or hard it is to read.
A good body font will never call attention to itself – it lets the content, the words, have center stage. A good body font’s goal is legibility, so if you see a font that’s trying to achieve anything else – character, interestingness, equal-width characters – it’s probably not a good body font.
There are a few other points in the process, and a lot more detail to these I’ve just listed, so head over to the original article to learn more about pairing fonts.
Black Print: early African American print culture
On this fantastic long read from I Love Typography (Premium Medium story), we dive into the past in dig deep into printing & press culture in African American culture. This is a truly fascinating read, that I recommend you save for a quiet, rainy day. ILT also made this article downloadable as a PDF.
Printing arrived in the Americas in 1539, in Mexico City. A hundred years later, the first press, owned by Elizabeth Glover, was established in Cambridge Massachusetts shortly after the first slaves arrived in August 1619, in the then English colony of Virginia. Over the next 200 years print grew rapidly to cater for a burgeoning and increasingly literate population.
The birth of African American printing and publishing coincides with a new momentum, a rising tide of anti-slavery and immediatist abolitionist movements weary of ‘indefinite deferral’. Their voices were disseminated and amplified through millions of printed pages of broadsides, pamphlets and books. 
The article presents some interesting historical facts about the birth of the African American printing and publishing, rising from an anti-slavery movement with amplified voices through millions of printed pages. The spread of their message was further aided by technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution, including the late eighteenth-century ‘invention’ of stereotype printing; innovations to typecasting in the 1830s and ’40s, and the steam-powered rotary printing press invented by New Yorker Richard Hoe in 1847
Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
Banneker was one of just a handful of Black authors published in the eighteenth century. Unlike Banneker, who had grown up free and in relative peace in rural Baltimore County, Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753–84) was kidnapped from Africa aged seven, and shipped off to Massachusetts where she was sold as a slave to a Boston merchant.
Both her given and family names are insulting reminders of what was stolen from her: She was renamed after the slave ship that brought her to America, the Phillis, and the Wheatley family who had bought and enslaved her. Almost a quarter of the slaves who crossed the Atlantic with her on the Phillis died. That seven-year-old girl, abducted from her home and family, and transported halfway across the world would become the first African American poet to be published in print.
Continue reading this fascinating piece of writing, which reads like a history book.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
LfA Aluminia
To commemorate and renew Dwiggins’s contribution to 20th-century typography, Letterform Archive commissioned a text-optimized revival of Electra, one his most important typefaces.
Referring directly to authentic Linotype drawings in the collections of Letterform Archive and the Boston Public Library, master letterer and type designer Jim Parkinson digitally restored the sturdy yet elegant shapes, readability, and vigor of the metal original.
Read more about the design process in an interview with Jim Parkinson. It’s a wonderful typeface and I’m considering to use it for my next project, you can view the full details over at the Letterform Archive.
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Did you enjoy this issue?
Coffee Table Typography

A love for words, letters, language—and coffee.
A digest of curated resources, articles and knowledge sharing about the beauty of typography; in design, on the web, or books.
You will read these over your morning cup of coffee, while the aromas of freshly ground beans are still in the air, quickly realising that words are beautiful and that you might need that second cup after all.

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With 💙 from Montreal, Canada