What a wonderful article
, written by Anne Quito. Not only it’s giving us insight about what went into making the restoration of Walbaum, a 200 year old serif typeface, but it also explains, very technically, the topic of its main challenge: optical sizing
. And it comes with the best definition and explanation for it I’ve ever read.
In the early 1800s, a German punchcutter, Justus Enrich Walbaum created a typeface that signaled modernity at the time; a departure from the Blackletter fonts that were common in German books at that time. Despite its technical excellence, Walbaum has largely been forgotten and eclipsed by similar high-contrast serifs such as Didot and Bodoni.
So after two years of very careful and well crafted research and hard work, 3 designers unveiled a modernised version of Walbaum, which comes in nothing short of 69 different variations! As for the process,
First, designers scour libraries and archives to collect old samples of the typeface in various sizes and weights. They take high resolution photos and trace letterforms digitally, often smoothing out shapes to eliminate rough details from the ink gain and paper fibers. Sometimes, designers are required to infer an entire alphabet based on a few letters. They prepare the bold, italicized styles, upper and lower case letters, numerals, and punctuation marks, and create character sets for various languages
So, using several type specimens from the very early 19th century as reference, Nix, Crossgrove and Villanueva set out to recreate the typeface to perfection. And here’s where’s this story gets also technical interesting: the point on why fonts need to be restored for the digital age.
The problem is in what’s called “optical sizing
.” Before computers allowed us to change a font’s point sizes instantly, type designers had to create variations of the same typeface in different sizes. In this process, they were also able to make important adjustments, such as adding more space between letters in small text, or making the letterform openings a bit larger to increase legibility.