Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hand lettering for SXSW
Hand lettering is one of my favorite ways to create type, so when Salt & Time needed some large signage for SXSW, I immediately knew what I wanted to do. Here's a glimpse behind the design process in creating hand drawn type from start to finish.

It all starts with a sketch. I wanted the lettering to have a vernacular feel, like type you might see painted on the side of a butcher shop in a small town. The letters are slightly condensed with a narrow set width, tall x-height, and a ball terminal. Like how I just went all typography professor on you there? I can talk type all day long, and most days I do. To keep things consistent, I have a baseline (bottom line that type sits on), a mean line (middle line where most of the lower case letters stop), and a cap line (top line where most capitals stop) to guide in me shaping/sizing the letters. Without those lines, the letters would be a lot looser and feel too loose for this project.

Once the letters are shaped the way I want them, I redraw the outlines in black ink so I can bring it into the computer easily. Scanning in pencil drawings creates more work than needed, so this step is crucial, although it requires a very steady hand and some patience.

After I'm done with the ink outlines, I scan this into the computer at a crazy high resolution, 1200 dpi. This allows me to use the scan in Photoshop as a bitmap line drawing and quickly change the color without losing much resolution. But, I almost never work with type in Photoshop, so this is just a quick stop before I move into Illustrator. Ahem, *students*, please take note!

The scanned type is then brought into Illustrator and I use the Live Trace tool to translate it into a vector shape that can be manipulated. Unlike what you may have heard, Live Trace is not a 1-2-3-bam-MAGIC! tool. It takes a lot of finessing to get the settings right so your drawing isn't some hot mess of a million points. Again, patience is key here to getting the settings correct for your type of drawing. It all pays off, though, because the closer you can get it in Live Trace, the less mess you'll have to clean up later. Here's a screen shot from Illustrator showing the outline and points of my letter "a", shown in magenta. Those lines in the background are from the pattern used behind the type. After going back and forth with the points, I end up keeping a lot of the wonkiness (that's a technical term) in the letters so it still maintains a hand drawn feel. The curves aren't perfectly smooth, but that helps it maintain the vernacular look. You can see that most easily in the "u".

Here is the final sign, after a day of getting beat up a bit outdoors. It's five feet wide and 2.5 feet tall. It feels sooo satisfying to design something that will be HUGE. That stacked "g" is bigger than Ben's head. For the record, I didn't make that arrow. We had a nice arrow facing the other direction, but after a day they had to move the location of the sign, so the arrow was flipped via sharpie. Overall I was pretty happy with the way this turned out, and it definitely helped grab people's attention.

If you want to learn more about hand lettering, there are tons of great tutorials online and lots of great books to study. Or, you can also sign up for my Expressive and Experimental Typography course.

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Blogger this humble abode said...

So interesting! Thanks for the tutorial.

3/23/2011 5:40 PM  
Blogger this humble abode said...

I found this fascinating, thanks for the tutorial!

3/23/2011 5:40 PM  

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