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Commentary

The Federal Papers

Typographica on May 25, 2004

In 1995 Erik van Blokland began drawing what was to become the most comprehensive system for mimicking the type from the U.S. dollar bill. LTR Federal was released five years ago and it’s still the only set of fonts that come close to capturing the engraving effects and detailed ornamentation found on a greenback. Federal’s effects options were so elaborate it came with an application to assist with the layering process.

So what’s new? Letterror now offers printable PDF specimens of Federal, documenting all its complexity and guiding the setter in its use.

10 Comments

  1. nick says:

    Not just banknotes, but a look dear to the heart of philatelists.

    EvB finishes the job. As with the Twin Cities face, an exhaustive glyph set.

    I was disappointed the PDFs are in B&W. Still, I’ve seen the face in multi-color before, in several publications (eg Druk).

    But can’t recall seeing commercial application — samples anyone?

  2. Chris Long says:

    LettError is ALSO now offering some interesting computer generated type fonts, for those of you who have grown tired of the traditional varieties crafted by homo sapiens. GOOD stuff!

    “Fifty unique fonts based on one single bitmap design, the Python Robot series is perhaps the first collection of fonts to be entirely untouched by human hands”:

    http://www.letterror.com/catalog/robot/index.html

    Specimen sheets:
    http://www.letterror.com/catalog/robot/gallery.html

    Overview of all the designs in the pack:
    http://www.letterror.com/catalog/robot/specimens.html

  3. Cheshire says:

    I saw an earlier PDF that I could open up in Illustrator and really look at the shapes, and I was actually disappointed by how roughly drawn the texture and shaded elements were. Since the letter shapes were nicely curved, I assumed that the roughness (meaning straight segments only, and pretty crude at that) was how it actually is.

    I asked about this over at Typophile and no one (to my recollection) responded, so I’ll ask here:

    1. Are the textured and shading elements more naturally drawn in the actual font, or are they really as rough as I’ve seen them?

    2. Does the proprietary software adjust the textured and shading elements for multiple instances of the same letter? That is, does it generate those elements each time a letter is composed? Or does it just assemble pre-built layers into a single character, and therefore every instance of a particular letter will look identical?

  4. Hrant says:

    Note that those PDFs are actually bitmaps.

    hhp

  5. Cheshire says:

    I know — I’m talking about an earlier PDF sample that I was able to open in Illustrator and zoom all the way in on. I tried to find it again today and couldn’t. I love Letterror’s work, but the site could be easier to use, if you ask me.

  6. Hrant says:

    But it’s so cuuuuuuuuuuute… :-/
    Same for Twin…

    hhp

  7. >> I asked about this over at Typophile and no
    >> one (to my recollection) responded

    Sorry, I don’t follow Typophile.

    >> 1. Are the textured and shading elements more
    >> naturally drawn in the actual font, or are
    >> they really as rough as I’ve seen them?

    I don’t know which samples you’ve seen. The pdfs currently online are bitmaps, but that’s not what you mean I presume. The shaded lines are drawn with the fewest points possible, a balance between detail and data. The various shading fonts are intended to be used in sizes where the shading density gets close to the actual device resolution. Only a couple of device pixels are used to draw the shading lines, curves wouldn’t show up. That’s why there are several optical sizes. The sheer number of points in the glyphs are a problem too. Perhaps not as much as it used to be (printers get more memory) but the 18 Line Shade was heavy enough to kill printers when it was young. Limiting the number of points and curves reduced the data “weight” to a minimum. I could render high detail versions of the current set of designs.
    The plain version of Federal does have curves and nice details as it is intended to be used in larger sizes as well. And it has fewer points.

    >> 2. Does the proprietary software adjust the
    >> textured and shading elements for multiple
    >> instances of the same letter? That is, does it
    >> generate those elements each time a letter is
    >> composed? Or does it just assemble pre-built
    >> layers into a single character, and therefore
    >> every instance of a particular letter will
    >> look identical?

    They’re indentical. The rendering code uses some random factors and I’ve had prototypes where customer data was ground into the texture, making them all different and unique (and several alternates per glyph). But it was a time consuming process (about 15 minutes on a G3 back them), it wasn’t very visible once the type is used at the appropriate sizes. The renderer is also quite complex, it wouldn’t fit into a postscript font — considering how many applications use fonts without interpreting the postscript, it wouldn’t be a useful thing to have. LayerPlayer is a simple tool to quickly browse and assemble layering effects. It’s getting old, classic even, it will probably eventually reincarnate as some sort of Cocoa app.

    Cheers,
    Erik

  8. Hrant says:

    > I asked about this over at Typophile and
    > no one (to my recollection) responded

    BTW, when you have an interesting question like that, don’t use the Type-ID section! :-/ That place is too noisy even for me (plus I got whupped there too many times)…

    hhp

  9. Cheshire says:

    Thanks for the info, Erik. I guess my problem is that though I know that certain cuts are meant to be used at different sizes, I’m sure there would be times that I’d want to use Federal Six or Nine at a large size for the aesthetics of it, but I guess you’re saying that it’s really not built for that purpose. But I suppose I could make those refinements myself if it came to it.

  10. I’ll think about making some display size shades.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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