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David Bergsland on typography...

The New Typography 2006

Has Anything Really Changed?

My contention, for several years, is that typography has been profoundly changed for the better with InDesign. QuarkXPress 7 has added a few things to catch up a little. But all this does is accelerate the move to the new type. I base this opinion on many factors, many of which I want to discuss briefly in this little article. The main thing you need to understand is that our understanding of typographic norms is completely controlled by what tools have been available to us in the latter part of the 20th century: phototype, press type, and early desktop publishing.

The limitations

All three of these technologies were marvelous in their own right. They delivered us from hand-carved metal slugs. They enabled the transition from a couple hundred fonts to a couple hundred thousand fonts. Point size became a tool of communication as opposed to a limitation of the specific font chosen. Leading went in the same path.

However, we lost a lot in the transition from metal to digital. Type used to be hand-carved in individual point sizes that could be adjusted to print better at the various point sizes. Tiny type was made a little heavier to avoid being lost. Large type was cut lighter and more elegant as it was much more visible in the larger sizes. These variations have been called optical weighting. You can see an example to the right of this weighting in Warnock Pro from Adobe.

Here we see three variations of Adobe Warnock Pro set at 30 point in the three optical weights available: Caption designed for 8 point or smaller, Regular for 9 through 18 point, and Display for larger headlines.
optical weighting
As you can see, there are some real differences in weight -- as well as the discretionary swashes seen on the e and n characters.

True small caps

Small caps is another example. It was cut as small capital letters with the same weight as the rest of the font. All the transitional technologies were limited in the number of characters available. The digital limit became set at 8-bit ASCII or 256 characters. With these limitations you could have miniscules (lowercase) letters or small caps -- not both. Small caps became proportionally reduced capital letters that were visibly thinner. We found ourselves producing contortions with Book caps and Regular lowercase, or Regular caps and Semibold lowercase, and so on to simply make the caps appear to fit with the rest of the headline.

Here we see two fonts: ITC Eras Book and Bergsland Fashion set in small caps:
small caps in InDesign
You can easily see that the caps in Eras are much bolder. Not only that, but the defaults make the small cap size far too small. This can be adjusted, but the caps are always too dark.

type weight Do not get sucked in by the fancy effects like the wavy gradient paragraph rule seen in the floating text frames anchored to the right. This has very little to do with the superiority of the new typography. The real differences are seen not even in the obvious things we just looked at. The major paradigm shift is type color.

Type color defined

To the right you can see a pair of screen captures I made for a presentation I made a month ago. The capture on the left is from InDesign CS2. The one on the right is from Quark 4 using exactly the same settings. I admit, part of the problem is Quark's horrendous screen previews, but this is just type. What I want you to look at is how smooth and tight the color of the InDesign type is when compared with the blotchy appearance of Quark's version. It is just as obvious when each are printed out at high-res and compared side to side like this.

So what?: Does this really make a difference? Consciously? Probably not. Subconsciously? Maybe. Readability? Definitely! There are many arguments that can be made here. I think it is obvious that many people will subconsciously react that the new type is of higher quality and more trustworthy. But this is unproven and just my opinion.

However, the type color issue is a major factor in readability. The smoothness of the type color is the gray ground against which we set off the headers and other typographic communication devices. The smoother the type color the better this works. InDesign has three major capabilities here that no one else has used yet (except in a limited fashion throughout the Creative Suite). Paragraph-level Justification, Optical Kerning, and Optical Margin Alignment make paragraphs crisp and clean with remarkably even word spacing and smooth letterspacing. They really do make type that is far superior to Quark's or type out of any other program including Illustrator.

What will be the results?

David Bergsland

David has been a graphic designer, art director, teacher, and author on digital printing and publishing for nearly forty years. He has written several books, See his books and tutorial materials) designed well over a hundred fonts, and taught on the digital publishing industry needs for the past fifteen years. Presently he is working for a large printing company developing training materials for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. Most of his recent works are published by Radiqx Press and available on his Website: bergsland.org

Copyright David Bergsland This is reprinted here with permission and kudos to David for contributing some of is extensive knowledge for DTG readers!

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