Bold and Beautiful

Historical Typeface Goes Digital to Honor Historical Gift

The new revival display typeface Prince Bold will be available shortly through the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It was named and created to honor and thank Raymond J. Prince, who recently donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly Graphic Communication Department to preserve printing industry history.

According to Professor Brian Lawler, the designer/developer of Prince Bold, “We were trying to think of something to give Ray to honor him for his many contributions to our program and to the industry. Someone suggested a plaque. I reminded the faculty that Ray and his wife are trying to get rid of things, not get more. So, we talked about a variety of other gifts.

“Then I remembered that I have a type design in progress that is a revival of an antique font in the museum. In the past I have named finished fonts for the student curators who give a year of their time to the Shakespeare Press Museum. I have Alix Gothic and Pan Black so far, named for former student curators.

“I suggested the Prince Bold idea to the faculty, and they thought it was a good idea. Then we planned the presentation at our annual banquet. All of the students and faculty would wear a bright red T shirt with a big P on the front in Prince Bold. The students printed over 300 shirts, and we made the presentation.”

“Ray Prince has become an icon at Cal Poly for the support he has provided to the Graphic Communication Department through wisdom and resources,” said Ken Macro, chair of the department. “He is a philosopher of printing, and it is befitting that his name will live on in perpetuity through a revival display typeface.”

A Thing of Use and Beauty

It was an excellent choice. Prince himself says, “When I heard about it I sat down and had no words. I only wish my father (a printer) could know about it. I always had a love for great display type faces and have in my early career set as well have printed many posters using wood type.

“Yes it is a nice thing to do,” he continues. “The best thing to do is what Cal Poly did and that is to provide a place and people to care for the printing industry library. This library has approximately 25,000+ books, thousands of magazines and journals covering the entire industry. In addition the library is up to date. This is a tremendous asset for industry, teachers and students. Thanks to a lot of donations of books and money from individuals, many friends and associations, the library is funded for the next 50 years and it is still growing. I have been a strong supporter of the industry since I entered it in 1958 and will continue to do so.

“A statement that Dr. Harvey Levenson made many years ago has stuck with me. ‘ Printers create items of use and beauty.’ I have no ability to create sculpture, paintings or any form of art but do have the ability to create things of use and beauty. That is what printing allows me to do. Why do I do this? Inspiration comes from many places but for me it comes from the thinking and ideas of previous years. History can open the mind and get one thinking. Likewise a library remembers better than any person and also contains far more information than anyone.’

Tech Notes

Prince Bold, an Open Type font, is a digital recreation of a wood type font originally named Roman XX Condensed. The font was first offered by George Nesbitt Company of New York in 1838. It is likely that the type was manufactured by Edwin Allen in his Windham, Connecticut factory.

“We have two incomplete fonts – one is two inches tall (in wood type terms that is called 12-line), the other is three inches tall. Between the two there were enough letters to draw a complete alphabet with numerals and punctuation,” Lawler writes. “Prince Bold is a design intended for display, not for text, as the thin letter elements are too delicate to hold up in small sizes. The fact that these thin elements were cut into the wood without breaking off is a feat of engineering.”

Historical Process

Wood type is made in a series of steps beginning with cutting logs from hardwood trees into circular blanks about one inch in thickness. After the blanks are cut, they are put into a drying oven for several months. The moisture in the wood slowly evaporates, leaving rock-hard wood that is ready for planing and polishing. After planing and polishing, the blanks are then coated with a thin varnish, which is rubbed-in by hand. Once the varnish is dry, the wood is ready for cutting into blocks, then routing into letters.

Wooden or paper-board master patterns of the letters are made about six inches tall, and mounted on a block of wood to bring them to the correct height. The prepared type blocks are then locked into a pantograph router, and individual letters are cut by an operator who uses the pantograph to follow the pattern by hand, while a spinning router tool cuts the fresh block in the shape of the letter.

In the early 19th century the router would have been steam-powered. After factories were electrified, these machines would have been powered by compressed air or electric motors. The benefit of a pantograph router is that letters of different sizes can be cut from one master pattern by adjusting the arms of the pantograph. The finished letters are perfected with hand tools –gouges and files – to repair small defects, and then the blocks are cut on a table saw to their finished width, according to the size of the letter.

From Old to New

To make the digital version, we proofed the wood type on super-white proofing paper, then scanned the proofs and drew each letter, being faithful as possible to the original letter shapes and side-bearings. After the letters were drawn, we un-condensed the design to make it normal width. Small changes were then made to the letters to standardize them, to thicken some of the too-thin strokes, and to enlarge the round letters to give them equal visual volume against their geometric counterparts.

Drawing and modifying the font was done in several steps. First a faithful tracing was made of the proofs from the wood type using Adobe Illustrator with its Template function (that makes a very light image of a photo that you can draw over). There are a number of characteristics of the original that needed to be adjusted to make the type look better in a modern typographic setting. Once the drawings were finished, each character was enlarged to about 12 inches vertical, then pasted into a program called FontLab Studio. In FontLab, the letters were placed on their baseline, then assigned natural side-bearings – the white space that accompanies each letter on the left and right sides.

After all the characters were inserted into FontLab, the process of drawing all of the new and missing characters began. To complete a font, there are over 250 individual glyphs. Accents are automatically added to characters to make the more common accented letters, but all the accents must be drawn for this to work.

Obscure glyphs including the Euro, the Yen, the percentile, and many more must be drawn, and they all have to match the style and weight of the other letters.

When complete (and no font is ever complete!) the font must be tested for exceptions to normal spacing. This process requires analysis of every possible pair of letters – no matter how obscure – to be reviewed and adjusted as necessary. From this process grows a kerning table, which becomes part of the final font. FontLab makes much of this task easy, but it must be done. It’ s laborious – but it’ s a labor of love!

Note: Tech Notes are taken from a section of the Prince Bold Monograph prepared by Professor Lawler.


More design talk will be happening during SF Design Week at the re:think design conference on June 9 in San Francisco. Join us!







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