Tabular Type Foundry
19 March, 2019
I seem to start my blog post every time by saying it has been a long time since the last entry, regardless of the language I’m writing. But oh boy, the last entry was four years ago!
Last Tuesday, I opened a new type foundry called Tabular Type Foundry, henceforth TTF in this post. As the name implies, it is exclusively a monospace type foundry. First of all, let me address the elephant in the room; no, I am not leaving Monotype. A Monotype designer can have their own foundry outside the company; our type director Steve Matteson has Matteson Typographics whose latest releases were from last year, and Carl Crossgrove owns Terrestrial Design. Opening my own foundry does not terminate my employee contract, but it does come with some asterisks that I’m not go into.
The genesis of the foundry could be associated with three of my backgrounds. I am a designer from a country whose writing system is essentially monospaced (just in general. I know the history and exceptions, so no correction is necessary). I also grew up with video games whose typefaces were almost always monospaced, not only because of technical limitations at the time but probably because they were made by Japanese developers. I had forgotten all these influences around me as I pursued typeface design as my career, but it all came back to me recently. I was doing a research on retro arcade game fonts for the past two years, going through hundreds of games every night and weekend besides my day job. Through this process that can only be described as insanity, I have learnt just how much you could do within the limitation, let alone low-resolution one. And lastly, I became more and more involved in Python coding. It seems that every typeface designer who also writes codes will want to make their own coding typeface. In my case, one wasn’t enough.
Type foundries with specific category are not unheard of; Ale Paul’s Sudtipos and Laura Worthington are primarily script foundries that enjoy great success, and there are those who only make sans serifs, consciously or otherwise. The video game font research made me ask myself, ‘can a monospace-only foundry also be a thing?’, and that’s how it all started. TTF makes monospaced fonts exclusively, but is not the first of its kind; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean foundries as well as typewriter companies had offered nothing but monospaced fonts in their early days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were early digital font catalogs that only had monospaced offerings. While they were entirely monospaced by necessity, my foundry is a stylistic choice and passion project.
Let me talk about the two launch typefaces!
Monospaced fonts look clumsy because of the varying letter widths in Latin. I find the aesthetics fascinating but let’s see it from a traditional viewpoint for the sake of argument that it’s ugly. The problem is that you cannot maintain varying letter proportions and consistent spacing at the same time. In fact, the solution is quite simple; just give a lot of space until the shape differences no longer affect spacing and texture. That is a very widely spaced typeface indeed and letters do not hold together to form words anymore, but what if I forcefully connect them with a stroke, like a script?
Monospaced scripts have always been an interesting topic to me. When it works, it works like magic; IBM Selectric Typewriter Script a fine example and looks especially well in the original form (The digital outline with no ribbon texture is a little too precise). https://www.myfonts.com/font/bitstream/script-12-pitch/ It also works despite the rather condensed proportion because it casually gives up on connection. It almost feels like this is how this imaginary person writes.
And this typeface was where I brought the two interests together, to make a monospaced script, one that does not feel that way at all. By choosing a relaxed monolinear script, I could fit W and i in the same width without compromising the letter proportions. I think the resulting typeface works great in this regard, and it is still surprising how well it hides the rigid limitation.
But these caps exceed the width boundry a lot. What if you type in all caps? Scripts were traditionally not written in all-caps, which is being ignored now. I am of the opinion that a modern script face should support all caps, but not many type families offer a solution to that. I have seen two approaches: small caps as seen in Zapfino Extra, and matching sans/roman which seem more popular nowadays. I have taken a hybrid route, a small cap that is more typographic but handwritten. I took the inspiration from a style called Architects Casual, which seems to work well. It is fully automatic; it converts the caps to the small caps as soon as you type a second capital letter or number.
It turns out you can make a monospace typeface that looks natural, so long as that’s the priority over practicality. To be frank, there is almost no benefit for a script like this to be monospaced. I was making it purely as a challenge for its own sake.
The typeface name is tabular + amore, which should be self explanatory. I find typeface naming easy; if you can’t come up with anything, you just need to go for non-English words or invent one, à la Pokémon. Sometimes it is too easy that I struggle to design a typeface worthy of the cool name I came up with.
I was inspired by over-exaggerated architectural letterings and typefaces, and wanted to make it a functioning monospaced typeface. You can see the influence of Kabel from g and the italic e for example, and the ß is taken straight from the Berlin street signs. That Q was originally taken from a pixelated retro game font that gave me this intentionally false interpretation.
The i l and t f have alternates that extends their strokes to fill a gap, which is admittedly rarely seen in coding apps because most of them do not support OpenType features. You can compensate for the lack of kerning via letter substitution, something I originally implemented in my Font Marathon typeface called Cowhand back in 2015.
It also comes with the Text version which tones down the letter proportion and has more space. If used in programming, it makes your code look more personal. I am more interested in giving personality to the coding screen rather than making an über-optimised coding typeface. You can expect more unique coding typefaces in the future.
It originally debuted in my TypoBerlin presentation in which Indra Kupfersmidt asked me if/when I would release it (Hi Indra, I’ve done it!) The name “Belinsky” was taken from my favourite animation film, American Pop. It traces the history of American music through the lives of the four members of Belinsky family. The editing might be the weakest aspect and it feels like you’re missing some scenes, but that is attributed to the limited budget. No, the film has nothing to do with the typeface, but I need to let more people know about the film.
That’s it. Please stay tuned for more monospaced fonts!