Expert class Type design

Lecturer: Frank E. Blokland

You want to explore the bac­k­grounds and under­ly­ing struc­tu­res of cha­rac­ters and typo­gra­phy, you want to learn how to design type, you want a bet­ter under­stan­ding of font pro­duc­tion and the ava­i­lable software.

The expert class Type Design given by the Plantin Institute of Typography exa­mine the ‘secrets’ of con­tem­po­rary repre­sen­ta­ti­ons of the Latin script (capi­tal, roman and cur­sive) in detail. The under­ly­ing har­mo­nic, pro­por­ti­o­nal and rhyth­mic struc­tu­res of cha­rac­ters and the typo­gra­phi­cal con­ven­ti­ons and rules deri­ved from them are ana­ly­zed and dis­sec­ted. In the first module of the cou­rse this acqui­red knowledge is com­bi­ned with prac­ti­cal instruc­tion on the use of font pro­duc­tion sof­tware, which finally results in the cre­a­tion of a digi­tal type design, a revi­val. In module 2 each stu­dent designs his own font.

No spe­ci­fic admis­sion level is requi­red for the first module of the cou­rse, for which a cer­ti­fi­cate may be obtai­ned, altho­ugh a ‘gra­phic pre­li­mi­nary trai­ning’ is regar­ded as a mini­mum con­di­tion, as also are dra­wing skills and a knowledge of the ‘Adobe Illustrator’ software.

The first module must be com­ple­ted with a posi­tive result before access is given to the second module. The Plantin Institute of Typography ‘Type Design Certificate’ is con­fer­red on stu­dents with a posi­tive result of the second module.

The expert clas­ses take place in the audi­to­rium of the Plantin Institute of Typography in the Museum Plantin-Moretus/Prentenkabinet in Antwerp.

The inten­sive coö­pe­ra­tion with this museum makes it pos­si­ble for parts of the expert clas­ses, such as the deve­lo­p­ment of a revi­val, use may be made of uni­que type mate­rial from the museum, whe­reby account must be taken of the copy­ri­ght rules of the Museum Plantin-Moretus/Prentenkabinet.

The les­sons may be taught in English to make the expert class acces­si­ble to inter­na­ti­o­nal stu­dents. The num­ber of stu­dents for this expert class is limi­ted. To enrol use the regi­s­tra­tion form.



Module 1

  • lear­ning how to han­dle script, type, manual appli­ca­ti­ons (analogue)
  • acqui­ring knowledge of and being able to work with spe­ci­fic sof­tware (digi­tal: FontLab Studio, DTL FontMaster etc.)
  • the study, start-up and design of a revival
  • the digi­tal exe­cu­tion of the design

The models are made ava­i­lable under very spe­ci­fic con­di­ti­ons from the museum collection.

Module 2

  • the study, start-up (and design) of a font

Continuation of own-design module 1 (or ano­ther design) to font pro­duc­tion and the pos­si­bi­lity of advan­ced study of font production.



Programme ‘Expertclasses Type design’
Module 1 & 2 are one pac­kage of 10 les­son days

Module 1

1: Typography, con­ven­ti­ons and Harmonic Systems

  1. The Harmonic Systems capi­tal, roman and cur­sive.
    How do let­ters that ori­gi­na­ted in the Italian Renaissance and are now applied digi­tally work toge­ther? To answer this ques­tion the Harmonic Systems are anatomized.
  2. Typographical struc­tu­res in rela­tion to the Harmonic Systems.
    What is the rela­tion between the let­ter­forms and the ‘rules’ for typography?
  3. Archetypes (the type­fa­ces of Nicolas Jenson, Francesco Griffo and Claude Garamond) and con­ven­ti­ons.
    How did the ‘rules’ of (modern) typo­gra­phy come into being?

2: Form, con­struc­tion and contrast

  1. Types of con­trast (trans­la­tion [broad pen], expan­sion [poin­ted nib] and hybrid vari­ants).
    What is the ori­gin of the pro­por­ti­ons, forms and details of the type­fa­ces of, for exam­ple, Garamond and Baskerville?
  2. Contrast and con­trast reduc­tion.
    The thick/thin dif­fe­rence in cha­rac­ters and the way in which this progresses.
  3. Contrast and (the form of) serif.
    What are serifs, what is the their rela­tion and func­tion in con­trast and is a sans-serif by defi­ni­tion a cha­rac­ter without serifs?
  4. Form, contrast/sort/reduction and style peri­ods
    Why and in what res­pects do cha­rac­ters from dif­fe­rent style peri­ods dif­fer? What is the rela­tion in form as regards, for exam­ple, archi­tec­ture, sculp­ture, pain­ting and music?
  5. Type clas­si­fi­ca­tion.
    Which methods may be used to clas­sify type? To what extent are the type clas­si­fi­ca­ti­ons of, for exam­ple, Maximilien Vox and Gerrit Noordzij uni­ver­sally applicable?

3 /4: Type design (introduction)

  1. Construction, pro­por­ti­ons and contrast/sort/reduction in a type design.
    Using DTL LetterModeller (LeMo) the first steps are taken in type design.
  2. Idiom.
    What dis­tin­gu­is­hes one type desig­ner from the other? Why and by what fea­tu­res do we recog­nize the cha­rac­ters of, for exam­ple, Eric Gill, Hermann Zapf or Jan van Krimpen?
  3. Revivals.
    What is a revi­val? On the basis of which cri­te­ria is a cho­ice made of ori­gi­nals? How should his­to­ri­cal prints be inter­pre­ted? How and to what extent should the thic­k­nes­ses of stems, con­trast and serifs of a revi­val be standardized?

5: Evaluation


Module 2

1: Font pro­duc­tion sof­tware (introduction)

  1. Analogue ver­sus digi­tal.
    Conversion of ana­lo­gue dra­wings via a digi­ti­zer (Ikarus for­mat) or via auto­tra­cing ver­sus direct dra­wing on screen.
  2. Contour descrip­tion for­mats.
    The Ikarus for­mat, cubic Bézier cur­ves (PostScript Type1 / OpenType CFF) and qua­dra­tic Bézier cur­ves (TrueType / OpenType TTF).
  3. Ikarus and DTL FontMaster
    Batch-oriented modu­les for spe­ci­a­li­zed pro­fes­si­o­nal font production.
  4. FontLab Studio
    The most used font edi­tor worldwide.
  5. FontForge
    Open sou­rce (free) font editor.
  6. Adobe Illustrator
    Design of cha­rac­ters in Adobe Illustrator and expor­ting the results to font editors.

2: Glyph databases

  1. Development (aes­the­tic and tech­ni­cally) of con­tour descrip­ti­ons (glyphs).
    Detailed deve­lo­p­ment of a type design in a ‘glyph editor’.
  2. Development of the glyph set.
    From the con­struc­tion of ‘basic’ cha­rac­ter sets to the sup­port of mul­ti­ple codepages.
  3. Setting (jus­ti­fi­ca­tion).
    The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of type and deter­mi­na­tion of thic­k­ness values.
  4. Kerning pairs.
    The how and why of the making of cor­rec­ti­ons to the thic­k­ness values. What are the res­tric­ti­ons on sys­tems inhe­ri­ted from the Lead Age with cha­rac­ters at right angles?

3: Data management

  1. Batch mana­ge­ment.
    Further deve­lo­p­ment of the glyph set (in batch), such as the pla­cing of accents.
  2. Quality con­trol.
    Checking of (con­tours of) glyphs and code pages (in batch).
  3. File mana­ge­ment.
    Organization of files for naming and metrics of fonts (for batch production).

4: Font generation

  1. Font for­mats.
    A descrip­tion of modern font for­mats (PostScript Type1, TrueType and OpenType [CFF and TTF]).
  2. Automation (batch pro­ces­ses).
    Automated gene­ra­tion of font data.
  3. Scripts.

5: Font format-processing

  1. OpenType Layout fea­tu­res.
    Addition of OpenType Layout fea­tu­res (in batch).
  2. Delta-hints.
    Addition of instruc­ti­ons for the recor­ding of cha­rac­ters at low resolutions.
  3. Processing of gene­ra­ted fonts.
    Changing or adding infor­ma­tion to alre­ady gene­ra­ted fonts.

6: eva­lua­tion
The pro­gramme is pro­vi­si­o­nal and may at any time be adap­ted in the inte­rests of the course.




The stu­dents are in pos­ses­sion of a lap­top with their pre­fer­red ope­ra­ting sys­tem (for exam­ple, Mac OS, Windows or Linux). Students are pro­vi­ded with font pro­duc­tion sof­tware in the form of demo, light and open sou­rce versions.


Drawing equi­p­ment: dra­wing and tra­cing paper (A4 — 120 g), pro­pel­ling pen­cil (max­i­mum 0.5 mm) with HB or B leads, an era­ser, black felt-tip pens (round head, vari­ous thic­k­nes­ses), Stanley knife-type cut­ter, adhe­sive tape, 30 cm rule (marked off in 0.5mm increments).


In 2013: November 13th, December 4th
in 2014: January 8th, January 29th, February 26th, March 12th, April 2nd, April 30th, May 21st en June 18th


Registration form.