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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: A Useful Tool for Identifying Fonts

A custom printing client sent me a photo of her business card recently. She wanted to know if I could reproduce it.

This Is How I Approached the Job

  1. First I opened the photo in Photoshop and cropped down tightly on the printed words on the business card. Then I saved the image as a JPEG.
  2. I uploaded the photo of the type to “What the Font” (which can easily be found online). It is to typography what a fingerprint database is to the TV show CSI. This type database matches portions of each letterform in the sample and then lists a number of possible typefaces the sample could be. Unfortunately, the photo of the business card, presumably taken with a smartphone camera, was not sufficiently crisp for the type identifier to work. It listed too many fonts, when all I really wanted was one. So I asked my client to mail me a hard-copy sample of the business card.
  3. The logo on the card was initially problematic. Tracing the logo over the JPEG photo would not provide a crisp and usable file, and even scanning the hard-copy sample when I received the physical business card in the mail would only provide a bitmapped image. Fortunately, my client found a high-resolution JPEG of the logo. I could use this to determine the color.
  4. The high-res logo came to me as an RGB file. Since the business cards would probably be produced digitally (since my client would most likely only need about 500 cards), I changed the color space to CMYK, and I assumed the two PMS colors in the logo would be process color builds on the HP Indigo digital press.
  5. At the same time, I chose a typeface that appeared to be close to the original in the photo of the business card. I wanted to create a mock-up of the business card. I planned to change the typeface later. For now I would just place the high-res logo (after changing it to a CMYK TIFF in Photoshop) and type in the contact information on the card. This would give me an opportunity to estimate what type point size would fit in the space and see how much letterspacing would be needed to match the original type. I could also match the use of upper and lowercase letters, italics, and such used in the design of the business card.
  6. When I received the identity package in the mail (business card, letterhead, #10 envelope, and Monarch letterhead and envelope), I scanned the card and uploaded it to What the Font again.
  7. This time the automatic font matching software did not find even one match.
  8. Therefore, I went through a 25-question (approximately) interview process analyzing all aspects of the typeface, and the What the Font database gave me the following answer: The type sample was Times Europa Office.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

Type is one of the most useful tools in the designer’s arsenal because it can convey a tone or mood that supports the message of the text. It can be playful, sedate, sophisticated. It does this through all the myriad details in the letterforms. A font identifier such as What the Font can really get you to think more critically about these type characteristics. You can go beyond the distinctions between serif and sans serif, between roman and demi-bold or medium or heavy or black, or the distinction between narrow and wide, or condensed or expanded.

When the typeface database could not identify the font by trying to match the individual letters of my sample to the font alphabets in its database, it started asking me questions.

Here are some examples:

  1. The software asked about the serifs: were they horizontal and vertical, or were they slanted?
  2. Did the curve of the uppercase “J” drop below the baseline, or did it sit flush with the baseline?
  3. Did the lowercase “g” have one closed, curved element above the baseline and another closed, curved element below the baseline?
  4. It asked about the “tail” of the uppercase “Q.”
  5. It asked whether the sides of the “M” were completely vertical or slightly slanted.

This questioning went on for some time, and each time I answered a question, the font database matched my answer to its repository of fonts, narrowing down the list bit by bit.

What this shows is that the artists who initially drew each letterform of each font added intricate details to every letter. In your own design work such an exercise can get you to look more closely at the letters that tend to differ from font to font, such as the “a,” “g,” “f,” and “j,” in lowercase letters, and the “Q,” “J,” “W,” and “M,” in uppercase letters.

This exercise can lead you to a useful font-matching tool (such as What the Font). It can get you to look closely at the shape of the letterforms. It can also give you a starting point for identifying a font needed to prepare your client’s corporate identity materials for custom printing. And it may even make you fall in love with the intricacies of type.

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