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SPACE PROBE:

Investigations Into Monospace


Introducing Base Monospace

1997 Typeface

BASE MONOSPACE
Typeface design

ZUZANA LICKO
Specimen design

RUDY VANDERLANS
Rr
1.

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
SPACE PROBE: Occasionally, we receive inquiries from type users asking Monospaced Versus
us how many kerning pairs our fonts contain. It would seem
Proportional Spacing
Investigations Into Monospace
that the customer wants to be dazzled with numbers. Like
cylinders in a car engine or the price earnings ratio of a
stock,
Occasionally, we receive inquiries from type the higher
users the number of kerning pairs, the more
asking
/o/p/q/p/r/s/t/u/v/w/
impressed
us how many kerning pairs our fonts contain.
that the customer wants to be dazzled is that
with
It the customer
would
the artLike
numbers.
seem will be. What they fail to understand
of kerning a typeface is as subjective a
/x/y/s/v/z/t/u/v/
In a monospaced typeface, such as Base Monospace,
cylinders in a car engine or the pricediscipline as is of
earnings ratio the drawing of the letters themselves. The each character fits into the same character width.
fact pairs,
a stock, the higher the number of kerning that a the
particular
more typeface has thousands of kerning
pairsfail
is relative, since some typefaces require more kerning
impressed the customer will be. What they
is that the art of kerning a typeface pairs
is as than
to understand
others aby virtue of their design characteristics.
subjective
In addition, a poorly
/O/P/Q/O/Q/P/R/S/Q/T/U/V/
The spaced typeface will indeed require
discipline as is the drawing of the letters
fact that a particular typeface has thousands
typeface
themselves.
more kerning pairs to correct its spacing errors than a
of kerning /R/W/O/X/Y/U/Z/X/
pairs is relative, since some typefaces requirethatmorewas optimally spaced to begin with. Therefore,
kerning In a proportional typeface, such as Filosofia,
the need
pairs than others by virtue of their design for a large number of kerning pairs could actually
characteristics. each character width is different to accommodate
the particular width of each character.
In addition, a poorly spaced typeface be indicative
will of a poorly produced font. High kerning pair
indeed require
counts
more kerning pairs to correct its spacing
typeface that was optimally spaced to kerned
are also
errors than misleading
or kerned
begin with.
a because the font can be poorly
in a way preferred by the font designer,
Therefore,
2. Filling the Mono-Space
the need for a large number of kerningnot the could
pairs end user. Finally, the user should keep in mind that
actually The first step in designing Base Monospace was
choosing the model character width. To facilitate
the High
be indicative of a poorly produced font. kerning pairspair
kerning provided in a font are most suitable when a harmonious relationship with the screen fonts,
counts are also misleading because thethe font
font canisbeset with regular tracking; when tracking is
poorly the goal was to select a character width that
would have a simple ratio to its em-square. The
kerned or kerned in a way preferred bychanged,
the fontparticularly
designer, when it is tightened, this usually obvious first choice was 100%, or 1:1 the simplest
requires
not the end user. Finally, the user should keepmodifications
in mind to the kerning pairs. ratio of all, but this idea was discarded since
this would have yielded a typeface too wide for
that the kerning pairs provided in a font are most suitable practical purposes. Eventually, the 1:2 ratio
At the when
when the font is set with regular tracking; opposite extreme of kerned typefaces lie monospaced
tracking (50%) was selected as the character width for Base
Monospace Narrow, and the 3:5 ratio (60%) was
fonts, many
is changed, particularly when it is tightened, of usually
this which manage to be highly legible despite the chosen for Base Monospace Wide.
requires modifications to the kerning fact that they contain not a single kerning pair. Monospaced
pairs.
Since every character in a monospaced typeface
fonts assign each character an identical width, whereas must fit into the same space, character shapes
proportional
At the opposite extreme of kerned typefaces typefaces use varying character widths, which
lie monospaced become stretched and squeezed.

position individual letters on set widths that vary


fonts, many of which manage to be highly legible
depending
fact that they contain not a single kerning
despite the
on Monospaced
pair. the width of each character.1 When combined to 3 5 6 7
Some characters, such as the c, f, i,
makewidth,
fonts assign each character an identical words whereas
and sentences, the individual letters appear to and l, were made wider than usual to fit into
be evenly
proportional typefaces use varying character spacedwhich
widths, and kerning is used to further optimize the model character width.

spacing
thatbetween
vary difficult combinations. Monospaced typefaces
position individual letters on set widths
4 8 0
Base Monospace Wide Bold
were1 originally
depending on the width of each character. designed
When combined to to deal with the mechanical
Other characters, such as the d, m, and w,
restrictions
make words and sentences, the individual of composing
letters appear to systems such as the typewriter, were made narrower than usual to fit into the
which
be evenly spaced and kerning is used to forced
further each character to have the same single set
optimize model character width.

width. Thus, the narrow i is set on the same base as the


spacing between difficult combinations. Monospaced
were originally designed to deal with wide
typefaces
w, resulting in a somewhat irregular looking letter
the mechanical JK LM
This stretching and squeezing of characters
restrictions of composing systems suchspacing. Base Monospace, as its name implies, belongs to
as the typewriter, becomes particularly problematic in the heavier
this category of typefaces characterized by letter designs weights; there is usually not enough room to
accommodate both the thickness of the stem weight,
that each occupy a single set width, like the infamous as well as the complexity of some characters such
typewriter font Courier (designed in 1956 by Howard as the m and w. The stem weights must
therefore be adjusted, and although the stem
Kettler), and the many other monospaced fonts that inspired weights of the i and l (left) are heavier than
its design.2 the m and w (right), the overall color density
is the same when set in text (below).

The difficulty with monospaced fonts is that they do not


easily conform to traditional notions of good typography.
GNM< KJK
Traditionally, when setting a text, the object is to
the particular width of each character.
be indicative of a poorly produced font. High kerning pair

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
which forced each character to have the same are
counts
width. Thus, the narrow i is set on kerned
the same
single
alsoset
or base
misleading because the font can be poorly
as in
kerned thea way preferred by the font designer, 2. Filling the Mono-Space
wide w, resulting in a somewhat irregular
not thelooking letter
end user. Finally, the user should keep in mind that The first step in designing Base Monospace was
spacing. Base Monospace, as its name implies, belongs
the kerning pairstoprovided in a font are most suitable when
choosing the model character width. To facilitate
a harmonious relationship with the screen fonts,
this category of typefaces characterized
the by letter
font designs
is set with regular tracking; when tracking is the goal was to select a character width that
that each occupy a single set width, like the infamous
changed, particularly when it is tightened, this usually
would have a simple ratio to its em-square. The
obvious first choice was 100%, or 1:1 the simplest
typewriter font Courier (designed in 1956 by Howard
requires modifications to the kerning pairs. ratio of all, but this idea was discarded since
Kettler), and the many other monospaced fonts that inspired this would have yielded a typeface too wide for
practical purposes. Eventually, the 1:2 ratio
its design.2 At the opposite extreme of kerned typefaces lie monospaced (50%) was selected as the character width for Base
Monospace Narrow, and the 3:5 ratio (60%) was
fonts, many of which manage to be highly legible despite the chosen for Base Monospace Wide.
The difficulty with monospaced fonts is that
fact they
that do contain
they not not a single kerning pair. Monospaced
easily conform to traditional notions fonts
of good typography.
assign each character an identical width, whereas
Since every character in a monospaced typeface
must fit into the same space, character shapes
Traditionally, when setting a text, the object is to
proportional typefaces use varying character widths, which become stretched and squeezed.
maximize spacing and kerning to a point where aindividual
position text appears
letters on set widths that vary
an even color when viewed at readingdepending
distance.onHowever,
while this might be desirable visuallymake
and words
the width of each character.1 When combined to
esthetically
3 5 6 7
Some characters, such as the c, f, i,
and sentences, the individual letters appear to and l, were made wider than usual to fit into
speaking, it does not automatically render the text
be evenly more
spaced and kerning is used to further optimize the model character width.
legible. In fact, perhaps, even the opposite
spacing is true. difficult
between When combinations. Monospaced typefaces
you have perfectly rendered type printed
wereonoriginally
papers and impeccably kerned, a text can
the smoothest
easily appear
of
designed
too
to deal with the mechanical 4 8 0
Other characters, such as the d, m, and w,
restrictions of composing systems such as the typewriter, were made narrower than usual to fit into the
stark and machine-made looking and might,
whichinforced
effect,each character to have the same single set model character width.
overshoot the mark of legibility. width. Thus, the narrow i is set on the same base as the
wide w, resulting in a somewhat irregular looking letter
Monospaced typefaces, on the other hand, live safely on the
JK LM
This stretching and squeezing of characters
spacing. Base Monospace, as its name implies, belongs to becomes particularly problematic in the heavier
vernacular side of legibility. When this
set in text, they
category do
of typefaces characterized by letter designs weights; there is usually not enough room to
not generate a silky smooth image on the
thatpage. each The occupy i al single set width, like the infamous
accommodate both the thickness of the stem weight,
as well as the complexity of some characters such
and j usually float in their spaces,typewriter
while the font m and Courier w (designed in 1956 by Howard as the m and w. The stem weights must
are squeezed in, creating a somewhat jarring
Kettler), text andimage.the many other monospaced fonts that inspired
therefore be adjusted, and although the stem
weights of the i and l (left) are heavier than
Still, monospaced typefaces might haveitsa leg design. up in 2 the the m and w (right), the overall color density
legibility department. Since the typewriter was an is the same when set in text (below).

affordable and easy to use typesettingThetool, it rapidly


became the standard for academic, business
easilyand
difficulty with monospaced fonts is that they do not
legal to traditional notions of good typography.
conform
GNM< KJK
writing, and for formal and informal correspondence. Despite
Traditionally, when setting a text, the object is to
MJKKNM LJHHNH
Base Monospace Wide Regular
its esthetic handicaps, it was able tomaximize
establish a lookand
spacing andkerning to a point where a text appears
speaking, it does not automatically render the text more
feel that became accepted as a highly an
functional means of viewed at reading distance. However,
communication all over the world. If it
even color
legible.
is true
In fact,when
that
you have perfectlyberendered
while this might
perhaps, even the opposite is true. When
people desirable type visually
printedand
on esthetically
the smoothest of
LNL LNHHNM>
read best what they read most, then monospaced type must
papers and impeccably kerned, a text can easily appear too
contain plenty of features worth considering when exploring
legibility.3
stark and machine-made looking and might, in effect,
overshoot the mark of legibility.
E M I G R E # 70 : T H E L O O K B AC K I S S U E | 2 2 8 | 19 9 7
ABC DEF
One solution to accommodating a bold character is
shifting the weight from one part of the letter
form to another. These A and W variations show
Monospaced typefaces, on the other hand, live safely on the some of the options. Ultimately, the choice is
vernacular side of legibility. When set in text, they do determined by which is most harmonious within the
overall typeface design.
not generate a silky smooth image on the page. The i l
and j usually float in their spaces, while the m and w
are squeezed in, creating a somewhat jarring text image.
3. Alternate Character Forms
Still, monospaced typefaces might have a leg up in the
legibility department. Since the typewriter was an
affordable and easy to use typesetting tool, it rapidly
a b
In a monospaced typeface, the spacing can be
overall typeface design.

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
not generate a silky smooth image on the page. The i l

3. Alternate Character Forms


When effective communication is the ultimate goal, it makes
and j usually float in their spaces, while the m and w
sense to consider the tried and true and to sometimes forego
are squeezed in, creating a somewhat jarring text image.
imposing preferences that favor esthetics. Base Monospace
Still, monospaced typefaces might have a leg up in the
is designed with this is in mind. Its slightly irregular
legibility department. Since the typewriter was an
spacing generates an informal look reminiscent of
affordable and easy to use typesetting tool, it rapidly
a b
In a monospaced typeface, the spacing can be
typewriter text, but also of the more intentionally informal improved if the characters fill out their spaces
became the standard for academic, business and legal evenly. For example, the A with vertical sides
look of text often seen in todays more progressive and
writing, and for formal and informal correspondence. Despite (left) forms more evenly distributed white space
experimental publications. No doubt many designers will in its character cell and will therefore have
its esthetic handicaps, it was able to establish a look and fewer spacing problems than the A with diagonal
argue against this idea, dismissing Base Monospace simply as
feel that became accepted as a highly functional means of sides (right):
a typeface with inferior spacing and therefore difficult to
communication all over the world. If it is true that people
read. After all, we read words, not letters, theyll argue,
read best what they read most, then monospaced type must
and proper spacing increases the cognition of word shapes.
lllll lalal
contain plenty of features worth considering when exploring
Many words, though, have the same shape, so we cannot
legibility.3
the issue of creating individual letter shapes that are
ignore
lllll lblbl
easily distinguishable from each other and spacing that
When effective communication is the ultimate goal, it makes
emphasizes this. Perhaps the squeezed look of the w in
hH iI
Similarly, the wider r (left) is preferable to
sense to consider the tried and true and to sometimes forego the narrower r (right), although the aesthetic
Base Monospace makes it look more like a w, while the open
imposing preferences that favor esthetics. Base Monospace is form of the narrower may be more pleasing outside
space around the i amplifies its i-ness. of the monospaced context.
designed with this is in mind. Its slightly irregular
spacing generates an informal look reminiscent of 88888 8h8h8 LLLLL LHLHL
It is always the challenge of the type designer to create
typewriter text, but also of the more intentionally informal
88888 8i8i8 LLLLL LILIL
The wider r (top line) creates fewer spacing
characters that together form a coherently designed
look of text often seen in todays more progressive and problems than the narrower r (bottom line) when
alphabet, yet are different enough from each other to set in text.
experimental publications. No doubt many designers will
distinguish themselves. These are extremely challenging
argue against this idea, dismissing Base Monospace simply as
parameters that allow for limitless experimentation. Stanley
a typeface with inferior spacing and therefore difficult to
Morison in his First Principles of Typography wrote: It
read. After all, we read words, not letters, theyll argue,
e 0 g 2
The spacing characteristics of the various forms
is always desirable that experiments be made, and it is a have to be balanced with the recognition or
and proper spacing increases the cognition of word shapes. legibility of the forms themselves. Therefore,
pity that such laboratory pieces are so limited in number
Many words, though, have the same shape, so we cannot ignore although the W and w have similar spacing
and in courage. Typography today does not so much need problems to those of the A, the diagonal-sided
the issue of creating individual letter shapes that are W (left) was chosen over the straight-sided W
Inspiration or Revival as Investigation. * Base Monospace is
easily distinguishable from each other and spacing that (right) to improve letter shape recognition, since
one such investigation. To complete the experiment, we count the straight-sided w could easily be confused
emphasizes this. Perhaps the squeezed look of the w in with an m in text settings:
on your reaction.
Base Monospace makes it look more like a w, while the open
space around the i amplifies its i-ness.
090 292 898 090 292 898

c d
Base Monospace Wide Thin
* Stanley Morison, First Principles of Typography, It is always the challenge of the type designer to create
New York, The MacMillan Company, 1936. characters that together form a coherently designed Sometimes the selection of one character variation
over another is a choice between the importance of
alphabet, yet are different enough from each other to its aesthetic form versus its function within the
distinguish themselves. These are extremely challenging rest of the typeface. Although the open S
(right) may have been more appropriate from a
parameters that allow for limitless experimentation. Stanley formal standpoint, the enclosed S (left) was
Morison in his First Principles of Typography wrote: It is chosen; its vertically curved end strokes enclose
the space more effectively and therefore more
always desirable that experiments be made, and it is a pity clearly define the interior versus exterior white
that such laboratory pieces are so limited in number and space. This reduces spacing problems, as well as
gives the appearance of a narrower form that fits
in courage. Typography today does not so much need more comfortably within the fixed character space:
Inspiration or Revival as Investigation.(1) Base Monospace
is one such investigation. To complete the experiment, we
cmajkc clamkc aclkc
count on your reaction. dmajkd dlamkd adlkd

1. Stanley Morison, First Principles of Typography,


ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*= 0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*=
Base Monospace Wide Light Base Monospace Narrow Light

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*= 0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*=
Base Monospace Wide Regular Base Monospace Narrow Regular

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*= 0123456789!?#$&()[]{}/\%*=
Base Monospace Wide Bold Base Monospace Narrow Bold
SPACE PROBE:
Investigations Into Monospace

Aa Aa
Base Monospaced Base Monospaced

Narrow Wide

The body, or vertical measurement, of a font is known as


the em-square.
In a digital font, the em-square has a resolution Em-square Units 1,000 1,000
commonly divided into 1,000 equal units.

Each character in a monospaced font is of the same


width. The character width can be expressed as a number
of em units. Character Width 500 600
In Em-square Units

The relationship between the character width and the


em-square can be expressed as a ratio.
Ratio 1/2 3/5 (char width)
= ratio
Decimal Equivalent
0.5 0.6 (em-square)

Each character is 50% of Each character is 60% of


its point size; its point size;
at 10 point, each character at 10 point, each character
is exactly 5 points wide. is exactly 6 points wide.

The standard point sizes for computer screen display are:


9, 10, 12, 14 & 18 Standard Point Sizes 9 10 12 14 18 9 10 12 14 18

Applying each of these ratios to each point size results


in the character widths per size.

5 6 7 9 6
The magic numbers are highlighted; these sizes yield Character Width
an even number of points, resulting in an exact match (In Points) 4.5 5.4 7.2 8.4 10.8 (pt size) x (ratio)
between the screen display spacing and that of the
printed page.

A common purpose of a monospaced font is to


accommodate a particular number of characters per inch;

16 12 8 12 10
this is called the pitch. (For example, a 10 pitch font 72
will set 10 characters into an inch; a 12 pitch font will Pitch 14.4 10.9 13.3 8.6 6.7
set 12.) There are 72 points to the inch, so the Number of Characters Per Inch (pt size) x (ratio)
characters per inch count is calculated by dividing 72 by
the character point width.

Alternatively, characters per pica can be calculated. Pica Character Count 12


There are 12 points to the pica, so the characters per (Number of Characters Per Pica) 2.67 2.40 2.00 1.71 1.33 2.22 2.00 1.67 1.43 1.11
pica count is calculated by dividing 12 by the character (pt size) x (ratio)
point width.

E M I G R E # 70 : T H E L O O K B AC K I S S U E | 2 2 7 | 19 9 7