Create your own 3D typeface

06. Extrudes

It's key to build visual harmony between the stem widths, spacing and extrude depths

During my experimental stage I’d figured out the rough extrude depths for each weight so I could build visual harmonies between the stem widths and/or spacing in each weight. This aids the uniformity and rhythm of the type, which is important as the shapes become more complex.

To create the extrude styles I used a plugin to do the heavy lifting. This created the extrude shapes mechanically, and I then adjusted or redrew to achieve a consistent weight. I needed to ensure that none of the extrudes clogged up their partner face characters or obscured their details, so I adjusted several of the original face characters to make them more compatible. 

Plugins can do the heavy lifting when it comes to extrude styleshe rough extrude depths for each weight

07. Zero weight

Sketched adjustments on the Zero weight S

I wanted to make a razor-thin, ‘zero’ weight style for the font family. For this to work, the extrude style needed to become the main shape of the type. I redrew each glyph with open paths, as if creating a monoline font. This gave me the skeleton of each character so it could be mechanically extruded and then adjusted or redrawn. The 'S' was particularly tricky as its spine produced almost no extrude naturally due to its diagonal direction. 

08. Spacing and kerning

The original face spacing (top), the final combined spacing (middle) and the main differences (bottom)

I’d spaced my characters throughout the drawing process to ensure they were working well together as words and sentences. However, a shaded font cannot be spaced like a regular black and white typeface. Because the extrude shapes become an integral part of each character, the spacing and kerning needs to be optimised for the overall combined shape. To do this I made both the face and the extrude black, to form one solid block, and spaced and kerned them together. 

09. Shading preparation

As a rough guide, all glyphs were placed in Autodesk 3ds Max and lit

To guide the halftone shading process, I commissioned a 3D designer to create and light a 3D model of my full character set. This wasn’t meant to produce a realistic shadow but rather a consistent stylistic effect, and show me where the light might fall across more complex shapes. 

In the end however, the final shading diverged even further from the 3D model so that the shadows could be distributed evenly across all the glyphs.   

Two grades of halftone shading provide greater control at various type sizes

After talking with a few designer friends, I decided that it was important to offer two grades of halftone shading to provide greater control at various type sizes. Depending on the colour combinations and sizes chosen, Rig could then produce subtle gradients through to strong graphic effects.   

10. Shading marathon

One of several crazy Illustrator files for making the halftones

Each separate gradient was made in Adobe Illustrator then brought back into Glyphs to be cleaned up, and often adjusted square by square. There was no way to batch-process the halftone effects and the combined number of glyphs across four weights and two shading styles is approaching 2000. It was a long, gruelling process.

In Illustrator, I made a black and white gradient at the approximate size of the curve or edge that needed shading. Then, with some manipulation, I would run the Phantasm filter on these gradients to create the vector halftone squares. These were then cropped using the shape of the letter’s extrude. 

Back in Glyphs, at high magnification I went around all the curved edges to correct any stray points. To reduce the overall file size of the font I also removed any redundant curve handles from squares positioned on the edges of curves.   

There were several intricate gradients to build, like in crotches of K and R

There were several intricate gradients to build, like in crotches of K and R, but many of the gradients could be shared across multiple shapes, and keyboard shortcuts sped up the process. The last step was to even out the shading to avoid dark areas as much as possible.  

The result

I admit that while producing the shading I cursed myself for deciding to make four weights, but the final result was worth it. The unusual approach to Rig’s design eventually led to its unique appearance. The character shapes, extrude depths and spacing have all been devised to compliment each other and produce harmony within each weight. By allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way, Rig’s lively yet assured voice was forged.   

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