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Wooden type comes to the web

Agency uses Kickstarter funding to bring the historic art of hand-made wood fonts to the modern web

Bearded wood type fonts
Bearded is bringing wood type fonts to the web

Pittsburgh design studio Bearded is celebrating the success of the first stage of Wood Type Revival, a Kickstarter project to reclaim the lost art of wood type and convert it to digital fonts for modern designers. The project reached its funding five days ago, with $19,204, well over its $15,000 target.

"We're searching for wood type that represents faces that are not available in modern digital typography," explains Matt Griffin, principal at the agency. "Once we find the type, we'll print it on an old Vandercook proof press, scan it, and digitise it as an opentype font.

“The fonts will then be made available for sale to all, and the Kickstarter backers will get fonts, T-shirts and prints in exchange for funding the project.

Griffin explains that the idea originated with Matt Braun, senior designer at Bearded, and the pair are letterpress printers, print and screen designers, and "big typography nerds," which ensured the project made perfect sense for them. Given the myriad fonts already available—including plenty of wood-type options—why bother making all this effort though? "Because for the vast majority of these fonts, the feeling gets lost. When I look at them, they feel digital—they're just too perfectly drawn," asserts Griffin, adding that the thing he loves about working with letterpress printing is imperfection.

He explains that the fonts Bearded is now looking at were drawn by hand, carved into wood blocks and have been printed and in storage for over a hundred years. "So not only are the original designs influenced by a more 'imperfect' process than much of digital typography, but the resulting wear and age also shows in the type. In that way our fonts are not a strict historical revival. What we're really looking to represent are the physical forms of the type as they exist right now, rather than the original designer's drawings," he says.

This will be apparent in alternate characters available with some of the fonts, representing letters that were carved differently or damaged, providing designers with variation, much like with letterpress printing.

While the source of Wood Type Revival is ancient, the means of realising it was anything but. Griffin says that the Kickstarter process was fantastic and without the web there's little chance the project would have been anything more than a fleeting thought.

"Kickstarter enabled us to find all the far-flung people who are equally passionate about type and typography. But on top of that, it would be a much greater struggle to find all these forgotten old fonts without the web," explains Griffin. "Our first post-Kickstarter type—a gorgeous Arts and Crafts face—just arrived this morning from a little village called Sapcote in Leicester. There is no way we could have found that type without the internet!"

Suitably, Bearded is also ensuring that web designers won't be left out in the cold once the fonts are ready for use—although Griffin is quick to note that there will be some use caveats. "The fonts are based on wood type that will almost certainly not have full character sets—there wasn't much demand for the @ symbol a century ago, for example. And so many of our digital fonts will also have limited characters, meaning designers will need to be careful with web implementation.

“That being said, these are all display fonts, not intended for body text, and in the proper context they could be quite refreshing on a website." He adds that Bearded is also experimenting with fleshing out the full character set on a font to see how it goes. "If that works out, we'll consider applying it to other faces."

For more about Wood Type Revival, visit woodtyperevival.com (which will also reveal the approach for web fonts once the process is a little further along) and visit the Flickr set.

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