Linked: Comic book lettering

The evolution of a lettering style

My friend Kris Black posted the video below from Vox on Comic Book lettering. I love lettering and comic books so this was right up my alley. It’s a really smart piece that clearly explains the difference between lettering and fonts, shows how lettering design is connected to production limitations and best of all, doesn’t mention Comic Sans a single time. If you are interested in lettering and/or comics, check out this video:

Side note: The creator of the video, Phil Edwards, has done a bunch of awesome videos for Vox on a wide range of topics. I really enjoyed his history of Wingdings and his video on the origins of the Oxford comma.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he tries to explain the difference between type and lettering. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

SbB Runabout Superwide is a Fontstruct Top Pick

My new experimental unicase typeface, SbB Runabout Superwide, was named a Fontstruct Top Pick. I'm really excited about how it's turned out. Or to be more accurate, is turning out... It's still very much a work in progress. My intent is to use Runabout as the foundation of a whole series of fonts — with a range of widths, weights and designs.

You can download SBB Runabout Superwide over at Fontstruct.

Introducing Intermodal

I’ve been fascinated by stenciled type for a while. Stencils started as a practical necessity – an easy and utilitarian way to reproduce type. But the use of stencils has evolved and is now visually representative of industry and military.

A few weeks ago, I quietly rolled out my latest stencil typeface on Creative Market: Intermodal.

Intermodal started as an experiment. I wanted to create a design that had only vertical stencil cuts. I didn’t like how the cuts on other stencil designs didn’t line up cleanly. By only using vertical cuts, I didn’t have to worry about the horizontal alignment.* 

Intermodal is an all cap design, but includes a wide range of foreign language characters, a set of Opentype tabular numerals and an alternate “9.” Intermodal doesn’t have traditional weights. Instead, there are five widths, from A to E. A is more narrow and E is wider. The different versions can be used together to create a utilitarian look. I’ve also got an oblique version of each width for a total of 10 fonts in the family.

For now, the entire Intermodal family — 10 fonts in all — is available exclusively at Creative Market for $29.

Intermodal is one of my favorite creations. I hope you like it.

* After my first set of sketches, I noticed that it was structurally very similar to Power Grid. So I added a stencil version to Power Grid 2.0 and I continued to refine Intermodal. Different look, but similar design approach.

Museum-caliber modular type

Last week, Stefan Sagmeister unleashed the most high-profile modular typeface design since Wim Crouwel's New Alphabet.

The redesign for the Jewish Museum in New York features two modular typefaces. You can get all the details over at Brand New. It's a complicated and massive identity. I like what Sagmeister has done and the whole system works well. But those modular type designs stood out to me — especially the primary "script" type.

As a fan of modular type and the work of Crouwel in the 60's and 70's, it's really nice to see a high-profile, modern designer embrace a modular aesthetic.

(If you want to play around with modular type, head over to Fontstruct and build something awesome.)

Powerlane Specimen Book on MagCloud

I knew I wanted to create a specimen book for my new typeface, Powerlane. But I didn’t need that many copies. I decided to use MagCloud for production and was able to get a limited quantity for promotional use.

If you aren’t familiar with them, MagCloud is a company does on demand printing and publishing. They’ve recently increased their product line to include some larger format publications, posters, fliers and more. And you can use their platform to offer your publications or products for sale.

Build your PDF to their specs, upload it, proof it and you are done. Very easy. You can choose whether or not you want to make it available for public purchase. I ordered an handful of mine and was very happy with the quality.

(I will bring up the one really minor blemish — a tiny little bar code they stick on the back. It’s not a big issue and it is tiny, but if you are a perfectionist, it’s a little irritating. Most folks aren’t going to have an issue with it. But in case you were wondering, there is no way to get rid of it.)

I’ve made my Powerlane Specimen Book available for purchase at MagCloud. And you can choose to offer digital versions as PDFs or access it through the MagCloud iPad app. (The digital version of the Powerlane Specimen Book is completely free.) So go check it out.

And don’t forget that through October 23, Powerlane Complete is available for $59 ($140 off normal price) at


Powerlane is now released and while I’m still working on marketing and promotion, I really want to take a second and thank a lot of people that inspired me and helped me along with Powerlane.

My Wife

When I sat down to do the interview with The State, one of the first questions Cassie asked was something along the lines of “You have a full time job, you teach, you have three kids and you design type in your spare time. How does your wife feel about all of this?” I chuckled and simply responded that my wife is awesome.

My wife, Liz, is an artist, too. And a teacher. She understands why I want to design my own type. And why I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to work with a great group of students this semester.

Is it crazy? Sometimes, yes. We have to work really hard to coordinate schedules and find time for everything. But we do. Sometimes, I’m up really, really late. But without the support from Liz, I couldn’t accomplish any of this.

Marius Valdes

Marius and I get try to get together for lunch semi-regularly to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other. It’s always inspirational to sit down for a little while and throw ideas around.

I love working on projects with Marius. A while back, I created a custom variation of one of my typefaces for his Secret Species project. Power Grid, was upper case only and he needed a lower case. So I cranked out a version for him to use. I intended to polish it later, but never got around to it.

Fast forward to this year, when Marius and his awesome Secret Species project was featured in HOW magazine. As a type designer, it’s energizing to see your typefaces in use. After seeing Power Grid on the pages of HOW, I started working on it again. The result is Powerlane.

AIGA South Carolina

I owe a lot to AIGA South Carolina. It’s the chapter I helped start 7 years ago and it’s been a major influence on my career. Over the last few years, I’ve had the joy of seeing and interacting with creatives like Alex Isley, Michael Bierut, Jill Bell, Seymour Chwast, Chip Kidd, James Victore, Chris Bilheimer, Sean Adams, Stefan Sagmeister and more.

But in Spring of this year, AIGA SC brought in designer/illustrator Jude Landry and then a couple weeks later, designer/all-around-awesome-guy Aaron Draplin. And the combination was exactly the inspiration I needed. They are both amazing creatives with an entrepreneurial streak. And listening to them got me completely motivated to tackle the typeface and make it available commercially. And then a few months later, Rich Roat from House Industries came in to speak about all of their typographic successes.

It was the perfect line up of speakers for me at the perfect time.

Fontstruct and the Fonstruct Community

Sometime in 2009, I was home — sick in bed. Having given up on awful daytime TV, I was surfing the internet and stumbled upon Fontstruct and started experimenting. Powerlane started life as Power Grid, a Fontstruction. It was one of my early modular constructions, but I was very happy with it. But the modular structure made it difficult to expand Power Grid into the family I had in my head and I eventually chose to start from scratch.

But Fontstruct’s influence goes far beyond prototyping. The community at Fontstruct was encouraging and inspirational. They gave solid feedback on character designs. They kept me motivated when I was discouraged and challenged me to improve my designs.

I’ve gotten so busy lately, I haven’t been able to get back over to Fontstruct. But maybe I should enter the new stencil contest…


Finally, thanks to Georg Seifert for developing an awesome type design tool in Glyphs. It’s powerful and easy to use.

Recently, they’ve started blogging about how to get the most out of Glyphs. And many of their tips and tricks were very helpful in building Powerlane.

Don’t forget that through October 23, Powerlane Complete is available for $59 ($140 off normal price) at

Coming Soon: Powerlane

I’m putting the final touches on getting my new typeface family, Powerlane, live at for purchase. In the meantime, I’ve posted a page with a sample of Powerlane and a typeface specimen PDF. Check it out and look back here for the official anouncement… hopefully this week.

Powerlane will feature 9 weights in both regular and oblique and an Outline version. A total of twenty fonts. Each font also has OpenType small caps and a handful of stylistic alternatives. Powerlane is inspired by 1920s constructivist posters. 

SbB Raceday and Raceday Oblique

I’ve finally gotten around to finishing SbB Raceday. It’s a bold display typeface, inspired by some of my modular projects. Available with regular and oblique versions. You can download it for free from the Download Fonts section.

This is my first typeface constructed using Glyphs. (I don’t count SbB Sorts since it’s a symbol font.) I really enjoyed using Glyphs. It’s much easier to use than other software I’ve used and very powerful.

Amazing FontBook App for iPad

The new FontBook app for the iPad is simply incredible. Created by Fontshop International, it’s an amazingly comprehensive resource. Look up typeface designs by origin date, class, designer name and more. Select your favorite fonts. Post samples to Twitter or Facebook. Compare designs. Explore similar designs.

If you are a serious typography fan and you have an iPad, go buy it now. It’s well worth the $5.99 purchase price. And if you are a serious typography fan and don’t have an iPad, it’s time to purchase one.

Now, I hope a few of my other favorite foundries release amazing iPad apps featuring their type libraries. I’d purchase a Hoefler-Frere Jones, House Industries or Adobe type specimen book in an instant.

Explore type by class, designer name, typeface name, foundry or year of release.Explore sample settings of typefaces.

Compare font designs and even swipe through preset background and type colors.

Dradis Alpha and Beta

I’m releasing an OpenType version of Dradis, an experimental typeface family based on one of my FontStruct creations.

Dradis is built from a series of simple shapes to create letters. The original concept was to have a display typeface which could be read without any spaces between the letters. SbB Dradis Alpha and SbB Dradis Alpha Oblique have no spaces between the letters and yet, is surprisingly readable.

But as I played with the design, I discovered that adding a little extra space maintained the distinctive character of the design, but made it more readable at smaller display sizes. So I created a second set - SbB Dradis Beta and SbB Dradis Beta Oblique - that keep the same character design, but adds spacing between the letters.

As an experimental typeface that is based on a strict grid, it doesn’t include every single special or foreign language character, but it includes enough for most English language display usage. If it’s missing a character that you need, let me know and I’ll see if I can add it.

You can download the SbB Dradis family over in the Download Fonts section.

(As an aside… The name Dradis is from the Ron Moore version of Battlestar Galactica. Dradis is the Colonial version of radar. On the show, all of the paper, pictures and other printed materials had the corners cut at 45 degree angles. When I was designing this, most of the corners of the letters had 45 degree angles. So I figured a Galactica related name was appropriate.)

Photo-Lettering from House Industries

When Andy Cruz from House Industries came to speak to AIGA South Carolina in 2005, over dinner, he mentioned House Industries was looking at the idea of developing a system where designers could set a headlines online and pay a small amount to download an EPS file.

Last week, they finally launched the service. is a service where you can customize small bits of copy and for $7 each, download the settings in EPS format. The service leverages the old Photo Lettering, Inc. library that House purchased a number of years ago and adds a few of their original creations. Each type design has a range of options and you can customize the colors. House plans on adding addition typefaces in the future.

You can also subscribe to the service if you plan on using it frequently. (I’m not sure who is going to use 1,000 settings a month for $1,000, but I’m sure someone will.)

One interesting note: The license is very reasonable. No restrictions about usage in logos or high quantity materials. You can use the settings for any purpose with two exceptions. You can’t use the letters to reverse engineer a font. And you can’t create products for sale that are based solely on the letter forms.

$7 for a setting is definitely reasonable. It will be interesting to see if this type of service catches on among designers.

Launching Alliance

Today, I’ve posted new typefaces, Alliance Standard and Alliance Stencil, in the Download Fonts section. And I’ve also made available 4 additional typefaces over at Fontstruct: Alliance Dot Five, Alliance Dot Seven, Alliance Pixel Five and Alliance Pixel Seven.

Alliance and Alliance Stencil

Alliance is an odd experimental typeface. And it’s one I’ve worked on sporadically for a long time. It started as a series of sketches centered around the concept of a modular science fiction stencil system. Alliance is somewhat inspired by Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the inefficient bureaucracy of the ruling government, the Alliance. Building a modular stencil system where the stencil pieces come together at a 45 degree angle seemed like an inefficient concept. However, the result is an odd set of letterforms with a unique structure.

There are nine stencil shapes that can be combined to make the characters. The dots in the middle were added when I realized that you would never be able to line up a stencil system like this without some sort of guide.

Dots and Pixels

I built Alliance’s modular stencil system before I discovered Fontstruct. I liked the basic letterforms and saw opportunities to expand the concept with Fontstruct. So I translated the design into two of science fiction’s favorite type cliches: dot matrix and pixels. And then, I did nothing with it. 


I finished the design, but never released it. While I was happy with the general structure, I was unhappy about the limitations of the typeface. Punctuation was a problem. Should I build out a full character set or only the characters that could be built using the system? Stylistically was it too limiting? Was it even worth finishing? Should I scrap the whole thing and start from scratch?

As I took my time finishing it, I adopted many of the concepts for some of my other Fontstruct typefaces. Power Grid, Transmission, Cereal Box and Technobabble all take cues from some of the letterforms in Alliance. But Alliance sat unreleased.

Finishing up

A few months ago, I came across some of my original sketches. And I decided to finish Alliance. In an effort to make it usable, I made some compromises on the system for some punctuation. However, it does not have a full character set.

You can download Opentype versions of Alliance Standard and Alliance Stencil from the Download Fonts section here at Sketchbook B. And you can download Dot Five, Dot Seven, Pixel Five and Pixel Seven over at Fontstruct.

Review: iFontMaker for the iPad

Can you design typefaces on an iPad? When the idea of a mythical Apple Tablet was floating out there in Rumorville, it occurred to me how great it would be to use Fontstruct on an iPad. But alas, no Flash support means no Fontstruct on the iPad. 

So I waited. A few weeks ago, I got a note from my friend @jamesmiller telling me about a new app that allows you design type on your iPad… Intrigued, I downloaded and started playing around with it.

iFontMaker is an application by 2TTF that allow you to design fonts on your iPad. 2TTF boasts that you can make a basic font in five minutes…

How it works

With iFontMaker, you draw out the letters with your finger. You can choose from four brush types - brush, pen, pencil and line segment. You can set guides for the baseline, x-height, cap-height, ascenders and descenders. New in version 1.5 is a nudge tool that allows you to reshape strokes. And the move tool was updated to allow rotation and movement of individual strokes.

The application has two tabs: Glyphs and Compose. Glyphs is where you draw the characters. Compose is where you can view and create test samples. (You can also adjust the global letter spacing under the Compose tab.)

Screenshots of iFontMaker. Left, main glyph editing interface. Right, editing a path with the move tool.

When you are done with your creation, you upload the design to their servers. They generate the font and post a sample page with a download link. (Check out the sample page with my designs SquarePad and LilyPad.)

It really is very easy to create a font this way. And I imagine their 5 minute estimate is probably correct. But there are some significant limitations…


The app is simple to use, but that comes with tradeoffs.

Character Width. My main issue with iFontMaker is that there’s currently no way to adjust the width of individual characters. This creates some problems with more complex designs. I’d love to be able to adjust a right side bearing to address spacing issues. But right now, you can’t.

Not precise. It’s impossible to be precise with the touch screen interface. Version 1.5 adds a straight line tool, but it’s still somewhat clumsy.

Revising is very difficult. In an effort to keep the interface simple, there are limited editing capabilities. Version 1.5 allows you to move strokes around. And you can scale glyphs using the pinch/zoom multitouch gesture. But there is no eraser. And the nudge tool seems very difficult to control. Basically, if you aren’t happy with the glyph you’ve drawn, your best bet is often to erase it and start over.

Pan and Zoom. There is no way to zoom out or pan around the canvas. This isn’t a problem for most characters, but for some characters with accent marks, it’s difficult to add them above the letter without the ability to zoom out or pan up.

What’s Good

Despite it’s limitations, iFontMaker is fun. Lots of fun. And it also gets a lot of things right.

Support for a large character set. iFontMaker allows you to build fonts with large character sets in many languages including Japanese, Greek, Cyrillic and Thai. Great support out of the gate and the developers indicate that they are willing to add more.

The upload process. When you upload your font to 2TTF, they provide a nice display page and a link to download. But they also provide a link to a web font file. Really nice idea and it works pretty well.

The guides. I like the way the app allows you to set your x-height, ascenders, descenders globally. It’s a detail that very easily could have been overlooked. I only wish I could set the character width on each individual character.

A couple of samples

I created a pair of fonts with iFontMaker: SquarePad and LilyPad. Both fonts were built quickly. Although both required a good bit of fine tuning.

You can download both designs from the 2TTF sample pages. (Note: Every time you upload a new version, you must republish the file to let others download it.) I wish the web addresses were more than just random numbers and letters, but I understand why they chose the system they did.

Is it worth $7.99 (or $6.99 on sale)?

So can you create your own font in five minutes? Yes, I think you probably could. However, it will take you significantly more time and practice to create something that you will want to use. And lots of trial and error. 

iFontMaker is a fun app. If you are interested in type or design and have an iPad, it’s definitely worth the purchase price. The developers have already provided two updates that have significantly improved the app, so I have every hope that they will continue to improve the application.

You can buy iFontMaker from the App Store for $7.99. (Although as of the publish date of this post, it is on sale for $6.99.)