Abusing Fonts for Graphical Gain

Posted August 4th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

Turning to fonts can sometimes be a convenient time-saving addition to a graphics project.

This is a quick tip to remind us that graphics don’t have to be difficult or time-consuming to make. They really are nothing more than sized shapes, colors, lines, and fills — nothing but than a bunch pixels if you think or want to get picky about it. With this in mind, nothing is out of reach. What with the various image editing (manipulating) software programs out there, an imaginative creator can have a ball. But graphics can be time consuming. It’d be nice if there was some time- and labor-saving shortcut. Well, there is. Fonts.

Abusing Fonts?

A lot can be created with fonts. They are, after all, shapes, and we can do a lot with them. There are even WingDings, WebDings, Zapf Dingbats, Symbols, Monotype Sorts, and other picture fonts. Often, this is where I’ll turn first if I’m creating a logo, for instance, and I want a quick start. Starting with fonts — or portions thereof — is a decent way for me to go.

I will offer one example. Let’s say a roofer, Joe from Joe’s Roofing, has contacted me and would like a contemporary logo. Well, this is sort of an easy one because his trade is one that is easily identifiable so this in itself gives me a head start. I begin, blindly. Feeling my way along.

Making a Font-Only Logo

While there are other ways of creating the graphic below, I will use nothing but fonts to drive the point home. I won’t use curves, but fonts have some nice ones and quality is high. It’s almost like cheating. To do this I’m using Fireworks.

Step 1

I decide to begin with an outline of a roof. To do this I can create a thick-bordered box and turn it 45° but I choose to use the lowly forward slash instead. Using Gill Sans at 200 points, I make a forward slash, turn it by hand to tweak the pitch, then use a distort tool to tug at the corners to make sure the ends of the slash are parallel to an invisible horizon line. Once I’m satisfied — all of one minute later — I copy and paste it, flip it 180° (horizontal), align the second slash, and group the two. Voila.

Figure 1: Read description within the text content

Step 2

I then write the letter “I” with Gill Sans at 180 points. I position it on the left side of the roof so it serves visually as a wall and chimney. This takes me about 30 seconds. Man-oh-man, I now have a minute-and-a-half invested in this.

Figure 2: Read description within the text content

Step 3

I group the two font objects into one and add a colored one pixel border. I pick something fast. There is some border overlapping. To avoid this I know I’d have to export, cut, then border a flattened image instead of the group, but this is okay. Joe didn’t want to spend very much. This step takes me another 4 seconds. Yikes, a minute thirty-four blown.

Figure 3: Read description within the text content

Step 4

Ah, lovely text. A touch of typography. Type is a powerful ally in design. And being a font, it fits into my plan nicely. I have abused Gill Sans enough for the moment, though, so I will now use Franklin Gothic Demi at 47 points. I give it a border too. Getting the size just so takes me forty seconds. Hmm, add-add, that’s 181 seconds.

Figure 4: Read description within the text content

Step 5

Moving along, I add the word “Roofing” in Gill Sans again, bold, at 16 points (with letter spacing set to 74) and I use the border color. Plus Joe wants some content to accompany the logo. To make it part of the design. He wants to add his text-based toll-free number and web address. I write the phone number in Gill Sans as well, using the base color, but at 15 points (with a letter spacing set to 27). Lastly, whew, I add the last line using Arial Rounded Bold at 12 points (with letter spacing set to 12). I group everything. This one was a killer; it cost me another minute-thirty bringing the total so far to a whopping 271 seconds. That’s almost five minutes.

Figure 5: Read description within the text content

Step 6

I find a triangle WingDing, pull it horizontally so its edges align with the roof lines. I then give it a vertical line texture at 50% with no transparency, outline it with the border color, group it with the others, and give the whole thing a slight drop shadow. For mathematical convenience that takes me 50 seconds (there abouts anyway) bringing the total to six minutes.

Figure 6: Read description within the text content


That’s it. Six minutes. Joe’s happy and so am I. It’s not an award-winning logo or anything, I barely gave it a thought and didn’t labor over it, but it will serve. Again, there are many other ways to get this particular logo done, but turning to fonts can sometimes be a convenient time-saving addition to a graphics project.

6 Responses to: “Abusing Fonts for Graphical Gain”

  1. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: August 4th, 2007 at 5:32 am

    You are always an inspiration, Mike. I am always amazed at what great tips and shortcuts you offer in so many diverse areas — typography, CSS markup, content writing, graphics. Most of your ideas are also very practical, just as this article is.

    K.I.S.S. - “Keep it simple, Stupid”. Somewhere down the road the simple advice in this article is going to save me, and many othes, considerable time. Thanks again.

  2. JackP responds:
    Posted: August 5th, 2007 at 5:05 am

    It takes genius to spot something so simple that it should be obvious to everyone but isn’t…

    Nice one, Mike!

  3. Greg responds:
    Posted: August 6th, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Great idea! I enjoy going through fonts, but never thought of using bits and pieces. I usually get sidetracked and start thinking of doing my own… cheers.

  4. Jermayn Parker responds:
    Posted: August 7th, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Yes very good inspiring time saving tips there
    Thanks for sharing them :)

  5. Carmelo Lisciotto responds:
    Posted: August 7th, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Yeah that is a great idea!

    Carmelo Lisciotto


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