Thursday, July 14, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #3: Inch Marks and Foot Marks and Apostrophes and Quotes (Oh My!)

Today's post (compared to post #1 and post #2 in this series) will be short and to the point. It has to do with the differences between (and the correct usage of) inch marks, foot marks, quote marks and apostrophes.

So here are the basics...
Quote marks and apostrophes are curved. Inch marks and foot marks are not.

Again, AS ALWAYS!, it comes down to the fact that the computer thinks it's smarter than you, and "smart" quotes are only as smart as the person typing.

If you leave smart quotes "on" in your software, then every time you type a measurement, it looks like this...

If you leave smart quotes "off" in your software, then every time you type a quote or apostrophy, it looks like this...

Now, I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to online things (e.g., this blog), I use the default marks (" and ') instead of the more proper marks ( “, ” and ’), because hand-adjusting the html code with the proper ascii codes is a pain in the ass. But I think people are generally forgiving of this. However, when it comes to layout, I do not tread lightly when it comes to the differences between the marks. In fact, on one proofing review of the Creature Compendium (print copies of which are now on sale for 20% off at, I did nothing more than check the foot marks, inch marks, quotes and apostrophes for proper formatting (yes... one entire round of proofing just to check those marks).

BE IT KNOWN THAT NOT ALL FONTS INCLUDE PROPER QUOTE MARKS AND APOSTROPHES! In these instances (usually for the title type of a book), I will try to find the visually-closest font that includes them, and just change the typesetting for those individual characters in the title type. And if I can't find anything usable, I create the type element as a standalone image (e.g., in Adobe Illustrator), then use the comma from the typeface and move it, copy it and rotate it as necessary to make the type work. That may sound like a lot of effort, but it's these little things that make the difference between "average" and "superior" graphic design (and prove how much/how little the designer cares).

So that's it. And before you start asking "How do I turn smart quotes off and on?"... here are some resources for you.

Key combo for proper (curly) quotes on mac (assuming smart quotes are off):
  • for left/open quote: Option-[
  • for right/close quote: Option-Shift-[
  • for left/open single quote: Option-]
  • for apostrophe/right single/close quote: Option-Shift-]
There is no key command for foot and inch marks on Mac. You will need to make sure smart quotes are off to type these.

Turning smart quotes off/on in Adobe InDesign >>

Turning smart quotes off/on in Adobe InDesign (Scroll down to "Use Smart Punctuation")

If you want to know how to turn smart quotes off and on in Photoshop, you won't get any help from me. Photoshop shouldn't be used for type. (Sorry. That's one of those places where I won't back down on my design snobbery.)

Changing quotation mark format in Microsoft Office Products >>

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #2: Default (and/or Bad) Letterspacing/Kerning

In the first of this series of "Typographic Pet Peeves," I addressed the issues associated with leaving leading (pron. "ledding") on automatic, particularly when using connected type elements of different sizes. Today's post is concerned with the spacing among and between letters (BTW, those are 2 different things as you'll see below), particularly as related to "bad" typefaces (something I addressed way back in a post titled "Some good examples of bad type."

For the sake of today's discussion, we're going to need to make sure everybody is familiar with two different type terms, and the difference between them: 1) letterspacing and 2)kerning.
Letter-spacing (a.k.a. tracking) refers to the amount of space between a group of letters to affect the overall density and texture in a line or block of text.

Kerning, on the other hand, applies specifically to the spacing adjustment of two particular characters to correct for visually uneven spacing (i.e., a "kerning pair").

For my visual examples today, I'll be using another mockup for a non-existent retro-clone, using the title type ("Simple Fantasy") and attacking a series of issues (and insights) one-by-one. Unfortunately, a lot of the factors we'll be discussing today are not controllable in programs like MS Word (which I should remind everyone is a word processing program, NOT a layout program, regardless of what Microsoft tries to sell you). However, all the main Adobe Products (Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) do give you the control necessary (though Photoshop is clunky for this, since it is also NOT a layout program).

Formatting type in Illustrator:
Formatting type in InDesign:

At first glance, there's nothing really glaringly bad about this title type... and that's the pitfall! Like Peeve Post #1, the issues are going to come down to the fact that the computer does a lot of things automatically for you, and takes the responsibility for how good, bad, or average, your type looks. As this post progresses, and you see all the things you CAN control, you'll see how we can take a header with "average" visual presence and "strengthen" it.

So let's review the basics of this title type:

Typeface: Goudy Text MT
Point Size: 64 pt.
Kerning: Metrics (usu. the default)
Tracking: 0 (zero)

Now that we've got the "control group" set up, let's move to our first topic...


I have always been a huge proponent of the idea that the FIRST thing you should change in the type dialog box (for headlines OR body copy) is the kerning setting. There are a couple of exceptions:
a) connecting script fonts (if you change the setting to "optical" for these kinds of fonts, the script lines won't "connect" properly; I plan an entire Type Pet Peeve post on this topic alone)

b) types that are intentionally meant to be monospaced, and the use requires them to be such (e.g., when character count per line is important, like in writing screenplays)

In this example (#2), the kerning setting is set to "optical" (it is set to "metric" in #1). You may not see much difference because it's subtle. But it IS there. Look at the spacing around the "l" in "Simple"; you'll see how it's a little narrower in #2 than #1. Optical spacing tends to "even out" the spacing between each of the kerning pairs (every 2-letter set in the headline is a kerning pair... "Si", "im", "mp" et al.)

Now that we've taken a look at that, let's move on to kerning's cousin...


Again, letter-spacing is the overall amount of space "among" a group of letters. In this example (#3), I've decreased the tracking (letter-spacing) to "-30." I'm a fan of tight letter-spacing. To me, it tends to make the type feel more cohesive (i.e., more "intentional" than "accidental").

One thing that adjusting the letter-spacing tends to magnify though (especially as it is "tightened"), is that the blank spaces in many display/ornate faces is just TOO DAMN BIG!

Which brings us to something I find myself having to do on almost every single title I ever typeset for an RPG publication...


It might surprise you to find out that in this example (#4), I've altogether taken out the blank space between "Simple" and "Fantasy." Theoretically, the title is typed as S-i-m-p-l-e-F-a-n-t-a-s-y. I did, however, have to select the "e" (alone) and change the letter-spacing to "0" (from "-30").

Depending on the typeface and program you're using, there are a number of alternate ways to adjust this issue, including:
a) change the point size of the blank space to make it smaller than the rest of the type (e.g., 10 pt. blank space with 80 pt. type)

b) change the horizontal scaling of the blank space to make it narrow (e.g., 10% instead of 100%)

And so we move on to...


In example #2 above, I changed the "type" of kerning I was using (optical over metric), but kerning is actually the space relationship between 2 individual letters. As I get close to finalizing a piece of copy like this, I always try to review the spacing and see where it could be evened out even more. Look back to #4 for a moment. Though I liked the overall tracking in that, the word "Simple" felt a little too tight, and I'm not happy with the uneven spacing around the "s" in "Fantasy."

In this example (#5), I opened up the letter-spacing (tracking) on "Simple" from "-30" to "-20", then in the word "Fantasy" I adjusted the kerning between the "a" and "s" (made it tighter) and the "s" and "y" (made it looser).

Overall, I liked where this type specimen ended up compared to where I started (#1). Compare them for a moment before we move on to my final tweak...


Now that I've taken out all that spacing that the title didn't need (but the computer gobbled automatically), I have a bit of extra space which allows me to make my type bigger and give it more presence. So I went from 64 pt. to 70 pt. And it does make a difference. My title now has more visual presence and impact... things I couldn't have given it except for the fact that I took it back from the computer that tried to eat it.

So here are #1 and #6, side-by-side for comparison.
I have now put this knowledge and power in your hands.
What are you going to do with it!?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #1: Automatic Leading on Titling with Type Elements of Multiple Sizes

I'm starting a new series on the blog, in the hopes that revealing pet peeves as a practiced graphic designer will find fertile ground with OSR self-publishers who are doing their own layout and hoping to improve their skills.

Ultimately, as this (hopefully) series unfolds, you will find that most of my typographic pet peeves all come down to a single root problem... the computer doesn't care what your layout looks like! That's root of today's problem, and one that I see proliferating to an unbearable degree as more and more would-be designers take up the tools of the trade.

Today, I look at the use of automatic leading on titling with type elements of multiple sizes. This goes for both cover titling, as well as interior/section/chapter titling. For today's discussion, I'm using the following two examples (mockups of a non-existent retro-clone).

Please note, that on the sample to the left (the obviously inferiorly typeset version), I did NOT intentionally make the type spacing look bad. I did nothing more than choose a typeface, and set the type size for each element: 1) the name of the book, and 2) the author's by-line. I should back up for a second. While I did say "obviously inferiorly typeset version," it is quite possible that it's taking some of you a few moments to actually see the difference between the two versions, so I'll point it out... look at the spacing between "Swords &" and "Citadels," then compare the spacing between "Citadels" and the by-line.

I'm going to introduce the non-designers among you to a term few non-designers know... "chunking." This is a catchy way of saying that like typographic elements should be treated as a single visual element. For example, the title "Swords & Citadels" is on two lines, but in the left example "Swords &" and "Citadels" are treated as 2 separate chunks, where on the right they're treated as 1 graphic chunk. I'll even go so for to say on the left example, that "Citadels" and the by-line (because of the automatic leading) are accidentally chunked.

Here's the issue: When a designer leaves the leading set for "Automatic," the computer is making decisions for you based purely on mathematics, and not on aesthetics! Yes, I did bold and italicize and underline that, and then make it orange — because it's THAT important to remember.

Here's the solution (and it's VERY simple): NEVER LEAVE THE LEADING ON AUTOMATIC!!! Even in MS Word, there are ways to specifically set the leading in points (instead of variations on line-height).

In both examples, I used Adobe Illustrator and the typeface Trattatello, with the title set in 60 pt. and the by-line set in 36 pt.

In the left example, the automatic leading for type set at 60 pt. defaults to "(72 pt)" and the leading for the type set at 30 pt. defaults to "(30 pt)." I use the parenths to make a point... in Adobe products, any default leading shows up in parentheses to help remind you that the leading is set for automatic. See that! Even Adobe warns you you've left the leading on automatic! So back to those numbers for a second... based on the defaults, the space between line 2 of the title and the by-line is HALF of the space between the 1st and 2nd line of the title.

In the right example, I did nothing more than change the leading for the whole thing (all 3 lines) to 60 points... that's it! The size of the two type elements (title and byline) does the chunking all by itself. But you can change each line individually; adjust this recipe as you see fit.

So that's it. That's the basics of what happens because the computer thinks it's smarter than you, and because a lot of designers allow it to be. Be forewarned, when the computer starts making these kind of chunking adjustments on it's own, I fear we'll be nearing the point where computers overtake humanity!

Put the computer in its place! Manage your leading like the human you are!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The System Surpasses 9,000 Downloads

It seems like the only time I mention The System on this blog is when it hits another download milestone (which is because the only time I mention The System on this blog is when it hits another download milestone). The System is the universal RPG that I originally wrote as a high-schooler in 1985, abandoned when I realized GURPS had hit the market, then finally resurrected when I discovered the OSR back in the early part of 2011 (though had yet to understand what a retro-clone was... which The System is definitely not).

As a published RPG product, it predates the other things for which I'm known (including the d30 DM Companion, the otherwise first of my published products). It has been available as a free PDF download (direct from this link) and in print-on-demand from

Well... some time over the last few days, the free downloads of The System from my MediaFire link surpassed the 9,000 mark (which does not include downloads from co-located downloads, like the one at 1KM1KT).

If you've never heard of The System, here's the topline overview... I originally wrote/designed this in late 1985/early 1986 (when I was about 16 years old) before other universal role playing systems were available on the market. As I was getting ready to playtest it with my friends, a guy in our gaming group brought in a copy of the (then) newly-released GURPS, and I shelved my system in the disappointment that comes with having someone beat you to the punch. In 2011, I "rescued the from oblivion" (that is, I scanned the old daisy-wheel printed version that came from my dad's word processor at work), gave it a (very) quick polish to the ruleset, and typeset it with a decidedly retro (1st generation) RPG feel to it.

As stated previously, I'm quite willing to admit the game has its flaws... I mean, c'mon, I was 16 or so when I wrote it. (e.g., there is a very convoluted constitution-to-hit-point system, and there is an innovative but ultimately ill-conceived initiative and movement tracking system, and while it purports to handle supers among its genres, I can't claim that it actually scales to reflect the expanse of power levels between the weakest and strongest heroes). But over time, I have more and more appreciation for the fact that it uses d6s only, and led to some underlying things that Welbo and I would like to see become part of a "2nd Edition" of The System. (Should we ever get back to it, but may something it takes us 10 or more years to complete.)

• If you want the full story on The System, check out this post.
• To download a free PDF from MediaFire, click here.
• To buy a just-over-cost print copy of The System from Lulu (for $3.95), head over here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Really Old Old-School Artist: Dora Curtis

It's been a while since I've done one of these "Really Old Old-School Artist" posts, but it's also been a while since I stumbled across someone with whom I was unfamiliar. Like a few of the other artists I've featured here before, there is little on the Web about her (and her Wikipedia entry mentions only her participation in an anthropological/naturalist expedition, with no mention of her art at all, or even her dates of birth or death).

Luckily for us in the OSR community, the things we do have of Dora are here illustrations from the books The Lances of Lynnwood (by Charlotte M. Yonge), Stories of King Arthur and His Round Table (by Beatrice Clay), and Granny's Wonderful Chair (by Frances Brown). There is a version of Fairy Tales of the Arabian Nights (by T.H. Robinson) that includes Ms. Curtis's illustrations. While an illustrated version is available as an ebook, and the book itself is in the public domain, there is unfortunately no copy at with the illustrations included (though there is a version with the illustrations stripped out). There is, however, an online version with low resolution versions of the images at I've found a physical copy for sale that's not terribly pricey, so I hope to be ordering that later today, and possibly posting images when I receive it in the post.

Okay, so let's get on with it. Here you go...