Type revival is more or less difficult depending upon what remains of the original. If and when punches, matrices, or types are extant, one can work directly from there. If none of these exist, one is forced to reverse-engineer from printed specimens and infer such things as original dimensions and intent of design given such things as ink bleed and so on.

In this latter case, the procedure is essentially as follows:

  • Choose the source material: consider the period, availability of printed documents and, if it applies, what may be directly available as digitally scanned.
  • Extract model letters, using one of two procedures:
    • should crisp exemplars exist, use those; otherwise
    • choose reasonable exemplars as models and feed them and the source documents into the GlyphCollector application1 (or the like) to produced ‘averaged’ glyphs which can then serve as templates for the actual design.
  • Distil the patterns and standardize: ‘n’ (for lowercase) and ‘H’ (for uppercase) provide the cadence of stem patterns;2 as much as possible, glyphs and spacing should be designed so as to preserve the pattern.
  • Build a rough digital design using one’s software of choice and define the initial spacing by adjusting the left and right side bearings of glyphs accordingly.
  • Improve the point structure and shapes3 using appropriate software and tools, e.g.,
  • Examine the various serifs4 and design appropriately: these may or may not all conform to one set pattern. It is important not to oversimplify and thus destroy their calculated effect.5
  • Interpret details: because one cannot access the original artist’s thinking, one will have to assess what was actually intended and what was merely a by-product of printing on this or that medium. For example, did the punchcutter build projected ink bleed into the design, or was that a secondary phenomenon?
  • Add the uppercase glyphs: metal type was largely designed around humanist minuscule. Capitals were generally borrowed from pre-existing usage which was not designed with minuscules in mind; consequently, these must be adapted to obtain reasonable harmony6 with the lowercase.
  • Expand the character set with punctuation, diacritics, figures, and ligatures: ligatures are best adapted from the separate glyphs for the sake of efficient workflow and good harmony; punctuation should be designed to fit in when everything else has been done.
  • Reconsider contours by comparing source materials: it could be that materials not originally used in the design can shed light on this or that detail.
  • Determine the final manual spacing: in most cases, one can come close to the original with one’s design, but this requires a complete set of glyphs for the purposes of testing combinations for good aesthetics.
  • Apply kerning: software exists to which can help with micro-adjustments to spacing. It is one thing to infer that the original types were cast according to a limited set of widths; it is quite another to get the placement of glyphs within those widths perfect by hand without a great deal of investment in time and effort!
  • Setting up stylistic sets
  • Repeat the above steps in the design of italics: cursive or italic founts were a slightly later invention, so the prototype may or may not have had a companion italic. In that instance, a suitable companion will have to be found or designed from scratch. Either way, it will be necessary to design it to match the criteria already established for the original fount.
  • Matching weight and details of italics and roman
  • Final check on contours, spacing, and kerning
  1. This open-source application searches digitized documents for glyphs which appear to match the models. Opportunity is then given to accept or reject findings and then to build an averaged glyph from the choices. A high resolution scan (2400 dpi or more) is recommended where possible.
  2. In essence, one would like to build a ‘fence’ of ‘n’s or ‘H’s, as the case may be by overlapping the second stem of a glyph with the first of the next glyph, and design in such a fashion that other glyphs sit harmoniously in the pattern. Examples of this will be given in the Practice section.
  3. Glyphs in a fount are defined in terms of control points and vectors which determine the shapes of lines and curves. One’s initial assessment is likely to require fine-tuning.
  4. Early founts were seriffed, for a number of reasons.
  5. One reason—though by no means the only one—for the presence and shape of serifs was maintenance of the rhythmic pattern as described above. Sloppy serif reconstruction can have deleterious effects on the overall design.
  6. It should be clear from the earlier note that an ‘n’-fence will exhibit a different pattern from an ‘H’-fence, meaning that some compromises will need to be made.