Designing Beppo, A Unique Upright Script

By jeffrubow January 12, 2011

As someone who enjoys type, I make it a point to notice and appreciate good and unique type when I encounter it. While eating at an italian restaurant I noticed hand painted signs on the walls. These signs were painted in a wholly unique, yet charming script. It was bold and upright, almost exactly vertical. It had a high x-height and a great deal of contrast between the bold verticals and the thin connecting lines. I took some photographs of the signs and, once home, searched the internet for something similar. I found nothing even close. It just begged to made into a typeface.

The first step was to draw loose pencil drawings of the characters. These are based on the original hand painted script, but slightly modified to consolidate the best features of the hand painted script, yet eliminate inconsistencies between different versions of the same letters.

These shapes continue to be refined after they are scanned and redrawn in Illustrator. For example, The lowercase n in the above “spumoni” photo has very vertical stems, while the lowercase n in the “cannoli” has slightly curved concave stems. The pencil drawing favors the curved stem, but after it was viewed in the context of the rest of the font, it was redrawn to be straighter.

{1} Original Photograph {2} Pencil Rendering {3} 1st Draft {4} Final Version

In order to maintain the hand painted look and feel, each brushstroke was drawn as an individual shape with careful attention paid to how real brushes behave. Note the taper on the bottom of the descender on the p as the brush is lifted off the surface. Also note the hard corner on the inside bottom of the counter of the p as the downward stroke of the brush intersects with the upward stroke, despite the smooth outside bottom curve.

Some letters had to be slightly changed to make them more visually consistent with the rest of the script. Others had to be dramatically redrawn in order to be compatible. For example, the lowercase s was originally of the cursive style, with a prominent diagonal initial connection line. However, the angle of the connection line was not consistent with the connection lines of the other letters. And it could not be made consistent without intersecting badly with the tail of the s, or making the whole letter lean to the left. The problem was eventually solved by eliminating the initial connecting line and adding a more traditional terminal to the top of the s. Other letters that had to be dramatically redrawn included the lowercase r, v, and z.

{1} Original Photograph {2} Pencil Rendering {3} 1st Draft {4} Final Version

One of the most exciting things about the original hand painted signs were the unique connections between the straight and round letterforms. A character with a rounded end would connect to a character with a straight vertical beginning in a smooth upward natural counter-clockwise arc. Same with two straights. But if a straight connected to a round, the connection would skew off in a clockwise arc to meet the top of the round letterform. The result is a very energetic part-harmonious, part-dissonant playfulness between the different character shapes.

This effect was accomplished in the script with an opentype contextual alternates feature. Each letter that ends in a straight vertical shape, such as the lowercase t, l, d, m, and n has an alternative version with the sharp clockwise arc. And whenever that letter is paired with a round letter shape, the alternate version of the straight letter is used. Also many of the letters have alternates which do not contain the ending connection line if it is the last letter of the word, such as the lowercase s, p, g, j and y.

The original photographs of the hand painted script had very few examples of capital letters or numbers, so those were drawn from scratch to match the general look and feel of the lowercase.

Several opentype features were added to this typeface to make it as versatile as possible. There is a small caps feature, which lines up to the x-height of the lowercase letters. There are proportional, lining, and oldstyle figures. There are built-in automatic fractions for any number of numerators or denominators. It has a full set of accented characters or diacritics.

Beppo was designed to be used as a display font. It luxuriates in large sizes. It is at home on large signs, posters, banners, and flyers where its handcrafted detail can be seen and appreciated. Legible, compact and smothered in typographic cheese – it just tastes good.