Elementar live critique on Typophile (2002)

I started working on Elementar in April/May 2002, as my graduation project at the Esdi in Rio de Janeiro.

In October 2002 I went to Germany for an exchange semester at the HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd, where I continued to work on Elementar.

I was a regular reader of Typophile at that time, and when I read about the new Chat section of the website and the “live critique” idea, I decided to give it a try and present Elementar for comments.

The discussion that followed was very rich and interesting for me, providing not only lots of new input and insights for my research, but also motivation on a personal level to continue working on the project.

It is very interesting to read this discussion today, now that Elementar has finally been released by Typotheque. The basic concept and design were ready in late 2002, 8 months after the project had started; but it would take 8+ years to close the circle and transform Elementar into an actual product.

After graduation in Rio I came back to the HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd for a masters degree in communication, and went on to study at the Type&Media programme at the KABK in 2005/06. There I learned some basic Python programming – thanks to Just & Erik, Frederik and this book – and from then on I was able to use Robofab and dialogKit to put together my own set of tools and conclude the production of the fonts.

As a historical record and curiosity, and to celebrate both the release of Elementar and the connection to Typophile, here is the full transcript of that conversation, kindly provided to me after the chat by Joe Pemberton.

Gustavo Ferreira, June 2011.

ps: Most of the links pasted in the chat are broken today, and the images are missing. Up-to-date illustrations of Elementar can be found on Flickr.

would like to try the critique room...


i'll join you

sure, i'm game...


hi stephen, hi benson...

Sure, post it. We'd be happy to give you some feedback on it.

But I do need to say, this is a Typophile first.

so, i'm working on a type system for the internet, would like to hear your opipnion about it...


Pretty soon it'll ALL be about the Live Critique :)


it's an honour...


first point of the critique: you spelled honour the British way...


which is correct

the aim of the typeface is to offer typographic flexibility for screen...

I suppose “Stephen" is the Brit spelling?

the bible spelling

(ssh), he's trying to present.

don't you read your bible?

oh, pardon

different sizes, widhts and weights in one single familiy, systematized in a nummerical system...

[it think it makes sense to explain the first... :-) ]

I'm with you so far..

like this?


is there a comprehensive number system behind?

i'm sorry, that's a bad example

not what i meant

but you mean like Univers and Helv, right?



printed type knows this kind of flexibility since frutiger's univers, 1957...

i think miniml also does not have such an organized structure...

hi matthew, nice to to have you here...

ferreira, do you have a sample to post?

of course, sorry for the mistery... i'm generating it... ;-)

i like a mystery


so, univers' system uses an arbitrary nummerical system...

while my face uses one system based on the actual pixel dimensions of type shapes on screen

ahh, i hear you

[how can i post the sample?]

type /img and then a URL

do you have a url?

like this:



the most typefaces for screen have only the traditional 4 variations: regular, bold, italic and bold italic...

/image http://blah.com

oops, it's /image URL


[i can't upload it to a web site...]

email it to me and i'll post, gf




Ferreira, what OS are you running?

[stephen, can you put the sample online for me if i send it to you per e-mail...?]



windows xp...


of course, i don't see much reason to pst the image in the chat, if it's already on the web

so i'll put it up for you, ferreira


I left to see if that would fix this endless URL thing I'm seeing.

It's fixed now. Don't know how or why. It was just an idea I had. Anyway, Ferreira: you should be able to turn on a web server. I believe one comes with every copy of Windows XP. Are you behind any kind of firewall?

are you mailing me, ferreira?

Did I miss the image? I stepped out for a late lunch.

the image posting is sorta lame cause it has to be on the web already

[...did you get it, stephen?]




so, is this just a proof of concept or is there more?

i'm working with sizes from 8 to 18 pixels in height, but the concept can be extended to bigger sizes...

that's a lot of type to finish

there is more...

can you post the image in the chat window...?

i can

but we'll only see it for a short time

it's an interesting study. it's interesting because the dimensions of a bitmap face almost drive the look of it more than any other single factor...

thanks again...

about the numbers:

the orange ones are the sizes (height), form 8 to 18

the second number is the counter width?

the big red ones refer to the weights

eric, it looks fine on IE 6.0/Win2000. Ferreira, this is a good idea. Some of the wider letters (31/8/3) are a little hard to read, but I would have to see more characters before I could really judge.

ah yes

the first big number is the width of the vertical stroke,

the second one, the width of the horizontal strokes...

width in pixels?

the small red numbers are the counter widths, in pixels.

42 is 4-pixel wide vertical stroke, 2-pixel wide horiz stroke

i get it

yeah, the numbering system makes sense

yes... let's see the alphabet!

the individual types would be called like that:


Ferreira, that's pretty much the same system that Gerrit Noordzij proposes for measuring type dimensions. You're right on the money there.


Although he does in in terms of pure proportion, not tied to a single resolution or pixel size.

I concur. Noordzij's thesis is so much more than stealing bold outlines.

sorry, i missed the font's name: it should be e_11-21-1

Shoot, my smallTalk(TM) is showing.


what about the height, ferr?

please tell me more about it john... :-)

is that a fourth number in the name?

One moment...



oh, wait, i get it


Shoot, I can't find my copy of Noordzij's Letterletter but that's where he describes it. Essentially, you measure weight as a ratio of something contstant like cap height to stem width.

if it's not on a website already, you can email it to me and i'll post it after Ferreira is done

very interesting, i would like to know more about it... thanks...

[stephen, could you post sample number 2 please...?]

Then for modulated strokes, there's a thick-to-thin ratio and a continuum between contrast angles. For example, Bodoni's contrast occurs at an upright (90 degree) angle, while Caslon has a 20 to 40 degree slant, while Garamond's italics are all over the map.


one moment

But I think that it's good that you keep absolute pixel measurements in this one, since it's a bitmap system. If you end up deriving an outline version, that would be when you might consider switching to Noordzij's resolution-independent system.



yes, very interesting John.

in my system i use 3 contrast situations: 11 (uniform stroke), 21 (little contrast), 31 (more contrast)


that's a lot of work there

yes it is.

I should also stress that while Noordzij's description is the most thorough and detailed I've read, I don't think he was the first to talk in terms of stem width proportions. Zapf did the same thing years earlier while trying to explain the differences among Palatino, Aldus, Michelangelo and Sistina, all of which are related designs.

it's easy to see that this system achieves a lot of different shades of grey

Ferreira, you mention this system is for web use...

Wow, that's 144 fonts you've got there!! You've been hard at work!

i would suggest that the sizes over 15pt are not very useful

i've been working on it for almost 8 months now... :-)

i disagree

..unless you do an outline version (to be anti-aliased)

the bitmap has a look of its own

(it's my diploma work...)

it's an aesthetic as much as an antialiased outline is

yes, it does. but like Verdana, it gets uglier and less useful at larger sizes (over 15pt or so)

14-32-1 is my favorite

i think the bigger sizes are useful to keep the type's identity in bigger sizes...

oh yes, but verdana is made to be small

there is no special bitmap for verdana at 18 pt

right, gf - that's what i mean

specially designed bitmaps for larger sizes maintain the fonts look

in my first studies i tried sizes from 8 to 44

[my name is gustavo... :-)]


Push any design system far enough, and it'll break.

sure they do. but i'll hold to my point – that they're not as useful or as attractive.

Hi there!

in this first tests i used a fourth parameter: 'roundness'

If you were to make an outline counterpart to this, FontLab 4.5 would allow you to develop it as a Multiple Master. The you'd just need the axial extremes and could generate as many intermediate weights as you fancy.

i'm not suggesting that they don't work, for what they are, very large bitmaps.

you stole the post right out from under me John...

i think the point is that this is a pixel-based excercise, butler

i think they are still useful, because the offer lots of different weights...

... but you said it better than i could've.

Hi there

if you continue that thought re: outlines, you would indeed have a very robust and very useful system for web and print.

'beaty comes from use' ;-)

verdana can't do that, as great as it is.

With 144 permutations already, it had better be. :-) But there's nothing wrong with leveraging your past work to generate new sources of profit.

that's the idea... but, as you said, it's a lot of work...

i guess we should ask ferreira what the goal is


WAKE UP! You're missing riveting font-speak!

oh come on sinserif. there is no z in hamburgefontsiv


i'm sure he'll get to the z...


What are we talking about?

(does that translate to non-English?)

Come to think of it, didn't Luc[as] de Groot's bestseller start off as a dissertation?

[suggestion: the post should allow a longer history of messages...]

yes, gustavo. that's a big drawback to this chat software...

i will try to present this work personally to him next year... ;-)

i think it'd be fun to post the transcript in the forum thread when it gets back up...

Are you studying under Lucas?

unfortunately not...

He teachs in Postdam...

i'm studying in die hfg schwäbisch gmünd, a little city in the south of germany...

sorry if i missed something, i was working on another sample...

Matthew, you may have missed the post...


hi matthew...

Gustavo, I am from Buenos Aires.


Will you still be there in February? If so, will you be attending Linotype's TypoTechnica in Heidelberg? I highly recommend it.

Hi Matthew

i've been starting to generate the font files of the system this week and had a lot of trouble...

very nice

maybe you could give me some help... ;-)

what software are you using?

i will be still here in february, but i don't think the system would be completed then...

i have to run soon, but i'd like to see more

ok, get ready for a big fat gif


fontographer 4.1


the larger sizes remind me of Serpentine.

yeah, wow

i can see that

ok, see you later...

Gustavo: this system is a very good work.

the bigger sizes could use the 'roundness' of two pixels instead of just 1...

(this would be the fourth parameter, which makes no sense in small sizes...)

the view by sizes is more impressive. it gives a better sense of how the sizes relate to the weights.

thanks... ;-)

...but there's still a looot of work to do...

there won't be much reason to develop text bitmaps after this, eh Bardram?

ha. yes. especially in fontographer!

Yeah, this is definitely one of the better, more polished designs I've seen here. You've definitely got something, and the Flash market may be very interested when you end up going live. Maybe after you're done with the academic-requirements side of things, you should try your hand at a manually hinted Truetype version. Or two. Or 144. :-) I can point you to some online resources if you're...

are you going to do outlines or just bitmaps?

Are you learning fontographer?

interested, but be warned it is rather time-consuming. I say this because you appear not to have a problem with time-consuming. :-)

yes, and it enable to see that even in the 8 sizes you can get 12 (!) different variations...

BTW I seem to have found the maximum post size, heh


thanks john, it would be of great help...

i had lots of fun doing it... ;-)

this is my big problem now: i need to automatize the whole process now...

OK, start with the Microsoft hinting tools and docs at /url http://microsoft.com/typography/tools/vttusers.htm

if you can use the word "System" in your font name, you know you've done something monumental


do you think i should use hinting to do this...?

OR: if your font isn't so hot, just add 'system' to the name and it'll sell like hot cakes.

Also the most knowledgable people in terms of TT hinting are Laurence Penney, Jelle Bosma, Vincent Connare and John Hudson, as well as the type crew at MS. I'm sure I'm leaving some out. I think there will be some TT hinting lectures at the upcoming TypoTechnica in Heidelberg. [Can you tell that's the only thing on my mind lately?]

One thing: Last month I visited the Royal Academy of Arts at The Hage. Chating with some teachers they said me (more or less) that hinting is a thing for programmers... What do you think of that?

I totally agree. You have to have a programmer's mindset. That having been said, many font designers are great programmers and don't even know it.

john, when are these lectures going to happen...?

nice to hear that, sinserif... i am planning to visit the school on january, maybe february...

Ferreira: you should finish and present the system first, and maybe add well-tuned hinting later. The hinting is a LOT of work, as any hinter will tell you. I don't do any hinting myself, as I prefer designing for print. Most of the programming I do is Python macros and OpenType features.

what was your impression of the school...?

Ferreira: /url http://www.fontexplorer.com/FontStore?URL=http://www.fontexplorer.com/isroot/FontStore/content/03_company/content/comp_09_linoevents_f/TT/tt1.html

Gustavo: they are very friendly, very profesional, a litlle orthodox (haha)...

i know very little about all these technical stuff, that's why i'm thinking to aplly to the kabk...

in my experience with bitmap fonts the hinting can be pretty straightforward...

...simply add a given number of blank pixels to the right side of the character...

John: I believe Gustavo have to begin first for the PS and TTF specifications... hinting is too arid at the first time...

this perhaps is not the purist approach, but it works very well for bitmaps in most instances

I would KILL to have the means to study at KABK. If you have the opportunity, take it. You will come out the next Underware or the next Letterror or what have you. KABK is #1 on my list.

but do i really need hinting do make this system work? i always about developing this projects with individual font files...

i need a dustbuster to suck up that post... i don't know why i thought you were talking about kerning. that's what i get for trying to chat AND work at the same time.

I am applicanting to the KABK


i was confused by your chat, pemb

thanks for the links and for the energy, john...

but i also don't understand the need for hinting either

he's developing each font file as a bitmap

i had the same problem in the beginning, john... :-|

isn't hinting used to interpolize outlines for bitmaps automatically?

i think hinting would be useful if i would be using proportional scaling, but i'm scaling types in two different axes..


right stephen, for that reason i would strongly suggest looking into FontLab and BitFonter for your project Gustav. It handles bitmap fonts with ease.

actually i have to invent a new type of font file for it...

(sorry, Gustavo)

our chat colors make a pretty pattern

do they teach it in the kabk...? ;-)

Well... I have to go. CU. Good luck with the fonts, Gus...

Teachers: Peter Matthias Noordzij, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum, Reynoud Homan, Francoise Berserik, David Berlow, Paul van der Laan, Peter Bilak, Hans Kšnings, Jan Boterman, Fred Smeyers and Robin Kimross...

could you give me your e-mail, sin serif...? i would like to stay in touch with you, hermano sulamericano... ;-)




my name: Ramiro Espinoza my email: jazz@futurezone.com

Not much on the KABK website about the type design program, unfortunately.

ack. this is addicting.


be ware with the KABK site. They don't have a real webmaster... I was months writing to the academy email without response...

ok ramiro, thanks... i visited your site in the beginning of my 'research phase', very nice work...

good you came back, jared... i would like to present one last part of the project...

Some of those designers are ATypI members. You should be able to contact them through ATypI if you're also a member. I'm not. (long boring story)

could you post one last image, stephen...?

Thanks... If you want yo contact some KABK teacher, mail to the coordinator: jan.willem.stas@planet.nl


is this your own app, ferr?

i'm still not a member of ATypI... i'm beginning my career... ;-)

well, I have to go out. Nice chat. have a good weekend...

this really is a "system" now

this 'plug-in' is the other part of the project...

Cool interface! Hey, some software questions... what software did you use to design these bitmap fonts, and what software do you like for building applications?


it would work as a navigator through the system in web-design softwares like dreamweaver or flash...

the 'other part of the project'?


sounds like its own project!

this is very ambitious

and (voilá) would generate ccs style sheets with the complete type settings for the selected text... (face, size, color etc...)

Ferreira: Also, for font formats you should look into PhotoFont, an open XML-based standard developed by Pyrus (who make FontLab.) The spec can be found at http://www.photofont.com/

what makes photofonts so different/special?

yes it is... i hope i can count with your help... ;-)

1. XML-based, open format 2. COLOR 3. Works inside HTML via a simple browser plug-in

i tried to see the photofonts websites some weeks ago but it did't work for me... i'm still curios about it...

isn't there a trial version of bitfonter available...?

Yeah, for Mac only. http://www.pyrus.com/downloads/BFMacDemo.hqx

i managed to see the photofonts now...

bitfonter is great for bitmaps...

very easy.

and i think it can lead to terrible results in wrong hands... ;-)

but i am very disappointed in it's auto-outlines feature. it's very poor.

Typophile owns a copy

give it to me

#@ SOCK #$$@

%$# POW #$!

I don't actually have BitFonter yet. It's #5 on my list of capital outlays next year.

BLAM!! #$@

heh, i'll wrestly it out of you

(giving it to Stephen)


you forgot BIFF

still OS 9, but they say X is in the works. (everybody now..) Suuuuure.

Pyrus is very into Mac OS X.

do anyone of you personally know luc(as)...?

FontLab 4.5 for OS X is shipping now. Don't confuse Pyrus with Quark.

John, I think Jared was referring to BitFonter, not FontLab...

When I called, they said they were intent on getting the new FontLab out... but she guessed that Bitfonter couldn't be too far behind (an upgrade that is)

we bought it anyway

I have spoken with Luc[as] on many occasions and exchange email with him periodically. He is very friendly, very approachable, and entertaining as all fuck.

This is kinda late, but.....


Couldn't resist.

hey what's Chank doing here


someone's pilferin' pics

snoopin' in my directories

i'm just an addicted poor typophile...

hey, Jared are you impersonating someone?

i guess that's what i get for leaving my site open

oh, just mocking someone... not the same thing...


You know, in my family, if you're not teased, you're not loved. you know what I'm sayin'?

Hey droogs I gotta go. This apartment has to be clean by the time my wife comes home from work.

see ya, JB


hah. great chatting with you John.

don't i know it... i'm the youngest in mine, b

nitey, butler

I just want to point out that we've been chatting ALL DAY. Good thing clients are paying good money for our dedicated attention.

bye john, nice talking to you... thanks for the help...

See you around. Ferreira (Gustavo, jaaa?): great work.

could you leave me your e-mail for any further contact, please...?


Yeah, I'm john@eccentrifuge.com. I got the http://eccentrifuge.com website too.

thanks, john...

jared/stephen, is there a way for me to have a copy of this whole chat...?

i meant jared/joe...

i think so

they have logs

that's a question for Jared...

yeah I think I can do that for ya

email me at benson@typophile.com

make sure you include all my worthless gasping

stephen, do you know one guy named kai bernau here from germany...?

jared/stephen. that's priceless

i'm seen his name, yes

he loves akzidenz grotesk

are you in school with kai?

i'm studying in the same school he studies here in germany... i showed him my project last week, he went crazy... :-)

thanks, jared...

yes, we both react the same

how did you know i knew him?

send me an email, I'll dig up the log for you.


this live critique is where its at!

very good to have this feedback from you...

hehehe: http://typographi.ca/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=449

i've been acessing the forums for a long time now, it was a very important source of inspiration...

Thanks. Remember us in January when we launch the new Forums. They're 100% better.

wait wait

you've been saying 300% better

are you renigging, sir?

sure i will...

and this was also the first public appearance of my project...

renigging or renegging?

or re-rigging?

I truly think 300%, but I am trying to stay humble. It's hard because some of the new features we're discovering are really thrilling. I want to jump up and down and send out a mass email about it. Gotta take the ridalin.

so for now, 100%. In January you can tell me 500% and it'll all balance out.

i was waiting for a very special occasion like the inauguration of typophile's live critique... ;-)

that was smart, ferr

i could tell you came in all ready to present

pumped up

are you planning to let chat sessions like these available in the new site...?

i've been doing some presentations to some teachers and classmates...

but i don't think they really understood what the system proposes...

typography classes, ferr/

gustavo, i would be very interested to hear your teachers reaction to what they read online about your work...


or how they react to our feedback.

marcox! hello.

i still have to develop a presentation for non-specialists...

greets marcox

Hi all!

Looks like I missed the pretty pictures...

i had a very good teacher in my school in rio, he is the main responsible for my interest in typography...

Lets see some pretty pictures.


allo sean

tonight's critique:


(rodolfo capeto)




ahh, yes, rodolfo submitted a template to Typographica

here in schwäbisch-gmünd i'm beeing tutored by professor michael burke...

so i think i'm in good hands... ;-)

i'm prepping a post for critique


Wow. The sheer volume of work is impressive, to say nothing of the obvious care that went into the design.

(he worked with otl aicher, 8ctavo...)

thanks, marcox... (show him the plug-in, stephen...!)


but there are no real type design classes neither in my design school in rio nor here, and that bothers me...

very few in the world

Sorry if you've already explained this ad nauseum, but what are the two variables (2nd from left) in the top row?

i have been in the school in basel some months ago, talked to professor weingart...

I'm sorry, but what is that pulg in for? Where is it used?

had the opportunity to see the work they do there, very nice...

but the impression i have is that in the kabk they have a more technology-oriented course... would you agree with me...?

the plug-in should help to use the system, to navigate through the variations of the family...

what other good schools would you mention...?

I would have to guess this plug in is for Fontlab??

no, the plug in should be used together with web page layout programs like flash or dreamweaver...

I see. Thank you. I do my coding by hand.

gustavo, did you know all future OS X apps will have a 'text palette"?

(are you using os x right now?)

i don't know about it, joe... i always used pc, am using windows xp right now... :-/

I got a copy of David Earls book yesterday.


can you say more about this 'text palette'...? for what kind of applications it should be used...?

some current OS X apps use a text palette for TextEdit or for iChat, etc.

How will future chatcrits be announced? Home page of Typophile? Typographica? I'd love to be here when one was in full swing.

ooo, it's still going strong

apparently that same text palette will be used for all future apps

you mean the "character palette"?

and i suppose this palette offers the traditional text controls like size, r/b/i/bi, color etc...?

um, let me check, i think these are two different things.

Sorry, didn't mean to imply that this wasn't interesting. But I've got to log off now, and wanted to tune in again sometime...

I'm referring to the 'always-there'

menu in the OS X browser

Everyone have a wonderful evening. Thanks for Typophile.

heh, finder, not browser - er, I whatever

later sean

bye sean


Hey Hrant, nice to see you back.


Just as addicted as the rest of us . ok maybe not all of us, because we spent the entire day in here and you had the good sense to get out and get some work done!

that's work i'm doing for a pro-bono project. the name is the tricky part... Voices of Lower Manhattan...

the client wants the type treatment to be pretty obvious about the reference to the full name, even though the abbreviation is "Volume"

Hey. What's all this live business. Isn't the internet ephemeral enough? ;-)

My problem is this is all too time-dependent - how am I supposed to know when this stuff is happening?

You missed out, Hrant. About an hour or two ago we had some really great bitmap work in here on the chopping block.