Five reasons to convert to skeletons

Five reasons to convert to skeletons

In March 2016 I have published a blog post about benefits of skeleton based type design. In that time, I had only a vision and no experience with it. In the article, those six arguments were taken more like a topic opener rather than conclusions followed by the extensive discussion on the Type Drawers forum. This is the revised article based on my experience drawing with Letterink. Thanks to that I was able to enrich the text with real examples.

1. Understanding letterforms on the walk

How many times did you end up tweaking outlines while searching a suitable contrast? And, how many times you have been nudging parallel curves few points here and there, trying to understand how letterform work?

Skeleton type design unquestionably helps you to understand contrast and how letterforms work. It is because it's bringing digital type design back to its roots of writing. That doesn’t mean to make a step backwards, but to observe from where the letters come from. You just gain the control of the fundamental principle for reasoning about the letterforms — skeleton and nib.

Novices have to learn to write and carve the letterforms using various tools to get the essential picture of how and why the letterforms are defined. Here Letterink is substituting the traditional workshop approach by providing the instant simulation of the tool. I guess, even mature type designers still need such guidance from time to time.

The ability to quickly experiment with various angles and size of the nib, not only globally, like you would have expected from any broad-nib technique. Letterink gives you the ability to customise nib on any node. This ability to press and to rotate reminds more pointed nib or brush.

2. Fundamental typeface character control

Most type designers start sketching their ideas with forms defined by outlines. Lucky you if you have some calligraphic grounds, otherwise you'll sweat inky drops to realise what's wrong with your curves.

The most common pitfalls of an outline approach are getting lost in quantity variations. Or even stuck in redrawing particular letter many times to find the right shape. I bet it had been happening to you too.

Once we come up with the perfect shape, it seems to us so obvious, but we don’t know why. I’ll tell you why — we haven’t been defining the skeleton. We have perceived counterreforms (or Notan if you want) of the particular shape which seduce our innocent eye to walk through the neverending Bézier meanders until we shut down the screen.

Luckily, the skeleton is here to guide us and prevent from that delusion.

Sketching with skeletons from the beginning gives us orientation across an alphabet. We can easily recognise what the best common construction shapes are. Skeletons make those common shapes obvious, so we can comfortably control consistency.

And if we want to make a variation, instead of nudging parallel curves, we can modify just skeletons and apply a different nib shape.
Is a next project coming? Sketch the skeleton first and stick to the plan.


At the beginning of the Letterink project, early before a single line of code was written, I had been investigating whether other folks need such a tool. That time I met Petra Dočekalová with her project Monolina. She just made a typeface skeleton based on her manuscript, and she wanted to apply various nibs and brushes on it.

Monolina by Petra Dočekalová

Imagine just changing a brush character and produce a different expression on the flight. To reach such expression while drawing with outlines, we would have finished a few styles. We are getting there, and I hope Petra will update her Monolina script accordingly, with new variations. Do you have already some script skeleton in a shelf?

While changing the nib rotation and translation, we are back to the iconic Noordzij's cube. Discern that with the linear interpolation, the smooth transition of the nib angle is not possible.

However, with Letterink we are interpolating nib not outlines. This produces accurate shapes in any instance between 0 to 360 degrees. Simultaneously we can interpolate between any nib sizes.


The current version of the Letterink doesn't provide two-dimensional nibs. The lack of the second dimension leads to high contrast letterforms. Therefore, we are also focusing our forces on developing an algorithm that provides two-dimensional nib shapes as soon as possible.

4. Interpolating skeletons

It's clear that to scale a typeface weight, we need to interpolate between two skeletons. Obviously, a skeleton for thin weights doesn't work for heavyweights. Therefore, the skeleton adjustments are necessary.

But, here we can run much wilder. While keeping the same nib let's interpolate traditional grotesque to something more expressive. Every new axis can lead to a completely new typeface as well as interpolation between them. We have already done a few experiments with this, and I am looking forward to what you can do with it.

5. Stroke styles against repetition

We already know that setting up the same nib values for every single nib variation can be tedious. For example, we want to share the width and angle between "c" and "e" terminals to keep consistency. Often, we need to change it slightly while redrawing and then copy and paste the values into another letter.

But this is not necessary. We can save those values as a nib or a stroke style. Then apply those styles on any node across the whole project. Once you make small adjustments, you'll see the results immediately everywhere.

The idea is touching the topic of the parametric type design. However, this approach gives you control. You see the result, and you know what you are doing. You can model everything everywhere. That's a tremendous time saver without losing the quality.


Stroke styles feature is going to be shipped in a future release.

So, is it really the next typo gig?

Yes, I believe it is the next typo gig and you have got already some ideas for your next type design project. Don't you?

Why don't you download and try it right now? Download Letterink for Adobe Illustrator or Glyphs 3 and draw! Skeletons are waiting.  

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