Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Handout for typography talk

This post constitutes a handout for a talk entitled “Using Typography in Model Railroading.” Its foundation is a blog post from some years ago, which I would regard as a kind of “Part 1” to this handout; it can be found at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/11/type-and-typography-on-layout.html .
     Many of the basic descriptions of type language and concepts came from a superb book by designer Robin Williams, The Non-Designer’s Design Book (Peachpit Press), now in its fourth edition. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a really basic, clear and instructive book. And the prior editions, available for lower prices on the internet, can do almost entirely the same job.
     In the talk, I mentioned a number of typefaces, old and new. The list of them, including their original creators and date(s), is below.

     Sometimes you may see a font, in a prototype photo or in a magazine, that you really would like to try for signage. Provided your sample contains a fair number of different characters from the type, you can go to an amazing site on line that will (usually) be able to tell you what font it is after you answer a set of questions. Here is the link: http://www.identifont.com .
     I also listed some sources on line for free or cheap fonts. Here are a bunch of them:

And if you find a font somewhere that you really like, but it’s not cheap, go to www.fontspring.com and enter the name of the font you like. The site will give a bunch of fonts that are darn close though not identical to the one you like, and there may well be free ones in the list.
     By the way, I support type designers who may be charging for fonts, and I always am happy to pay for them, even shareware, when that is called for. But I realize many people don’t want to invest much in fonts, so I have offered some ways to find useful ones that are cheap or free.
     I mentioned some publications in passing that I list here, just in case anyone might want to  pursue them. One is Lance Mindheim’s book, Model Railroading as Art (CreateSpace.com), which I reviewed recently in this blog (see the commentary at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2019/06/lance-mindheims-fine-new-book.html ). Another is William Gordon’s book for sign painters,  Modernized Methods in the Art and Practice of Lettering for Commercial Purposes (Signs of the Times Publishing). And I did mention Tony Koester’s How to Kitbash Structures (Kalmbach).
     In concluding, I listed a few books that I thought might repay those interested in delving into type a little further. In addition to Robin Williams’ book, mentioned above, I showed Ruari McLean’s fine basic book, Manual of Typography (Thames and Hudson), and Robert Bringhurst’s magisterial overview, The Elements of Typographic Style (Hartley and Marks).
     My closing remarks included a list of these “Do’s and Don’ts” (you may need to click on the list to enlarge it to be readable):

     It was an interesting challenge to dig through my own experience and resources to assemble this material. Having been the designer and typographer as well as the layout person for numerous books for Signature Press over the last 25 years or so, I do have some background in typography, and I continue to find it an intriguing topic. I hope I conveyed that enthusiasm in this talk.
Tony Thompson


  1. This is why I love your blog, Tony. So rare to find such interesting and relevant topics covered in the hobby. Will be checking out these books soon!

  2. In the next issue of Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette, I review typefonts from Heritage Type Co. that are appropriate for modeling signage in the period 1880 to the Transition Era. Although created in 2019, the fonts have a vintage look.