In autumn 2018, I had the opportunity to teach type design to a group of talented graphic design students at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno. Their first exercise was to build a simple element-based font that would be tailored to work well with handjet printers. The handjet’s 32-pixel vertical matrix defined the constraints, the only contour to draw was the shape of the element, and the rest of the design job was “only” a matter of placing the elements on the grid to form letters. The clocks were ticking and the students were fierce. Most of them had their font with basic English and Czech alphabets done by the end of the day!
Upon realizing the task could be taken even further, I set out to design my own font. I did not leave the house that weekend and ended up with a complete pan-European Latin. A couple of days later I had Greek and Cyrillic too. It was hard to stop. And once I started interpolating the element shapes, it got out of control!
In its current version, the Handjet type system contains 23 elemental shapes. Smooth transitions between them create various effects: a triangle appears out of thin air and expands into a square, the square rotates to create a lozenge and then scales into a thin rectangle, a rounded square smoothly turns into a circle and the circle into an oval, a clover becomes a rotating star, and a spindle, and a heart. The size of elements can be changed as well, producing different font weights. Plus, one can choose to use groups of 2x2 smaller elements instead of a single element. All of these components work together within a single variable font, allowing users to produce their custom variations and animations.
In 2019, Google sponsored the extension and open-sourcing of Handjet. All variations and element shapes have been thoroughly revisited and extended. Working with consultants Borna Izadpanah, Khajag Apelian, and Meir Sadan, I have also added support for Arabic, Armenian, and Hebrew (respectively). Selected symbols representing wild and domestic animals were included together with various seasonal symbols and patterns. The fonts are provided for free without any artistic aspirations, assumptions of originality, or kerning. I hope you will have as much fun using them as I had designing them.
— David Březina, September 2020
P.S. Warning: variable fonts are relatively new and Handjet sometimes challenges the limits. You might get unpredictable, yet beautiful and somewhat amusing, rendering errors in Adobe software. It works well in browsers as far as we know.
P.P.S. If you want to do this exercise with your students, have a look at this Glyphs tutorial.
P.P.P.S. To be perfectly clear, I went way beyond what a handjet's grids permit, so only some of the fonts are suited to use with these printers.
David Březina is the managing director at Rosetta. While you may know him as the designer of the award-winning type family Skolar, he has also worked on custom typefaces for Adobe, Linotype (Monotype), Microsoft, Google, and others. So far, he has designed typefaces for Cyrillic, Greek, Gujarati, Devanagari, and various extensions of Latin. David holds a Master’s degree in computer science from Masaryk University in Brno (Czechia) and an MA in Typeface Design and PhD from the University of Reading (UK). His cross-disciplinary PhD thesis studied visual similarity and coherence of characters in typefaces for continuous reading in Latin, Cyrillic, and Devanagari scripts.
He has also been actively involved in writing, presenting, and conducting workshops on type and typography around the world.