Designing a monogram font

The Blognosticator in Munich

Years ago I made a reproduction-quality proof of a type font in the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly. This font is comprised a sets of three letters that can be assembled into monograms.

Monograms were quite popular for business stationery in the early 20th century, and are often seen in embroidery patterns.

This font has left, center and right elements, each one designed to stand with two others to make a three-letter monogram.

I was up all night last night, reinstalling the software on my iPad Pro (a story for another day), and I was left with long wait times as a new operating system and back-up were downloaded and installed on that device.

I decided to work on the monograms to make a digital font. There are many monogram fonts in existence, some of which look very much like the one I was planning to draw, but I went ahead and began the work anyway. My design is relatively faithful to the metal type in the museum, and different enough from the others online that it would not be a waste of time.

The idea is that each letter has to fit a third of an ellipse shape with white space between the shapes. I also decided to make the first version of the font an outline font (the solid version will follow).

These are the three shapes into which I chose to draw letters: left, center and right.

I started by drawing the letter O for all three spots, then worked on derivative letters including P, R, B, and C. Pretty soon I had created the N, M and W letters, and worked my way to U, V, X and Z. I finished the others and made a test font.

What I realized, but wouldn’t admit to myself is that drawing the left-side letter D was impossible. I tried several versions of the letter D, but they violated the basic structural rules that I had created for the other letters. Nothing worked for the left-hand D.

Here is the dilemma of the left-hand D: It just doesn’t work. I ended up doing what many other monogram designers have done, and flipped the D so it faces backward. C’est la vie typographique!

I looked online, and I discovered that no one else had figured out the D either. I was relieved. Most monogram fonts use a reverse D in the left position. I decided to do the same. It’s a cop-out, I admit, but there really isn’t much else I could do. In the end, I put a forward-facing D (shown on the left, and really ugly) as an alternate character in the font.

My next challenge was mapping the font to the keyboard. I would, of course, use upper-case and lower-case keys for the left and center glyphs, and I figured I could use Alt and Alt-Shift for the right-hand glyphs. Alt worked in most cases, but there are several “escaped” glyphs that won’t work because they don’t space (when you type an accented character, the computer puts the accent on screen, but it does not advance to the next letter; instead, it waits for you to type the accented letter, which is then presented under – or over – the accent mark).

Here are two versions of a monogram for my initials (BPL). Traditional monograms (like those embroidered on handkerchiefs) have the initial of your last name in the middle, and your first and middle initials on either side. I don’t own any handkerchiefs, so I choose to put my initials in proper order (right). I really like the two-color letters made by choosing a fill and stroke of different colors.

I figured out which glyphs go under which Alt and Alt-Shift combinations so that I can set the entire alphabet in all three positions. When I was in doubt, I put the right-hand glyphs in two positions so that either Alt or Alt-Shift will work.

It works, but I wish it worked more consistently.

The monogram is set with a fill and stroke color at the top, followed by another period font from the Shakespeare Press Museum collection, one called Art Point. I drew that font for digital use about ten years ago, and it works well as a contrasting font for the Monogram font.

In the end, I am very pleased with my Monogram font (except the backward D). I have tried it in a number of settings, and it looks pretty good. And, it only took a couple of days of work to get ready for beta testing.

I have posted a set of downloadable fonts for noncommercial use. You are welcome to download them,

Below is a link to a folder containing both the outline and solid versions of the Monogram font, and a character map to help you get the correct characters. I hope you enjoy these fonts.

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Lining Livermore, der zweite Teil

The Blognosticator in Munich

This is a continuation of a blog I wrote two days ago. To read the first part, click here.

After I put all the letters (called “glyphs” In typography) into a master Adobe Illustrator document, I built the destination environment for the letters in FontLab. There, I assigned a cap-X height, a lower-case x-height, and an Italic slope.

This is the cap A in its glyph window in FontLab. I have enhanced the parallelogram lines that describe
that space in light blue. Working in an Italicized environment was confusing to me at first, but I figured it out, and am now comfortable with these glyph spaces. The red nodes indicate anchor points in the letter: round nodes are curve nodes; square nodes are corner nodes. I really like the FontLab controls for drawing letters – they offer precise control over the position, angle and length of each node and handle.

This turns the spaces in which the glyphs reside into parallelograms. My Italic slope is 30° in the case of Lining Livermore, which I got by measuring the slope of the letters in my photos. Once the FontLab settings were made, I prepared the first letter to move, and calculated the amount it needed to be enlarged to fit the glyph spaces in the destination application.

This is my Adobe Illustrator master document containing almost all the glyphs I created to make the font. Many others are created in FontLab because it’s easier and more precise to work in that environment. There are also some experimental glyphs here – characters that were never in the font. I don’t think that the 19th century designers of Lining Livermore knew what an eth is, and the Euro glyph certainly didn’t exist. Notice the red sidebearing rectangles. These were taken from the macro photos of the type, and assigned by the width and height of the lead blocks on which the letters are cast.

I create a “pasting page” in another Illustrator document where I paste a copy of each glyph, then scale it to the correct size for FontLab (I could more simply enlarge the entire master document then just copy and paste into FontLab). Then the process is to select a single glyph in Illustrator, copy it, paste it onto the pasting page, and scale it to the right size. Then I cut the glyph, move to FontLab, open the glyph window and paste.

Once in FontLab, I move the glyph into the correct position on the glyph window. “Correct” is the operative word here: I have never made an Italic font before, so this was new territory. Roman alphabets are simpler: there is a left sidebearing, and a right sidebearing. They are usually equal, with some exceptions, and it’s easy to gauge where a glyph sits inside its glyph rectangle, depending on the “natural” spacing of the font you are creating.

With Italics, however, I was befuddled. Do I center the glyph in its space? Do I imitate the overhang in the original metal type (which is even more confusing, since the metal type is not cast on parallelogram-shaped blocks)? I found, with some experimentation, that placing the left edge of each glyph on the left edge of the glyph space, then setting the right sidebearing either touching or overlapping the right-hand edge of the glyph I was placing.

The images on the left show the glyphs inside their original type block spaces, showing the overhangs as they exist on the original type. On the right are parallelograms with the same glyphs within. The parallelogram environment is the world of FontLab as I am using it for this font.

In this way I allowed the overhanging parts of most letters to overhang, and thus intrude into the left side of the following character’s space. This is not intuitive, but eventually it made sense. I completed the entire font using that technique. Now I am in the process of adjusting those glyphs to get them to fit their spaces more effectively. It will take time.

When I finish that I will move on to kerning, which will be an all-new experience for me in the Italicized world I have created.

So Lining Livermore is almost ready for prime time, which is to say “beta-testing.” I will pass a few copies to friends and family to give it a shake-down.

On the day I started writing this blog I read the latest post from Lucas at Type Network about new revivals of fonts from the American Type Founders Collection. I was excited to see these new fonts – until I saw Livermore Script. I was crushed. On the same day that I made my first “finished draft” of Lining Livermore, they beat me to market.

So, what do I do now? Scrap the entire project? Kill Lining Livermore and move on to another font? I don’t know.

I have drawn the necessary hundreds of glyphs for Lining Livermore, and I completed years of work, working quietly in the background, to get this far.

I will continue to “perfect” the font, working to make a beautiful Italic font that represents the original metal type, and then I will probably use it myself and appreciate the effort whenever I do.

Meanwhile I congratulate the modern ATF revivalists – Mark van Bronkhorst, Igino Marini, and Ben Kiel – for their work to make a commercial digital version of Livermore. It looks great.

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Drawing the Lining Livermore font

The Blognosticator in Munich

Deep in the recesses of the back room of the Shakespeare Press Museum at California Polytechnic State University is a cabinet. It contains about 20 drawers of hand-set metal type.

We never use this type because it is difficult to use, and it is the rarest of the museum’s collection of about 600 drawers of wood and metal type. If it were used, it would certainly get damaged, and that’s not acceptable.

This is my digital font in its early stages. Much work remains to be done on spacing and kerning.
I’m sure you can appreciate what an interesting design this is.

The reason it would be damaged is that this font has extraordinary wings of unsupported metal – the most pronounced of any font I have seen. This means that parts of the letters hang off the sides of the blocks on which the type was cast. In order to prevent those wings from breaking off on the first impression of a printing press, there is, somewhere, special spacing material that is designed to support the parts of the letters that hang over the edges.

We don’t have that special spacing material, so the fonts of this style have been designated as never-use fonts for their own protection.

This illustration shows the position of the letter on the lead type block. The parts of the letter that hang over the edges are designed to be supported by the next character’s base.
If the type is printed without that support, those fragile overhangs will be broken off, ruining the type.
(I have made that mistake a number of times in my career.)

The Lining Livermore type was made about 150 years ago by a foundry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named the McKellar, Smiths & Jordan Foundry. This company was one of numerous small type foundries that later became American Type Founders. ATF became the largest type foundry conglomerate in the United States. Its type designs dominated hand-set typography for two centuries, and the vestiges of that firm are still in existence (though today those vestiges are designs being converted into digital fonts).

I looked for decades to find Lining Livermore in any catalog of type from ATF and others, and was never successful in doing so. I finally found a reproduction of the McKellar, Smiths and Jordan specimen book in which there is a sample of Lining Livermore.

This is enlarged from the proof print, made from the original type at 18 pt.
The type I used for this project is 40 pt. (an abnormal size), with much greater detail.
Notice how inking and printing the specimen makes the type look bolder, and the details fill in.

It’s a unique font. It is very Italicized – about 30° ­– and it has huge, sweeping capital letters and diminutive lower-case characters. The style is not completely consistent in that it has no consistent angle of emphasis (the thick-and-thin parts of letters). The caps are significantly bolder than the lower-case, and there are those overhanging parts that challenge typographers who possess the actual metal type.

I first discovered this font of type in the early 1970s when I was the student curator of Shakespeare Press Museum. I knew it was special when I dug it out of the very back corner of the museum. I carefully proofed the type on a Vandercook proof press, printing of beautiful coated soft white proofing paper. My plan was to photograph it and maybe someday redraw it for photocomposition.

Decades passed, and a few years ago I started work on that process.

I have drawn many fonts for digitization by scanning these beautiful proof prints, then drawing the letters in Adobe Illustrator using the scanned images as a template. This process worked well for all of the other fonts I made, but Lining Livermore refused to cooperate. There are tiny gaps in the lower-case letters that plug-up when the type is inked and printed, closing the space between parts of the letters that are designed to be sharp.

Despite making these careful proofs, I never got one that showed the pure original design of the letters.

This past summer, while preparing for my year here in Germany, I got out my digital microscope and set it up on my desk. Then I arranged the Lining Livermore type in rows and photographed each pair of letters in the complete set. I chose a magnification of about 20X, and carefully moved each pair of letters under the lens of the microscope, and made my exposures.

Then I filed those photos away for some long winter night in Munich when I was stuck indoors with nothing else to do. This month those long winter nights arrived, and I began to work on Lining Livermore.

My process is simple: I cleaned up the photos in Photoshop to enhance their brightness and contrast, then I placed each photo into an Illustrator file, set the photo as a template, and then drew each letter on top of the photo template, being as careful as I could to follow the exact shapes of the metal type.

This is the letter R in Adobe Illustrator showing the photo taken with my digital microscope. After turning the photo into a template, I drew the letter in Illustrator (white), and outlined the block of metal on which the letter is located (yellow) to get the side bearings of the font. Notice the overhangs on the right and the top, which are unsupported in the original type. These overhangs would require a block of lead (usually the next letter) to support the overhang to prevent it fro being broken off on the press. Metal type is very fragile, and overhangs like this cannot be printed without support.

More importantly, I drew a rectangle on each letter to indicate that letter’s position on its block of lead, so that I would know the exact sidebearings and positions of the letters on the type blocks.

This photo shows the letters EFGH and their metal blocks. The space between the E and the F goes unsupported, so would require another letter (usually a lower-case letter) next to support the fragile overhang. The original type is, of course, reversed. I flipped the images in Photoshop to make it easier to draw the letters in Adobe Illustrator (no point working backward!).

Then I copied the Illustrator drawings to a master document and assembled the letters that I would be converting to a digital font.

…and these are the same letters from my master drawing in Adobe Illustrator. The red lines show the character’s position on the original blocks of lead. Notice that all of the letters have overhangs.

That, in m font design work flow, is the technique to get the letters drawn and ready to move into FontLab.

For that process, and the steps that are needed to make a digital font in FontLab, tune in next week to the next chapter of this blog.

To read part two of this blog, click here.

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The birth of Bauschrift

The Blognosticator in Munich

I went on a journey last week to buy some foam-core board. En route, I saw a handsome metal sign at the Technische Universität München.

In English, this translates (roughly) to:

MATERIAL TESTING
OFFICE FOR CONSTRUCTION
FACULTY CHAIR
LARGE SCALE CONSTRUCTION

The sign is cut in a thick (approx. 10 mm) sheet of aluminum, and the lettering is unique. I would call it “Constructivist” or “Bauhaus” (it’s too Constructivist to be Bauhaus), and it has a touch of Art Deco influence.

There are many beautiful signs that I have found around Munich, and this one is my favorite.

I came home and decided to write this blog post. But first I had to clean up the photo, removing some reflections and background lights. Then I had to make it look really beautiful. And, then I had to design a complete alphabet from the lettering in the sign. Then I decided to create a type font in the style of the sign.

Now, several days later, I have completed the first draft of that font. I am calling it Bauschrift Schwartz (Construction Lettering Black).

Interestingly, the sign has most of the alphabet, and the dieresis (umlaut) accent on two of the U’s. I only had to create eight other letters in the same style to complete the alphabet.

This is the nearly complete Bauschrift font I designed from the lettering on the sign. The letters in black are in the original sign; those in red I drew, attempting to maintain the spirit of the original lettering as best I could.

Then I had to draw the punctuation and the numerals that will make a usable font. For Romance and Germanic languages this means the 26 capital letters (repeated in the lower case positions), all the standard punctuation, numerals, and the accented characters for AEIOUY with the dieresis, and the acute-accent for those same letters (French and German use this), the accent-grave, cedilla and circumflex for French and Portuguese, and a few others: the question mark, exclamation mark (and upside-down for Spanish), the ampersand and the percent sign.

…and the @ sign, and the dollar sign, and the Euro glyph and an asterisk, etc., etc.

I decided to stop there, as I doubt that many of the glyphs usually found in a type font are necessary for such a unique style like this. The percentile symbol, the series symbol and a herd of others are so unlikely to be used that I didn’t draw them at all (and they would look really odd).

Drawing the numerals was relatively easy, except for the number 5. That one eluded me, as it doesn’t read as a 5 unless there is a distinct bar across the top, and a counter in the lower half. Since all of the square edges in this alphabet are rounded, the hole in the 5 and the lip of the bottom-left of the glyph must also be rounded. I made several versions before I was happy with the one I chose, and I’m not convinced that I got it right.

This sample uses the font, including one accented cap O, followed by too many pi characters from a font
I designed years ago called BPL Dingbats III. That font is, as far as I know, the only pi font in existence
that has actual pie characters for both apple and cherry pie!

I built the font in FontLab 7, the latest version of that incredible font creation application. I have been using FontLab for over a decade, and this version is dramatically better than the previous versions. I just had to learn how to use it. And, I am working on the small screen of a MacBook Air while I am in Germany, so I don’t have the luxurious two-screen set-up that I enjoy at home in California.

My preference is to draw letters in Adobe Illustrator. I am skillful there, and it’s a simple cut-and-paste path between Illustrator and FontLab.

Getting used to the small screen was challenging, but pretty soon I was moving quickly through the steps to make the font and test it. There are many features of FontLab that I don’t know yet, and it will take months for me to become facile with this version. Meanwhile I had a font to make!

This is my recreation of the sign using the new font. I am happy with the result. It is, admittedly,
not a very useful font, but I had fun making it, and paying homage to the original work.

As with any font, it’s the details that make it a complex task. Building kerning tables is semi-automated in the latest FontLab, but I am not able to take advantage of that feature yet. So, because I know how to do it by hand, I spent several hours going through the letter combinations adding the kerning values. I am pretty fast at this, so it wasn’t too bad.

If you would like a no-warranty version of the font to try, click on the lettering below. Remember that it’s a draft, subject to a great deal of tinkering. I think it was type designer Jim Parkinson who once told me that you never finish a type font. You declare victory and move on!

Update 16 February 2022: The font is now v.2. I improved the ß glyph dramatically and I added lots of kerning pairs. It’s more functional now.

(That’s the German. Really.)

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German & EU Pharmaceutical Safety using Blindenschrift

The Blognosticator in Munich

I walked into the local Apotheke this afternoon to buy a couple of over-the-counter medicines. Both were easy to find. I paid at the cashier’s counter and turned down an offer for a bag to carry the two small packages.

I put one in the pocket of my jacket, and gave the other to my wife. And, a few minutes later I put my hand in my pocket to discover a small box there (surprise!). I felt it, and remembered the trip to the apothecary, just a few minutes earlier.

But, what I also felt was Braille printing on the package (Blindenschrift in German).

This is the IbuHexal package with Braille lettering on the front cover.

I occasionally notice Braille in Munich. When I put my hand on a public transport handrail – bannisters and other hand-holds – the name of the station I am entering is often presented there in Braille. These labels, embossed on a strip of stainless steel, are affixed at the very top of bannister rails, and you touch them when you grip the railing. There is no mistaking them for a rough patch on the rail. It’s clearly a message.

This was my first time finding Braille on a package, and I am impressed.

This photomicrograph shows the Braille dots as embossed dimples in the packaging.

The European Union enacted legislation in 2009 to require all member nations to put tactile labels on most pharmaceuticals, many soap and hygiene products, and chemicals like bleach. Most producers began to include Braille the following year.

In the U.S. the advisory committee that makes similar regulations decided that the decision to put Braille on packaging would be left up to the manufacturers, so there is no consistent application of this in the U.S.

The idea, of course, is to provide tactile printing for those in our society who cannot see printed labels. Stop to consider that over seven million men and women in the U.S. were known to the National Federation for the Blind in 2016. That is about 0.02 percent of the U.S. population. There are very likely many more.

So when it comes to pharmaceutical safety, and the broader need to label dangerous products, the presence of Braille on packaging can save lives.

This is a translation of the IbuHexal box Braille.

Printing a package with ink is one thing. Embossing the same package with Braille is slightly more complicated. Ironically, it’s not much more complicated, considering that virtually every package (paper) is die-cut and then glued into a carton. Adding Braille while die-cutting is a moderately complex additional task. I am sure that it requires a second impression in many cases. But since the package is already being cut, it can be embossed in the same plant on the same machines at a small cost.

Plastic packaging is slightly more complicated. Centrifugal plastic molding machines – those used for soap bottles and similar items, could add Braille easily to the die (I know that these dies are very costly to make). Overall, the cost of adding Braille to packages is a few cents per unit. It would not break the pharmaceutical industry or the home cleaning products industry to add it. And, it could save visually impaired people the risk of injury from not being able to identify the pills in a bottle or the liquid they need to use in the washing machine.

…and this is the whole Braille alphabet. This is used the world over. It can be used to write in many languages. It’s very common for Braille to be encoded with contractions and shortcuts, localized to the market.

Back in the 1970s, I was involved in an effort to print Braille using offset printing and thermography (it didn’t work very well). At the time, I developed a type font for our Mergenthaler VIP typesetter that we used to set type samples in Braille. So, I am vaguely aware of the way that Braille is set. I also know that Braille is not a 1:1 encoding of language. Effective Braille has many, many contractions and shortcuts, making it easier for the reader to read without having to read every letter.

There are numerous modern methods for printing for the visually-impaired. I found a number of desktop printers that can do it using needle-printing techniques. I am also confident that various of the ink-jet technologies used for “digital embossing” can probably put down a thick enough layer of toner to make legible Braille.

Regardless, there are methods of making the letters. It’s a great idea that the Braille can be added to any commercial product to make it possible for visually-impaired people to read it.

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The advertising poster is enjoying a multilingual limelight

(Das Werbeplakat in mehreren Sprachen)

The Blognosticator in Munich

I’m doing a casual study of what I call translingual advertisements here in Germany.

Germans are famous for being multilingual. They begin studying a second language in elementary school, and many students graduate from college speaking at least two languages other than German.

This poster, for a Russian vodka, features a headline in English, no German, and the label in Russian and English.

They are also required to take Latin – and a lot of it – while in school. American students have no such requirement. In fact I fear that studying any language other than English is rare now in American schools. The online language app Duolingo claims that it has more subscribers than America has students studying another language. This is a shame, because languages are so interesting, and they encourage social interaction.

When I ask a German if he/she speaks English, the answer is almost always “A little.” But, this modest response almost always means, “I only took six years of English in school,” – and then conversation continues in (excellent) English.

I polled my students recently about their language skills. Out of 16, all spoke German plus English (one spoke Portuguese and English). About half also speak French, and two spoke another language (one spoke Czech and Russian, the other spoke Italian).

This poster is for a bicycle delivery service – very popular in Munich. They deliver food to your apartment. In German the text says, “Purchases delivered in minutes.”

When I taught here in 2017, I needed a new modem for the Internet line coming into my apartment. I studied the dictionary for the right words, and built a sentence in German to describe what I sought. I practiced, and then I went downtown to the Saturn electronics store. When I approached a salesman and played-out my carefully-practiced sentence, he smiled, and then said, “Would you rather do this in English?” I was humiliated, but happy to continue in English.

This time, having been in Germany now for five months, I’m getting much better at constructing sentences in German, but I’m still slow to understand the answers I get. I often have to ask for the conversation to be continued in English. In my daily German lessons I have learned how to say, “My fish doesn’t need a chair,” among other very useful expressions.

Another lead in English promises fitness at 19,90 € per month (cancellable monthly).
No registration fee until January 11th – only from December 1st.

One of the most interesting manifestations of multilingualism in Munich is the use of English in retail advertising. I see English headlines on buses and trams, on kiosks and in the train station on automated billboards. The popular thing for advertisers to do is splash an English language headline on their poster, followed by details about the product/offer in German. I am often amused by the choice of phrases, because they require a reasonable understanding of English even to understand.

My favorite poster recently was an ad for a chocolate bar. It read “DARKER, RICHER, LECKER.” I liked this one because it required the reader to understand the first two words in English, and the third in German, which of course they would.

It translates in English to “Darker, Richer,” and then, in German, “Delicious.” This one was clever and amusing in both languages; in fact you don’t get it unless you understand both languages reasonably well.

When I see an advertisement that uses both languages, I stop and take a photo with my phone. They are everywhere, and they change often. One day I saw an ad for coffee featuring a photo of Leonardo di Caprio. I didn’t photograph it when I saw it, and just two days later it was gone, replaced by an ad for fancy Italian lingerie.

I am always rooting for the printing industry, and outdoor advertising is dominated by printed posters here in Munich (in Munich there are five daily newspapers!). With the exception of the fancy motor-driven signs at the central train station (these roll through different ads every few seconds), all of the posters I see are printed by offset lithography in sections. Those sections are then adhered to sign boards with wheat paste. At tram stops, single-sheet posters are mounted inside glass frames. The turnover is amazing; seldom does a poster last more than a few days.

And, curiously, I have not recently seen an ad being changed. I imagine a corps of midnight poster-pasters who move around the city in vans changing the advertisements. I did observe a poster-paster in 2017 when he was putting up ads in my neighborhood. I wrote a blog about that here.

During my current stay in Munich I have been observing the frequent changing-of-the-signs on trams, requiring very large and long poster art to be mounted on the tops of streetcars. I can’t get close enough to determine how they are printed. In the U.S., these would be printed by ink-jet, which is probably more expensive, but they would also stay on the trams longer. In Munich I think the life of a tram-ad campaign is probably only 30 days. How they are printed I cannot tell.

One thing that I don’t see here now that was fairly common in 2017 is the wrapping of regional trains. They were popular here during my previous stay, but I have seen none in my current stay. I think it’s too expensive to wrap a huge train car with beautiful ink-jet printed graphics. It was probably not a good way for advertisers to get their message across.

I know that wrapping an automobile in the U.S. costs over $5,000. Imagine the cost of wrapping a railroad car!

This ad poster, which would be highly offensive in the U.S., is entirely in English, for German readers.
Apologies for the quality of the photo. It’s impossible to get without the reflections because it is in a glass case.

Another poster I photographed last week broke the rules of public decency (for the U.S.). This one caught my eye as I rode by on a streetcar. I thought, “Did that say what I thought it said??” I returned to the scene a few hours later and photographed the poster to include in this blog. Obviously, most Germans know the meaning of the rude word on this poster, but it doesn’t bother them because it’s not in the local language. In America we would be offended by this poster – and it would never, ever, be posted in a public place.

I wonder if this poster had the same phrase in German (not exactly: “Ich fliege verdammt noch mal!”), the locals would be offended (I suspect not). I will poll my students on this topic next time I see them.

My study, meanwhile, will continue.

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Late to the party for Shepard Fairey

The Blognosticator in Munich

It gets late early here in Munich in winter, and sometimes I find myself being ready for bed only to discover that it’s 8:15. So, I have taken to watching documentaries on Hulu (and elsewhere) or refining that day’s effort on the New York Times Spelling Bee puzzle.

I was watching the Hulu Original documentary about Shepard Fairey a few nights back, and found it very compelling. I have been an subconscious admirer of Mr. Fairey’s work for years, though unlike the rest of the world, I became aware of the artist’s name only after his Barrack Obama poster became so well known.

This is the SWM building in Munich that features a wonderful mural
by street artist Shepard Fairey.

I was also aware of the lawsuit filed by Associated Press claiming copyright infringement, a suit that the cooperative spent almost $15 million prosecuting (according to the documentary). At the time of the suit I sided with AP, because I saw the artwork as being an almost-literal copy of the photo taken by Mannie Garcia, who is a contributing photographer for the Associated Press.

If you watch the documentary – and I recommend that you do – you will learn that Shepard Fairey didn’t just “paint-by-numbers” using software, as was argued in AP’s lawsuit. Mr. Fairey used Rubylith* film to hand-cut the separations for his poster, working from an enlarged version of the photo. It was, by reason of artistic merit, a derivative work.

That phrase “derivative work” is vaguely described in the most recent U.S. Copyright law, excepting artists for works that are “derived” from the work of others from infringement claims. After watching the film, I flipped to Fairey’s side of the argument.

In the film there is a touching scene where Mannie Garcia, the photographer, talks about going to lunch with Shepard Fairey during a break in depositions. To the horror of all the lawyers present, the two went off together and shook hands after discussing the photo and Fairey’s interpretation of it.

It’s important to note that Shepard Fairey is sincerely repentant about not licensing the photo, which he should have done, and which would have obviated the need for the action in the first place.

AP and Fairey settled their suit in 2011 on undisclosed terms.

I have long admired, but misunderstood Shepard Fairey’s work. I really like his Soviet-style constructivist art (often modeled after actual Soviet-era artwork), and I love his political posters, especially those he created after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. To see tens of thousands of Fairey’s posters being carried by the millions of people who attended protest rallies after the inauguration in 2017 was moving.

His style is unique. His skills are extraordinary (he is a graduate of RISD), and his ability to use images to move crowds and change minds is really impressive. His work has become timeless.

Sure, he has been arrested on numerous occasions (who hasn’t?**) and certainly he is guilty of putting stickers on all sorts of municipal properties in his career. All of that I have forgiven because his artwork transcends graffiti and vandalism.

I am just now finishing a project with my students about street art in Munich. As part this, I have experienced a conversion that lets me to see street art as something entirely different from graffiti or “tagging.”

While on a tram last week traveling to a local museum, my wife and I saw an amazing work of street art: a building-size paint can with an environmentalist message. I made note of the cross-streets and returned the next day to photograph that art. It covers an entire side of a building in Munich, one that houses the workshops of SWM, the local public utility. It is a dazzling work of art, and I wondered who did it (I should have noticed the style and the similarities to his other works).

It was that evening that I watched the Shepard Fairey documentary, and saw in one scene, Mr. Fairey painting the wall in Munich. A version of that same image was used at the Paris Climate Conference on a sphere suspended under the Eiffel Tower. Wow! It is Shepard Fairey’s work, sponsored by a Munich arts organization called Positive-Propaganda.

That work is complemented by an electric vehicle charging station (appropriate because the message of Fairey’s art is anti-Big-Oil).

So, call me a late-to-the-party Shepard Fairey fan. I have now seen so many fine examples of his work to call him an inspiration to fine art around the world. I’m sorry that I didn’t become an admirer sooner. I apologize for my tardiness.

* Rubylith is a red (or amber) colored gelatine film that is used to prepare masks for photographic and plate-making activities in the graphic arts. You cut through the gelatine layer and peel-away the parts that you want to be transparent, leaving the rest behind to create a photo-opaque mask.

** I have never been arrested, though I was escorted and questioned once by military police after taking a panoramic photo on military property. They let me go without charging me, because the boundary of the property was not clearly marked.

Addendum 9 January, 2022:
Another gorgeous mural created with a funds from Positive Propaganda can be found on Dachauerstraße, near the corner of Lothstraße in Munich. This was painted in 2018 by an artist named Liqen.

This extraordinary work, entitled Exhuman, is by artist Liqen, and sponsored by Positive Propaganda. It was painted in 2018.
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A visit to FOGRA

The Blognosticator in Munich

A few days before Christmas I rode a subway to a regional train to another subway, then walked a bit to reach the headquarters of FOGRA, the Research Institute for Media Technologies in the town of Aschheim, just outside Munich.

FOGRA’s office in Aschheim, Germany. In the adjacent office is the German Printing Industry Association.

This for me was like a Springsteen fan walking on E Street, but the street in Aschheim is named after Einstein – fitting for the location of this organization.

My purpose in walking on Ensteinstraße that day was to make some measurements using FOGRA’s spectrophotometer. The similar device at my university in Munich will not work with the most recent version of the profiling software. I needed a more modern tool for this work, and FOGRA welcomed me to use theirs.

Berthold Oberhollenzer of FOGRA welcomed me at the entrance and took me up to the measurement lab where I rolled out my press sheet and cut the test panel out of it to put on the bed of the X-Rite i1IO 3 table.

The press sheet I had created was printed on a Landa Nanopress, the first in Europe, also located in Munich. The owner of that press, Blueprint, ran the test sheet for me to give me an opportunity to test the resolution, register, and color qualities of the Nanopress.

The X-Rite i1IO 3 instrument at FOGRA

I have made a lot of test sheets in my career, usually with color targets, with which to measure the behavior of various offset presses, wide-format ink-jet printers, electrophotographic printers and paper combinations. This was my first full size digital printing press (the Nanopress prints on B1 sheets – 1,000 x 700 mm or 39.37 x 27.55 in.). It is the same size as a Heidelberg 102.

The press has a native resolution of 1,200 ppi (472.4 px/cm). To test that, I used several line art scans I have made at various resolutions: 600, 800, 1,200 and 2,400 ppi. I also made straight and diagonal line sets at various thicknesses from 0.009 pt. (0.00317 mm) to 2 pt. (0.705 mm) and Helvetica Thin type from 1 pt. to 7 pt. – both black-on-white and white-on-black.

Landa’s Nanopress prints with seven colors of ink: CMYK plus orange, blue and green. This is one of the largest color gamuts of any printing press. And, since it uses ink-jet for printing, and because the ink is dry as soon as it touches the paper, there is little to contaminate the colors or reduce the glorious color possibilities of this machine.

This is my test sheet for the Landa Nanopress (before printing).

I wanted to measure that color space, so I put an RGB color target called an IT9.18 target on the page. The colors in this patch set are defined with RGB values, so I thought that, unhindered, I would get an expanded color gamut on my press sheet from the RGB target, one that would show off the three extra colors on the machine.

And, that is what brought me to FOGRA’s offices outside Munich.

A month earlier, I had picked up some press samples from Blueprint, and was dazzled by the colors on those press sheets. Glorious greens, zesty oranges, and boisterous blues were on the pages that I brought home from my first visit to the plant.

I wanted that same color gamut for my current project, a book about Munich street art, and the seven colors of the Nanopress were calling! I put an RGB image of a colorful hot-air balloon on the press sheet in five variations. Opening it from Camera Raw, I made one version of the image in Apple RGB, sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhoto RGB (increasingly larger color gamuts). I expected the colors of the ProPhoto version to jump off the page because the color gamut of the Nanopress would closely match that of the image.

What happened is interesting: the sRGB photo looks “brightest” while the Adobe RGB image has the richest gamut. The ProPhoto photo turned a hideous shade of purple; it looks awful.

And, after reading the IT8.19 RGB target as interpreted by the Nanopress (the colors are actually processed by a version of the EFI Fiery RIP at the front-end of that press), the profile that I created is almost exactly the same shape and volume as sRGB.

I obviously did something wrong.

I tested rich black (20, 20, 20, 100) with white type reversed-out; that worked perfectly! There is almost no possibility of register error on the Nanopress because the ink is deposited onto a belt, then transferred to the paper as a complete image. Interestingly, the density of single-color 100 percent black is excellent – much denser than a similar ink on an offset press. I question whether rich black is even needed when printing to the Landa press.

I put a rainbow gradient in RGB across part of the sheet, and that failed in the range of oranges and reds on the left side. I don’t understand what happened there. Conversion of red, green and blue type looks great, and a photo of an orange pick-up truck reproduced beautifully, as did an image of a spiral Aloe plant that has some almost-alien greens in it.

My overall impression of the Nanopress is that it has incredible potential. The color gamut is huge (though I am not sure how to measure it), and the technical qualities of the press are extraordinary.

I will report more about the Nanopress in another blog coming soon.

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It was a dark and stormy night…

The Blognosticator in Munich

Two of my students and I were searching for Daniel, one of the important people in a community of artists in Munich. I say he is “one of the important people,” but I cannot tell you his title, nor how many other important people there might be. That information will come later, when I read the interview transcript.

Looking a bit like a sketchy meeting under the railroad tracks, my students conducted an interview for a book we are publishing. Daniel, center, describes his arts community Bahnwärter Thiel, in Munich. On the left is Ana Margarida, and on the right is Sebastian, two of my Master’s degree students. This is the uncorrected photo.

It was getting dark, it was snowing, and it was cold. Sebastian, my student interviewer, had tried calling Daniel a few times, and Daniel had tried calling back, but two-way communication had not yet happened. The other student, Ana, and I were shivering.

Finally Sebastian’s phone rang and the two had a conversation. Daniel was across town, across the river. Could we postpone until next week? No. Our deadline is very soon, and we couldn’t wait a week. Could we get on a bus and meet him across town? Yes, we could!

When we stepped off the bus Daniel found us. We then had two choices for interview location: inside a warm bar/club (requiring a rapid antigen test and a 20-minute wait) or under the railroad trestle with high-speed trains whizzing by every few minutes. We chose the railroad trestle (that isn’t really the word for a concrete structure that supports several train tracks overhead).

…and this is the corrected version. Lots of shadow enhancement, color temperature adjustment, and 60 units of Noise Reduction make the photo perfectly acceptable for our project. I am amazed that the amount of light in the scene allowed for this photo to be enhanced to this degree.

I had my Canon R camera with me, but it was too dark for photography. Our séance looked like a clandestine transaction, but it was an interview where Sebastian asked questions of Daniel, and he responded with animated, detailed answers. Some people are great interview subjects, and he was one of those people. We wound him up and let him go. He talked for an hour.

While the interview was continuing, I took a few photos with my iPhone 12 Pro. These cameras are well known for low-light photography. But this situation stumped my iPhone’s cameras and software. The photos just didn’t work.

So I decided to give it a try with the Canon. I turned the ISO to the highest setting: 32,000. That, combined with my f2.8 lens, and I had an exposure that was at least possible: 1/13 sec. Our subject moved his hands and arms a lot, but I was still able to get a surprising number of good photos.

Then there is the noise. At ISO 32,000, the noise is visible. Sometimes, though, you use the photo that you have rather than the one you wish you had.

In Adobe Camera Raw I lowered the color temperature about 200 degrees, then I added a small amount of sharpening. I suppressed the highlights and emphasized the shadow detail quite a bit, opening up the dark areas at the bottom of the photos.

Then I added 60 units of Noise Reduction and 60 units of Color Noise Reduction. The two combined to give me a few very acceptable photos. Once again, I am impressed by the combination of the camera and Camera Raw to deliver usable photos in situations where I would never have thought it possible.

It wasn’t a low-light situation; it was a no-light situation. I’m dazzled that I got anything usable at all. When printed, these photos will be a quarter-page or less, so I don’t think I will have any visible noise in the final product.

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An analysis of the Image P3 color space

The Blognosticator in Munich

About four years ago, Apple changed the color space of the iPhone from whatever it was (maybe sRGB?) to a new color space called Image P3. This is the color space used by flat panel TV screens.

This was a smart idea on Apple’s part because the capabilities of the newer devices – iPhone, iPad and various Macs – are so much greater than sRGB and other small gamut color spaces. The potential of the Retina Displays is immense and Apple responded by making the official color space on these devices much, much larger with P3.

This is the 2-dimensional plot of the gamuts of three common ICC profiles: ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB, and the newer Image P3 color space that is now default on iPhones and iPads.

But in all my studies and classes I have never taken the time to compare Image P3 to other big gamut color spaces. I have now done that, and I am impressed.

In 2019 I made a presentation at the annual Color Conference in San Diego on fine art reproduction. As a part of that, I compared the color space of my Canon digital camera and studio strobe lamps to the Adobe RGB color space, and found that it (ARGB) didn’t cover some of the critical colors in the painting I was trying to reproduce. By changing to the ProPhoto RGB color space I was able to capture those elusive colors, and the resulting print was much more accurate.

I’m teaching in Munich now, and the subject came up in class this week.

Using the latest version of ColorThink Pro, I opened three profiles: Image P3, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. I graphed them in both 3D and 2D to get a sense of both the size and the volume of these profiles.

ProPhoto is by far the largest, and Adobe RGB and Image P3 are close competitors. Image P3 captures measurably more color along the red-green axis than Adobe RGB, the same area where I gained ground using ProPhoto RGB. These are important colors: peach, yellow, orange, and many images will benefit from having these colors within P3’s gamut.

Adobe RGB has greater area on the green axis, and has brighter reds and magentas, while Image P3 shows greater bright color volumes on the green end of the green-red axis.

So, is one of these color spaces “better” than the others?

Here, the 3-dimensional view shows how the Image P3 gamut compares with its closest counterpart: Adobe RGB. They each have strengths and (comparative) weaknesses. Adobe RGB has a slightly greater area overall, and the two have similar total color volumes.

ProPhoto has more volume and more area – more total colors and more brightness range than either Image P3 or Adobe RGB. This is probably most valuable for photographers and designers who are going to print on wide-gamut ink-jet printers and presses.

Adobe RGB is likely the most popular color space among professional photographers now, but for those preparing images for delivery on flat-panel TV displays, iPhones, Androids and iPads (especially the newer models with Retina Displays), P3 is a better choice.

Planning the color as you open it from a digital image (the color profile is assigned as a Camera Raw file is opened) will help to match the image to its destination to take advantage of the full range of colors and brightness available on different delivery systems – print or electronic.

Note: I used ColorThink Pro to make these charts. That software, from Chromix, is the best product for looking at color images and profiles in mathematical space for purposes of comparison and problem-solving.

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