Customize Your Fonts

In this day of computerized sign making it is all too easy to forget that 30 years ago all sign painters created their own letter styles. There was no “thousand font collection” to resort to. If you needed a nice script for a flower shop– you created it. If you needed a quick casual for a race car– you created it.

Back then, you had a handful of styles you learned and modified to suit the job. Sometimes you might make your script bolder or wider, but it was basically the same style. Your style. And if you needed to modify a letter to better suit your needs, you just did it on the fly.

The design of a sign is really no different than 30 years ago. The methods have changed but the basic principles still apply. And yet, sadly, many have allowed the methods to affect the principles. Having thousands of fonts at our disposal is no excuse for not applying the principles of good design. There will always be cases where you will find it necessary to modify your letters just as sign painters used to do.

Relying on ready-made fonts for every job will only get you so far. You must determine how the letters should be spaced and if they should be wider, narrower, larger or smaller. Let’s not forget that while the design the computer creates may be mathematically correct, there is no substitute for creativity of the artist himself. Besides the inherent limitations of fonts themselves, sometimes you just can’t find the right font for the job no matter how hard you look. To be able to say to yourself “Hey, why am I wasting time searching for the right font when I can just alter this font to suit my needs?” is true freedom. Don’t let the computer cap your creativity (your customers can do that just fine.) And you don’t have to be a font designer or unusually gifted to change a font to your liking. You’ll be surprised what a few simple alterations can do for the sign. And the satisfaction you will receive from your artistic accomplishment is well worth it. With that in mind… let’s customize some fonts…

Adding spurs is a simple method for turning almost any font into a rugged western style. Clarendon Bold, used in this example, is a good font that lends itself to this modification.

Step 1

Draw an arrow.

Step 2

Position the triangle on the letter. Don’t let the triangle stick out too far because then it becomes more of a distraction than an addition to the letter.
Here’s what it looks like in vector line view. Place points (or nodes) at the areas where the triangle intersects with the vertical line. This will serve as a guide for you so you’ll know where to place the triangle on each letter.

Step 3

Place a guideline through the middle of the triangle. Copy the left triangle and place on the right side of the H. Align the points you placed on the triangle in step 3 on the vertical line of the H. This ensures it sticks out the same amount as the left side. Weld the triangles with the letter.
If you are placing your spurs at the middle of each letter, it usually won’t work if you try to put a spike on the right side of a B. So just leave the right side alone.
With angled letters you will have to manipulate the triangle. I find that skewing it works better than rotating. You will also have to move the spurs further in than other letters. Otherwise they will appear too large.
Some letters have open middles which allow you to place spikes there too. Not all letter styles provide for this though. If the middle area is too tight– don’t do it.
When placing spurs on a round letter they can appear too pointed. To overcome this optical illusion, you may need to enlarge them slightly.
Try welding spurs on the tops and bottoms of the letters for an interesting look.
Reverse the spurs and “cut out” the letters using your program’s “punch” feature for a real western look.

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