by Ilene Strizver
The age of digital type has brought with it many advancements and time-savers, but too much perfection can get boring. When your eye craves type that exhibits the inconsistencies of the human hand and the natural wear and tear of age, it’s time to explore distressed typefaces. With their irregular contours and weathered appearance, these designs are a great way to return a natural, hand-made charm to typography.
Distressed typefaces cover a lot of ground. Some replicate the irregular contours of brush strokes and other writing implements. Others capture the organic texture of parchment and stone, or approximate the low-tech look of woodcuts, stencils and rubber stamps.
Not every distressed face looks natural. Some are designed to look grungy and deconstructed, and some are positively spooky, with creepy, drippy letterforms.
A well-designed distressed face should look believably random, without obvious repeated motifs. Make sure you evaluate the face at the size you intend to use it. A face that looks great at 18 or 24 point might look contrived, overworked or repetitive on a billboard.
Don’t many design applications have special filters that let you distress just about any typeface yourself? They do, but the result will not look nearly as good as a real distressed typeface. A good distressed design is drawn letter by letter, and the designer’s goal is to make each character look as naturally frayed as possible. A distressed typeface with a computer-generated look defeats the whole purpose of this fascinating category of designs.
Next time you want to give your work a roughened, eye-catching “edge,” try a distressed typeface.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.