Design Projects
Font Hints


17 September 2003
> Gentium updated, now an SIL project

18 October 2002
> Dissertation on diacritics posted

> Gentium coming to UN Headquarters

7 October 2002
> Gentium mentioned in press about ATypI

14 September 2002
> Gentium site introduced

23 June 2002
> New Font Hints page

> Scanning Tips

21 June 2002
> Research paper posted

Complete updates list

Quick Links
SIL Home
SIL Fonts
Other links


SIL Logo




Gaultney Academic Home

E S S A Y S   •   D I S S E R T A T I O N   •   F U T U R E    T O P I C S

Most of my recent research has been driven by my current academic program—the MA in Typeface Design program at the University of Reading, England. This part-time program began in October 2000 and was completed in September 2002.


I wrote three essays for the course, one of which is available here. These essays had a 3000 word limit, so are necessarily limited in many ways.

Balancing typeface legibility and economy:
Practical techniques for the type designer

December 2000


Typeface legibility and economy—are they adversaries or can they work together? Their relationship is filled with tension. Common wisdom says that efforts to increase legibility can reduce the amount of text on a page, whereas techniques used for efficient use of space can jeopardize legibility. Is this the real situation? This essay looks at some of the variables that affect legibility, particularly those under the control of the type designer. From this foundation, it continues with a summary of techniques used in the design of economical typefaces throughout type history and evaluates their impact on legibility.

Download (PDF—1 MB)

Multitudinous Alphabets: The design of extended latin typefaces
June 2001


The canonical twenty-six letters of the ‘Roman’ or ‘Latin’ alphabet, in their capital and small forms, serve many languages of the world very well. From past centuries up to the present day, type designers have focused on these basic characters and their accented forms. For many languages and uses, however, these symbols were not sufficient, so linguists devised extensions to the Latin alphabet. Although useful, these new or borrowed letters were a bane to the printer and required type designers to surmount technical problems and tackle difficulties in design. The situation is not much different today. Technical advancements have made the manufacture of type easier, but many design challenges remain.

This essay begins by describing how ‘extended Latin’ letters were invented. It then focuses on some specific design issues by reviewing the work of type foundries through many technological eras. Linguistic issues, though interesting, are not covered in depth, nor are extensions of designs to other scripts such as Greek or Cyrillic, or the many important issues surrounding the design and use of diacritical marks.

This essay is undergoing revision in preparation for future publication (hopefully!). A trimmed-down version was presented at the September 2002 ATypI Conference in Rome. Contact me if you would like to read the current version.

The influence of pen-based letterforms on Devanagari typefaces
July 2001


Typefaces are, in essence, realisations of written letterforms. Movable type was invented in order to make it easier to produce literature using those letters. Many early typefounders, however, did not attempt to slavishly copy the shapes of pen-written symbols. They sought to give them new forms that were faithful to the alphabet, yet appropriate to new technologies. This essay seeks to investigate the influence of pen-based letterforms on Devanagari typefaces. To what extent have typefaces conformed to the written shapes that preceded them? How have some typeforms departed from scribal calligraphy? Should modern designers look more to manuscript or to printed forms for inspiration?

The brevity of this essay and corresponding limitations on research make it impossible to attempt a complete history of Devanagari type, to critically review individual letterforms, or analyse the social acceptance or rejection of various typefaces. After a review of Devanagari manuscript samples, several typefaces from different historical periods are reviewed for their level of faithfulness to those styles. The essay concludes with a set of principles for designing type drawn from the work of the most successful designers and their relationship to the calligraphic tradition.

The necessary brevity of this essay makes it only moderately useful to others. The topic really requires more in-depth research, particularly in the area of manuscripts available to early typefounders. Many of the illustrations are less-than-ideal, since the sources are difficult to reproduce. If you would like to review this essay please contact me.


My largest research project was a 10,000-word dissertation on diacritics, with a focus on the problems type designers have to confront when designing them.

Problems of diacritic design for Latin script text faces
September 2002


Early in the development of the Latin script, special marks, separate in nature from the basic letters, began to be used. Since the innovation of movable type, these diacritics, or accents, have been a special challenge for the type designer. Their size, spacing and design can be critically important for the reader, but can also cause many problems—with letter fit and line spacing in particular. The design of these additional marks, and their harmony with the rest of the typeface, is important to success.

This essay focuses on these problems and the techniques designers have used to address them. After a review of the definition, origin and classification of diacritics, each major problem is identified and analysed, with an emphasis on how they have been, or could be, overcome. The analysis concludes with a review of remaining problems, some recommendations for the type design community, and comments on the future of diacritic design.

Download (PDF—1.3 MB)

Please note that this is a lower res (200 DPI) version. If you really want the 9.6 Mb version let me know!

Future topics

The discipline of an academic program is a great motivator. It will be difficult to continue academic research now that my program is done. Nevertheless, I do hope to investigate some of the following topics, motivated primarily by whatever font development projects currently on my plate. If you have information on any of these areas please contact me!

  • The importance of thick-thin contrast in non-latin scripts
  • The history of latin typefaces designed specifically for religious publications
  • How does language affect type design?
  • The design and spacing of punctuation, in both latin and non-latin scripts
  • Essential elements of letterforms, particularily for specific non-latin scripts
  • The influence of latin type design on non-latin typefaces

and others...


Copyright © 2002 • Victor Gaultney • • Page updated 18 October 2002
Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
Horsleys Green, High Wycombe, Bucks HP14 3XL, UNITED KINGDOM