Colour In

In today's Letterform, Novo Typo's Mark van Wageningen looks at this splendid chromatic uppercase Clarendon Ornamented ‘M’ by William H. Page and wonders why type designers always think in black and white…

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Some time ago we asked ourselves the question: Why do type designers traditionally think in black and white?’ Why indeed? The world is colourful, the web is colourful, Hollywood does not produce any black-and-white movies anymore…Only type designers continue to think in these restrictive terms.

Typographers today are living in the Golden Age of design. Software for designing a book or a typeface has never been so simple, and it is also easy accessible to almost everybody. Examples of archetypal typefaces or books are visible online. Modern printing techniques and software techniques allow us to experiment with a wide range of possibilities. From paper to a computer screen or from a two-dimensional model to a three-dimensional prototype. The results of these experiments can be shared via all kinds of social media with anyone anywhere in the world. We are intrigued and fascinated by all these new possibilities...

Contemporary printing techniques and new browser techniques make it possible to add colour in typography. This renewed interest for colour-within-typography took off with the use of emoji on mobile devices at the beginning of this century. The introduction of these new techniques has allowed type designers to design fonts that are structured on separate coloured layers. The user can add different colours to these layers through a range of applications. 

The logical combination between functionality and decoration in typography becomes more fluid with the use of colour.

For this example - the uppercase M (a fifty-line chromatic French Clarendon Ornamented), we see that designers and printers have done this multicoloured, chromatic design approach before. This M is part of Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type and Borders, published by William H. Page & Co. in 1874. This sample catalogue offers a fine collection of chromatic wood types for letterpress printers. The specimen book was used to sell the wooden pieces of type to printers. The typefaces of William H. Page & Co. are today part of the collection of the Hamilton Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, USA. 

If you take a closer look at the basic shapes of the M you will see that this design is not just decorative. The two coloured shapes – orange and blue – are printed upon each other and a new third colour – a brown/orange-mix appears. One plus one is three… In this design, the orange shapes are pushed into the vertical shapes of the blue. This makes the construction of the character so interesting, inspiring and fascinating. 

Although we like this particular M (it can be considered as one the earliest and finest examples of chromatic typography), we are especially thrilled about the overall chromatic design approach of William H. Page. We are convinced that colour within type design will lead us to a new Renaissance in typography. 

Colour will be the new Italic.

Colour will be the new Bold.

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