Studio Tour

Wood Type Revival Studio Visit

A couple months ago Matt Griffin and Matt Braun were better known as the designers at Bearded Studio until recently when they kicked off Wood Type Revival! This is a pretty brilliant idea, especially for typography geeks and designers like me. It was all born out of a Kickstarter project and completely took off from there. The idea seems simple; find historical wood type, print it out and then turn it into digital fonts.
Well, after talking and spending some time with these two guys, it’s really not that straight forward as one might think. I had the chance to see the initial set up of the letters, which is very intricate in itself. This didn’t include their research time, finding the type, traveling to get it and the many variables that go into this entire project. It’s time consuming but they are pretty passionate and excited about it. All their hard work is paying off and the creative industry is definitely noticing! It was great to visit the studio and see some of this process up close. Take a peek:

I love the Bearded logo! This woodcut is by Tugboat Printshop

All photos are taken by Kristy Lumsden

How did you two come up with the idea of taking old letterpress wood type and turning into digital fonts:

MB: Since I started at Bearded, Matt Griffin and I have been trying to find a way to incorporate an element of letterpress into the business. Actually the funny thing is that’s how I came in contact with Matt in the first place. I was purchasing a No. 3 Golding Pearl press and was looking for another owner to get their advice on the press. I stumbled upon Matt’s site, wrote him and he was kind enough to respond. But since the day I joined Bearded, we’ve been brainstorming ways to justify to the developers why we need to have a Vandercook and cabinets of type in the office.
The original idea came from some old metal type that I had purchased from a German printer in Greensburg. The type was pretty rare and I thought it would be great to convert it for digital use. However, like most good ideas, you get them and then say “well, when I get time.” Then a few weeks later we started brainstorming again, and that’s when it came up – however for wood type instead of metal

Print from Triangle Poster Co.:

MG: Matt Braun had suggested several letterpress Kickstarter ideas to me in the preceding weeks. But when he pitched this one, it really struck a chord. So we threw the video and other materials together that week between client projects. It just sounded like a winner.

How do you decide which historic wood type is worthy of buying and taking the time to recreate digitally:

MG: Fonts we’re interested in, first of all, can’t already exist as a digital fonts. They have to have a complete uppercase alphabet, with as many additional elements (lowercase, figures, punctuation) as possible. They also need to exhibit characteristics that are lacking in modern digital typography, and also just capture our imaginations as fans of typography.

Once the type is in your hands, can you tell us a little bit about your process:

MG: Yes, it’s grueling. : ) First we print the type. Which is harder than it sounds. All of the type is at a minimum 100 years old. It’s seen a lot in terms of use, storage and weather conditions. Getting it to print well is no easy task. Most characters are not of equal height, so we have to add bits of tape or paper to the back of characters that aren’t printing well, until they’re all printing at a similar level.

Once we have our proof, we scan it, and bring it onto our Wacom Cintiq tablet, where we create the digital outlines. We bring those into Fontlab Studio, where we create the font files. That’s when the real fun beings, as we have to kern all relative letter pairs. That means we have to adjust the spacing between all the possible pairs of letters so that the words will read well. Once that’s done, we have to do testing on the files to make sure they’ll work everywhere (Windows is about as bad for fonts as IE is for websites, incidentally). Then we’re ready to ship. It’s a labor of love.

When all of this started did you have any idea it would garner so much press:
MG: Sort of. When Matt Braun first told me the idea, I knew it was great. I knew designers would be excited. But once we started getting great reactions from people like Trent Walton, Elliot Jay Stocks, and Jason Santa Maria at Typekit, and later Tina at Swiss Miss – then it became clear that things were going to get interesting. It’s been a lot of fun seeing something we really love kind of take off like this. Having Typekit pick up all the fonts for web use was huge for us. We’re such big fans of that service already, it’s kind of like a kid seeing his picture on a real baseball card or something.

Matt Braun & Matt Griffin

MB: In all honesty, I was skeptical we would even get funding. I thought it was a fun idea, and definitely something useful, but it could be hit-or-miss. However, it started to take off and people were contacting us with wood type they wanted to sell, as well as articles they wanted to write. We couldn’t be more grateful for all the help and support the project has received.

Can you tell us what is next for Wood Type Revival:
MG: More fonts! We have 6 more digital fonts to create to fulfill our Kickstarter obligation. They’re all partially done and we just need to put in the hours. After that we actually have a backlog of type to convert. But I think the next big thing would be to look at doing complete character sets of some fonts. Putting in the extra time to design missing characters (like punctuation, accented characters, @ symbols, etc.) that never existed in the original wood type. It’s outside of the scope of the current project, but I think people would appreciate “Pro” versions of the more popular faces.

Frost Design is the book:

MB: Along with the fonts, we have t-shirts and posters in the works. The posters will be a collaborative project featuring a few fonts, with work by some selected designers (yet to be announced). We’ve also contemplated some local workshops using the type and the presses to teach others about the basics of letterpress.

Sprout poster designed by Bearded Studio
I want to thank Matt Griffin and Matt Braun for taking the time out to give us a tour and chat about their process. Be sure to visit Wood Type Revival for their fonts and more information.

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