Expert class Type design

Online edition

Due to the uncertainty that remains over the development of the pandemic, this year’s edition of the Expert class Type design course will be completely remote. This is undoubtedly attractive for those who cannot come to Antwerp because of travel restrictions. For example, students from the USA, Brazil and Thailand will take this unique opportunity to take the classes this year. It is a one-off initiative that undoubtedly saves a lot of travel and hotel costs.

Leeszaal Museum Plantin-Moretus

In principle, the structure of the course is unchanged. However, taking it completely online implies that research in the reading room of Museum Plantin-Moretus is not possible. To get around this, students will receive high-quality photos and scans of punches, smoke proofs, matrices, and prints from the museum’s large collection. Meanwhile, Belgian participants can still visit the reading room for their research, of course. When the situation improves and travel restrictions will allow us to do so, we will invite all students to Antwerp for an informal meeting.

The Expert class Type design 2020–2021 course consists of twelve online sessions (instead of the usual ten under the roof of the museum) over a period of approximately three quarters of a year. The aim of the course is to help students explore and analyze the historical and technical (production) aspects of type and typography, to teach them how to design type in detail, to help them develop an in-depth understanding of the digital font-production process, and to support them in gaining control over related software.

An important aspect of the course is the direct exchange of knowledge and experience between the students. This exchange is stimulated by a type-revival project on which the students must collaborate. The revival is always based on unique historical material from the renowned collection of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. In addition to participating in the revival project, each student must personally design a new typeface, whether it be from scratch or a revival that is, for example, also based on material from the museum’s collection. The course is concluded with an exhibition that takes place annually in the museum, or occasionally at an exquisite location elsewhere in Belgium or the Netherlands.

This year’s edition will have 13 participants from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, UK, USA, Brazil and Thailand.

The EcTd course is taught by type designer, font producer, software developer, and Senior Lecturer Dr. Frank E. Blokland.


Requirements and admission

The EcTd course is targeted at graphic designers who have a great interest in type and typography. The course is very much internationally oriented and the students come from all over the world. Hence the lessons are taught in English. For entering the course, experience in graphic design, combined with basic drawing skills and knowledge of graphic-design software such as Adobe Illustrator, are considered a prerequisite.

The course provides a good alternative for people who do not have time or the opportunity to follow, for example, the Type & Media master course at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) or the master course in type design at the University of Reading. However, in the course of time a number of students who already hold a Master degree in type design from aforementioned institutes joined the EcTd course.

This year’s online edition is an opportunity for persons interested in the course who are not in the position to travel to Antwerp (on average, once every three weeks). For them especially, we organise this remote edition, which is intended as a one-off exception.

Matrices of Schöffer the younger’s roman capitals kept in the Museum Plantin-Moretus. (Photos taken by the students of the course in 2015–16.)


Program, end terms, and diploma

During the first half of the course the students work together online on a revival based on the invaluable historical material, i.e., punches, matrices, foundry type, and prints, from the collection of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. This revival forms the basis for an intensive exchange of insight, perception, and technical know-how between the students, often via collaboration tools like Slack.

During the second half of the course the students have to design and to technically develop a new typeface. Initial sketches and proposals are usually already made and discussed during the first half of the course. The joined revival and the personal typeface have to be presented in two different booklets with an accompanying text on the process and progress. Evaluation criteria for the personal project are: the depth of the study, the insight in the matter, the aesthetically and technical quality of the produced type, and the originality of the design project.

Students who positively complete the course obtain an officially recognized post-college certificate.


Subjects investigated
– with related research questions

1. Type, typography, and conventions:
What are the restrictions of the systems inherited from the times of foundry type, i.e., with characters on solid rectangles? What do we know about the factors that influenced the proportions and details of the archetypal roman and italic type models? What is the relation between letterforms and typographical conventions? Where do the conventions for present-day digital typography come from?

2. Form, proportions, construction, contrast-sorts, and contrast:
What forms the origin of the proportions, shapes, and details of the historical and modern typefaces that are in use today? Why and in what respect do characters from the style periods differ? What is the relation of type and typography to architecture, sculpture, painting, and music? Which methods can be used to classify type? How and to what extent are the type classifications of, for example, Maximilien Vox and Gerrit Noordzij comparable and overall useful? What is the relation to matters such as contrast-sort and contrast of, for example, serifs?

3. Type design, idiom, and revivals:
What distinguishes one type designer from another? Why and by what features do we recognize and distinguish the type designs of, for example, Garamont, Granjon, Eric Gill, Hermann Zapf, and Jan van Krimpen? What is a revival exactly? How should historical prints be interpreted? How and to what extent should a revival be standardized and adapted to present-day digital technology?

Blokland’s PhD-research at Leiden University, which was conducted to test the hypothesis that Gutenberg and his peers developed a standardized and unitized system for the production of textura type, which consequently was extrapolated for the production of the morphologically related roman-type model, plays an important role in the course. The students use the outcomes for further investigation of Renaissance type.


Digital technology: matters and software discussed (summary)

1. Manual conversion of analogue drawings with a digitizer/lens cursor (IKARUS format) or via autotracing, versus direct drawing on screen.

2. Contour description and font formats: the IKARUS format, cubic Bézier curves (PostScript Type1 / OpenType CFF) and quadratic Bézier curves (TrueType / OpenType TTF).

3. Font-production tools: Glyphs, RoboFont, FontLab Studio, FontForge, FoundryMaster, OTMaster.

4. Glyph databases: development of the glyph set. The construction of character sets. The support of multiple codepages. The (auto) spacing of type.

5. Data management and quality control: checking and improving the consistency of font data.

6. Font-format processing: the (batch) generation of kerning, OpenType Layout features, and hinting.

7. Also: An in-depth introduction in Python scripting: two sessions taught by guest lecturer Lukas Schneider, who developed the LS Cadencer and LS Consistencer tools


Required equipment

EcTd students will be working together with their computers, running macOS, Windows, or Linux. They are provided with font production software in the form of demo and open-source versions. Furthermore some analogue equipment is required: drawing and tracing paper (A4 – 120 grams), propelling pencil (maximum 0.5 mm) with hb or b leads, an eraser, black felt-tip pens (round head, various thicknesses), Stanley knife cutter, adhesive tape, 30 cm ruler (0.5 mm increments) and a broad nib (preferably a Parallel Pen with a 6 mm nib).

Studenten EcTd 2020

Lessons are in English

Lecturer: Dr. Frank E. Blokland
Guest lecturer: Lukas Schneider

Calendar: Twelve Wednesdays:
In 2020: October 14, October 28, November 18 and December 9.
In 2021: January 6, January 27, February 10, February 24, March 10, March 31, April 21, May 5.
From 11 a.m. till 4.40 p.m. Central European Time

Belgian students and students from countries without travel restrictions can visit the reading room of the museum to do their research.

Enrolment fee: € 1575

Enrolling for this year’s edition is not possible anymore.

Enrolment form.