Some time ago we asked ourselves the question: ‘Why do type designers traditionally think in black and white?’

Why indeed? The world is colorful, the web is colorful, 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 and we would also like to share our experiments with the rest of the world.

Traditionally type designers think in black and white.

Deconstructing the basic shapes of a character with color.

Contemporary printing techniques and new browsertechniques make it possible to add color in typography. This renewed interest for color-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 colored layers. The user can add different colors to these layers through a range of applications. This publication offers a series of typefaces designed by us based on this multicolored (or chromatic) design concept. Our approach to design implies that readability and legibility in contemporary type design is overrated. Every character is legible, if not, it is not a character. We are not interested in designing a new Helvetica or Univers, simply because these typefaces already exist.

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

One of the interesting things about chromatic type-faces is that it allows the designer lots of freedom. The possibilities afforded by combinations of type and color are endless. Designers can pick any color they like. They may decide to use the colors of their client’s corporate identity or simply a fashionable color. Color and typography present a powerful mix in graphic design. In our opinion a bespoke chromatic typeface, well designed and with a strong personality, can easily replace a logo within a corporate identity.

The use of color within type design takes two different directions. Color can be used for the purpose of decoration, and historically we have seen lots of different variations of these designs. Typical examples of the decorative approach are the use of color in the outline, inline or the dropshadow of the basic letter forms. A beautiful example of this approach is Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type and Borders, published by William H. Page and Co. in 1874. This sample catalog offers a fine collection of chromatic wood types for letter-press printers. The specimen book was used to sell the wooden pieces of type to printers. The typefaces of William H. Page and Co. are today part of the collection of the Hamilton Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, USA. All these examples are based on the decorative approach to design. Going even further back in history, color in layout was already used centuries ago. Around 1455 the German printer and inventor of movable type, Johannes Gutenberg, used color in the page layout of the famous 42-line bible by rubricating the initials and paragraphs. We may presume that, in this case, the use of color did not have a decorative purpose. The reason to use color was to introduce hierarchy in the layout of the page. Later on color was often used to separate paragraphs with a colored pilcrow ¶ or a colored silcrow §. This brings us to the second direction in which color is used within typography.

The second direction, which is obviously the most interesting and exciting one, is the color - construction approach. Color can be used as part of the construction of the basic shapes of the characters. The images on the left page show an example of the Bixa typeface which is designed according to a colored and constructed concept. The characters illustrate this approach. Working within this color - construction typographic concept, it is possible to take this idea one step further. It is only logical that if you can construct the basic shapes of a character, you can also deconstruct these basic shapes. Using this color - deconstruction design concept within an editorial context leads to the following propositions.

Color will be the new Italic.
Color will be the new Bold.

Color is valuable in defining the hierachy of text on a printed page or on a website. Nowadays we appreciate the logical combination of a roman and italic version in a typeface. However, historically this is an artificial combination. It was only after the Italian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius and punch-cutter Francesco Griffo invented slanted type around 1500, that the combination of roman and italic became conventional. Type designers and punchcutters began copying this slanted design, soon known as Italic after the country of origin, and it became rapidly popular outside Italy. Within the near future this will also happen with chromatic type. Color will lead us to a new Renaissance in typography. It will take some time as type designers will need to get used to it and so will readers. However, before too long, we envisage type designers including a chromatic version of their typefaces when they design a complete font family, in addition to the existing roman, italic, bold and bold italic. ¶ If a designer wants to emphasize a word in a sentence, a sentence in a paragraph or a paragraph in a chapter, it is standard practice to use the italic or the bold version of the chosen typeface. Would it not be much more interesting if the designer is allowed to use the chromatic version of the typeface? Color will then constitute a key element within the organization of text and layout.

The Novo Typo Color Book is a logical continuation of the Typewood - The Declaration of Deconstructed Typography project and the Bixa project that was published in 2015. Bixa, the chromatic typeface, which is also produced in woodtype, is designed as a typeface for a large display size. The chromatic typeface that was especially created for this project is designed and optimized for smaller sizes. With the Novo Typo Color Book project we present a visual investigation of the possibilities of the use of chromatic typography within an editorial context.

‘Color is life, for a world without color seems dead. As a flame produces light, light produces color. As intonation lends color to the spoken word, color lends spiritually realized sound to a form.’
Johannes Itten

Nowadays chromatic typefaces can function on many different platforms. They can be displayed on the monitor of a computer or on the screen of your mobile phone. In this case the characters are printed on paper. For this publication we used two different types of printing techniques. The first one is the sophisticated and contemporary offset technique which is based on the principle of the lithographic process, the repulsion of oil and water. The second technique is the traditional letterpress technique. This technique, based on movable type, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, is a technique of relief printing. For the pages printed with letterpress, new chromatic matrices based on our designs were produced as part of this project. With these matrices, Type foundry Westzaan, cast a complete series of chromatic type in lead on a Monotype Supra Caster in a size of 36 Didot points. Details of the entire production process of the matrices and the casting of the type is described in Chapter 6 of this book. The project ends with the transformation of the chromatic typefaces into fonts for web. Because screen and color technology for web is a completely different concept compared to printing techniques, we are sharing this process here at the Novo Typo website.

For this publication we loosely follow the theory and corresponding structures of Johannes Itten as a reference for the color research. The famous Bauhaus instructor proposed a theory which we used as a guideline for our research. This is also why we chose to print this book in three different primary colors as defined in Itten’s book The Art of Color published in 1961; red, yellow and blue and their secondary variations; orange, green and violet. ¶ The book is arranged in consecutive chapters, beginning with a chapter on the construction and deconstruction of letter forms of a single character. The next chapters describe the design process of deconstruction of a single word, followed by a sentence, a paragraph and a complete chapter. The book ends with the description of the transformation and production process of the digital designs into lead type.