Metal Stamping is hugely popular these days, and I get lots of questions about it — particularly about stamping straight and spacing letters. To understand how to nicely stamp words and phrases, it’s critical to understand a little bit about typography. As a former graphics professional, typography and letter forms are near and dear to my heart, so here is an easy primer on the gentle art of typography for non-graphic designers.
First, a glossary is in order — just so we can speak the same language:
A font, or a typeface, is an alphabet of a specific design. All of the letter forms, numerals, symbols and ligatures of a particular font will be similar in appearance, match in size, weight and style, and they will work well together when combined into words, sentences, and paragraphs.
There are font families: Modern, Egyptian, Script, Roman, Gothic, etc.
There are font weights: Light, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, etc.
There are two major types of letter forms: uppercase (capital letters; all-caps) and lowercase (non-capital letters).
Luckily, today’s metal stamp sets typically consist of one letter form, so the real complexities of typesetting are easily dealt with. Some fonts can be purchased as two individual sets: uppercase letters or lowercase letters. Either way, some essential measurements you’ll need to know about your particular letter stamps are detailed here. I know math and art make an unhappy marriage sometimes, but there are places where you’ll need it, and sorry, this is one of them.
In today’s blog, I will deal with just horizontal measurements. Stay tuned for Part Two: Vertical Measurements where I’ll be including samples, too.
OK, ready? Let’s start!
Capital letters of a font live in the space somewhere between the highest point of the ascenders (b, d, f, h, k, l) and the lowest point of the descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Some script fonts include flourishes and swashes that sweep into that space as well. The pink highlight in these diagrams, or, total height of the font, can usually but not always, be determined by measuring the shaft of the actual metal stamp. This measurement is critical to know if you are stamping blocks of text, but not so critical if you are stamping just one word.
Without getting too picky, there are also some special considerations for specific round letters — O, Q, G and C — which just look much better when they sit below the baseline a bit instead of on it, but I’ll save that for later.
Anyway, that baseline is the most important line you’ll need to know for well-spaced stamped lettering. It is used for lining up the bottoms of the letters, and measuring the “x-height” of your font is how you’ll find the baseline. See the green highlighted x in my diagrams? Those lines that mark the top and the bottom of the x are the font’s x-height. The bottom line is the baseline. This is true even if you choose an all-caps font. For a lowercase font, it’s obvious. So, take a scrap of metal, whack your x stamp and then measure the stamped x with dividers — so you know what that measurement is for the particular font you have decided to stamp with.
Here’s a diagram with a closer look…
So, once you know the total depth of the font and the x-height, you are ready to layout your horizontal guidelines, or grid. This is especially important for blocks of text, and again, not too important for single words. But, I suggest always working on an actual-size piece of tissue paper first, and hand lettering the layout for spacing, and then making a test run of your phrase on scrap metal. with the actual stamps you intend to use. Only then should you commit to your piece. In my mind, it’s worth taking the time to test things, because a poorly stamped text block can really ruin your day, not to mention your metal, so don’t go there.
To create the guidelines on your tracing paper, tape it to the table, and use a T-Square to draw parallel lines at all of these points: the top line, the base line, the bottom line, and the space between each line of stamping.
Here is a closer look at that…
I like to use the x-height as my line spacing, but you can also use more or less, depending on the style, size and complexity of your font. Again, making a test run (or several of them) is a good idea, especially with complex blocks of text. You did want people to be able to read it, right?
Next blog, I’ll address the vertical guidelines, so get yourself some letter stamps, a scrap of metal and write out a phrase to practice with. I have lots of tips to share with you, so hang tight… I will be back soon.
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