Metal Stamping Part Two

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks. I am a real fan of the phrase “Life Got in the Way of Art” and that applies here… So, hmmm…where were we? Oh yes, Vertical Spacing. Let’s start small and work up.

When it comes to readability, vertical spacing in lettering (including stamped lettering) can make or break you. It’s amazing how a teeny sliver of extra space can make the difference between seeing a word as one recognizable word, or two shorter, somewhat confusing words that were supposed to be one word. Again, this is not too critical for one, single, short, word, because your brain has the ability to process typography and put two and two together, so to speak. For sentences or phrases, clarity is important, so it helps when you are metal stamping to be intentional about spacing between individual letters and also the words. Let’s recall the glossary from part one of this topic: letter spacing is the space between individual letters of a font. Word spacing is the space between words. There are nuances to both.

When you look at the business end of a metal stamp, you’ll notice the raised letter sits relatively in the middle of a big square slug of tool steel — called the shaft of the stamp. Because all metal stamps are manufactured from stock-sized tool steel, a skinny letter i will sit in the middle of the same size steel shaft as a wide letter w. Here is where the smallest unit of vertical spacing comes in.

Here are an a and an i when spaced mechanically and visually.

Here you can see what happens when an a and an i when spaced mechanically vs visually.

There are two choices when using square letter stamps: mechanical positioning or visual positioning. What’s the difference? Mechanical spacing means you use the width of the tool shaft to determine the space of the individual letters. For example, 2mm stamps would be lined up along a base line with 2mm marks. Each letter would sit in a 2mm x 2mm cell. Think graph paper.

Visual spacing means you take the width of the individual letter form into account. An a occupies more space than a thin i, so you scootch the i a little closer to its neighbor before you stamp it. As you can see, that i can be moved over to the left almost half the width of the tool shaft. The point of this is readability. Trust me, you want to go for readability.
Another consideration when you look at letters is that you’ll notice some are friendly neighbors — like w with z, or m with n — they want to be close to each other, and it makes sense to take the extra time to decrease the space between them because it just looks better. Unlike graph paper.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character -- spaces count as one. Circle them.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character — spaces count as one. Circle them.

Now, lets look at vertical spacing blocks of text. Centering is a difficult thing to do for most people, despite the fact that it’s the most common type of text alignment used on jewelry objects. Centered type looks great on round things like pendants or charms. Here’s a handy method for getting well-spaced, centered text.

First, take a scrap of paper and write out your phrase. Then, count the number of letters and spaces in each line. Write them down. With a different color marker or pencil, circle the character that occupies the center of each line. In this example, you’ll see four lines of text. Line one has 9 characters and the k is in the middle at position 5. Next line, 5 characters; e is the center. Next, the space between the two words is in the center, and so on.

Once you have found the center of your text, its a good idea to test-stamp the phrase with the actual stamps you want to use before you go to your real jewelry object. Chill your jets and test it. I promise it will be worth the effort, because any little quirks about your particular stamps will be discovered in the test run, rather than on your sterling. Here’s how to layout your test. Cut a piece of scrap metal roughly the size of your finished object.
Clean it well, sand out the surface, dry it.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Use a Sharpie to draw a center line. Then, measure and draw the number of baselines you need for your phrase (If you forgot what baselines are, go back to part one). Start with the first line, using the middle letter. Make sure the stamp is not upside down. Position it on the center of the center line with the baseline at the bottom of the letter. Whack it like you mean it. Once. Take a peek.
Then, finish the rest of the characters on the right side of that letter from the center out. After that, finish all the letters on the left side of the line from the center out. Once you have the entire line stamped, follow the same process with the next line. And so on.

If you want ragged right type, no center line is needed. Start the lines of text at the left, stamp to the right. If you want ragged left, do the opposite. You can also letter on curved baselines, by following the same layout guidelines.

So, that’s the rudimentary lesson on vertical spacing for metal stamping. When you get really good with your particular stamps, you will anticipate where to make letters close to each other (called kerning) when to make letter forms closer to each other in general (called tracking) and when to space words closer together or further apart because of the shapes of the letters in your particular font. Have fun stamping… and check out my Twitter Facebook and Instagram feeds for more metal mayhem.

Twitter: @fabricationista
Instagram: HDriggs_Fabricationista
Facebook: Helen Driggs


About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

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