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I’m still here folks. It’s been a while since I’ve had time for the Clean Cut project, what with my MFA thesis to work on. Truth is, I still don’t have time but I’ve gone back to working on ’em anyway. In the interim I’ve taken a proper typeface design class and I’m interning at a type design studio. With much newfound knowledge about type and letterforms (not to mention proper spacing) I’m making improvements to my little family of stencil fonts. Lugnut is being extensively overhauled, and Sliced is receiving some much-needed tweakage. Once Sliced is in a place where I’m happy with it, I can generate Diced fairly easily. Then, it’s on to Lazy Vandal in its variations. I never really completed artwork for the letterforms, just sketches. I have a feeling some of the letters in Lazy vandal will be problematic when cut in paper, due to some sharp angles I’d rather avoid. Testing should be interesting.

Again, all this renewed interest has mainly served to distract me from thesis, so don’t expect huge amounts of progress soon. I have not, however, abandoned the project.


Get ’em while they’re hot! Exfish Studio is proud to present the first beta releases of Clean Cut Sliced and Clean Cut Lugnut. They’re still rough around the edges but you’re encouraged to play around with them and give us your feedback.


Clean Cut Sliced (beta)

Clean Cut Lugnut (beta)

Creative Commons License
The Clean Cut typeface family by Exfish Studio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Once I had four lovely stencil alphabets cut out and ready to rock, it was time to see how they spray.  Kinda nice to be doing something not involving a computer.

Formerly known as Slit Stencil Round and Slit Stencil Sharp, Clean Cut typefaces Sliced and Diced were put through their paces. I printed out the uppercase and lowercase alphabet of each and timed how long it took me to cut them out. Seems I averaged about 11-12 minutes per alphabet. An important discovery was that there wasn’t a significant difference between the time it took to cut Sliced and Diced. I was assuming Diced would go faster. It will be interesting to see if this proves true in later stages of user testing.

I’ve cut out the two rosette sheets I made.  I’m happy to report that this experiment was incredibly informative.  I have a much better Idea of which strokes and shapes are easier to slice.  Some initial conclusions:

  • Cutting with upstrokes (or away from the body) is harder than downstrokes.  The main issue with upstrokes is safety, but I don’t know what portion of my target audience cares much about that.  Suffice it to say that whoever wants can use the left-handed versions if they’re right-handed and vice-versa.
  • The shapes that were more “circular” as opposed to “squarish” were easier to cut.  In retrospect that’s obvious, since they involve more gradual curves.  The squared shapes were clipped from rounded rectangles, going straight for most of the curve but then curving abruptly at the end.  Avoiding abrupt curves is one of the main design features I’m avoiding.  I thought that with more of a “straightaway”, the squared shapes would be easier.  Good thing I tested!

I need to sit down and compile the average easiness of cutting the shapes at different orientations.  As I went, I used the following rather subjective grading system, from low to high: x, ~x, ~, ~v, v (pretend the v is a check mark).  Then it’s off to update the typeface!

I assume the results will be just as relevant for the triangular version of the basic shape.  I’ll test it anyway just to be sure.

For your viewing pleasure:

Downstroke version

Upstroke version

In order to further pin down the right orientation for curves, I’ve devised this test sheet:

Test patterns

Next chance I get to work on this, I’ll print out two copies: one for upstroke cutting and one for downstroke.

This evening I printed out a sheet of my “Slits Round” design (like I said, I need better names for this stuff), and tried my hand at cutting it out.

Setting up:

Screen capture

The first test

I found that I’d been wrong about horizontal strokes. I drew them curved side facing down, but the more natural curving motion is to cut with the curve facing up, butting frol left to right.

Close up of cutting

more cutting

The artist at work:

The artist at work

Finished product:

all done

I found also that at this size, many of the letters felt rather skimpy. I might want to fatten them up. Also, I ought to try them with paint and see how they work in the field.

A colleague of mine raised an important point today.  She pointed out that safe cutting with a hobby knife means cutting away from your body.  This means cutting out text from bottom to top.  This reversal of stroke certainly affects my design using straight lines and curves.  Many curves need to be reversed to comply to this.  I think this may end up causing the left-handed and right-handed versions to swap.  I’m not sure that will work, I have to try it out on paper first.  Taking safety into consideration regarding the letter designs is probably a very good idea.  If you’re right-handed and insist on cutting from top to bottom, you can just use the left-handed version, and vice-versa for left-handers.

Maxim Zhukov has graciously provided me with a wealth of links to stencil typography-related resources. You’ll find them in the Links section at the bottom of the page. Spasibo, Maxim!

Why do street artists need new stencil typefaces? Glad you asked.

Historically, stencils were cut using machines. Typefaces needed to provide bridges to hold in “islands” and to add stability to the stencil, but little else. Pre-cut stencils are sold letter by letter in arts, crafts and hardware stores—again, made by machine.

Modern stencil faces are generally designed for use in print media, for effect. They aren’t intended for making actual stencils. As such, hand-cutting isn’t a consideration. Indeed, many modern designs are “stencilized” versions of existing print typefaces.

Traditional and modern stencil Typefaces

The top four typefaces are in the traditional industrial style. The rest are modern designs. Note Pochoir and Graphic Stylin, both of which are clearly based on print typefaces given the stencil treatment.

Distressed typefaces

The above refugees from the grunge craze are designed to look like stenciled text that’s been sprayed on a surface. The irregular edges make them even harder to use for hand-cutting.

While I doubt that it was their intent, there are typefaces out there that are better than average for hand-cutting.

Getting better

None of these typefaces have any curves, which makes them much easier to cut. Octin Stencil Bold and Militia Sans are my favorites from this batch, due to their simple form and lack of serifs. Even so, short lines like those at the ends of strokes are a nuisance to cut, and slow down the process considerably.

Like I said, this is a quick and dirty survey. I still have lots of research to do about the history of text stencils. Oh, and please excuse the sloppy layout of the type examples…I’m new at this.