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Stencil Typefaces

Goal: To design a family of typefaces that are optimized for cutting out by hand with a hobby knife.

Motivation: To my knowledge, no typefaces exist that take stencil graffiti artists into consideration. Traditional stencil designs were made by machines, modern ones are mainly for use in print media, not intended for actual use. Even those that are usually concern themselves with aesthetics and not practicality. Cutting out text, especially at small sizes, is difficult work that most stencilers dislike. I feel I can change that.

Target Audience: Artists and activists who make their own stencils by hand, and wish to add text to their designs. My typefaces will mitigate the tedium and difficulty commonly associated with using text in home-made stencils.

Design Constraints:

  • Stability: Stencils must deal with the problem of “islands”, negative space that is completely surrounded by positive space. Since the positive space of a stencil is what you cut out, an enclosed negative space would “float” and fall out. Stencil makers usually deal with islands by using “bridges”—small connectors that hold the central shape (that’s masking out the negative space) in place. Adding bridges to a design is a trade off: you want to use as few as possible and make them small, so they don’t intrude on your design, but you also need to make enough of them (and for those to be stable enough) to hold the negative space in place securely.
  • Structural integrity: When a design has sharp angles pointing inward they create “peninsulas”, which create problems: they increase the chance of over-spray, they are likely to get crumpled or frayed when using paper-like media, and can sometimes break off if not handled delicately. A good stencil design places bridges judiciously to avoid such angles, adding stability to the stencil.
  • Legibility: As with any typeface, you need to be able to read it! Especially with political stencils, the message is the most important part of the design. The shapes and lines used in the typefaces must not be over-simplified to the point where they’re hard to recognize as letters. Some letterforms that may seem very abstract on their own benefit from being seen in context (ie with other letters in a word).
  • Simplicity: In designing these typefaces, I’m avoiding tight curves, minimizing strokes needed to cut out each letter, minimizing the number of discrete components in each letterform and sticking to lines that conform to natural and comfortable hand movements. Cutting out the letters should be easy and fast.

Testing: Time and cooperation allowing, each iteration of the typefaces will be user-tested to ensure the design goals are being achieved.


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