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Tag Archives: type

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.


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.

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.

Here’s one approach I’m trying, using shape instead of line. How minimal a shape can I make before you can’t recognize the letter? One thing to consider is that if a problematic letter is in context, i.e. in a word, that will mitigate its illegibility. Other consideration: If the angles pointing inside are to long and sharp, you get floppy peninsulas. If that wasn’t an issue, these would be really easy. But it is, and so is the fact that all closed counters, eyes, etc. are filled in. Sort of a tribute to my friend David Z. from Santa Cruz who hand-cut his text on the fly and never bothered to make bridges for closed letters like R, B, D, A and the rest. Potential name: Lazy Vandal. There will be two versions, lazy and extra lazy. Extra lazy will look more like the glyphs in the photo. Lazy will be a little more complex, with multiple shapes making up the glyphs.

Second draft for Lazy Vandal

I did this draft during a morning lab shift.

I’m recruiting beta testers:

Hi guys and gals,

I’m looking for a few volunteers to help me with a design project I’m doing on stencil fonts. I’m trying to come up with some new fonts that are designed to be easy to cut. I need some people with stenciling experience to test drive the prototypes (no pun intended) and give me feedback.

Anybody wanna help out? It’s a volunteer project and I can’t pay anybody, but you get to participate in something that I hope will be a big contribution to the stencil community.

Sent to CDT type teachers, posted on Stencil Revolution. Hoping to get onto Wooster when they start posting again. Here’s what I sent them:

Exfish Design is hard at work prototyping a new set of stencil fonts designed to be easily cut by hand. Virtually all available stencil typefaces are made to be cut by machine or used as design elements in print or digital media. These will be the first fonts ever made specifically for street artists. The letterforms conform to comfortable hand motions, and refrain from using small curves and tricky corners. If you’re armed with nothing but a spray can, an X-acto and a pile of card stock, Exfish stencil fonts will allow you to cut text easily and fast. Oh yeah, and we’re gonna give them away for free. We’re looking for beta testers to evaluate our prototypes! If interested, send an email to

Also sent out a specimen sheet:

Specimen sheet

Specimen sheet

Seems lots of folks in CDT are taking interest in my little hobby. I’m totally psyched, naturally.

Note to self: come up with a cooler name than “The Stencil Typeface Project”. Sounds like some shitty 70s cock rock band.

Abstract: The goal of this project is to produce a set of stencil-ready typefaces that will be easy and fast to cut out by hand.

Background: Traditional typefaces used for stenciling (army, industry) were designed to imitate normal Roman typefaces, and were cut by machine. Many stencil fonts available online are designed to imitate printed typefaces. Others mimic the look of a sprayed stencil with a grunge/distressed feel. Some are genuinely original, but still fail to account for actual usage as a template for cutting. The main problems tend to be small lines and tricky curves.

I’m targeting an audience of street artists and activists, who don’t have access to a stencil-maker or a laser cutter—just their own two hands, an X-acto blade and some manilla card stock. My fonts will be designed to follow natural hand movements with a minimum of small lines, weak bridges and awkward curves.I’ll be trying several different approaches, and making right- and left-handed versions. All prototypes will be user tested repeatedly.