Designing a Handwritten Devanagari Typeface

We now live in a world of saturated visual language. Yet for its ubiquity, the magic of the alphabet remains undiminished and the diversity of letterforms continues to be a source of wonder and delight. The process of exploring new territories is always exciting. So when Rugwed approached me with his project idea, I didn’t even have to think twice before I knew I wanted to take it up.

The Intention:

Rugwed Deshpande, of Setu Advertising, wanted to commission the design of a typeface based on the handwriting of his father – Mr. Sharad Deshpande – who has been a prolific copywriter for 50 year sand an intrinsic part of Setu. Rugwed explained how handwriting has been an important aspect of his father’s copywriting career. Mr. Sharad Deshpande maintained many diaries documenting his writings and what made them extra special was his beautiful, neat handwriting. It was when he suffered a mild paralysis attack, that he lost the ability to write, a couple years back. It was disheartening for a copywriter who was so proud of his writing, to not be able to continue doing what he loved so much. But the Deshpande brothers decided to gift their father something very unique on his 75th birthday – his handwriting. Current technology makes it possible to convert a person’s handwriting into a digital font that they can use to type in various applications. Rugwed saw great potential in this idea and approached me with this project proposal. This gesture was extremely overwhelming and it’s been humbling experience to be a part of this project.

Brief:

Writers love to share their writing with their audience and Rugwed thought it would be a great idea if his father could share his handwriting along with his writing. The concept for the project was exciting to me since I haven’t really come across a handwritten Devanagari font in the format we were planning on designing.

Picture1

Scan of the handwriting from Mr. Deshpande’s diary

 

Process:

Understanding features-

Being a copywriter, Mr. Deshpande had many diaries filled with his writings, so we had many samples to look at before starting the project. His handwriting is very neat and at times even resembled printed text. We began with making high resolution scans of these samples, and found there were mainly two distinct styles of handwriting. After going through the available samples,we decided to digitize version B – the style that seems to be more commonly seen in the samples.

Picture2

Scan of the sample styles A (left) and B (right)

The nature of handwriting is such that no two letters are ever exactly alike. So I printed a lot of these samples to carefully study and understand the defining characteristics of his handwriting.

Some of the most unique features that I made note of while studying the samples were:

– The shirorekha is disconnected

– The shapes of letters are round and open

Variations:

While studying the samples I saw so many different versions of the same letter. To keep the nature of the handwritten text intact, I decided to include many alternates of each letter instead of selecting just one. Handwritten fonts without alternates look too uniform; so the illusion of realism is lost. Modern font engineering gives the ability to display a number of versions of the same letter, in a seemingly random order, so the resulting text looks similar to an authentic handwritten texture. But even though it’s possible to have multiple variations of a letter, too many would complicate the project and push the limits of font files.

Picture3

Studying the scans and marking characteristics of different letter-forms.

While choosing the alternates, it was important to make sure the alternates were not too different but at the same time, not too similar. Studying the variety of letters in the scans, I selected the ones that were the most repeated and best representing the overall look of the handwriting.

Picture4

Picture5

Selected alternates for some vowels and consonants

The main vowels and consonants, vowel signs, and marks, each have four alternates. Conjuncts and numerals have two alternates. The numbers of alternates were based on the frequency of the characters appearing in Marathi text – so the letters that occur more often have more versions to keep the handwritten nature in the text.

Digitization:

After short-listing the alternates from the scanned samples, these selected letters were traced in Illustrator. I made a grid in Illustrator to make sure the scale of all the traced letters was uniform. The resulting outlines were then copied into Glyphs, the application encoded the collection of letters into a font file, where they were manually fine-tuned.

Picture6

Working on spacing at my desk, at the Mota Italic studio in Mumbai.

Picture7

Screenshot of the Glyphs window showing some of the alternates and vowel marks.

Picture8

Screenshot of a Glyphs metrics window. (Glyphs metrics window does not show anchor positioning hence the position error with e-matra).

To replicate the feel of the handwritten text as much as possible, it was imperative to keep the right amount of irregularities intact: the shirorekha is disconnected and not always aligned, some letters are darker than others to mimic uneven ink distribution, and the spacing is slightly uneven. Adding these nuances makes the digitally typeset typeface render incredibly similar to the handwritten journals.

 

Sharad-deshpande

Picture10

Sharad Typeface next to a scan of the handwriting.

Picture11

Typesetting Sharad typeface in different sizes.

This project was one of the most exciting and fulfilling typefaces I’ve worked on. The challenge of designing a handwritten Devanagari font with alternates, something that is truly one of its kinds, was a thoroughly exciting process. I am humbled and happy with the feedback from Setu team.

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Designer Bio: Kimya Gandhi is an independent font designer and partner at MotaItalic, a type foundry currently based in Mumbai.At Mota Italic, she works with numerous organizations, catering to Indic and Latin design requirements for retail and custom corporate projects. See more on http://www.motaitalic.com

To download Sharad 76 font, just click here and enhance the old world charm of your typing.

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