Sunday, March 9, 2014

Creating Vintage Documents in Illustrator

The amazingly talented Dean Engelhardt has posted a tutorial on creating vintage documents using Adobe Illustrator.   The step-by-step directions cover everything from period font selection to using a transparency mask to duplicate the spottiness of vintage printing.  I feel safe saying that this is going to be the go-to resource for anyone looking to recreate period documents.

While that already looks pretty reasonable, there are a few things that stop it looking truly vintage. One of the first things I like to do is to tweak the inter-character spacing in text (technically called the “tracking”) of the text. Modern fonts and computer typesetting seems to usually create text where the letters are quite tightly spaced, but old hand-set type was much, much looser — doubtless there’s some historical reason for this. Once you’re used to looking at true vintage typography, samples spaced in a “modern” way just jump out at you as non-authentic.

One of the really great things about Mr. Engelhardt's directions is the level of detail.  The tutorial is very Illustrator specific, but by describing each step of the process he's provided enough information to adapt it to any vector-based program.  I'm specifically thinking of Inkscape, a free and open source alternative to Illustrator.


Seraph said...

"old hand-set type was much, much looser — doubtless there’s some historical reason for this" -- The reason is pretty self-evident, really. As it was hand-set, characters were physical medium and so they had to have that spacing in order to be set into a printing plate correctly. Digital printers use a dot-matrix interface and so each character really isn't that important on its own.

Rev. Marx said...

You do such a great job of gathering wonderful resources for us all. I really wish you would consider adding a search widget to your site. So many times I find myself thinking of revisiting an article I read here, but then have trouble finding it again.

CoastConFan said...

If you are old enough to remember pica poles and points from the old days of letter press, the explanation about printing being looser (in some cases) is quite correct.
What we call now computer kerning on electronic font characters was previously done with very thin brass shims between individual metal characters in impact printing, allowing you to spread out a line of text if you liked.

In that sense, you are doing your own manual kerning, which is now computer controlled. I’m not sure how controllable the old mergenthaler composer was as far as tweaking, but certainly hand set type could be worked to spread out text and by using no shims, compress the letters to the physical minimum. As slow as hand composing was, putting back the letters when you were finished was a massive headache. Back in those days, the only computer you had was your mind and all the drudge work was laboriously done by hand. Thank heavens for computers!

Propnomicon said...

@ Rev. Marx

You should find a search window in the upper left hand corner of every page. It's part of the Blogger bar there on the top.