Twenty Years of FF Hands
When in 1991 the two handwriting faces FF Erikrighthand and FF Justlefthand appeared on the market as part of the very first FontFont release Five Dutch Type Designers, the scripts had two (quite intentional) birth defects:
- They were published as “Hands 1”; however there never was a “Hands 2”;
- The two script fonts were done quick and dirty.
Both defects were were never ironed out – until today, after 20 years. However both could neither prevent that those early works by of Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum became worldwide best-sellers, and spawned innumerable imitators.
Originally Erikrighthand and Justlefthand were meant as pure fun fonts, as provocative statements against perfectionism, similar to the Randomfont Beowolf. The history of their conception and development can be read in the book Made with FontFont. At the end of 1990 Erik van Blokland resides in New York; his “Random Twin” Just van Rossum in Berlin. One evening it occurs to them that – at the request of Joan and Erik Spiekermann – they are still to contribute two script fonts to the fledgling FontFont library, a light and a bold design. Because of the physical distance and/or the stone age means of communication (fax machine), with his right hand “faraway Erik” draws forceful letters on a fax form using a felt tip pen, while Just grabs a Fineliner in his left hand to and does the same in a light script. Subsequently, a scanner as well as the software applications Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Streamline, and Fontographer are put to the task, and the script volume FF Hands 1 featuring four fonts is finished. It aims to stop the gap in the market for informal handwriting, and becomes a global success.
As I have been a member of the FontFont Typeboard for 20 years – and in that capacity jointly responsible for the publication of numerous new typefaces – today I would like to burst the bubble of many regarding the concept of commissioned type design. It truly is a fairy tale that foundries can have their favourite designers produce one best-seller after the other, like at an assembly line. This simply does not work. You can compare it to book publishing houses who face the exact same problem, as this only succeeds in exceptional cases. For every author of hit series such as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, there is an army one hit wonders.
You would not believe in how many of the 55 TypeBoard meetings until today I inquired with Erik van Blokland – as he also is a founding member of the TypeBoard – when FF Hands would finally be finished. It was supposed to be a display version of the original typefaces, with more refined character outlines, and more node points. The reason the first versions in 1991 were digitised so coarsely was not mere sloppiness. For reasons of stability the PostScript environment at that time (computer, printer, Adobe Type Manager) did not permit copying rough script glyphs digitally into final branch. The rule of thumb was that more than 20 node points per letter would guarantee that a Quark XPress page would fail, or that the font would not be implemented in the final output.
Finally, at the occasion of FontFont Release 54, we are happy to present the new and improved FF Erikrighthand and FF Justlefthand. Packaging designers, poster artists, store front letterers (a typical application field for FF Hands) can draw breath. The main reason for the overhaul is the phasing out of PostScript. FontFont has stopped offering this format; all new fonts are only available in OpenType (as .otf and .ttf), and the older fonts in the library are gradually being converted to the new formats. Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum took this opportunity to revise their classic designs.
Although the two type designers from the Hague are still friends, they don’t collaborate as closely as 10 to 20 years ago any longer. For this reason they revisited their youthful handwriting with a different philosophy. Erik van Blokland on the one hand took advantage of the evolution in technology, just like he already demonstrated masterfully with the impressive new FF Trixie – see also this FontFeed post – for a fundamental reworking of the individual glyphs. It lends FF Erikrighthand a new momentum, which makes it look even more like an authentic felt tip pen script. Nevertheless the typeface kept its spontaneous charm, so it can continue to be used as a convincing imitation of handwriting, and finally in large dimensions as well.
On the other hand Just van Rossum decided to let his revision stay faithful to the original version of his typeface, and not do a radical reinterpretation… like the Beatles with their music. He did not touch the individual glyph shapes, however he added several hundred additional ligatures and accented characters, so that now also FF Justlefthand accommodates the requirements of contemporary OpenType typography with regards to both features and language support.
More than simple handwriting fonts, the original release already featured small caps, oldstyle figures, and ligatures. Formerly located in separate Expert and Small Caps fonts, those were integrated in the OpenType character set. This makes the script fonts more practical and easier to use. Kerning was improved, and connections and ligatures provide a better text image. Furthermore the fonts now offer extended language support and localised forms. You can find out more about the aesthetics and the technical features of FF Hands in the two Specification Sheets (PDF) which are linked to the two illustrations above.
Read more about FontFont Release 54 and download the specimen PDFs explaining the new OpenType versions of popular FontFonts on Unzipped.
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