Expert class Type design 2020-21

Expert class Type design

Online edition

Registration for the Expert class Type design is closed. This year’s group will have 16 students from 11 countries: USA, Brazil, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Turkey and Australia.

The Expert class Type design will be given a mixed formula this year: we supplement our online lessons with an intensive four-day program in Antwerp, packed with face-to-face lessons, guest lectures, study visits and social activities. The online lessons are undoubtedly attractive for our international students who will save a lot of travel and hotel costs. Thanks to the four days in Antwerp (8–11 November 2021) the students will get to know each other better, while learning about the unique collection of punches and matrices that are preserved in the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

The structure of the course stays the same. However, taking the course online implies that research in the reading room of Museum Plantin-Moretus is not possible. To get around this, students will receive high-quality photos and scans of punches, smoke proofs, matrices, and prints from the museum’s large collection.

The Expert class Type design 2021–22 course consists of nine online sessions given between October and April, and a four-day program with lectures and study visits to different locations in Antwerp (Belgium). The aim of the course is to help students explore and analyze the historical and technical (production) aspects of type and typography, to teach them how to design type in detail, to help them develop an in-depth understanding of the digital font-production process, and to support them in gaining control over related software.

An important aspect of the course is the direct exchange of knowledge and experience between the students. This exchange is stimulated by a type-revival project on which the students must collaborate. The revival is always based on unique historical material from the renowned collection of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. In addition to participating in the revival project, each student must personally design a new typeface, whether it be from scratch or a revival that is, for example, also based on material from the museum’s collection. The course is concluded with an exhibition that takes place annually in the museum (July and August 2022).

The EcTd course is taught by type designer, font producer, software developer, and Senior Lecturer Dr. Frank E. Blokland.


Requirements and admission

The EcTd course is targeted at graphic designers who have a great interest in type and typography. The course is very much internationally oriented and the students come from all over the world. Hence the lessons are taught in English. For entering the course, experience in graphic design, combined with basic drawing skills and knowledge of graphic-design software such as Adobe Illustrator, are considered a prerequisite.

The course provides a good alternative for people who do not have time or the opportunity to follow, for example, the Type & Media master course at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) or the master course in type design at the University of Reading. However, in the course of time a number of students who already hold a Master degree in type design from aforementioned institutes joined the EcTd course.

This year’s online edition is an opportunity for persons interested in the course who are not in the position to travel to Antwerp (on average, once every three weeks). For them especially, we organise this remote edition, which is intended as a one-off exception.

Matrices of Schöffer the younger’s roman capitals kept in the Museum Plantin-Moretus. (Photos taken by the students of the course in 2015–16.)


Four-day program in Antwerp

The morning sessions will be lectures from Frank Blokland. In the afternoon, we will have guest lectures, study visits or social activities. The pictures are from similar study visits we did in 2019, before covid-19.

Monday 8 November:

  • Morning session: Frank Blokland, in the museum classroom.
  • Afternoon: guided visit to the Museum Plantin-Moretus, accompanied by Joost Depuydt, curator of typographical and technical collections;
  • In the reading room we will look at a number of matrix sets and punches that Joost Depuydt will select;
  • Demo: casting type in a hand mould.

Tuesday 9 November

  • Morning session: Frank Blokland, in the museum classroom.
  • Afternoon: Goran Proot, museum classroom;
  • a show-and-tell with books from the Museum;
  • Exercise: the typographical evolution of books between 1500 and 1850.
Library Ruusbroeck society

Wednesday 10 November

  • Morning session: Frank Blokland, in the museum classroom.
  • Free time and social activities.

Thursday 11 November

  • Morning session: Frank Blokland, in the museum classroom.
  • Afternoon: visit to the workshop of Patrick Goossens in Wilrijk;
  • Tour of the collection of iron hand presses from the 19th century;
  • Explanation about the Benton engraver;
  • Printing demos; Demos of the Linotype, Monotype and type casting.
Expert class Type design 2020-21

Program, end terms, and diploma

During the first half of the course the students work together online on a revival based on the invaluable historical material, i.e., punches, matrices, foundry type, and prints, from the collection of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. This revival forms the basis for an intensive exchange of insight, perception, and technical know-how between the students, often via collaboration tools like Slack.

During the second half of the course the students have to design and to technically develop a new typeface. Initial sketches and proposals are usually already made and discussed during the first half of the course. The joined revival and the personal typeface have to be presented in two different booklets with an accompanying text on the process and progress. Evaluation criteria for the personal project are: the depth of the study, the insight in the matter, the aesthetically and technical quality of the produced type, and the originality of the design project.

Students who positively complete the course obtain an officially recognized post-college certificate.


Subjects investigated
– with related research questions

1. Type, typography, and conventions:
What are the restrictions of the systems inherited from the times of foundry type, i.e., with characters on solid rectangles? What do we know about the factors that influenced the proportions and details of the archetypal roman and italic type models? What is the relation between letterforms and typographical conventions? Where do the conventions for present-day digital typography come from?

2. Form, proportions, construction, contrast-sorts, and contrast:
What forms the origin of the proportions, shapes, and details of the historical and modern typefaces that are in use today? Why and in what respect do characters from the style periods differ? What is the relation of type and typography to architecture, sculpture, painting, and music? Which methods can be used to classify type? How and to what extent are the type classifications of, for example, Maximilien Vox and Gerrit Noordzij comparable and overall useful? What is the relation to matters such as contrast-sort and contrast of, for example, serifs?

3. Type design, idiom, and revivals:
What distinguishes one type designer from another? Why and by what features do we recognize and distinguish the type designs of, for example, Garamont, Granjon, Eric Gill, Hermann Zapf, and Jan van Krimpen? What is a revival exactly? How should historical prints be interpreted? How and to what extent should a revival be standardized and adapted to present-day digital technology?

Blokland’s PhD-research at Leiden University, which was conducted to test the hypothesis that Gutenberg and his peers developed a standardized and unitized system for the production of textura type, which consequently was extrapolated for the production of the morphologically related roman-type model, plays an important role in the course. The students use the outcomes for further investigation of Renaissance type.


Digital technology: matters and software discussed (summary)

1. Manual conversion of analogue drawings with a digitizer/lens cursor (IKARUS format) or via autotracing, versus direct drawing on screen.

2. Contour description and font formats: the IKARUS format, cubic Bézier curves (PostScript Type1 / OpenType CFF) and quadratic Bézier curves (TrueType / OpenType TTF).

3. Font-production tools: Glyphs, RoboFont, FontLab Studio, FontForge, FoundryMaster, OTMaster.

4. Glyph databases: development of the glyph set. The construction of character sets. The support of multiple codepages. The (auto) spacing of type.

5. Data management and quality control: checking and improving the consistency of font data.

6. Font-format processing: the (batch) generation of kerning, OpenType Layout features, and hinting.

7. Also: An in-depth introduction in Python scripting: two sessions taught by guest lecturer Lukas Schneider, who developed the LS Cadencer and LS Consistencer tools


Required equipment

EcTd students will be working together with their computers, running macOS, Windows, or Linux. They are provided with font production software in the form of demo and open-source versions. Furthermore some analogue equipment is required: drawing and tracing paper (A4 – 120 grams), propelling pencil (maximum 0.5 mm) with hb or b leads, an eraser, black felt-tip pens (round head, various thicknesses), Stanley knife cutter, adhesive tape, 30 cm ruler (0.5 mm increments) and a broad nib (preferably a Parallel Pen with a 6 mm nib).

Lessons are in English

Lecturer: Dr. Frank E. Blokland
Guest lecturer: Lukas Schneider
Guest lecturers for the program in Antwerp: Joost Depuydt, Goran Proot and Patrick Goossens

Calendar: Nine Wednesdays (online):
In 2021: October 20 and December 8.
In 2022: January 12, January 26, February 9, February 23, March 9, March 30, April 20.
From 11 a.m. till 4.40 p.m. Central European Time
Calendar 4-day program in Antwerp: November 8–11, 2021, from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.

Students from countries without travel restrictions can visit the reading room of the museum to do their research.

Enrolment fee: € 1750

Registration for the Expert class Type design is closed.