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Headboard Typeface

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by M59137, Feb 7, 2012.

  1. M59137

    M59137 Well-Known Member

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    Please move this query if there is a more appropriate section for it. After contemplation, I settled for the steam section as the heyday of the headboard and named trains was during the steam era.

    What were/are the fonts/typefaces used on headboards? I'm aware there are probably as many different headboards as types of loco, but I'm sure you see some of the same styles repeatedly. Styles such as this one seem common.

    The query is in aid of a potential DIY headboard project. As part of this, I wish to know if there is a computer font which is the same as, or as similar as possible, to original typefaces used by BR and its predecessors. Exact accuracy is not essential, but it needs to have that "proper headboard look" (if that makes sense!) to be as far as possible from the amateurish square cardboard monsters that always seem to get slung on the front of "last Class 156 to XXX" specials.

    I'm aware Gill Sans was used extensively for totems, posters etc - was this also used on headboards?
     
  2. 46223

    46223 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Try this excellent book - 'Locomotive Headboards, The Complete Story' by Dave Peel.

    Should answer all your questions.
     
  3. RalphW

    RalphW Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Friend

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    Suggest you contact Procast as they make replicas and will be able to give you the info..
     
  4. Ben Jervis

    Ben Jervis New Member

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    The font for BR headboards is Gill Sans.
     
  5. M59137

    M59137 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the pointers guys, several leads now to follow up... :)
     
  6. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    To be devil's advocate, looking back at the photos from the Beeching era, isn't that exactly what we *should* be seeking for last xxx to yyy events if we are aiming for authenticity? Should be chalk not cardboard of course.
     
  7. M59137

    M59137 Well-Known Member

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    You have a good point. The image in my head when making my post was more of the computer generated examples of the past 10 years rather than the Beeching era.
     
  8. sbt

    sbt New Member

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    Also remember that up until fairly recently, with the advent of printers capable of drawing large templates and vinyl lettering, most larger examples of lettering were done by hand. Up until the 1960's hand lettering was common in larger scale signs, with the change over to recognised typefaces occurring over the 60's and 70's.

    When the typeface was something either generated by physical impact, geometric instructions, templates or casting patterns the ability to lay out signboards etc. was strictly limited. Especially for more complex layouts with curved lines of letters. For one-off layouts at larger letter sizes, even for things like newspapers, it was usually quicker and easier to do the work by hand. This is especially true if things like heraldry was included in a Headboard. A skilled letterer or Signwriter could, and can, produce results that most people today, accustomed to computer typography, would find hard to believe were done by hand.

    The 'typeface' used would often be based on the type fonts of the time but the exact form would be particular to the signwriter. In other work the 'font would be all the signwriters own. In fact many of the 'Display' type fonts available are copies of, or attempts to duplicate, letterforms that were originally created by hand.

    Bottom line? 'What Font' might be a pointless question, there may have been no particular font. I don't have expertise on Headboards as such but I would be looking at the styles of signs and typography appropriate to the chosen 'period' and not being excessivly slavish to an exact font. You might also alter the font, for example the film Titanic lettered the gangway by which passengers boarded with a modern font with a simple change that resulted in a better approximation of the hand painted letters of the time. You might, however, want to check that the original of any font you chose was around at the 'date' of your train, typophiles notice such things.

    Mark Simonson Studio / Notebook: Son of Typecasting

    What I would definitely do is pay particular attention to the kerning (spacing) between letters. Whether cast or written the letters would be hand-kerned, which, done properly, looks subtly better than the automatic kerning computers do. This is especially true of fonts designed for small size display printed large or amateur or other poorly prepared fonts - kerning quality is not immediately evident to the user in the way letter shapes are and so it generally receives less attention when people create fonts. Even when done well the best spacing between pairs of letters changes depending on the word they are in and will change again if they are on a curve. So if I were trying to do a good quality Headboard I would individually adjust the spacing between each pair of letters, if you don't it is likely to look 'wrong' for some reason most people can't pin down, regardless of the typeface used.
     
  9. RalphW

    RalphW Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Friend

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    SBT, thanks for that very informative post, as regards 'kerning', is this then why in some fonts on my PC, there appears to be a half space between certain combinations of letters as the gap is not adjusted to correct it?
     
  10. M59137

    M59137 Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, your post (SBT) has raised factors that I hadn't previously considered. Many thanks.
     
  11. sbt

    sbt New Member

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    Yes. Its worse when, for example, you, or the PC, creates 'Italic' by simply slanting the letters. Not only are Italic letters more than just slanted normal letters they are spaced differently due to the slant and shape differences.

    An extreme example of where kerning is required is, for example, between the letters A and V (admittedly its an unlikely combination). The top of the V should overlap the bottom of the A, with the angled stokes of both parallel. Without Kerning there will be a large gap between the two.

    Its also one reason why organisations try and insist that you don't try and recreate their letterhead or logo from the constituent fonts but use images with the complete logo. The letters may have been hand kerned, something you will not be able to reacreate on your PC without a lot of work. In addition some Logos employ changes to the base typeface or, employ copies of the typeface optimised for large sizes that are not generally available to the ordinary user.

    That last point is relevant to Headboards. The proportions that look good for a given typeface can change as the size gets larger. Font sets produced in a professional manner (that is not the same as professionally produced) for a given typeface will often have separate small (scaled down letters can start to mush parts together and become unreadable) and, more rarely, large versions for this reason.

    The colour can also change the optimum letter shape, the chief effect being whether the letter appears as light on a dark background or dark on a light background. For instance roadsigns use Transport Medium for dark letters on a light background and Transport Heavy for light letters on a dark background. Oh, and Bold (or in this case, Heavy) letters aren't just normal letters with thickened lines, if you do that the gaps in the middle of letters start to distort and disappear.

    I learnt all this as a result of investigating producing my own typeface - I decided not to! :)
     
  12. Richard

    Richard New Member

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    Nice to hear from someone who knows about fonts and how they were used. Indeed when typesetting was done using good old metal the fonts would have slight differences in the 'cut' as the size increased, unlike today when it is just scaled.


    As sbt says display/ad headlines were done by hand until the late 60s when phototypesetting and Letraset became the norm, which could be hand kerned to what was required. I also spent may a happy hour with a scalpel adjusting the letter and word spacing of type setting! Today things a lot quicker using modern graphic programs, but these still need looking over for spacing issues, especially as numbers are not automatically kerned.


    When producing artwork for nameplates, and also the odd headboard, usually the only way to do it is to get a good straight on picture and draw the letters manually over the top using a vector program such as Illustrartor – having some professional training has come in handy here! Even when you think a typeface is perfect, such as Gill Sans for some LNER nameplates, when you lay it over a picture you find some letters are different and the font has to be outlined and adjusted to match.
     
  13. Shoddy127

    Shoddy127 Member

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    And at a sizeable price too! When I enquired about a headboard being made they quoted me a rediculous price that didn't include painting either so with the help of a couple of friends we made one ourselves which certainly did the job!
     
  14. sbt

    sbt New Member

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    Just as part of the reasons for those changes with scale was not just appearance but the behaviour of ink[1], could it be that the some of the deviations from the nominal font you note in cast plates arise from the need to accommodate the limitations of sand moulds and casting metals?

    Can I recommend, for the cheapskates amongst us, the Open Source DTP package Scribus.

    Scribus - Scribus.net

    It's what I used to generate the page headings for my personal website:

    logo.png

    ...which shows the deliberate misuse of sloped text, the differences between true italic and the basic roman form of the face, hand kerning and a rather old typeface, Fell Great Primer from c. 1670 <end self publicity>

    There is probably a nice bit of research to be done by looking through your records. It may be possible to identify the sets of letter patterns used in the foundries, and, maybe, infer something about where and when plates were made, or remade.

    What immediately comes to mind is that I believe in latter years the cast plates for BR were all made in the foundry at Swindon. The question arises, if the plates were nominally 'Gill Sans', were they using the LNER patterns, or maybe a copy of them, or a uniquely Swindon set?

    Have you ever looked to see if the letters you trace from various boards all have the same shape for, say, LNER Gill Sans?

    ----

    [1] Note for the perplexed: Metal type has to allow for the, relatively fixed, spread of ink outside the area actually struck and also avoid 'ink traps', areas where ink can pool and result in less than crisp letter. Ink trap - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia This is why, when digitising a font, you should work from the printed result, not the original type.
     
  15. RalphW

    RalphW Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Friend

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    I was only suggesting Procast as a source of information regarding the typeface, not actually supplying a headboard.
     
  16. Shoddy127

    Shoddy127 Member

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    Yes of course Ralph, just wanted to get the message across that if someone wanted a headboard made then it wouldn't cheap!
     
  17. Richard

    Richard New Member

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    I didn't mentioning ink traps as most people are unfamiliar with printing and didn't want to confuse. The traps were primary used to ensure letters stayed sharp at small sizes. The inks now are a lot better and so it is rarely a problem.

    I have only used Gill for the A4 plates and as I say was surprised at the difference. I assume the LNER was using the style designed by Eric and the version I have has been changed. The Gill style lettering for the steel numbers and letters were specially designed and the original drawings exist for these.

    It is surprising that they went to the bother of have two different type styles for the Bulleid Light Pacifics.
     
  18. K14

    K14 Member

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    I wouldn't be surprised to find that Procast won't tell you for reasons of 'commercial sensitivity'... worth a shot though.

    To add to SBT/Mark's excellent posts, I have two flavours of Gill Sans on my machine - one by Monotype & the other by Adobe. Both are different (in outline and kerning), and neither are a direct crib for BR/LNER Gill Sans, especially in the number sets.

    Here's a quick 'n' dirty computer-generated coach number:

    [​IMG]

    & here's a rough & ready scan of a real one:

    [​IMG]

    The same is true of the oft-quoted Clarendon Bold = GWR Nameplates line. Good enough for some I guess, but the numbers are completely wrong. I did a 'correct' font many years ago (along with a Hawksworth coach font), but the kerning is abysmal - there's a real art to that. They're good enough for graphics, but useless for anything else.

    Pete.
     
  19. PROCAST FOUNDRY LTD

    PROCAST FOUNDRY LTD New Member

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    Afternoon
    I thought our ears were burning!




    We never charge for supplying information ( I know we are in Yorkshire but that would just be taking that stereotype too far !)
    We have in the past supplied information for "free" to individuals who want to make there own nameplates, headboards etc .

    Ian I've had a quick search through our emails but have not been able to find your enquiry about a headboard ( unless you phoned of course) ,if you could Pm me your email address I'll have another look at it. Maybe we pressed the "0" too many times.
    Its very rare we quote a price that doesn't include painting unless asked to do so.

    You are of course correct they are not "Cheap" They are 100% manufactured in England! , not China.
    Not everybody has the time, skills or equipment to produce a headboard, nameplate etc , but as you have found if you do you can produce one for less money that we charge.



    As in my reply to Ian( Shoddy127) we operate pretty much an OPEN HOUSE! .
    Dave Peel came to see us for when he was writing his book 'Locomotive Headboards, The Complete Story'. We were more than happpy to help.


    Many thanks

    Jim
     
  20. Shoddy127

    Shoddy127 Member

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    Hi Jim,

    I was never intending it to sound that you charged for information, I was just quite shocked at the price of making a headboard and that was back in 2009 so apologies if any offence was caused.

    Just had a quick look in my sent email folder and I emailed you 18th June 2009 so it was sometime ago to be fair, maybe the words "Will you marry me?" will ring any bells? ;o)
     

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