The popularity of multi-colored, or polychromatic type is on the rise. Not a sharp upturn necessarily, but I’m seeing it more and more. The concept I’m referring to is the bundling of a set of fonts with identical metrics, designed to layer on top of one another, so that a single character or letterform can be set in more than a single color. And since I love these, I’ve prepared an accompanying how-to portion called Polychromatic Type: Dress in layers, with all the “mechanical” details. For now though, I just wanted to point out a few features and general considerations, leaving most of the education to one’s own eyes.
Martin Wenzel’s FF Primary, 1995. Four fonts stack on top of one another here, each covering a top, right, bottom, or left side only. Playing with FF Primary tests one’s ability to understand and manage color relationships, which is 95% of getting these to work. The other 5% is knowing when to stop.
Jonathan Barnbrook, Marcus Leis Allion’s Hopeless Diamond, 2009. Especially in faces that imitate a 3-dimensional quality, it’s important to use a background color with a low enough value that it allows sufficient range for differentiating between highlight and shadow.
FF Primary again. While it may appear that gradient fills are at work above, what you’re seeing (or rather not seeing) is the harnessing of an optical phenomenon called simultaneous contrast. The eye sees that the blue shadow above grows darker as it’s cast farther from the red letters.
Ryoichi Tsunekawa’s Grandes Vacances, 2007. Note how naturally topheavy the design is when both parts are presented in the same color. This is counteracted above by setting the bottom portion in a much lighter value, causing it to appear more or less of equal weight.
(Update: I found Dave Foster’s tweet a bit alarming—“No mention of Photolettering?” Though I’m sure this came with the truest intentions, and certainly no umbrage was taken by me, I felt the arm of the question mark reach out and give the back of my head a smack. How could I have left out Photolettering? While not marketed and sold as fonts per se, (well, some are, elsewhere) House Industries’s Photo-Lettering Inc. website, up since April 2011, has an impressive selection of polychromatic alphabets, and a great, easy to use interface. And not all of the faces are from the original Photo-Lettering Inc. catalog. See Erik van Blokland’s Federal, Jeremy Mickel’s Sobriquet. After setting the word or phrase, final output is PDF. Also, two good examples so far in the comments. Keep them coming.)
Follow to the continuation how-to below: