THE art of lettering is at once simple and complex. It consists in far more than the ability_ to draw or paint letters well, important though this is. Such considerations as spacing, setting-out, suitability for purpose and other equally relevant factors must also be taken into account.
It is probably true to say that first-rate lettering is relatively seldom found in the work of the average sign writer. This is not to say that there are not many men who can and do turn out exceedingly good work, but there are many more who, either from lack of opportunity or inclination to take the art seriously, fail to give it the attention and study it so well deserves. They are, or soon become, men of one style, able to supply the demand for cheap, slick lettering, but unable to carry out work which possesses, as all good lettering should possess, any decorative quality.
Broadly speaking, the chief essential in all lettering is legibility. It is used to convey a message and intended to be read, and if this cannot be done with reasonable ease, it is not fulfilling its function properly. This need not debar it from being pleasing to the eye and there is no reason why these two properties should not be combined, without either being sacrificed to the other. True, there are occasions when its purpose is primarily decorative and when legibility takes second place as, for example, in some forms of Gothic or Black Letter work, commonly used in churches. But in practically every other instance, legibility is of prime importance and this fact must always be kept in mind. It depends not only on the shape and design of the letters, but also on the way in which they are combined, arranged, and presented.
Tools and Equipment
The tools and equipment required by the sign writer are not elaborate but should be of the best quality if he hopes to produce good work. The most important items are the brushes, more usually known as pencils. These are of different sizes and are named according to the quills used as a binder or handle. In order of size, they are as follows:
Lark (smallest), crow, duck, large duck, small goose, goose, extra goose, small swan, middle swan, and large swan.
In best-grade pencils, the hairs are of red sable which, better than any other, retain their shape when charged with colour and have a natural elasticity or spring which is essential for good results. Brown sable pencils are somewhat cheaper, but, though quite effective, are definitely inferior to the red. Ox-hair pencils are cheaper still and proportionately poorer in quality, though the larger sizes are frequently used for work on a bigger scale.
The handles are usually made of cedar wood and the quills should fit snugly, without any tendency to split. Good pencils are expensive, but they will last a long time if they are properly cleaned and taken care of, and if they are not misused as, for instance, by being employed for mixing colours or by being jabbed on to the palette. Cleaning should always be carried out as soon as work is completed, the paint being rinsed out with turpentine or white spirit, and tallow being worked into the hairs – always from the roots towards the tips – in order to maintain the shape of the brush; the tallow used in this way must, of course, be removed with turpentine or other grease solvent, before the pencil is put into use again.
When not in service, pencils should preferably be kept in a flat box with a lid, to prevent them from picking up dust. They should be stored so that the hairs are not in contact with the sides of the box, or any other surface which might affect the point, if the box is moved or tilted. One way of doing this is to have a number of strips of fairly rigid sheet metal, about two inches wide and one inch longer than the pencils, two or three of which can be laid on each strip, so that the tips of the hairs are at least half an inch from one of the ends, the handles being secured to the strips with a couple of rubber bands. The strips should be painted or japanned to protect them from rusting.
Other necessary or useful articles of equipment need little or no description; they include a palette board, a palette knife, and a number of dippers for colours. These are available with fittings so that they can be clipped on to the palette board, but many sign writers are content to use ordinary small tins which serve the purpose well enough. There should also be a straight-edge, chalk, and string for ‘snapping’ lines, and a mahl-stick; the last-named consists of a stick, which should not be too flexible, padded at one end, and is used to steady the wrist when the writer is at work, the pad resting against the surface of the board, and the rod being held firmly in the left hand.
Choice of Paints
The chief requirements for paints used in sign writing are durability under prolonged exposure to damp and heat, fastness to light, denseness, and reasonable speed of drying, in order that the whole work may be finished and varnished in a relatively short time to protect the surface from dirt or rain. These properties can only be ensured by a careful selection of materials, and by paying a good price for them, for in sign writing, more, perhaps, than in any other form of painting, cheap materials are apt to prove an expensive luxury in the long-run.
The preparation of the surface and preliminary work follow normal house-painting procedure, care being taken to observe the rules of coat sequence ; as much time and attention as possible should be given to this preparatory work, bearing in mind that any faults, clue to neglect, will be even more obvious on relatively small-scale work, such as sign writing involves for the most part, than on larger surfaces encountered in ordinary painting. Good-quality knotting, primer, stopping, filling, and undercoats, as used in the latter, are quite satisfactory.
For the ground coat, high-grade enamel, enamel paint, high-gloss or oil paint are all suitable, and these can be employed for the lettering as well. It must be remembered, however, that any paint used for the actual writing must also lend itself to easy application with the pencil; it is quite impossible to execute good lettering with colour which does not flow properly from the brush, and many mixtures which are quite satisfactory for ordinary house painting are deficient in this property when used with a writer’s pencil.
Colours ground in turpentine, and bound with mixing varnish or gold size, are fairly extensively employed by the sign writer or, alternatively, ready-bound colours, thinned with turpentine, with additional binder, when necessary, in the form of varnish or gold size, can be used. Gold size, if of good quality, is an extremely useful material, more especially since it has strong drying properties, but it should be used with discretion, bearing in mind that its film has little flexibility and is inclined to be brittle. Thus, it is not calculated to withstand prolonged exposure to the weather, and, if any more elastic coating is applied on one containing a high proportion of gold size, cracking is not unlikely to occur.
The colours used by the letterer include practically all the pigments, from white lead to drop black. It is necessary that they be of first-class quality and especially that they have good body, as otherwise it may be necessary to go over the work a second time. Colours put up in tubes are usually preferred; first because they are almost always of good quality, and secondly because they are convenient and economical. Only just sufficient for the job in hand need be squeezed out and, if wished, the particular tint or shade required may be mixed on the palette, but this is a dangerous practice, as it is difficult to keep the tint uniform throughout the work. Several firms put up sign writers’ colours in very large tubes and these are recommended for use in preference to ordinary artists’ tube colours, which, it need hardly be added, are too expensive for general use.
Only high-grade varnishes should be used by the sign writer, and their choice needs some care. Their elasticity should always be related to that of the paints employed; premature failure of work by cracking is often the result of neglecting to observe this rule as when, for instance, short-oil, rather brittle types of varnish are applied over lettering or ground coats executed in more flexible paint.
Colour and Durability
The choice of colours plays a not unimportant part in the durability of a painted sign. Generally speaking, dark colours are less likely to develop defects unreasonably early than are paints of lighter shades, for, although they absorb and retain more heat from the rays of the sun, they are usually less likely to be ‘ loaded ‘ with pigment than are white or light-coloured paints.
A large proportion of boards is lettered in black on a white ground, and, from more than one point of view, there is much to be said in favour of this treatment. The reverse – white lettering on a black ground – is less satisfactory. In an attempt to make the lettering cover in one coat, there is a general tendency to use over-pigmented and under-bound mixtures for the white, and the result is only too frequently to be seen in the cracking and crazing of the letters. The finest grade of flake white, or equal parts of zinc white and titanium white, should be employed, of such consistency as to flow easily. The titanium-zinc-white mixture gives a beautifully intense white, but should be sufficiently bound to dry with at least an egg-shell gloss, or it is liable to turn chalky or crack.
As an alternative to a black ground for white lettering, a deep nigger brown, made from black oxide of iron and burnt umber, is to be recommended, or, alternatively, a dark shade of green, mixed from deep chrome green darkened with drop black or Prussian blue. Both the nigger brown and the dark green are at least as attractive in appearance, provide sufficient contrast to give good legibility, and appear, in practice, to be slightly more durable than the average black ground.
Choice and Treatment of Boards
In many cases the sign writer is given no choice as to the type of board on which his work is to be carried out, yet this is a matter which deserves far more consideration than it commonly receives. Exterior signs are subjected to sun and rain to a greater extent than are other forms of outside painting, since to fulfil their object they are naturally placed in as conspicuous, and consequently exposed, position as can be found for them.
Wood, metal, wallboard, and other composition sheets may all be used for various types of signs, the choice of material depending on the size of the sign, the cost, and other factors. If wood is employed, it should be dry and well-seasoned pine, spruce, mahogany, etc., and if the size of the sign necessitates the use of two or more boards, they should be put together in a dry workshop and the priming applied under cover, in order to avoid any absorption of moisture m the early stages. Tongue-and-groove joints are to be preferred to glued joints; there is a risk, should a defect develop in the paintwork, of the glue absorbing water or atmospheric moisture, in which event it will swell, and, if the sign becomes overheated from the rays of the sun, the joint will gape, to the detriment of the paintwork. As an alternative to glue, a paste made from a mixture of whiting and white lead, mixed with about two parts of gold size to one part of boiled oil until a thick consistency is obtained, should be substituted.
The end-grain of most woods is exceedingly open and very porous and any exposed edges offer an opportunity for the access of moisture. They should, therefore, be sealed by priming – preferably double-priming – and painting with a good white-lead paint. Alternatively, the end-grain can be made perfectly watertight by several applications of molten paraffin wax, applied with a small brush. Care should be taken not to allow the wax to run on to any part of the surface which has subsequently to be painted, or its presence will prevent the drying and adhesion of the paint.
However flat and smooth a wooden board may be to start with, there is always a certain amount of risk that warping, or a shrinkage of the softer portion of the grain, may distort its surface, and there is much to be said in favour of various types of wallboard or composition sheets in which these defects do not develop. When cost allows, metal-faced plywood will be found most satisfactory; although the surface of the metal is of the smooth, rather greasy type, there should be no difficulty in obtaining adhesion, provided that it is primed with a very thin coat of oily paint, and allowed to harden well before the next coat is put on.
Sheet iron or steel, or other ferrous metals, must be free from rust, all traces of which must be removed by sand-blasting, wire-brushing, or other suitable treatment, before the metal is painted.
Choice of Lettering
The letters of the alphabet, it should be remembered, are only symbols to be formed into words, and there are limitations in the extent to which their individual shapes can be altered without making them meaningless and thereby destroying their purpose. Their outlines are familiar to all who can read, and the greater the departure from the traditional form of these outlines, the less legible the lettering becomes.
We owe our alphabet to the Romans, since it is based on the magnificent inscription on the base of the column erected in honour of the Emperor Trajan in the year A.D. 114. For elegance, dignity, and the ease with which it can be read, no other style can compare with it, and the best examples of present-day work are nearly always those in which the finest characteristics of Roman lettering have been adopted. Its merits are, perhaps, appreciated more to-day than was the case at the beginning of the present century, when the design of lettering generally throughout the country was of poor quality. Nowadays it (or, more usually, variations of it) is used by many municipal authorities as well as by a large number of commercial concerns. It still remains the standard of good taste in lettering, and no better form can be adopted for public notices and signs.
It is well to emphasise this point, since new styles of lettering are continually being produced, some of them so distorted as to be barely recognisable for what they are intended to represent. The sole objective of many of the extreme examples of these styles is novelty, and, in an effort to achieve it, all the essential qualities of good lettering are sacrificed. For the most part they are ephemeral creations, for, once the novelty has worn off, there is nothing to justify their continued existence.
However tempting it may be to try to produce something which seems new and original, the beginner will be well advised not to do so until he has mastered the more familiar and orthodox forms. Once he has done this, he can, so long as the basic essentials of the standard type are preserved, begin to take certain liberties with it, introducing slight variations and gradually evolving an individual style of his own. In point of fact, the original Roman alphabet is seldom exactly copied; it lends itself to an almost infinite number of different treatments and interpretations.
For this reason it is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down any set rules for the execution of individual letters, and the brief notes which follow are intended only as general guidance. Many exceptions to the principles which they suggest can be found in the work even of acknowledged experts, but, broadly speaking, they represent treatment followed by the majority of competent craftsmen.
It is quite possible to work out the letters of the Roman alphabet by simple geometric means and this should be helpful in showing the relative proportions of each. It will be noted, for instance, that A and V are identical, so far as their angles are concerned and that each, with its serifs, occupies the whole of a square. Others letters which take up practically all the square are: D, H, N, and U.
The widest letter is W, which is simply two Vs placed so that the apex of the lower angle formed by the intersection of the inner arms is on the centre line; M is the only other letter which extends beyond the limits of a square.
The curved letters do not conform exactly to geometrical methods. O and Q, are slightly less in width than a circle, while it is hardly possible to construct an elegant and pleasing S by these means. The cross-stroke of the A is placed at half the height of the inside angle of the letter, while the centre stroke of the E is slightly above the middle; that of F should be either on the centre line or very little below it, and that of H either on it or very slightly above. The straight stem of the G finishes on the horizontal centre line, and the sloping arms of K and Y commence on it.
General Proportions of Letters
The observations above refer to the classic Roman alphabet, and, though this is the basis of all good lettering, it is not often used in its pure form for ordinary purposes. It is consequently impossible to try to establish rigid rules for the proportions of individual letters, since a great deal of latitude is permissible in this respect; variations on the Roman alphabet can legitimately include both extended and condensed forms, the choice of which will be influenced by such considerations as the space available in each line and the length and character of the inscription.
As some kind of guide to proportions, we can make the following broad classifications: Breadth approximately equal to the height: G, D, G, O, Q Breadth approximately three-quarters of the height: A, B, H, K, M, N, P, R, T,U,V,X,Y,Z.
Breadth approximately two-thirds of the height: E, F, L, S.
This leaves I and J, which are substantially narrower than the rest, and W which, in practice, is subject to so much variation as to defy classification.
For lower-case letters, the generally accepted height is about three-quarters that of the capital letter, with two-fifths each for the ascenders and descenders.
A point which often worries the beginner is the width of the strokes. This must, of course, depend on the nature of the lettering and also on whether the writing is intended to be read at any great distance, but, in this matter, some guidance is afforded by the original Trajan inscription; in the latter, the width of the down strokes at their broadest point is approximately one-tenth of the height of the letter, and this may be regarded as a suitable proportion for average work on public notice-boards or fascia?. If, however, the writing is intended to carry with it a suggestion of grace or elegance, and is not meant to be viewed from very far away – as, for instance, on the fascia of a shop in a street which is not over-wide – the strokes may well be thinner – say, about one-twelfth of the height. If legibility from some distance is counted as the most important factor, they should be made substantially thicker.
Influence of the Lettering Tool
In copying and adapting an alphabet it is worth while remembering that the design of all good lettering must be influenced to some extent by the nature of the tool with which it is carried out and good lettering should, in fact, betray in some degree the characteristics of the tool employed. Thus, letters intended for carved or incised work in wood or stone must inevitably be of a somewhat rigid and formal design, while those for the brush or pen can be far freer in treatment. A good example of this is to
be noted in the use of serifs, 1.e. the small strokes which terminate the tops and bottoms of vertical members and the unattached end of horizontal members; in carved work, these are, for the most part, small and straight, though some eighteenth-century incised lettering, to be found in many old churchyards, provides some remarkable exceptions to this observation. Painted or pen-made lettering, on the other hand, offers opportunities for larger, more curved and less restrained treatment. But there are limits to what can be done without distorting the essential shape; a good deal of licence, in this respect, is permissible in, for example, some forms of cursive lettering, but not in that based on the Roman alphabet. In some instances of the latter the length and curve of the serif are so exaggerated as to make what is normally the vertical stroke appear concave; this kind of thing is best avoided.
Sans-serif or Block-lettering
Of recent years the sans-serif (sans means ‘ without ‘) or block-letter has gained greatly in popularity, particularly for ‘ utility ‘ work on public notices and signs which aim at being informative rather than decorative. Because of the absence of serifs and other ornamental touches, and because the strokes are – or appear to be – of uniform thickness throughout, there is an impression that block-lettering is easy; in a sense, this is true, but it should be added that, perfectly executed – which it very seldom is – it is just as difficult as any other. It has been said that the all-round skill of the letterer is best judged by his ability to carry out plain block-lettering, and it provides, in fact, as good a test as any.
The best block-lettering of the modern type is founded on the proportions of the classical Roman letter, though considerable latitude is allowable in the matter of interpretation. It is desirable to give the appearance of the same thickness of stroke throughout, but this is best achieved, in practice, by making the horizontal members very slightly thinner than the vertical.
This style lends itself quite well both to condensed and expanded forms, provided the width of the stroke is carefully regulated. If sans-serif work is condensed, only a light stroke should be employed; a much thicker stroke can be used for an expanded form, though, unless the letters are well spaced out, this does not make for legibility. There is a small but steady demand for a ‘ squared ‘ version of this style but this, again, is open to the objection of not being particularly easy to read. When angles are given to letters which are ordinarily curved, the first impression is apt to be rather a confused one; in such circumstances the eye does not, for example, readily distinguish between an O and a D.
Because of its simplicity and the speed with which it can be executed, block-lettering is likely to remain in favour and should be practised by the beginner. Its usefulness is undeniable, and the worst fault which can be found with it is that it tends to look rather mechanical since it does not offer such scope for variations and individual touches as do most other styles of writing.
In strong contrast is ‘ Black Letter,’ ‘ Gothic,’ or ‘ Old English ‘ as it is better known to the sign writer – a form of lettering which in Victorian days, at the time of the Gothic revival, was very popular in this country. Nowadays its use is almost exclusively confined to ecclesiastical lettering since it is traditionally associated with church work, and, except by those who specialise in the latter, it is seldom employed. Admittedly, the most frequent accusation against it – that it is difficult to read – is well founded, though to some extent this depends on the skill and knowledge of the letterer. What it lacks in legibility, however, it more than makes up for in decorative qualities; in this respect its possibilities are very great, especially if the work permits initial capitals to be elaborated and treated in gold and colour.
Models in Print
The number of alphabets designed for the letterer and sign writer is legion and is constantly being increased, though most of the more grotesque examples have only a relatively short life and soon go out of use. The keen student of the art will find plenty of good models if he keeps his eyes open, not only in alphabets expressly intended for the pen or the brush, but also in printed matter, such as in advertisements, book jackets, and packages of one sort or another; these can often be most successfully adapted for his own purpose.
A type-book issued by a good firm of printers, will be found an especially useful source of inspiration. A fine example of modern block-lettering, for instance, is to be found in the type known as Gill Sans (designed by Eric Gill, one of the best exponents of lettering), while good examples of the Roman style are such types as Caslon, Plantin, Garamond, and Baskerville. Those in search of lettering of a less classical variety will not be disappointed. While such alphabets are meant for a very different purpose from that of painted or pen-lettering, they often contain ideas which can be exceedingly helpful to the sign writer.
Setting Out Work
A knowledge of mechanical and freehand drawing is, as already explained, very desirable for every decorator, but it is essential in the case of the lettcrer, because he must know how to set out the sign and also possess the necessary ‘ swing of the arm ‘ in painting the letters. The best possible practice for acquiring this art is to use a piece of chalk on a blackboard such as is found in schools. The chalk should be held firmly and curves made in various directions, as well as straight lines, vertical, horizontal, and oblique, should be drawn boldly and at a single stroke. No attempt should be made to sketch but rather to obtain a graceful curve or a series of curves quickly and without hesitation in conjunction with straight lines drawn at various angles. It will be found that if this practice is carried on for, say an hour a day for a few weeks, a very considerable mastery of the pencil will be obtained.
The beginner may, with advantage, follow the rather elaborate method of setting out work, until he gains sufficient confidence to dispense with all the guide lines except those which mark the top and bottom of a line of lettering. These should be snapped with a chalk-line, so that they can be easily wiped off when the work is completed. The number of letters to be inscribed in each line of writing should be counted, and the middle one sketched in in the centre, making allowances, however, for the width of individual letters and also for spaces between words.
It is often assumed that there should be an equal area of space between letters, but this does not work out satisfactorily in practice, and the spacing is a matter of judgement rather than of precise measurement. The aim should be to give an appearance of uniformity in this respect, actually varying the distance slightly, according to the width and design of adjoining letters.
It is sound practice to make the ‘ rounded ‘ letters (C, G, O, Q,, and S) extend very slightly beyond the guide lines; if they are made the same size, they are apt to appear rather shorter than the adjacent letters.
The dimensions of the margins should be approximately the same as in the case of square panels, but if the shape is very elongated, greater width should be allowed at each side.
As a general rule, lines of lettering on an inscription should not average more than 26 letters – the same number as in the alphabet; the longer they are, the more difficult they are to read; with a long inscription on a wide panel it is better to subdivide it into two or three columns.
A frequent fault in lettering signs and fasciae is to make the letters too large. This is not always the fault of the sign writer, for many of his customers insist on big, fat letters, believing that they are more likely to attract attention. Actually this is not necessarily the case; they can be made to stand out better and gain more prominence if their size is regulated to the proportions of the panel and if they are isolated by means of a margin of suitable depth.
Punctuation deserves more study than it usually receives; even customers who are particular about the wording are often careless or ignorant about it, and the sign writer should have a good working knowledge of the subject. In its execution, care should be taken that its design is in harmony with that of the lettering, to which its shape and weight should conform.
Notes on the choice of colour from the point of view of durability have been given earlier on in this post, but, important though this is, there are other considerations to be kept in mind.
The first is that of legibility, on which the colour treatment exerts a powerful influence. The great majority of people, if questioned on this point, would probably say that white on black, or the reverse, stand out the most clearly because they afford the maximum amount of contrast, and this is undoubtedly one of the chief reasons why the majority of signs are painted in these colours.
Too often, when signs are written on a white ground in black, or vice versa, a dead white is used. As a rule, a broken white or cream is just as effective and rather more pleasing, particularly where gold is employed in addition. Gold leaf has a richness all its own and shows to good effect on natural wood grain or on grained work; it looks better, in most cases, on a semi-gloss than on a full-gloss ground – a point worth remembering for interior work.
Whatever colours are used, it is essential, in the interests of legibility, that there should be marked tonal contrast between that of the ground and that of the lettering. As an alternative to black, other dark colours can advantageously be used at times, either for the ground or the lettering. Holly-green and dark brown are very suitable for the purpose, as are dark blues and reds, though care must be taken that any pigments selected are fast to light. The use of ‘ bleeding ‘ reds for grounds should, needless to say, be avoided; it is prudent to regard all reds as being liable to this defect unless they are guaranteed by the makers, or actual tests have established that they are free from any such tendency.
The addition of an outline of uniform width to the body of a letter can be very attractive if carried out in a contrasting colour; this is a simple way of imparting ornament and it also provides the opportunity of correcting any slight irregularities which may have occurred in the execution of the work.
A few words must be devoted to the subject of running lines, an art in which considerable skill and practice are necessary before any degree of proficiency is attained.
Lining can be carried out with sign writers’ pencils, as already described, or a special type of tool known as a ‘ sword ‘ pencil or liner may be employed; this will be dealt with later in this section. The work can be done with various kinds of paints but, whatever is used for the purpose, it is extremely important that it should possess good flow; if it is deficient in this property a satisfactory result is almost impossible.
Where only straight lines are wanted, effective work can be done, even by the inexperienced, with the aid of masking tape (such as is commonly employed in motor-car finishing), affixing lengths of the tape in the required position to frame the area where the fine is required, so that the tape becomes, in effect, a stencil. The expert decorator or sign writer, however, should be able to run a line without the aid of such devices.
The work is set out in the usual way by snapping a chalk fine; where only a very narrow line is required, a single guide-line may be sufficient, but for those of a 1/2 inchor broader, two lines, marking the top and bottom limits, are nearly always desirable, especially to the beginner.
The method of holding the pencil varies according to the preferences of the individual craftsman, but most men hold it between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, about 1 inch up the quill from the ‘ heel ‘ (the part where the hair joins the quill), with the second and third fingers extended to act as a guide. The point of the pencil is placed in position between the chalk lines, with about three-quarters of the length of the hairs flat on the surface, and drawn backwards with a steady, even pull, taking care to exert uniform pressure. The operator should keep his eye on the heel of the pencil which should follow the upper chalk line.
As the colour in the brush becomes used up and the line gets thinner, the pressure should be progressively reduced until the pencil is lifted from the work. After recharging with colour, it should be replaced an inch or so back along the perfect part of the line; the point at first should make only slight contact with the surface, or a blob may result, the pressure being steadily increased. Should an error occur, it should be remedied at once with a rag moistened with turpentine or with any other solvent suitable for the material being used.
The Sword Liner
This tool is thin and fiat in shape, with the hairs at the point cut at an angle of 45 degrees on the flat side. It is used edgeways and its advantage is that it holds more colour than the ordinary type pencil, thus enabling a longer section of the line to be run at each stroke, though rather more skill and even greater uniformity of pressure are needed to maintain exactly the same width all along the line. By securing two sword liners together at the heel, with a small piece of wood, rubber, etc., between them to regulate the distance apart, double lines can be run at the same time, but this should be attempted only by the experienced. Sword liners are numbered 1 to 5, the smaller numbers having less hair and being con-sequently used for finer lines.
The shading of painted lettering has declined greatly in popularity in recent years, partly, no doubt, because it adds to the cost and partly, again, because in the past it has been much overdone, occasionally with grotesque results. It is a practice which is condemned by authorities on good design almost without exception and one which, from an aesthetic point of view, should not be encouraged. Good lettering is very rarely improved by it and, indeed, often loses any artistic quality it may otherwise possess, and bad lettering is never redeemed by it; there is always something incongruous about it and it seldom achieves its objective of making the work appear three-dimensional. If an additional decorative effect is wanted for plain lettering, it is far more satisfactory to outline the work in a contrasting colour.
Since, however, shaded work is still insisted on at times, a few words on the subject may be helpful. It should be observed, first of all, that the blocking of the letters is not done in parallel perspective but is produced by parallel projection, usually at an angle of 45 degrees, which gives the same thickness on the sides and bottom of the letter. The width varies, but one from two-thirds to three-quarters of that of the letter is probably best; this gives the illusion of a letter approximately as deep as it is thick.
The shading should be in contrast to or in harmony with the colour of the background and should never have the appearance of solidity; it should be executed, therefore, in semi-transparent colours rather than those which are opaque. In general it should not join on to the outline but should be some slight distance from the latter. If indulged in at all, it should be kept as simple as possible; elaborate effects are quite out of keeping with present-day tendencies.