Understand Color and Tonal Weight in Typography: Exercises
Working with color and tonal weight: Exercises
In this video we are going to look at typographic color. When we use the word color in typography, we don't mean colors of the rainbow, we mean the grayscale or overall tonal weight in a block of text. A block of text will have its own levels of darkness or lightness based on four variables, the typeface, the size of the type, the leading of the type, and the tracking of the type. In the next chapter, we'll talk about tracking and leading, but for now know that leading is the space between lines of type and tracking is how tight or loose the spaces between the letters are overall in a block of text type.
Here are a couple of exercises that I used to teach my students to see the tonal weight of a block of text. The first exercise just uses leading or the space between lines as a variable. You can use a printout from your exercise files to follow along or create them from scratch if you'd like. First, using any design program--I prefer InDesign which I'm using here--create a block of type, 2 inches wide and approximately 8 inches deep. Using any text typeface, for example, Sabon, fill it with 8-point placeholder text and change the spaces between the lines from very tight.
You can even let the lines touch for this project and gradually open the line spaces up until there is quite a bit of space between the lines at the bottom of the text box. There should be a smooth transition from very tight lines of type to very open lines of type. Now I want you print it out, pause the movie, go ahead, we'll wait. Now draw a rectangle exactly the same size next to your block of text type. Look at your type printout and squint until you can't read the text, but you can see the shade of gray it creates.
Using a pencil, shade the blank box until its gray shading matches the gray tones of the type. See how close you can come to matching the color or tonal weight of the text. Here is another exercise, you can try for yourself which shows the difference in tonal weight based on the choice of typeface. For this exercise, we'll compare serif typefaces that are appropriate for text settings, but you can also try the same thing with San Serifs. Start by creating eight blocks of text type.
20 picas by 26 picas and fill with solid placeholder text, no paragraph breaks in eight different text typefaces. I'm going to use Sabon, Hoefler Text, Palatino, Georgia, Bodoni, Baskerville, Minion Pro, and Perpetua, set them all in eight point type with 10 points of leading, print them out. Now squint to see the differences in tonal weight. Even though the size and leading are the same, you can see that each typeface has a different color based on the design of its letters.
Small differences in the stroke width, contrast, set width, and X-height, give each a different overall weight or tonality. You can take this exercise one step further by increasing the point size in those eight text blocks by one point. Keep the leading at two points larger than the point size. For example, starting with Georgia, set the text at nine points on 11 points leading, 10 points on 12, and 11 points on 13.
Print them out and look at the differences in tonal weight or color. You can't see these differences on screen, you need to print them out, spread them out, and compare their appearances. You can also try subtler changes in half points or quarter points. These exercises will help you really see the density of typographic color on a page so that when you need to choose a text typeface or to compare some text typefaces, you will know what you are looking for, and you will see the subtle, but sometimes critical differences in typographic color.
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