Talking Typography With TDF

Design Features Typography

We’re working on our latest design project and it’s time to pick that perfect typeface. Maybe we head over to one of those free font marketplaces like Fontsquirrel. Perfect, free fonts as far as the eye can see. But a trained eye will notice the kerning’s off here and a pixel’s missing there. This is a big project and we’ve got a little coin to spend, so we roll over to The Enschedé Font Foundry. There’s the beautifully crafted Lexicon No.1 Roman A. What’s the problem? We’re not quite ready to drop five grand for the complete family.

In comes Ten Dollar Fonts (TDF). TDF believes everyone should have access to amazing new fonts, while the type designers who created them should be rewarded for their hard work. The platform is a carefully curated marketplace for great, affordable fonts. We caught up with Daniel McQueen, director of New Zealand-based TDF, to discuss creating a beautiful font, rewarding great designers and the TDF mission.

Paste: So, we love that Ten Dollar Fonts (TDF) is giving everyone access to amazing new fonts while rewarding designers for the hard work they put in. Tell us a little bit about the process of creating a quality font.

Daniel: I believe it’s always important to start with a pencil in your hand, sketch out your ideas and experiment without the limitations of a computer. For me personally, once I have the basic character set designed and set the tone of the font, I’ll then move onto the computer to trace and refine. Daily I’ll print and review my type off-screen at a range of sizes. I could easy spend anywhere from a solid couple of months to a few years working on a typeface, depending on it’s complexity and number of styles/weights.

When it comes to producing the working font files, if you don’t have experience or a massive amount of time to learn programs such as FontLab or Glyphs, you’re best bet is to pay someone who knows what they are doing to produce the files for you. There are so many things to consider when developing font files. If you’re serious about designing and selling type, this is a worthwhile investment.


Paste: Clearly TDF believes that it’s important to support typographers that have been through the long process of building a font. How does font quality suffer when designers aren’t reimbursed for their work?

Daniel: If a type designer isn’t setting out to design a typeface to sell, then most likely they won’t take the full care that is required to create a product worthy of paying for. There will likely be errors, blemishes and legibility issues in the font simply because they have rushed their work or lack knowledge of type design.

Paste: Many of us don’t appreciate the detail that goes into crafting each character of a font. What should designers be looking out for in a quality font?

Daniel: Consistent well executed design features, legibility, kerning and spacing.


Paste: Since quality is paramount at TDF, what’s the font vetting process like? How does TDF decide who to invite to TDF?

Daniel: Quality is very important and the quality of our fonts is growing with every new release, lately I’ve cut about 20 fonts from the site because they were no longer up to standard with our latest releases.

I like to keep the collection of fonts on TDF as exclusive as possible, I’m reluctant to take a typeface that is on multiple other sites, unless it is going to fill a much needed gap in the site’s collection.

Most of the time now, existing designers on the site refer their friends or work colleague to me. I actually just finished working with two other designers on a typeface that has been in development for almost two years. I am currently working with about six new designers at the moment, busy times!

Also on a weekly basis I’ll receive 2-3 submissions. But about 90% of submissions get rejected for a range of different reasons. But the 10% that are suitable, I can simply upload and have online in a matter of days which is always nice.

To be honest, I prefer to get to know the designers and work with them from an early stage. It’s far more time consuming, but I love it, I’ve built some great relationships over the years running TDF.

If suitable, we will also release some supportive printed goods that are either given away with the purchase of the font or can be purchased in addition to the font. At the moment we have a poster pack of 12 posters to go with Hardy by Wade Jeffree, which are pretty popular due to their rude nature and limited edition run.


Paste: Which star TDF designers should we be keeping an eye on right now?

Daniel: Drew Melton and Wade Jeffree. Drew emailed me just after Christmas last year after seeing a small article in Monocle Magazine about TDF. Back then he had designed one font in a single style, but since then he has released 8 font families and self taught himself how to use the Glyphs app to produce his fonts. We’ve become ‘internet friends’ and have exciting plans for some upcoming projects. Not to mention his graphic design/lettering work is simply stunning.

Wade works at Sagmeister and Walsh in New York and his work is all over the internet lately, especially his project Complements with his partner Leta (also a designer who has a font on TDF). The project has been featured on numerous well-known and respected art and design blogs. Wade also just released a fun iPhone game called Keep Smiling.

Paste: Many Paste readers may be checking out this interview on their phone. How has the explosion of display size variation changed the way TDF designers design their fonts?

Daniel: I don’t think it has specifically changed any fundamental parts of type design itself, but if I am designing a typeface that has a purpose of being set in small sizes on screen or in print, I will do a wide range of testing to ensure the type displays correctly. The tests includes printing spec sheets in sizes 4pt and up, followed by a range of tests on mobile, tablet and computer screens. If any changes or manual hinting is needed it gets done. But then again, most of TDFs fonts are of a display nature, so most of the time they will be set in a large size.


Paste: OK, so you have to pick five fonts on TDF right now that will save the world. Which five?

Daniel: I don’t know about save the world, but these are my top 5 favourites online at TDF currently; Madras, Handsome Script, Neue Droschke, Rosemary, Strato.

Paste: What are your plans for TDF in the next 6 months?

Daniel: On top of releasing quality new fonts, I am working on a full rebrand of TDF and an all new website! I won’t say much more on this as it’s all still a work in progress.

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