James Brocklehurst, leader of the graphic design course at Plymouth, talks us through the university’s new experimental font

The university is experimenting with letterpress to create the PlymouthPress typeface.

19 November 2021

James Brocklehurst is leading a new kind of innovation method for typography, harking back to the good old days of letterpress. The technology uses scanned letterpress prints for each letter, and through scripting, randomly cycles through a range of alternate letterforms whilst you type.

Brocklehurst explains to us that the letterpress workshop at the university is a special one, which has one of the most “extensive collections of moveable type, composing desks and presses in a UK university. Unfortunately, not that many people know about it,” continues Brocklehurst, “so I initially started the project as a way of showcasing the workshop to the world.” The random letterforms feature, which Brocklehurst explains is achieved by using a scripting function built into the OpenType font format, involved “a lot of Googling” to figure out from scratch.

According to the programme leader, traditionally, a typesetter would “seek to achieve a clean and solid print,” whilst letterpress is known today for its “distressed” and textured print quality. “I was keen to capture as much of this as possible, and found that the only way to do this convincingly was to use a new feature of the OpenType font format,” he says, “which uses bitmapped images to render each character, instead of plotting the letterforms out mathematically using vectors. Using images allows for shifts in tone and translucency which isn’t possible with traditional methods.” Brocklehurst wanted to include multiple variations for each character, to “convey the diverse range of typefaces available in the workshop.”


Courtesy of James Brocklehurst, The University of Plymouth.

The font was misbehaving at first, and there was plenty of trial and error involved, as with any good creative project. Brocklehurst worked with graduate Jordon Hill to produce “multiple prints using variations of ink and pressure so that there were lots of different tones and textures to work with.” Despite all this, it still took a while, and lots of adjustments in Photoshop, “to end up with something that looked cohesive,” comments the educator.

When looking for inspiration for the project, “letterpress master Alan Kitching” was Brocklehurst’s muse. “His work takes this centuries-old process and pushes it in all sorts of surprising directions that you wouldn’t have thought possible,” he explains. “I was also introduced to OpenType feature scripting when Tom Foley of Monotype, who at the time worked for Dalton Maag, gave a talk to students and demonstrated how their Lush Handwritten typeface worked,” concludes Brocklehurst.

Read more about the PlymouthPress typeface here.

GalleryCourtesy of James Brocklehurst, The University of Plymouth.

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Courtesy of James Brocklehurst, The University of Plymouth.

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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