Circus Freak chromatic font a very fat slab serif inspired by old woodtype
Circus freak is the first proper chromatic font I’ve done. It has four layers that allow you to layer up the type one on top of the other. You can then use different colours to get some cool retro funky effects.
Now, this post is quite long so if you are after the font, just scroll right down to the bottom of this page.
Chromatic typefaces first started to appear in the late 1860’s. The basic concept was to overprint one ink onto a second ink using a separate wood type block to create a third colour. This opened up a whole world of colour choices and styles. They were often used for Circus posters back in the day.
The last few years have seen a resurgence in chromatic typefaces. I thought I’d try my hand at creating a proper chromatic font. It’s more work but I’m up for the challenge.
Layer font research
I knew this would be a total ball ache to create. It’s hard enough to create one version of a font let alone four. So had to make sure I got it right first time.
While searching for chromatic fonts I read an interesting article by Jamie Clarke. He explained how he created his typeface Brim narrow. Lucky for me he also explained the pitfalls. It was invaluable information and a bloody good read— thank’s Jamie (his font is awesome).
So from that research, I decided to create
- Outline Extruded
- Outline Stroke Extruded
From those four styles, it would give loads of options for the end user. Plus, for even more possibilities you could also add you own stroke to any of my styles.
Creating Circus Freak Regular
I drew the regular font in illustrator. I constructed it out of primitive shapes as I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I drew inspiration from old western wood type fonts, but I wanted a very flat slab and very thin vertical stems.
I created a mini toolkit template that included stems, curves, slab and strokes. My thinking was I could just copy elements from the toolkit to construct each glyph.
It worked quite well but I still ran into problems with some letters. Mainly where a curve hits the slab, I kind of fudged my way through.
I also later realised (after I created all the styles) that some should have been visually tweaked. The ‘S’ for instance should have been optically changed as I didn’t look quite right.
I knew I should have been drawing this in Glyphs app, but I also knew glyphs app had no way to make an extrude. Getting the glyphs out of illustrator and into glyphs would give me a headache later on. For now, I ploughed on.
Creating the oblique extrusion
There are lots of different methods to create an extrude in illustrator. Trust me when I say they are all pants. I searched google and eventually found an awesome plugin called opo.
It was a no-brainer as creates the perfect oblique projection with the click of a button. You can try download a 30 day demo.
The plugin saved so much time I set up a macro that recorded my on-screen actions. Pretty much just selecting opo, hit extrude button, click okay, turn off the layer, select next layer—repeat 322 times!
I made my extrude at a 45-degree angle and got the depth I wanted by trial and error.
Creating the Extrude stroke
After I extruded all the glyphs I duplicated them and added an outer stroke to create the next chromatic layer. Again actions saved my life I just recorded myself doing this once. Then played it back 322 times.
Creating the lines
For the lines, I duplicated the regular typeface and added an inner stroke. I then minus the inner stroke from the regular. This gave me a thinner regular that I could use to add my lines too.
I messed about with the lines trying to get them perfectly spaced. Something that was almost impossible just too many factors involved. I decided that if I could make the lines start and end on the main capital letters then I would use that for everything.
Again actions to the rescue, I minus the lines I made from the thinner regular and put it on autopilot.
That was all 4 versions done. Now to get them into glyphs app.
Getting the font into glyphs
I used another extension called FontSelf Maker. It involves selecting each glyph with a guide for Baseline, ascender and descender and telling font maker that is A.
Now that meant I would have to manually type 322 font names and repeat it four times. That’s 1288 letters I needed to type. That’s not including selecting and moving layers.
I had to find a better way. I used my mouse and keyboard recorder. Lucky for me I named each layer with the glyph name. So I just recorded one action where
- I double click on the layer
- Copy the glyph name
- Hit Return
- Select everything on the canvas
- Paste glyph name into FontSelf Maker
- Click make glyph
- Move layers up by one
Then I just ran the action 322 times and it converted it for me.
Now I make that sound easy right. Well, it took a while to get the action right, sometimes it would go out of kilter and cause mayhem. After a little trial and error, I got it working. It still took a while but at least I could grab a coffee while my laptop whirred away.
I chatted with the developer of FontSelf Maker and he said a new version will be released before Christmas. It should contain support for layers, alternative glyphs and the option to convert the letters without typing them all in.
I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Circus Freak font name
I was going to call the font Helter Skelter, but a quick search on google revealed it was already taken.
I posted an image of the font on Instagram to get feedback on the name. I was quite surprised with the suggestions as I don’t have many followers.
Suggested names included
- Hurdy Gurdy
- Bearded Lady
- Dog Faced Boy
- Lobster Boy
- Tattooed Woman
- The Strongman
- Caged Tiger
- Stale Candyfloss
- Circus Freak
- Cheng And Eng (famous conjoined twins)
- Coney Island Nightmare
- Bold Barnum
I was tempted to call it Hurdy Gurdy but settled on the name Circus Freak. That name and most of the names came from Dave Birss—thanks Dave much appreciated.
A copy of the font on it’s way to you.
Take a peek at Circus Freak font
Buy Circus Freak for £15
The typeface format is .otf. It includes Full commercial license, with just over 320 glyphs and 4 styles.
The font includes
- Uppercase characters
- Numbers and punctuation
- Support for Eastern, Central and Western European languages
- 4 Different styles
- 4 Letterpress high-resolution textures
or buy on Creative Market for $10 (first week only)Get Circus Freak
That is all.