Category Archives: Typography

Marian Bantjes

Bantjes "Theory"

An illustration Bantjes did for a piece in Wired Magazine.

Marian Bantjes does these amazing lettering pieces and illustrations. She uses a wide variety of media in her work (even creating letters out of sugar). Her beautifully elaborate scripts and ornamented letters remind me, if not in style at least in concept, of graffiti pieces. See more on her website:


Handselecta and Graffiti typefaces

Joker Medium Swash typeface

Joker Medium Swash Caps B from Handselecta

Handselecta is a type foundry that turns graffiti handstyles into typefaces. The founders both have backgrounds in graffiti and are working with other writers to turn their work into typefaces. They seem to be some of the few people making quality graffiti typefaces, and taking the idea beyond novelty fonts. As they say on the “Thesis” page of the Handselecta website,

Our intent is to intelligently extend the art form of graffiti into the world of typography and graphic design…Just as calligraphy was the inspiration for type designers of generations past, today’s urban glyphs are the inspiration for a new typography of tomorrow.

I’m interested in what others from the type and graffiti communities have to say about past and present “graffiti fonts,” please post a comment if you have any thoughts.


Beowolf example

The Beowolf typeface

Here’s an interesting typeface from relatively recent history. Beowolf is an experimental typeface that’s an exception to the rule of standardization in typography. Each printed letter’s outline is randomized, making it different from others of the same letter.

PostScript allows the designer to build a font program that modifies, changes or switches letterforms. Beowolf is the first font (1989) we build with a randomisation routine. All points on the contour of a (fairly) normal typeface are given a space in which they can freely move. So instead of each letter having one fixed form, the shapes move and wobble. Every single letter this typeface will print will be unique. If characters are repeated in a text they will have different shapes.


It’s an interesting example of intentional irregularity in a digital typeface. One of the biggest differences between graffiti and typography is the standardization of the letters. While Beowolf’s irregularity is computer generated rather than handwritten/painted, it is an important exception that crosses one of the usual boundaries between graffiti and typography.



This ambigram reads the same when flipped.

Ambigrams are words that can be read from multiple angles, generally they can be flipped and read as the same or another word. They may not really be type in the same way as a typeface, but because each letter is designed as part of the specific ambigram, they share some interesting similarities with graffiti pieces. As in a piece, the letters must be consistent and work in relation to each other only within the word they form, rather than as an entire alphabet. While I’m not aware of any graffiti ambigrams, it seems like there is the potential for them.

John Langdon is one of the most well known creators of ambigrams, and his site has some great examples.


CBS Wall

The CBS Cafeteria Wall a.k.a. the Gastrotypographicalassemblage

Last summer at TypeCon I saw a presentation on the CBS Wall (a.k.a. that word in the post title). It was a decorated cafeteria wall in the New York CBS building, made mostle of wood type spelling out a variety of culinary words. The words appeared  in many different sizes and styles of type. It was a unique piece of design that I feel still has a major impact even in the surviving photographs of it. Unfortunately it was removed in the early 90s and essentially thrown away. Luckily, The Center for Design Study in Atlanta is currently working on restoring the wall, as it is an important piece of design history. This article describes the wall’s history, and the recent efforts to restore it.
It is interesting that both graffiti and typography/graphic design as cultures suffer from a lack of preservation, and perhaps value, for their histories.

Wildstyle Typography

I just stumbled onto the work of Seb Lester, a type designer/illustrator from the UK. His stuff is pretty amazing, especially the typographic illustrations. I think there’s a huge similarity to graffiti here, at least in concept. He takes words or phrases and draws and decorates the letters, turning them into beautiful and ornate images. Although his style is pretty different, what he’s doing isn’t too far off from wildstyle pieces. Both essentially involve turning words into images.

There are a lot of great images on his website:

Hellfire type illustration detail

Detail from one of Seb Lester's pieces, "Hellfire."

Super Fat

All City Orphan

Klimax Plus

Here’s another cool Typotheque typeface, it’s called Klimax. There are two styles, Plus and Minus, “the heaviest and the lightest possible styles that can be made” according to the description on their site. It’s Plus that really catches my attention. It reminds me of blockbusters, a style of extremely fat graffiti lettering. Espo’s work is a good example, click the image for more.


An Espo blockbuster in Manhattan.

History Lesson

This post is a little more on the typography side, but I’m really excited about the typeface “History” from typotheque. It’s unique because it’s essentially customizable. It’s composed of 21 different layers which can be combined by the user to create drastically different looking type. The layers are said to be inspired by typographic history. You can try it out here, this is the online application that lets you mix the layers:
Obviously combining pre-designed layers is not really making a new creation, but it is pretty amazing as a concept. I don’t actually own this typeface, so I’m wondering how practical it actually is to use. I also like this quote from their website’s description of History:

While careless use can generate freakish results resembling Frankenstein’s monster, more careful experimentation can produce not only amusing, but surprisingly fresh and usable typeface samples.

Tools of the Trade (Introduction)

This is the first in a series of posts about the influence of tools on lettering in graffiti and typography. As in any art form, the tool an artist uses shapes the work itself. Some examples from typography include the serif, and typefaces that have contrast between thick and thin strokes, mimicing letters made with a brush or pen. In graffiti, the influence of the tool is probably most evident in tags, especially those made with broad tipped markers. In the next few posts of this series I will show and discuss some specific examples of these influences from both graffiti and typography.

Eric Gill On Letters

I guess I’ll start with one of my favorite type related quotes:

“Everybody thinks that he knows an A when he sees it…but only the few extraordinary rational minds can distinguish between a good one & a bad one, or can demonstrate precisely what constitutes A-ness. When is an A not an A? Or when is an R not an R…? It is clear that for any letter there is some sort of norm. To discover this norm is obviously the first thing to be done.”

From An Essay on Typography by Eric Gill, page 45-46

When I first read this, I thought instantly about the process of graffiti. While graffiti lettering often strays far from the norm of the letters, it is essential for a good writer to be able to identify these norms and keep them in his or her mind while altering them. If a letter deviates too far from its norm, it becomes unreadable or easily confused with another letter (I still seem to have the bad habit of making Rs that look like Bs). As Gill says, discovering this norm is “the first thing to be done.” I think this is true for writers, as well as type designers.