Re: Fonts for railroad lettering


Ed Bommer wrote:

One of the issues about accurately modeling railroad lettering is that for the most part, the styles used were designed in house by draftsmen in their
engineering departments - often quite a long time ago in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

       Ed is exactly right, and this is a vital point to understand. In general, railroad lettering prior to the 1960s was NOT a font in the traditional sense.

Cataloged fonts as we know of them now were not commercially available then. Lettering and numerals used in manufacturing and advertising were designed in house. Printer's type also came with varieties within a font adn its sizes, depending on manufacturer, as also the dies used in the hot lead lino-type machines.

        Not really. The font catalogs were even bigger in those days than now, it's just that they were all made in metal.

Some railroad lettering also may not be 'scalable.' That is, smaller sizes had slightly different characteristics than larger sizes of the letters and numerals in the same class - such as in freight car lettering. 8", 5", 3" and 2" lettering while looking alike were somewhat different, yet all would be 'railroad Roman.'

        This is also an important point. Those railroad draftsmen knew what typographers know: what looks good in a big size may not look right at a small size. Any book you would consult on understanding type will probably illustrate this by showing an 8-point letter printed at 60 points, and perhaps a 60-point letter printed at 8 points. They simply are not the same font, even if the family resemblance is strong. Railroads knew this and usually made,as Ed say, separate drawings for EACH size of letters. This is good for us, because we can digitize from those full-size letters and make corresponding fonts for whichever size we want.
        And by the way, there is no such thing as "railroad roman," despite decal makers' wish that it was. Even the Master Car Builders recommended lettering was not adopted by many railroads, and it differs from Champ's Railroad Roman in a number of ways.
         In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to being a little bit of a type geek.

Tony Thompson             Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, tony@...
Publishers of books on railroad history

This has been an interesting thread. Tony has a lot of very factual information here.

Yes, there is no universal Railroad Roman. I have three different RR Roman fonts, all different and none that seem to work on any decal project I've done without modifications.

All railroads pre 1960's used lettering as drawn by their draftsmen. Not only were they not the same railroad to railroad but were often different from shop to shop of the same railroad. Others in this thread have described how they draw or modify fonts using prototype photos. That is the best way to get a convincing "font". I use Photoshop to remove any perspective and/or other distortions (like from using wide angle lenses) and then scale the photos using some known dimension, often a wheel set. I then open the photo in Illustrator (or CorelDRAW) and draw the font, saving it in vector format os it will have well defined, non-pixelated edges and can rescaled at will. Sometimes I will use a similar font and makes modifications but, if it is more than a rather small amount of mods I just start from scratch. Doing this for like 15 years has taught me methods that make drawing faster than modifying.

And, yes, many fonts cannot be reduced in scale too much as you will get to the point where they don't print well. The thin parts of letters just disappear and the open areas of P's and Q's fill with inks. Even reducing a drawn font down to model rr scale sizes often requires changes. You have to satrt with a prototype photo and to get the lterr correct and then make it LOOK correct in whatever scale you are printing.

The thing is the bar has raised so much over the years from the old hand drawn sets what with manufacturers using pad printed cars and locos that it takes a lot of effort with some decent photo editing and drawing programs to achieve satisfactory results.

John Hagen

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