Saturday, August 23, 2014

Custom card type tech tip

At least once a month I get an email from a prospective custom card creator seeking advice on my process.

I'm always happy to help any way I can, but it is not possible for me to lay out in detail the nuts and bolts that take me from a concept to a finished card in hand.

I have been developing my system auto-didactically for more than 10 years. It wouldn't be practical to try to impart it in a few thousand words.

A recent experience in one aspect of card creation strikes me, however, as perfect fodder for a "lesson."

As you may have read in my Aug. 13 entry, I have recently begun branching out from baseball and football cards to non-sports. I've created three TV Westerns customs (and will be making more) and am now working on my first World on Wheels cards based on the Topps 1954-55 set.

I find that I never really get to know a vintage card format until I begin to recreate it. 

While I had some World on Wheels cards as a kind, and built a complete set in the 1980s, it never registered on me that Topps used three different type style for the principal identification of the 180 cards in the set. The antique vehicles were identified with a vintage-looking outline font. The contemporary vehicles were identified with a modern 3D font. Many of the "miscellaneous" vehicles were identified with a mid-century type face.

I'm often asked how I match the fonts on my customs to original vintage cards. I have no other answer than "trial and error." All of what I'm about to say pertains to the Photoshop Elements graphics program I use. Other programs may require different approaches.

I begin by scanning an original card and magnifying the area of type I want to replicate. Then I use the type tool to enter the same words, even though I will be changing them further along in the process.

Then I begin cycling through the 200 or so fonts I have in my Windows system (I really have to pare that down some day as there are many, many that I know I'll never use). I almost always find an identical match, or something that is close enough that only a really knowledgeable graphics artist is likely to notice the difference.

By that rather labor-intensive process, I soon found that the misc. vehicles in the set were identified with a font called Balloon XBd BT. Similarly the modernistic font used on newer cars was Umbra Bt.

I was stymied, however, by the type face found on the antique vehicle cards. It looked so familiar and I was sure I'd quickly find it in my Windows font folder. No such luck. After looking at nearly every font, I'd come up empty.

My next move was to check the free fonts web sites: and There are other free-font web sites out there, but I've found that if the font I need isn't on one of these, it's not likely to be on the other sites, either.

Despite being categorized by style, the fonts on these sites run into the thousands and finding a match can be a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. I spent several hours on these sites without a match. Without knowing the font's name, further searching seemed doomed to failure.

Next I turned to a site that I'd had little experience with, . That site takes you through a number of multiple-choice questions about various aspects of the letters and numerals of the font you are looking to identify. The questions ask such things as "Serif or Sans Serif?" "What style of tail does the letter Q have?" "Is the 4 open or closed?"

As you answer each question, half a dozen possibilities pop up on the side. Eventually, after 12-15 questions, there was my font: Vineta. I checked the free fonts sites again, but Vineta was not there. The identifont site offered places on the net where the font could be purchased for $30-40 dollars, but I went to bed without pulling the trigger.

Before I drifted off, it occurred to me that I should do a google search along the lines of "font like Vineta". I'm not the type to hop out of bed to do such things, but the next morning, with just a few clicks, I had found a free version of Vineta and downloaded it into my fonts folder.

Illustrated  here are a couple of the format sheets that I keep in a binder for my custom card work. They are a permanent reference to recreating type. Referring to the World on Wheels sheet, you'll notice that on the subheads for the top card I have a notation of "139% h." This indicates that while I'd use either 9 or 7-1/2 point Calibri Bold for those elements, I'll want to stretch the type 139% horizontally. I've found that on more than a few Topps, Bowman, etc., cards of the 1950s-60s, the makers stretched the words to some extent. I find out what percentage to stretch by again typing over the existing words and using the Elements program to stretch it to match.

One more word about the "free fonts." While many of them are truly free for personal use, others have a button to click to make a donation to the font's creator. Since I have real respect for artists like that who can do something I can't, I suggest a $5 or $10 tip for the time you'll be saving and the effect the right font will have on your finished custom cards.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the tips, I've bookmarked this page because I know I'll want to refer back to it later on.

    I just started picking up some World On Wheels cards within the last couple of years, and I'm looking forward to seeing your custom(s)!


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