Beorcana returns to a practice that was common in the era of hot metal type: optical sizes. Type was cast at the size it would be printed, so each size was optimized to perform well at that size only. In the days of photo type and early digital type, the practice was discontinued as the benefits of enlargement and reduction, and later scalable outlines, outweighed the additional costs of producing multiple sizes of new typefaces. The quality of small type suffered for decades, as printers were forced not only to use badly-adapted types from previous technologies, but the same types at all sizes. This meant that a type whose grace and delicacy was superb at 72 point would become feathery and weak at 10 point, its spacing, counters and hairlines fading away.
Recently the necessity for separate size-specific designs has become apparent, leading conscientious designers to adapt designs specifically for small and large point sizes. Beorcana, as a book type, is drawn for basic book sizes (7-14 point), and is accompanied by Micro fonts for small print, and Display cuts for large sizes above 24 points.
Shown below are the three sizes of Beorcana at the same size, in the Regular weight: Display, Regular, and Micro. It may be apparent they are different, but why?
Types designed for specific sizes are viewed and tested at their intended size. In the image below the words on the left are set in the appropriate sizes of type. On the right, all three sizes are set in the Regular size. The three on the left look like they are the same weight, and their contrast and color match. On the right, the largest seems heavy, thick, overly emphatic, while the smallest looks like it is far away, light and weak. It makes sense, because it was designed to be seen at the middle size, where its weight, spacing, and contrast look right. The smallest type on the left looks clear and strong in spite of small size. The display version is refined, clear, taut. This is the advantage of size-specific typefaces. Especially when extended reading is the goal, any weakness in a typeface accumulates over time to discourage, fatigue, or annoy the reader.
Note the differences in construction between the three sizes: Stroke contrast, height proportions, weight of stems, and size of counters and spaces. Type at large sizes is experienced chiefly on an esthetic level; each letter can be appreciated for its form and there is no ambiguity between the different letters. In fact, at large sizes, tighter spacing helps keep the cohesion of word shapes, as fewer letters can be perceived at one glance. At text sizes, clarity, spacing and differentiation of forms become the crucial factors; type spaced too closely, or with thin hairlines, can leave letters unclear, ambiguous, difficult to recognize, slowing reading down and fatiguing the reader. At the smallest sizes, very little else matters, since at 5 point, tiny details have disappeared, and the basic structure is left to carry the eye.
These visual tricks, as old as typefounding itself, are done in the interest of making type at different sizes look the same: clear, readable, and well-spaced. Type at different sizes is doing different jobs, and the history of typefounding shows that types for different sizes should be designed for those jobs. Beorcana is able to perform in many settings, due to its adaptation to particular, diverse tasks.