Custom type can set a logo apart

By Dan Antonelli

Posted on Saturday, March 11th, 2023

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With the thousands of fonts available for designers, you would think you’d always be able to find the exact typeface needed for your logo designs. But sometimes, you’re limited by what’s actually available so you use what you have. Sometimes you have the right typeface, but when placed together, the letters in the logo create awkward spacing or other kerning challenges.

Building logos with your own “hand-built” lettering is always an option when you can’t find the exact typeface you need. Or you can customize an existing typeface to help personalize the logo and create a logotype (a logo built around the uniqueness of the lettering). But a lot of designers are afraid of what happens when they convert that font to paths and start to play with lettering in a vector-based program.

Once you understand the foundation and building blocks of all fonts, it’s a lot easier. Custom type can set a logo apart to build your own or alter existing ones. Even if you decide to use a font without any alterations, there are some quick and easy shading techniques that also can be used to make the design more unique.

Here are a few of the logos we designed recently that use fonts we’ve altered or lettering that we’ve built from scratch. I thought by showing how some of them were built it would make it easier to illustrate some of the basic techniques we used to build them out.

I tweaked the basic lettering from the Trajan font below to make more of a logo type. The client did not want an icon used, so I reworked the lettering to connect the A and B. Note that the A and M kerning pair needed adjustment, so I tucked the M behind the A.

Another easy effect is to notch out pieces of the lettering to create a more rustic or weathered look. In addition to that effect, we also connected the R and E’s for a more unique look.

When you can’t find the right existing typeface to work with, it’s often not as hard as you might think to just build your own font. For this logo, I hand drew and built the entire lettering that was used for the main copy. I created an inset highlight path and light drop shadow to add some depth.

Starting with a basic idea, I established stroke widths, stroke angle, cross stroke height and space between cross strokes. Surprisingly, a whole alphabet can usually be built from just a few key letters. Once you have the basic foundation letters done, you can derive most other letters. The illustration above shows how to get an A, E, D, F, C, H, O and U from this basic grid. The remaining letters, with further tweaks, can easily be derived as well.

This shows my process for building out the lettering. I usually dupe the required angle so that I insure consistency. To save time, I usually dupe a letter close to one I have already built. The horizontal guides keep all the stroke widths consistent.

Here a nice hand-drawn script complements the classical lettering. Again, a simple adjustment to the kerning pair for K and I tighten up the awkward space.

Once you’ve built your own custom font, it’s nice to have it available for other uses. Here we used that font again on designs for SAS and Naf’s Ice Paints.

This lettering for a Hawaiian landscape firm was tweaked from the font Trajan. You can see the original text in black below. We then drew a leaf element to integrate into the text. Note the kerning adjustment between the K and A that was necessary to compensate for the awkward letterspace in the kerning pair

This lettering has not been altered except for the addition of inline layer. Using Fenice as the base font, I simply duped the original lettering and created an inline. This is a quick and easy effect to add. I also added a light blue drop shadow.


This article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of SignCraft.


Dan Antonelli owns KickCharge Creative (formerly Graphic D-Signs, Inc.) in Washington, New Jersey. His latest book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, joins his Logo Design for Small Business I and II. He can be reached at dan@kickcharge. com. Dan also offers consulting and business coaching services to sign companies. For more information, visit On Instagram: @danantonelli_kickcharge.