Cyber/Cax Typeface

Based on a 1482 specimen from William Caxton, I revived this typeface as if it were from 1982. Scroll to the bottom to read my notes, process, and concept behind creating this pixel blackletter.


For this project, I was required to “modernize” an outdated typeface from the Providence Library’s collections of rare type specimen. The typeface I selected was far older than the charmingly vintage 20th century decorative sets that most of my classmates picked. In fact, I chose a specimen from the year 1482, designed by the man who introduced the printing press to England: William Caxton. I was drawn to this typeface because of it’s strange imperfections that distanced itself from a sharper, cleaner blackletter type (like the logo of the New York Times, for example). In the early days of the printing press, type designers like Caxton purposefully crafted each letter to appear as if a human hand jotted it, all to maintatin a hand-crafted feel. As a history lover, I was intrigued by such an early example of printing. Now the only problem was figuring out how to modernize it.

The Middle Ages in officially ended in Europe in 1453, and the Renaissance had been making it’s first strides a century prior. The Renaissance served as a bridge to the Age of Enlightenment, which, to simplify things, eventually led us to the modern age. As I prepared myself to digitize this blackletter type, I knew I wanted the result to hold conceptual value in addition to aesthetic. Thus, I pondered when in recent history we were in a period of transition and discover similar to that of the Renaissance...

It happens that exactly five hundred years after the date of the Caxton specimen was the year 1982. Designated as part of the “golden age of video games”, ‘82 is specifically sited as the peak of arcade games with home consoles on the rise. But that’s not all; this was also the early period of personal computers, and the world had only just begun to explore. In other words, we were now living in the Digital Age.

I decided that rather than modernize this antiquated typeface, I would retro-ize it! (Apologies for the made-up word). Drawing inspirating from the 8-bit style that defined early arcade games, I starting giving both the uppercase and lowercase a totally tubular make-over. Combining bulky pixels and a particularly imperfect blackletter alphabet may seem like forcing together opposites. It created a challenge to maintain the spirit of the original while being original enough to take some ownership.

I discovered that blackletter and pixel type have more connections than one might assume. Both served as first iterations within their new mediums of communications. In the early years of the printing press, type design atttempted to replicate hand-written manuscripts through a mechanized, easily reproducable process. Pixel type could be viewed from the same perspective. In the 80s, screen display was limited, and creators simplified typography by economically choosing how to construct forms with minimal pixels.

Minimal and ornamental, two different approaches to typography put together. Pixel type is usually synonymous with digital, which is synonymous with function and cleanliness. This typeface rejects these assumptions, which is what makes it so fun. It is experimental, nerdy, and at points grungy.

Despite using pixels, it was still extremely important to imitate the movement of a calligraphic stroke in order for the type to replicate human hand gestures. It was a difficult process trying to translate complex forms into the simplest way that an early computer/screen would be able to display it. The process was certainly full of contradicting ideas.  

Cyber/cax is not the most functional or legible of typefaces. It works well in a maximalist layout, and it makes the most sense when in context relating to the Digital Age. It can be used for decorative titles but it also works as body text if need be. However, the smaller Cyber/cax gets, the harder it is to see the pixels.

Once I was satisfied with the typeface, I directed my attention to creating a series of my own type specimen. Remember, this was not a type design class: the goal was not to spend months perfecting a typeface. That being said, I certainly tried the best in the month I had. My branding of Cyber/cax followed strict rules to only use content and visuals relating to the year 1982. The main colors I used were digital RGB - red, green, blue. Creating moving elements was also a major part of my final exhibition for Cyber/cax.

Through Cyber/cax, I managed to blend my passions for history, technology, and pop culture into one explosion of typographic exploration.