Monday, October 22, 2018

Font Frustration

Some of my more recent posts have been about creating Design Space-compatible designs using Hebrew (and Yiddish) words and lettering on the computer. Using my computer and Adobe Creative Suite to create in a non-Western character set has been a bit of a learning curve (and a bit of a pain even after that learning curve has been mastered), but it's doing the job as long as I'm at home and using full sheets of cuttable materials.

The problem is, I need to be able to edit, design, and prototype on the road — and for that, I need to be able to create in Hebrew and Yiddish from my iPad. Design Space doesn't like it when you don't have the same typefaces loaded on all your devices, and either refuses to open a project or replaces your custom typefaces with something stupid like Arial or Cricut Sans. So, I needed to load my Hebrew typefaces onto my iPad.

To add fonts to the iPad, you need to download a font manager app (such as iFont), and you need to know how to get to a directory into which you will store (or have stored) your fonts. (Mine are stored on my OneDrive, which is accessible from most of my iPad apps.) The process is a bit tedious as you have to download the file to your font manager, click on the file in the Font create a new System Profile for each typeface, even though you're not using the new typeface as your system font (the generic typeface that shows up in all your menus, folder names, instruction sets, etc). I downloaded a large portion of the typefaces available through the Open Siddur Project as well as a number of free Google Fonts. I also enabled Hebrew language editing on Swype and Apple Keyboard, and downloaded even another Hebrew-friendly keyboard.

Finally, I opened Design Space and attempted to load a project which included Hebrew text. I got a "missing fonts" error, even though I had the same typeface loaded on my iPad as I did on my PC. When the project loaded, Hebrew type was replaced by large rectangles with Flintstones-looking question-marks inside them. I tried editing the text, but the editor refused to let me do anything other than open a new text box. I chose a Hebrew-containing typeface and typed in Hebrew. Despite entering text right-to-left in the text box, Design Space rendered it left-to-right, another batch of Flintstones question marks. I tried another typeface, and got Eastern European codepage characters. No matter what I tried, I could not accurately enter a single Hebrew or Yiddish character in Design Space for iOS.

I went back and forth with Cricut user support on this. Their stance on the matter was "Design Space only supports the English language", and that the language-support blurb in the App Store meant only "that the app will show up as available if in the countries where that language is common".

Sorry, that answer is confusing at best — but I don't know if that error is Apple's or Cricut's. Meanwhile, the best I could do was get a tech to pass on the request to the development team. And relegate my non-English design development to Windows.

Creating an Alphabet - Ingress into Niantic's Glyphs

I'm not into geolocation games, but my housemates are. My Other Half is a recreational geocacher, has been active with Munzee, and is somewhere up in the difficult-to-reach levels of Ingress. My sister is a virtual Ingress addict. (Both play with the "Resistance" faction.)

As a non-participating tag-along to several events, I've finally decided I needed an appropriate T-shirt. I have a couple of designs ready to go for a "Geo Tag-Along" shirt.

My other geolocation design work has been firmly in the Ingress realm: a Resistance glyph (which looks like a number 4 with a tail) for the Other Half's car, along with a Resistance pocket polo that has the Resistance "key" logo. (The design is not shared on Design Space because the graphic I used is not mine, so I'm restricting the design to personal use.)

Playing around with Cricut's typefaces, "All Mixed Up" reminded me a lot of the calibration grid for Ingress's glyphs.
Cricut Typeface "All Mixed Up" copyright Provo Crafts International.
 I decided to try my hand at doing a multilayer alphabet based on that callibration grid.

The work required figuring the placement of the pips (holes), creating a complex path in Illustrator, then creating and inserting the line elements. Finally, the whole thing had to be imported into Design Space, where I welded the paths of the line segments and ditched the extraneous ones I used for editing.

Ingress Alphabet (.svg)

My character set is limited to unaccented Western letters, numerals, and a couple of marks one might expect to see in player names. I chose orange as a neutral working color. (Resistance players will be able to color the lines blue, while Enlightened players can change it to green.) Each letter and background is grouped, and will need to be ungrouped before changing colors. The current design does not have a white background, so you might need to add that as well.

Ingress players will notice a couple of things besides the weird orange color: some of the characters are identical to glyphs seen in the Glyphtionary. I've been able to change two from my original design, but my "I", "V", and asterisk still duplicate official Glyphs.

The Glyphs themselves are also available as cut files on my Cricut profile.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

B'reishith: Creation of a Multiprocess T-Shirt

The other day, I got an idea for a T-shirt for Simchat Torah, the holiday that celebrates our rejoicing over finishing the annual public reading of the Torah and the beginning of the next year's cycle. I wanted to start with a black or navy T-shirt and a bleach resist process to create a bit of a glow around the image of a Torah, with the word "B'reishith" ("In the beginning") in the center, and a flared star behind the last letter (Taf). The idea was to echo the concept of separating the light from the darkness, the First Day.

As the design formed in my mind, it echoed the words of two religions:
In the beginning, [The Name] created the heaven and the earth. [Gen. I:1]
In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was G-d... [Luke I:1]
Having had some questions about bleeding with a paper resist, and wanting an effect that would be produced by bleaching onto a damp shirt, I chose to use a reverse stencil to set up a wax resist for batik. My original plan for the stencil was to cut a piece of plastic poster board, which I've found to be an excellent and inexpensive stencil base. (Note: it does need to be cut down to fit through a Cricut or other home cutter.) My first cut, set at "stencil vinyl", didn't penetrate the plastic. My second, set for "Stencil Vinyl" (pressure 171), didn't penetrate completely. I tried cutting again set at "Stencil Film - 0.4 mm" (pressure 341), but forgot to reposition my cut, so I ended up ruining the stencil material for this particular use and had to use Cricut Stencil Vinyl instead.

[Aside: I was completely underwhelmed by Cricut Stencil Vinyl. It had an adhesive back, which meant the stencil stuck to itself as I tried to remove it from the backer film, and it was so thin that my stencil tore in several places. It didn't easily lend to using both the original and the reverse stencil, and it doesn't lend easily to stencil reuse.]

After much materials wrangling, I finally positioned my stencil in place and waxed my resist area. Removing the stencil was another chore, as my wax was harder than the stencil material and I would still need the stencil for the final splatter paint.

I dampened the shirt and started spritzing bleach. I probably should have bleached first and watered later, since the glow area wasn't as bleached as I would have liked, and extended much further than I would have liked.

After bleaching and wax removal
After washing to remove the remainder of the beeswax, I applied various splotches of fabric dye and water bleeds to bring the bleached area back to about where I wanted it. Overdyeing didn't help as much as I would have liked, but it did add a lovely layer of complexity to the shirt.

After overdyeing
Next, my lettering. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I chose silver foil (to mimic the "dressings" we have on many real-life torahs) for the letters and a silvery holographic vinyl for the "star". Choosing Shlomo STAM for my typeface was a no-brainer, since I wanted to echo the formality and divinity of the Sefer Torah. Unfortunately the holographic vinyl didn't show up as well as I wanted, and neither vinyl wanted to adhere well at the fussy, tiny points.

I finished up the shirt by reapplying the stencil to the entire torah area and splattering the shirt with silver Liquitex acrylic ink and silver Ph. Martin pen ink to create th effect of stars in the firmament surrounding the Book of Creation, separating the Earth from the Heavens...

Completed T-shirt

"B'reishith" is a one-off, an "artist t-shirt". But I'd like to take another go at trying to simplify the process of something a bit closer to my original vision.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Prototyping in Paper

As you might notice from my most recent posts, I'm on a bit of a roll working on Jewish designs for Cricut and other electronic cutters. I tend to focus more on Jewish themes around the major holidays, as well as in response to an overabundance of nominally-Christian-themed arts and crafts.

Before I commit T-shirts to the designs I'm creating in my Design Space portfolio, I need to test size and proportions to see if the concepts in my mind will work.

Because it's relatively cheap, cardstock is my go-to prototyping medium. Cutting paper gives me a good idea of how long a design would take to produce, whether my design is too complex for the medium, whether the size I have in mind is appropriate, and whether or not it will scale up and down.

My first prototype of "David Ben Avraham/Bar Mitzvah" went a bit awry. I like to prototype lettering layers by setting them to "write" loading a fine point Cricut marker into the "A" tool side rather than cutting and having to worry about all sorts of little cut-out letter shapes floating around. I used 12" x 12" paper and the oldest of my light grip mats. Unfortunately, the "grip" has worn off and the mat didn't load correctly. I cancelled the cut halfway into the write. Then, for whatever reason, I reloaded the project on the same mat (and reusing the same paper), but with the letters set to cut out instead of print. Pieces of cut-out letters went skittering around the mat, getting stuck on the point of the knife, and doing all sorts of nasty stuff. That said, I learned some really important lessons.
  1. My original design concept has too much information on it to be legible at ten feet, regardless of whether I print it at 10" (normal women's T-shirt design width) or 12" (full width of the cutting path and of heat transfer vinyl).
  2. Even with basic cleaning up, the hand-sketched design had enough irregularities that it took the Cricut an extremely long time to run through what should have been very basic cuts.
  3. A distinct "edge" around the sides of all the pieces and edges in the project would have been very difficult to weed and to register properly.
So I spent several hours tracing over my design with Illustrator's "arc" tool and "direct selection" tool, translating my pencil and marker strokes into vector paths and Bézier curves, and eventually into shapes that would take color (so I know they are complete paths, and so I can separate them and organize them by color and layer in Design Space). Unfortunately, two of my complete paths refused to take a color fill. Sigh. Once that was done, I imported the .svg file into Design Space.

After organizing my layers, I ran a test cut in paper:

While the separated disks and sides of the scroll ends are nice in theory, I forgot to duplicate, slice, and dice the top handles, so there are two paper pieces where there should only have been one.

I fixed up the handles and set the three scroll surfaces to two different shades of brown.

A second, flatter version, welds those pieces into a single piece suitable for iron-on, though in a more cartoonish fashion. I would have loved to have been able to weld the open text and scrolls into a single piece for that version, but every time I tried, the refuses-to-fill center portion caused the entire shape to disappear. I left the text out of this one; it's just the template.

Another method I tried is a bit more stylized, using thick lines instead of different colors of heat-transfer vinyl. This style would be nicely visible, but leaves very little room for lettering.

I'm currently working on a T-shirt design for a sandek, the equivalent of an infant boy's godfather. I'll gather a few basic designs into a portfolio to prove I can create them, and customize from there as needed.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

More on Non-Western Alphabets, Bar Mitzvah T-Shirts

After talking with an Observant Jewish friend, I got the idea for a design I felt might be a bit more appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah t-shirt.

Design Sketch

Jewish men tend to have strong memories of the parshah (weekly Torah and Haftorah (Prophets) readings) they were required to learn for the public synagogue performance that defines most modern B'nai Mitzvah (Bar Mitzvahs). The readings are tied to specific weeks of the Jewish calendar. I came up with the graphic idea of a Torah scroll, open for reading, with the Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah's Jewish name, along with the parshah and date (intended to be written in Hebrew). I used "David ben Avraham" as a generic male name, and since my Hebrew and Jewish learning isn't that great and I wasn't at home when sketching, I chose the parshah "Vayyera" as one whose name I remembered, sketching it in English to be customized in Hebrew for any particular Bar Mitzvah.

Once I got home, I used a couple of brush markers to ink the outlines of the scroll, imported it into my graphics programs, and uploaded it into Design Space.

Note that the lines have been thickened, and the rollers colored in a single (flat) brown to make them easier to cut and weed. (I have since added a white underlayer for the parchment.)

Following the method I outlined in my previous post, I added my sample Bar Mitzvah boy's name and the words "Bar Mitzvah" in Photoshop and curved the text appropriately:

Vertical Text Typing Reversal

The problem came when I started trying to insert the vertical text in Photoshop: because I forgot to check the "switch orientation" icon, the letters were jumbled together, and when I started separating them by putting each on a separate line, they disappeared... and then they appeared, in reverse order. Even when I copied my text into vertical orientation, they were in reverse order... until I typed in my text into Character Map as it normally read.

So, if you are looking to include vertical text in a right-to-left language, you will need to remember to not reverse the order of your letters, with a notable exception:

"Ki Tetze"

I changed my sample parshah from "Vayyera" to "Ki Tetze" (כִּי־תֵצֵא‬) when I started blocking out my text. My main reason for this was a shorter name. That said, it's two words, and the last letter (yad) of the first word doesn't go all the way down to the baseline. 

Because I was having trouble getting vertical text in Photoshop, I selected a system font with Hebrew characters and copied my text into Design Space. At first, the typeface I'd originally chosen didn't show up in my system fonts there, but that was because I'd forgotten to refresh the tab to refresh my system fonts index.

Regardless of whether I entered text in Photoshop, Illustrator, or Design Space, I had to play around with line spacing to get the letters to appear as cohesive words, and with the size of my text box to make sure all those letters appeared in the text object. That said, the vertical orientation — and what I could do with it — varied from program to program.

Slanted Text

Because Design Space keeps each text block as a separately editable, but not warpable, object, rotating the text was sufficient to get it to align with the torah scroll. That said, the amount of difference in line spaces, along with the common use of the character yad as a vowel, required me to put "Ki" (kaf-yad) on a single line, with "Tetze" following as a separate vertically-aligned word.

Both Photoshop and Illustrator have better line spacing, however, keeping my letters as text causes them to handle text rotation differently from Design Space, as well as differently from each other.

Since Design Space treats each text object as a single, image-like object, using the rotation handle to rotate my vertical text ends up perfectly aligned to my slanted rolled parchment, even though each letter is on a separate line. If I place each letter on a separate line in Illustrator, rotating my object will cause my letters remain upright, but indent each line to follow the object's slant. 

Both Illustrator and Photoshop have text-orientation toggles that let you type normally, but format your letters vertically. In CS4, which is the (admittedly-ancient) version of Creative Suite I'm working with, the toggle is under the "Type" menu in Illustrator. In Photoshop, with the text tool selected, it's a small "T" with vertical and horizontal arrows that appears just to the left of the typeface selector on the text ribbon. That said, I had to rasterize my vertical text in Photoshop — making it ineditable — before I could rotate it. 

Finding New Faces

Being that I'm looking at doing some more artistic work with Hebrew text, I looked for and installed several dozen different free Hebrew typefaces I found at sources such as WebToolHub, FontSpace, Free Hebrew FontAlefAlefAlef and the Open Siddur Project. I was looking primarily for a couple of faces in Hebrew "script", of which I had none in my collection, as well as some variations in display fonts that would make for interesting (and potentially marketable) items.

These showed up nicely in Photoshop and Illustrator as expected, but didn't show up in Design Space until I saved my project and reloaded the tab.


I'm sufficiently unfamiliar with the system of using Hebrew letters for numbers that it's going to take some more work before I'm able to complete the left-hand scroll with a reasonable sample Hebrew date. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Non-Western Alphabets and Design Space

Working at Michaels, I've seen a lot of T-shirts, hats, and sashes that say "Bride", "Bridesmaid", "Team Bride", and so on. I've also seen a lot of Bar and Bat Mitzvah favors that say something like

David's Bar Mitzvah
Regency Hotel
Mazel Tov!

That's fun if you're Reform, Conservative, or have many non-Jewish friends and family attending. But what about my friends and customers who are more "Observant" — a heading which includes Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Chassidic, and/or Haredi — customers who, if they wear T-shirts (and some of them might) would prefer to have that done up in Hebrew lettering? What about modern versions of the aprons my mother and grandmother wore growing up, embroidered in Hebrew with the words "Yom Tov" (holiday) or "Shabbat" (Sabbath), or the towels and potholders labeled "Milchig" (dairy) or "Fleischig" (meat) in the local Judaica shop? 

Wouldn't it be fun to do those up on the Cricut?

And that's just Hebrew. How about my Muslim customers, my Russian customers, my Asian customers... people who speak and observe their religions in languages not served by the Western alphabet?

It's possible, but it may take a bit of a workaround.

Since my linguistic vocabulary is limited to a few Hebrew and Yiddish (which uses a variation of the Hebrew alef-bet) words and phrases, my examples will be taken from those languages. 

Getting the Right Fonts

On the plus side, Windows (and I presume Mac OS) operating systems include access to the full Unicode character set for many typefaces, which means (in theory) I could use Character Map to bring up my characters, copy them, and paste them into Illustrator, Photoshop, or Design Space. Unfortunately, my current version of Windows and my old version of Adobe Creative Suite don't always talk the same typeface language (Open Text versus the older PostScript and TrueType), so it's a bit hit-and-miss as to what's available where, and whether or not the font designer added in a Hebrew character set.

At least for Hebrew, a quick way of learning if the typeface supports it is to load a blank document into Word or Photoshop, select a text area (or text tool), and look at your font dropdown menu. In Word, the typeface's primary alternate character set will be on the right, in the direction that language is usually read. In Photoshop, typefaces with code pages for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and Hebrew alphabets will show up organized into sections below the main list of typefaces, with a few characters from each to show how the typeface looks in that codepage.

A more thorough (but tedious) way to check if any individual typeface has a particular character set is to go into Windows' built-in Character Map, select your font, and scroll down through the code pages. While your primary language can be directly entered from the keyboard, your alternate-alphabet language may have to be loaded by searching for your character by Windows' name for it, or by scrolling down to your desired character and double-clicking. 

Windows Paint, Photoshop Workarounds

If I try to upload a text file into Design Space, it'll get rejected — and I can't save a Windows document to an image format Design Space supports. But outside of Illustrator, Photoshop, and Design Space, there's no good way to turn text into images, except by screen capture. For me, the easiest way to save a screencap is to paste it into Windows Paint, crop out the extraneous information, and save it. (I could use Photoshop, but for something that quick and simple, I don't need Photoshop's long load time and large system overhead.)

Because I'd been having font issues in Illustrator, I did some basic composition in Word, capturing my screen and pasting it into Windows Paint, cropping down to my text, saving in .png format, and importing into Design Space
Example: "Sandek" (one of the godfathers (usually the grandfathers) at a brit-millah). Typeface: Frank Ruehl.

Layers and Effects

I hoped I'd be able to get around some of those codepage issues once I added Hebrew and Yiddish languages into Windows, but there are still things I can't do directly. As an example, I can get a very even large outline around a letter in Illustrator by duplicating the letter, adding a heavy stroke to the duplicate, and placing it behind the original letter. Unfortunately, saving the file in .svg causes Design Space to lose the stroke information, and I get two identical copies of the same letters.
Example: "Kallah" (bride). Original design as created in Illustrator. Typeface: Rod Regular.
Example: "Kallah". How Design Space interprets the .svg file
I found two ways to get the correct layering. The first was to export each layer individually as a .png file, import them into Design Space as cut-only images, load them both onto my design mat, resize them and align them to line up correctly.

Correctly aligned layers in Design Space
The second way was to export my design to Photoshop, color the bottom layer text the same as the stroke color, and save each layer separately in .jpg format.

Typing Text Directly

It's not impossible to use non-Western fonts directly in Design Space, but I will note an issue with non-left-to-right codepages: when I've selected Hebrew as my system language, Design Space (as well as Photoshop and Illustrator) will render Hebrew correctly right-to-left, but in order to have a legible, legitimate word, I have to type in my characters left to right.

"Kallah" rendered as typed in Design Space. Typeface: David Regular
As you can see, my text is entered correctly from right to left, but the characters are rendered left to right. For Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic, or other right-to-left words to appear correct, I need to enter them in reverse order.
"Kallah" properly rendered, typed in reverse order.

Some Final Notes...

Being unfamiliar with the usual way of entering "pointed" characters,  I had to use Character Map and scroll down to the very bottom of the code page to find the Kaf with the dagesh — the dot in the middle — that differentiates it from a Khaf.

Because one of the things I was looking for going into this exercise was images for Rosh Hashanah, I found what appears to be a good source for Jewish, Muslim, and other religious and ethnic graphics. The images are not free, but they're reasonably priced, and the site doesn't require a paid subscription to look at the packages.

The fun font for "David's Bar Mitzvah" is "Bungee Shade" from Google Fonts, which is a collection of typefaces Google publishes for Web use. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Recycling Weeded Vinyl

One of the things I've learned really quickly about my Cricut is it can create a lot of wasted vinyl and specialty cardstock. While I've been pretty lucky about getting my initial materials on sale, that's still a dollar or more per 12" x 12" sheet of material, with a lot of leftovers from the small projects I've been working on.

One option for using these leftovers is to cut your printed vinyl close to edges of your design before weeding, and use the leftover unprinted vinyl for another project. This is fairly simple if your designs are all small and relatively linear, like the geocaching reference number for The Other Half's car, or the starship profile I ironed on my multiple-process mixed-media T-shirt.

It's a bit less simple if you've printed out a corner flourish for your desk or notebook.

In the former case, you can fill a sheet with multiple copies of your artwork (if you need them). As an example, I can print my computer club's logo two-across on a 12" vinyl sheet, and then cut off the remaining nine inches for another project.

As long as your vinyl sheet has a ninety-degree corner (more or less) to align to the top and left sides of the mat, and it covers the area of the mat that will be printed, you're good to go.

If your vinyl scrap is more rounded, you may need an iPad or an iPhone and the Snap Mat feature of Cricut's DesignSpace app. (Note: there's a beta version of DesignSpace for Android, but it doesn't have Snap Mat.) The way it works is, you lay your vinyl (or other material) on the mat, take a picture of the mat through the app, and use the Move handles to move your pieces to where your vinyl is on the mat. The process is a bit slow and tricky at first, but as long as your Cricut registers your mat properly, you've got a great way to save material.

But what if your piece has one or more large interior spaces, the type which can't be cut (except maybe carefully, with a blade on a self-healing mat), and/or which is better weeded? Isn't there anything you can do with that?

Of course there is... at least, I think there is. Here are some of my hypotheses and tests:

Background: ready-to-cut eat transfer vinyl consists of two (or sometimes three) layers: the clear carrier layer, the effects layer (in holographic and reflective HTVs), and the adhesive layer.
  1. Because the carrier is already resistant to melting at iron-on temperatures, can it be used as a protective layer for other iron-ons (such as layered HTV or typical inkjet t-shirt transfers)?
    • So far, it seems to work OK for regular HTV. I've used it to iron hand-cut reflective hearts onto an old pair of cycling shorts to improve my night visibility.
    • I haven't tried it yet with iron-on fabric or inkjet t-shirt transfers.
  2. After weeding, the exposed part of the carrier is tacky — tacky enough to grab weed scraps from either your iron-on project or your adhesive vinyl project. Can these be used as carriers to use the weeded vinyl?
    • If I have a large piece of HTV that has been weeded. Is the adhesive bond strong enough to reuse the carrier and have my Cricut cut the scrap vinyl?
      • So far, I've only tried it with the carrier from glitter vinyl.
        • It worked (relatively) fine for a scrap of reflective iron-on, which is almost as thin as foil HTV. The big issues were that the scraps could stretch out of plane (so they wouldn't lie flat on the carrier), and that it was difficult to keep bubbles from forming
    After re-cutting
    After re-cutting - close-up

        • It didn't work as well for the scrap of glitter HTV, largely because the HTV didn't want to adhere well to the used carrier.

        • Can I reuse the carrier as transfer tape for adhesive vinyl?
          • Sadly, the answer for this appears to be "no". The HTV carrier is thicker and less flexible than the regular adhesive vinyl and its transfer tape. Even after burnishing, my Oracal 651 and Cricut Premium Vinyl both wanted to stay adhered to the carrier rather than my project. (Sorry, no pics for this one)
Similar questions exist for regular (sticky-back) adhesive vinyl and its backing. As long as the weeded scrap stays in plane and has enough stick to adhere to the used backing, the Cricut should work just fine.
Of course, if you're going to try to reuse non-heat-transfer-vinyl in this way, you will need to make sure you keep the adhesive as pristine as possible, and the carrier must be free from lint and scraps as well.

I hope this helps some of you electronic-cutter folk get some more mileage from your materials.