Written by Jorge Iván Moreno Majul  |  May 20, 2020

Octothorpe, or how to enjoy redesigning a glamorous, hypnotic, and elegantly useless display font from the seventies?

Jorge Iván shares with us the design process and production of his Octothorpe font, plus some other things. He reviews the rise and fall of dry transfer lettering, focusing on the Stripes face, created for that technology, and reveals its unsettling in-use attributes. He finalizes by tackling the process of reanimation of Stripes by way of samples and specimens, and tells us how it ended up becoming a new digital tool, Octothorpe: a typeface with major visual impact that explores new ways of expression by using current resources.

Table of Contents

Dry transfer lettering: Freedom and restriction

Coming after movable type and photo-type, dry transfer lettering represents a halfway point within the historical evolution of typefaces, standing between photocomposition and digital typefaces, the final analog link connecting two apparently disparate universes since it allowed both professionals and enthusiasts, for the first time, to make use of these curious stencils that ended up having a huge impact in the ever changing industry of design and the graphic arts.

The leap from one format to another has occurred with questionable rigor and many of the families that existed as dry transfer alphabet sheets suffered various losses, especially if one takes into account what had been accomplished in more than 500 years of tradition. Others were unfortunate or fortunate enough to not be part of a broader group of typographical families that comprised the existing catalogues. However, a large number of type families designed for this short-lived means of reproduction were also developed, and they were based on types of letterforms that either continued to evolve towards the digital era or remained awaiting to be the last technology to resurface from transfer sheets to Bezier curves.

Page from the Manual de Caligrafía by Jorge E. Betanzos, ECA editions, México 1978, a finding made by a cousin of the author who then gifted it to him without knowing the value it would have for this project.

At the time the format freed typefaces from some of the restrictions that limited them and this led to unexpected uses of typographical form and space, which was manifested in the use they were given while their surge lasted. Even when formally a mechanism existed that allowed a correct spacing by means of an individual letter registry system named Spacematic, additionally, and made possible via a thorough study of the alphabetic usage frequency, an optimum use of the characters of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation was guaranteed with minimum waste.

These segments served to complete the unions or extend the lines between words and were key when defining how to extend the character set.
Tony Wenmann, designer of Stripes.


Within this nearly forgotten ensemble rests a face with great potential that hasn’t had a worthy revival so far. I’m referring to Stripes, of the currently extinct Letraset company, consisting of a geometric, multilinear letter style which has eight lines for each stroke and whose peculiarity and innovation lies in the fact that it has alternate versions for most alphabetic characters, allowing them to join with each other, creating a continuous succession of shared parts along the words one wants to give shape to. This face was included in a special collection of fonts for titlings named Letragraphica, many of which were developed for this use and some that were selected via an international contest to become a part of the next catalogue.

A stimulating inspiration. It appears that Mark Simonson once wrote this ad in a paper.

Due to its method of use, once a letter was transferred it couldn’t be used for another composition, which was one of the main disadvantages of the dry transfer lettering technology. Therefore when a title required additional characters, the only possible solution was to once again acquire the same sheet, which would hardly suffice for a single use and almost every time there were characters left unused, added to the fact that to set a title with Stripes an alphabetic variant that had already been used was needed, further complicating its use for more complex titles. However many skilled users of the field would resort to clippings and patches taken from other characters to form words and come up with clever ways to connect letters.

In-use example of product packaging.

Another characteristic of this typeface that remained little explored by users was, when used for straightforward setting, the ability to alter titles generated with this system by excluding some of the lines. Also, in the case of professionals creating mechanic originals for reproduction, lines could be used independently to incorporate color in designs that pushed the boundary between typography and lettering. In some of the few cases available today the continuity of lines can still be observed in the spaces between words, and even more, if the alignment of the parts of letters would allow it, a vertical union in logotypes and visually impactful phrases.


Re-emerging with the name of ‘Octothorpe’ and as a part of the process of reanimation one of the tasks performed consisted of adding characters that would complete a broader set fit for today’s standards, made possible thanks to the economy of the digital format. In order to do this, catalog specimens and in-use samples were consulted, as well as the original sheets.

As if it were a font equipped with tentacles, the letters of Octothorpe can be linked or not to suit the user’s desire, generating a continuity of a high graphic impact.

The process involved the meticulous task of manually drawing Bezier curves. Luckily some algorithms and scripts that allow you to control the drawing quality were very helpful.

Completing the character repertoire meant that a large amount of glyphs that did not exist in the original typeface had to be designed, beginning with the entire lowercase! One of the current challenges of the trade.

Take your pick: every possible cross-link of lines for the dollar or peso sign.

Swashed capitals include flourish options [loop going to one side, to the other side, or to both sides] as well as connections to other glyphs. It is almost like a catalog of hairdos.
Accents and digraphs from the foundry’s ‘SuperLatin’ set were added, covering about 200 languages.
Greek and Cyrillic ranges are included in the PanEuro version of the font.

Many of the designs available for the so-called instant lettering have continued into digital typography, and in some cases remained faithful to the original. Curiously enough House Industries’ sister company Photo-Lettering operated until recent years with its logo-words (and phrases) business model, under which the user received not a font but the solicited text composed in the selected style, paying for the extension of it in a transaction that echoes that of transfer lettering.

Nowadays digital technology invites us to explore other options such as animation via the variable font format, so once again we see new possibilities arising with each new method of reproduction. We must ask ourselves what other ways of expression can be found for typefaces from the past or even what is in store for the digital format once new tools are made available to continue and expand the variety of ways in which typography manifests before our eyes.

In 2018 Octothorpe was awarded at the 8th international biennial Tipos Latinos. Poster designed by the author.

Jorge Iván Moreno Majul is a graphic designer, type designer and font developer, who enjoys designing nice letterforms, programming them and placing their nodes in their rightful place. He graduated from the Master in Typographic Design of the Gestalt Center (Veracruz, Mexico). He also develops 3-D animation, digital illustrations and lettering and he lectures on type design and its relationship with nowadays technologies.

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