How to draw better letters by using optical corrections

How to draw better letters by using optical corrections

When I first started vectorizing my lettering with the pen tool, I had issues with drawing good letters. I knew how to use the pen tool, I knew where to place my points, but my letters would still look a little off and because vectors are so clean, that little “off” part really stand out. You would think that you need to measure and make everything exactly the same when but in case of drawing better letters it’s the exact opposite.

Our brain likes to tricks us, and two exactly the same shapes can look uneven to our eyes. Take a look at the shape below and tell me which one is thicker, vertical or horizontal?

Optical Corrections Stroke

They are mathematically exactly the same, but the horizontal looks slightly thicker doesn’t it?

These are the kind of issues we need to correct while drawing letters, but thankfully there is an easy way to do that by using optical corrections.

What are optical corrections?

Optical corrections are slight modifications or corrections you need to make to your letters to correct for what our brain perceives as unequal even though it is equal.

There are some corrections that you always have to make, and the others depend on the situation. I’ve tried to collect as many situations as I could to cover most case scenarios. If you keep these in mind while drawing letters, you should start seeing a difference in your work. However, it may take you a while to get a hang of it, because there is no exact recipe for the amount of these corrections. Each letter is different by design and so is the correction and you have to let your eyes decide how much it should be corrected.

Problem areas and how to correct them by using optical corrections
1 Height

First problem area is the height of the letters. If you choose a height and make all the letters equal height, some of them will seem smaller. We can see this best in letters that are circular or triangular like in the example below. See how the “O” and the “A” in the top row seem smaller than the “H” and the “L”?

Optical Corrections Overshoot

To correct this optical illusion, we use something called an Overshoot. Each letter that is triangular (like an uppercase A), or is circular (like O), needs to be extend slightly in order to appear the same height. Usually about 2% of the height is where you would start but let your eyes decide how much is enough. In case of an “A” the overshoot is even bigger.

Optical Corrections Oversoot Zoomed In
2 Straight to curve joins

Letters like B, P, U and D join a straight line with a curved line. That join can sometimes be very apparent like in the left D below. We can compensate for that by adjusting the point placement and handles so that the join feels more natural.

Optical Corrections Straight to Curve
3 Straight to round intersection

Lowercase letter h for example can look too heavy at the intersection of the straight and round stroke if we do not compensate for that by thinning the round stroke at the join.

Optical Corrections Straight to Curve Intersection
4 Stroke thickness

This is the correction that you will probably use the most. The horizontal strokes in letters like H and T need to be slightly thinner in order to appear the same thickness as the vertical strokes. Somewhere around 10% would be good to start.

Diagonal strokes like in letters A or V seem thinner than the vertical strokes and have to be slightly thickened. The round strokes also need to be adjusted in the same way.

In capital letters, which are usually bigger in size than the lowercase, there is more negative space. That results in making it look like the uppercase letters are thinner than lowercase. To correct that you should add some thickness to your caps until they are balanced with the lowercase.

Optical Corrections Stroke thickness
Special Cases

The 4 optical corrections above are the ones you will be using the most and can be applied to almost any style of lettering. Some corrections are needed only in some letters depending on what style of letters you are drawing so just keep these in mind when you draw and check if any of them could be applied to your design.

Optical Corrections Other corrections
1 Letter S

The letter S can be drawn in many different ways but in most cases the upper bowl is slightly smaller than the lower bowl.

2 Letter H

Crossbar is placed higher than the mathematical middle, usually by 2-3% to appear as if it’s in the middle. If you want the crossbar to be in the middle that is.

3 Letter V

In letter styles with small or no contrast, letter V needs to have a slightly thicker left stroke in order to appear as though the strokes are the same.

4 Italics

Angle corrections in italics and scripts are sometimes needed to make it appear that all the letters have the same angle.

Trust your eyes. If you see there is something off about your letters try checking if some of these corrections can be applied, especially if you are drawing your letters with the pen tool because these issues will be much more apparent in vectors than drawing by hand.


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