An amateur's guide to IC typesetting

[size=200]Introduction[/size]

Hi, I’m Dre. I’m here to share my experiences with producing IC documents for LARP. When I started out, I had no experience in desktop publishing whatsoever, but I wanted to create booklets and pamphlets and other documents that would feel immersive, rather than remind people of their actual modern printed origin. Over the years I’ve learned a few things and I wanted to share.

I’ll say it now: I’m by no means an expert at this. There are others with far greater skill, and I absolutely welcome additions, suggestions and corrections to this guide. If it takes off, I’ll edit this post with people’s suggestions as it progresses. I have a lot yet to learn myself!

[size=150]1. The tools[/size]

At the most basic, you need:

  1. A word processor
  2. A nice font
  3. Access to a printer.

Ideally, though, if you’re wanting to pull off some really nice-looking documents, you’ll want to go a bit deeper and dip your toe into publishing software. There are plenty of commercial options: Publisher is widely-known, there’s InDesign, QuarkXpress, etc. but most of these are serious commercial tools that require a large outlay if not a subscription outright.

Personally, I use Scribus. Its major advantage is that it’s open source and thus free to use, and it has a lot of powerful functionality built into it.

If the prospect of a desktop publishing program is daunting, never fear! There is a simpler alternative - Powerpoint, or its open source counterpart OpenOffice Impress. I’ll get to why these programs work for typesetting in a minute.

Why not just use Word?

The chief reason is flexibility. Word is great - for producing documents that look like they were typed in Word. Modern versions especially do a lot of automatic formatting which is a nightmare when you’re trying to get a document look just right. In theory Word can do almost everything… but unless you’re a complete pro at using it, you’ll bash your head off the screen well before you’re finished. Having said that, modern versions of Word are a bit easier to use.

Publishing software (and to a lesser extent, presentation software) lets you arrange your text any way you like, layer it, rotate it, and generally keep elements nice and separate for ease of access. Importantly, it also works on the basis that what you see is what you get - so there’s no risk of the formatting being messed up by printing or exporting to pdf. There are some very nice advanced tools as well; you can set font styles for different elements, and adjust minutiae of letter spacing, sizing and so forth to get it all just right.

I should mention that you can also use image manipulation software like Paint.NET, Photoshop or GIMP to create documents, and indeed if you have a lot of images/art it may be a good way forward. However, organising text is a painstaking process with such programs.

[quote=“tea”][ul]]A typesetting tool worth mentioning is TeX, which is very powerful (but quite complex) and entirely free. It has extremely good text layout algorithms, particularly for linebreaking and so on, and because of how it works is excellent for producing lots of documents with a consistent style and layout, such as a number of pamphlets or a set of songbooks or the like. You can set up templates and styles to automatically typeset each document in the same way, and get a good-looking result for all of them.
Further information about how to install and use TeX is readily available through Google. Using a version called XeTeX is generally ideal, as it gives you very good font access and control of some fancy typography features quite easily, which have historically been major issues with using TeX to do design work./
][/ul][/quote]

A word of warning. There is a bit of a learning curve to using something like Scribus or TeX. But once you get the hang of them, you’re golden! And as tea points out, once you have your preferred program set up the way you want it, you can easily replicate your efforts in no time flat.

[size=150]2. Making it look nice[/size]

So you’ve just banged out your fresh new pamphlet debating the Virtue of live pigs and now it’s ready to be typeset. If you were living in a pre-computer society you would have two options for producing copies of this document:

  1. Write it out by hand lots of times
  2. Use a manual printing press

Fortunately for us, Empire includes 2. as an IC option!

2.1. Source material

Here is where the aspirational aspect comes into play. As with any costume or prop-making, it is useful to take some references from history to get a feel for what texts could look like, and then play off of the sources to make something “coolthentic”. Obviously if you have a replica 15th century hand press, go ahead and use that (but then I suspect this guide isn’t for you). Let’s look at some antique documents.

http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/images/exhibitions/month/Bv.2.24_a6.jpg

Ahh, blackletter. Notice the emphasis on decoration; even here the dropped caps are intricate.

Colour! It’s more expensive to print but entirely worth it. It’s pretty easy to replicate that “added in by hand” effect with a little effort; you just need to pick your fonts.

Here’s a good example of a template that includes a picture. You can find woodcuts of many different types online; I personally would kill to find someone able to reproduce that style of picture. Such a person would be worth their weight in gold to an IC newspaper, in my opinion!

We can get a sense of what printed materials were like: dense words, intricate lettering, and an emphasis on decoration. To our modern eyes they are difficult to read, so let’s avoid the density. We can see clear lines delineating sections, and despite what I personally have tended to believe about old texts, they don’t print all the way to the edges and do in fact leave big spaces.

2.2. Fonts

Fonts make or break a document. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to find fonts online. Probably the best resource I’ve found is DaFont.com. Take a look in their Gothic-medieval section and in their Script-calligraphy section, but have a hunt around. Look for fonts that have the “feel” you’re after; avoid ones with modern effects added to them like noise, or those with excessive flourishes (unless it’s for very limited use). Many of the fonts you will find will not be complete; that is, they will lack some symbols or accented characters. This may require you to either edit your text to fit, or else use a substitution font. In one of my booklets I had to change fonts for my asterisk-marked section dividers!

If you like dropped capitals (which I do), there are plenty of fonts specifically for them. Go crazy with them!

If you’ve never installed a new font in Windows, it’s pretty simple. Unzip the font file to any directory you like, then go to your Windows directory, Fonts folder, and copy the files (usually .ttf extension) into that folder. It normally shows a little progress bar. Do this before opening your word processor or publishing software, or else the fonts won’t be available; you may need to restart your computer if all else fails.

As a general rule, avoid sans serif fonts (like Arial, Calibri, etc.). Their clean lines look extremely modern.

I can’t tell what makes a font look modern!

There are some useful sources for this.

[quote=“Nette”][ul]
]Also, This Timeline is really cool./][/ul][/quote]

2.3. Images

It’s extremely difficult to make images look convincing. Google image search helps by allowing you to restrict to black and white when looking for potential images. The search term “woodcut” is helpful, too. I keep a respository of interesting medieval pictures, but as noted above, if you’re really dedicated, the best ones are purpose-made. Potentially, with some image manipulation wizardry you can make pictures look the part; in which case you either want to make them into line drawings (woodcut style) or full colour “painted-in” images.

2.4. Coolthentication

This is an area I haven’t experimented with enough, but here’s the theory. Old typeset documents have a kind of charm to them by the slight smudging on the lettering, minute inconsistencies in the spacing of letters, and other artefacts of the manual press. Hand-written documents have ink that isn’t solid blocks. I suspect that with some Photoshop-style wizardry you could create an effect to emulate these features, but it’s technically beyond me. Aspirational, though!

Daisy has an excellent thread on how to make printed documents look more IC - I strongly suggest checking it out! Moving between formats to make your IC document into an image file can be fiddly, but worth the effort if you want to go the extra mile.

You can also do some interesting things by playing with the fonts themselves:

[size=150]3. Printing[/size]

So you’ve got your document all sorted out the way you want it. Now it’s time to print!

If it’s a single page document like a poster then go straight on ahead.

If, however, it’s a booklet, then you’ll need to do a bit of wizardry.

http://help.adobe.com/en_US/indesign/cs/using/images/nm_41.png

The above diagram helps to plan out your document for printing as a booklet. The method I tend to use for an A5 booklet is to lay out each page side by side on an A4 template, and then re-order them for when it comes to printing. You need to factor in the number of pages - 8 is fine, but 7 or 9 will require you to have blank pages, for instance.

[size=130]Here’s one I made earlier![/size]
This is a little booklet I made for Empire, containing some phrases I use in rituals, laid out ready for printing: PDF document.

Paper and sizing

Old paper has a very distinctive texture to it; it’s more rugose, with a bit of fabric-like texture to it, and often softer. These are qualities it is difficult to get in printer-friendly paper. High-grain “parchment” paper or off-white paper is best; you’re trading the coolthentic “feel” for a coolthentic “look”. Get the most expensive paper you can afford, and test your designs on scrap white paper. If you’re lucky, you might find cheaper, recycled paper with a bit of character to it.

Tea- or coffee-staining is also a good way forward especially if the document is old IC.

Modern paper and publications are all in standard ISO sizes. If you’re looking for a bit of extra “feel” for your documents, consider taking a guillotine to the edges (and don’t bother being exact about orientation) to give them a non-standard size.

That’s it from off the top of my head - I’m certain I will remember more later. As I said, I’ll be adding people’s suggestions and details to this post as time goes on.

Version log
1.0 - initial posting
1.1 - added a couple of bits on finishing
1.2 - added quotes from helpful people!
1.3 - added a link to Daisy’s IC paper document guide.

1 Like

A few more quick tips:
*] If you must use Word, remember that it also does Drop Caps (Highlight your letter, then Insert → Drop Caps) and Columns. *] As 'Dre pointed out, Google Image Search is very useful when trying to find appropriate IC illustrations. But dedicated websites are also worth a trawl. Old Book Illustrations is also a good place to start looking.
*] Avoid A4 as it is a very standard size of paper, being almost ubiquitous in modern life. Cutting down your A4 sheet or folding it can give a lot of character to a document.
*] Some fonts, like those by Pia Frauss have alternate letters hidden about the font. Using them can add variety to a block of text.
*] Sometimes, you can’t find the perfect font for what you want, consider mixing letters from different fonts. There are many stylistic similarities between different blackletter (aka textura) fonts, some more legible than others. Taking an E from one and a M from another is sometimes the simplest option.

Also, This Timeline is really cool.

This has some good commentary. A few further thoughts.

On Source Material

The documents you’ve picked are (unless my eyes decieve me) mostly on paper. The advent of paper is the main thing which leads to more whitespace being common - when you still need to kill a cow per leaf, whitespace was a sign of massively wealthy writers. It also depends a lot on the status of a book - the more workmanlike a volume, the smaller the margins, more cramped the layout, and more extensive the marginal notes and annotation, in general.

Fonts

A surprisingly good resource to learn about the history of typography is Wikipedia. In particular, there are quite a lot of fonts that are several hundred years old but still readily available on modern computers (Caslon springs to mind as an example), and others in similarly ancient styles. For body text especially, using one of these can help tip the balance forward into readability while avoiding Times New Roman.

Other things to consider are stylistic touches - several fonts have “old-style numerals”, which drop below the line instead of standing on it, and using a nice display capital font for titles is also a fairly old habit that’s out of fashion nowadays. Some fonts also have lots of ligatures, and enabling those is another way to make things look a little more archaic.

TeX and friends

A typesetting tool worth mentioning is TeX, which is a very powerful (but quite complex) and entirely free program developed originally by Don Knuth. It’s got some very powerful features for mathematical and scientific typesetting, which are pretty much irrelevant here. But it also has extremely good text layout algorithms, particularly for linebreaking and so on, and because of how it works is excellent for producing lots of documents with a consistent style and layout.

Further information about how to install and use TeX is readily available through Google. Using a version called XeTeX is generally ideal, as it gives you very good font access and control of some fancy typography features quite easily, which have historically been major issues with using TeX to do design work. It really comes into its own when you’re wanting to produce a series of documents in a consistent layout, such as a number of pamphlets or a set of songbooks or the like. You can set up templates and styles to automatically typeset each document in the same way, and get a good-looking result for all of them.

Literally thought this was going to be a guide on typesetting in the field :frowning:

This is brilliant! Thank you very much for putting this together! :smiley:

I’m a big fan of Ivory-coloured paper as a cheap and straightforward way of IC-ifying the look of a document.

Ryman’s own-brand Laid Paper is reasonably cheap and good for that. Don’t waste your money (like I did) on Conqueror, it’s watermarked.

Unbleached Recyled paper is also a good option, I find.

And, of course, there is always tea bags. Though only try to tea stain paper from a laserjet, most inkjet inks are water soluable and it will end… poorly. This is the voice of bitter experience speaking.

Regarding paper choices, note that you aren’t trying to imitate the look of a 500 year old book today. You’re trying to imitate the look of that book when it was new. Staining and ripping is less ideal, but an unbleached off-white paper is a great thing to use.

Buy a printing press (you can get Adana 8x5s or 5x3s on Ebay relatively cheaply) and a number of fonts (also available via Ebay). If you want to do larger documents, you’ll probably need to build your own press to do it affordably. Lever presses can give you slightly dodgy impressions for large sheets, but are much easier to make.

Then do a bunch of practice to get good at hand-setting type relatively quickly.

Font wise, it’s probably useful to have a 10pt and ideally a 12pt for body fonts. Doubling up on your main body size is good if you want to do larger documents in one go. An 8pt or so is nice for footnotes if you want to do those, something largish for subheadings, and a display face for titles, and you’re basically settled in. Then you can start looking at getting e.g. italics and so on.

Similar advice applies as before to style for font selection. Display faces are often available in smaller sets and consequently cheaper, so you can pick up a few of those.

In general, though, it’s expensive, bulky, and time consuming. I’ve thought about it, but enjoy other bits of my game too much.

Also worth asking the Pledge, who I believe print from an IC press on the field for some of their flyers and handbills.

Really interesting post, thanks for putting all that together. Having done lots of booklets and newspapers and the like, I thought it would be egg-sucking - but not at all! Some really good tips and tricks that have inspired me to try some more IC bookmaking. Will be looking up the open-source DTP options forthwith. Thank you for taking the time to get all that down, I hope it leads to more inspirational paperwork across the field! :slight_smile:

Great stuff!

As a creator of various booklets I’d like to throw in a tip: you don’t actually need to worry about re-ordering the pages of your booklet if you have some means of saving your work as a PDF, because Acrobat Reader includes booklet printing under the printing options these days. This and a duplex-ready printer has been an absolute godsend for me.

Regarding fonts, we host a collection of thirty-eight fantasy/medieval style fonts in the Anvil Hospital Library. They’re public domain, so are free to use in any of your own documents. Direct download for the zip file is here.

Sorry for the thread necro, been trying to download the Anvil Fonts pack, but it keeps failing on me.
Could anyone who has managed to get a copy ping me a pm with a dropbox or similar link?

Cheers!

I downloaded it only a few days ago but it looks like the website is having issues, I’ll mention it to Aaron.

Our website host has had some intermittent issues over the last few days, but the site - and download - are currently up and I’m assured the problems are now resolved.

If you’re still running into problems, pagangeek, I’ve sent you a PM with an alternate download location.

Thanks for the PM, I would have replied via it but sadly I’m not allowed to do that yet.

I’m still running into the same problem, so I can only assume that it’s my mac having a paddy. It keeps crapping out on the download at 47%

Thanks for your help though!

Cheers.

If it helps and you’re in a hurry, Google Docs has a typeface under More Fonts called IM Fell , that I have found to look great for IC documents.

[quote=“Nette”]

Unbleached Recyled paper is also a good option, I find.

And, of course, there is always tea bags. Though only try to tea stain paper from a laserjet, most inkjet inks are water soluable and it will end… poorly. This is the voice of bitter experience speaking.[/quote]

Top tip for tea staining docs. Do it to your blank paper first. Use coffee for a darker look. Turn your oven on really low and throw it in there for 5 seconds or so to dry it well. You can let it air dry but it depends how much paper you’re staining, the oven is quicker. Always keep an eye on it of course and be wary the paper gets hot easy. Once its dry you can put it through a printer no problem.

If you trim the edges you might need to go back over them to colour them.

[quote=“BozBozBoz”]

Unbleached Recyled paper is also a good option, I find.

And, of course, there is always tea bags. Though only try to tea stain paper from a laserjet, most inkjet inks are water soluable and it will end… poorly. This is the voice of bitter experience speaking.

Top tip for tea staining docs. Do it to your blank paper first. Use coffee for a darker look. Turn your oven on really low and throw it in there for 5 seconds or so to dry it well. You can let it air dry but it depends how much paper you’re staining, the oven is quicker. Always keep an eye on it of course and be wary the paper gets hot easy. Once its dry you can put it through a printer no problem.

If you trim the edges you might need to go back over them to colour them.[/quote]

I tend to suggest almost exactly the reverse: if you’re going to tea-stain, use a mild tea to just tint it a bit.

Heavy staining makes your document look like it’s in the modern day but is 400 years old. That’s not actually the look you want for an IC document: you instead want a document that looks like it was made in the last few years, 400 years in the past.

It’s a subtle difference, but quite important for the style - an ancient tome isn’t really appropriate for your accounting ledger at Empire…

I agree with you entirely. What I meant to point out was tea = light and coffee = dark. Rather than recommending darker.

Though, maybe people will want to make some ancient looking documents? Perhaps we now know that the coffee shade of paper indicates its 400 years old, but its an easy way to make something look older than brand new. An ancient family contract for example or a song book handed down for generations perhaps.