ReType: On the Shaping of Typefaces on Screen and in Steel

Argentinian designer Ramiro Espinoza, founder of ReType, brings his enthusiasm for Dutch design to a practical exploration of how we might guide typography into the future by learning more about its past.

Espinoza studied at the University of Buenos Aires under renowned typographer Silvia González and later joined her staff. By 2003, however, he was ready to test his talents further afield, and drawn by the opportunities of the TypeMedia Masters program at the Royal Academy in The Hague, he moved to the Netherlands, as his father had in 1978 when he fled as a political refugee from the methodical terrorism carried out by Argentina’s military dictatorship.

As a child of an intellectual and political household, Espinoza remembers growing up with a good library, and books are still clearly very important in his work. His mother had to burn many of their more obviously political books for their ongoing safety after his father left, though they found some small humor in keeping a few of the better-disguised tracts on their shelves right under the noses of the poorly-educated officers sent to search them. Espinoza’s ongoing appreciation for a spirit of resistance informs the dedication of his first typeface. Originally named Mabella, this modular, compressed headline typeface has since been redrawn and renamed Bellucci in homage to Argentinian activist Mabel Bellucci.


Espinoza’s émigré perspective on local vernaculars of book design and printing combine with his good eye for a visual treasure in a vintage bookshop and his determination to keep pushing himself into new contexts. Little interested in “the latest thing,” he likes instead to find sources of inspiration in designs of the past. Given his interest in history, it’s no accident that he should have been a key figure in helping to reprint Dutch Type, Jan Middendorp’s seminal overview of Dutch lettering artists and type designers from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Espinoza’s favorite source material, however, is a design overlooked by history or wrongly attributed if acknowledged at all. Such designs afford him an opportunity to find out their true stories, and then to find his own design story within them.

“I am a designer not a digitizer.”
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Some models for his types refuse to give up their stories as easily as he might hope. Barbieri is an informal but not insincere sans which retains many of the quirks he noted in lettering used in an idiosyncratic print edition of a little-known opera. Thus far however, he has been unable to identify the original lettering designer.


Winco does not follow any one particular source but rather looks to the work of leading post-war book cover designers, not least Helmut Salden, Boudewijn Ietswaart and Berthold Wolpe. In his research for the typeface, Espinoza also studied the expressive possibilities of printing types as explored in German and Czech traditions of typefounding during the early decades of the 20th century. Using his observations as the basis for establishing a stylistic framework, Espinoza then drew the typeface from scratch. The result captures the rhythms of a previous era as well as much of the angularity of lettering traditions, but without sacrificing any of the stylistic refinements necessary within the design contexts of today. This is important to Espinoza, for whom the goal is always the creation of flexible typefaces with sophisticated, generous character sets wholly compatible with modern tastes and demands, especially in editorial or corporate settings.

Laski Slab

Laski Sans

Editorial design for corporate communication was the starting point for Laski Slab, a family which was subsequently expanded to include Laski Sans. The designer was art director Paula Mastrangelo, who used her experience working with type to shape her approach to the design of type. A working slab serif is pushed beyond the industrial norms of this genre through subtle shaping and calligraphic understanding, resulting in an award-winning multipurpose font.

More recently, Espinoza has looked to a particularly unusual aspect of type design practice to inform his own work, finding inspiration in the unexpected challenges of punchcutting.

“Believe it or not, understanding punchcutting and metal typography can even help you to improve your digital typefaces.”


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For much of the more than 550-year history of Western type manufacturing, the punchcutter was the person who gave shape to a typeface, carving each character as a mirror image at its actual size into the end of a piece of tempered steel. The steel character was then punched into a piece of copper to create the matrix used to cast the actual printing type.

The commercial work of the punchcutter has long since become obsolete, but it is in these arcane techniques that Espinoza is looking for ways to move still further forwards in his understanding of the process of shaping types. And while many find inspiration in the excellence of the achievements of others, it was the sheer clumsiness of the work of Joost Lambrecht, a 16th century punchcutter, that encouraged Espinoza to think that perhaps this skill just might be within his grasp.

And so alongside his computer, Espinoza has built up a collection of metalworking tools: files for shaping the outside contours of characters, gravers and counter-punches for the more difficult task of shaping the inside contours. He is also building a growing collection of destroyed hair-dryers as he endeavors to work out how to harden the metals he is using in his small domestic garden without access to a forge!

Speaking about this unorthodox direction in his work at the 2018 ATypI conference, Espinoza listed a number of compelling arguments in support of his interest in punchcutting, not least his conviction that, “type design is a craft.” Aligning himself with crafts activists from history who set forth arguments for the social and political benefits of crafts, Espinoza talks of the antidote they offer, “against the many ills of modern (and sometimes alienating) life.”

“Making things with your hands is emancipatory, and I feel enormous pleasure giving shape and motive to a humble steel bar.”

Guyot Healine

Guyot Text

ReType’s most recent typeface releases such as Guyot and Reiher are infused with all this new historical insight. Guyot takes its name from another sixteenth century punchcutter, François Guyot, and is the typeface Espinoza worked on in 2016 as a student of the Expert Class in Type Design at the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp. Though Guyot was less well-known and far less celebrated as a punchcutter, Espinoza chose the most compelling features of his work as the basis for a reinterpretation, and in 2018 he was rewarded with a Certificate of Typographic Excellence from the Type Directors Club.

Reiher Headline

Espinoza’s instinct to follow his craft back in history to find his way forwards in his profession has clearly proved personally enriching. He is also aware, however, of the importance of contributing to the preservation of this knowledge for the benefit of others. There are only four professional punchcutters in the world, and just a handful of serious practitioners. Too often, punchcutters have simply died without training anyone, and decades of experience and entire schools of punchcutting have vanished with them. His message is salutary and clear: if something interests you, don’t rely on anyone else, go find out more for yourself.

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