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SFT Schrifted Sans:
Designing Cyrillic

An article about what it means to add Cyrillic to a font, as well as thoughts on when and how to do it. We’ll be focusing on the development of Cyrillic characters in the new SFT Schrifted Sans font, and discussing the challenges and creative solutions that arose during the design process.
February 14, 2023 ∙ 7 min. read
SFT Schrifted Sans Designing Cyrillic
Adding Multiple Cyrillic Languages to SFT Schrifted Sans
Just like Latin, Cyrillic is used in a multitude of languages. And as a result, the more languages we want to include in a typeface, the more characters we will need to design. Let’s take a look at the language and character set of Cyrillic in SFT Schrifted Sans.

As a Russian speaker, I start drawing Cyrillic with the Russian alphabet.
Russian alphabet set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Basic Russian alphabet.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

At first glance, everything seems quite straightforward and clear, but there are a few special characters that an experienced (and conservative) eye will definitely notice, even with the slightest deviation from the ideal. These are primarily the letters б (many tears were shed over this beautiful flame-shaped ascender), Лл, and Дд (with their seemingly vertical but at the same time slanted leg). I would also add У and, surprisingly, Чч to this list (a seemingly simple character, but one must understand the peculiarities of its curve). The shapes of the ovals in Фф can also raise questions, but in neutral sans serif fonts, there are usually no problems.

And you also need to carefully fit в, з, and я into the height of lowercase characters, while choosing their visual thickness and width so that they look natural. I often compare them to the two-storey а, if there is one in the font.
A test word for в, з, я letters set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

A good test word for в, з, я.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Next, you can expand the language set. I have a minimum list of Cyrillic languages that I cannot morally allow myself to neglect. In addition to Russian, it includes Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bosnian. Interestingly, Serbian uses a different form of the letter б.
Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bosnian alphabets together set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bosnian alphabets together.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

This set also includes Bulgarian. However, in Bulgaria, a different form of Cyrillic is usually used, in which the shapes resemble an upright Cyrillic cursive. This version looks and feels closer to Latin, thanks to the larger number of arched forms and ascenders.
Bulgarian (round) form of Cyrillic set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Bulgarian (round) form of Cyrillic.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Since the letters in Bulgarian are the same, but have different forms, to include a full-fledged Bulgarian language in the font, you need to use OpenType locl features. In this case, when typing Bulgarian text, the letters will be automatically replaced with alternatives.
Bulgarian (round) form of Cyrillic set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Bulgarian (round) form of Cyrillic.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

There are many languages that use Cyrillic, especially in the post-Soviet space and within Russia. And it would be a noble deed to design all possible characters even for languages with the smallest number of speakers. Perhaps someday I will have time and courage to do this, but for now, I limit my work to languages with over 100,000 speakers. The list is still quite long — more than 60 languages.
Cyrillic languages in SFT Schrifted Sans:
Adyghe, Akhvakh, Aleut (Cyrillic), Altaic, Andi, Archi, Avar, Bashkir, Belarusian (Cyrillic), Besermyan, Bosnian (Cyrillic), Bulgarian (Cyrillic), Buryat, Chechen (Cyrillic), Chukchi, Chulym, Chuvash, Dargwa, Dungan, Enets, Even (Lamut), Gagauz, Godoberi, Ingush, Kabardino-Cherkess, Karaim, Karakalpak, Karata (Karata-Tukita), Karelian, Kazakh (Cyrillic), Ket, Kildin Sámi, Kirghiz, Komi-Zyrian, Koryak, Kumyk, Lak, Lezgian, Macedonian, Moldavian (Cyrillic), Mongolian, Mordvin-moksha, Nanai, Nganasan, Oroch, Ossetian, Russian, Rusyn, Saami, Serbian (Cyrillic), Soyot-Tsaatan, Tabasaran, Tadzhik, Tatar Volgaic, Tindi, Touva, Tsez, Turkmen (Cyrillic), Udege, Udmurt, Uighur (Cyrillic), Ukrainian, Ulch, Uzbek (Cyrillic), Veps, Yukagir.
All Cyrillic letters in SFT Schrifted Sans.

All Cyrillic letters in SFT Schrifted Sans.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Why it’s Better to Draw Cyrillic Right Away
I started drawing the Cyrillic characters for SFT Schrifted Sans when the rest of the typeface and its design were already finished. Initially, I hadn’t planned to include Cyrillic in the first version of the font, but I changed my mind later on. However, I usually draw Cyrillic characters almost at the same time as Latin characters, sometimes even in parallel. I believe this is the best approach, and I’ll try to explain why.

Cyrillic borrows many letter forms from the Latin alphabet (such as A B E (K) M H O Р С Т Х a e o p c x). However, texts written in Cyrillic look very different. Latin is based on circles and arches, while Cyrillic is mostly made up of straight lines (like a fence). This means that we place letters that are designed and tested in the context of the Latin alphabet and, for example, English texts, in a completely different surrounding. And they need to fit in naturally and harmoniously. This can be a real challenge.
Comparison of Latin (English) and Cyrillic (Russian) texts set with SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

Comparison of Latin (English) and Cyrillic (Russian) texts.

SFT Schrifted Sans Medium.

I believe that placing letters in different contexts always benefits the font. You look at them from a different perspective and start seeing details (and flaws) that you might have overlooked before. And I’m not just talking about the contours and shapes of the characters. Often, I adjust the widths and thicknesses of the letters when I start drawing Cyrillic characters. For example, imagine that you’ve drawn round Latin letters, like o or e, and everything looks good and harmonious. But then these circles meet a solid wall of Cyrillic characters that challenge them. At that moment, any inconsistencies in the ratio of circle thicknesses to vertical stems become apparent. The same can be said for the ratio of the widths of round and rectangular characters.

Another example: I constantly increase the sidebearings of Xx letter when testing them in Cyrillic. This is because this letter appears much more frequently in Russian than in English, so it can be finely tuned in Russian texts.

And all this is about a more or less neutral grotesque! Imagine how many nuances arise in serif or display fonts. Therefore, to avoid painful editing of the already completed Latin alphabet or drawing Cyrillic characters based on its own rules, it’s best to draw everything at once.
The Design Challenges of Cyrillization
Incorporating Latin and Cyrillic in a neutral sans serif is not particularly difficult. The real fun begins when working with fonts that have creative graphic solutions. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in SFT Schrifted Sans with its Headline Set. Let’s take a closer look.

In the Latin script, the Headline Set features active curled terminals that add a bold, yet organic feel. These shapes work well in a script that is already made up of arched forms.
Headline Set. Latin. SFT Schrifted Sans ExtraBold.

Headline Set. Latin.

SFT Schrifted Sans ExtraBold.

However, when you add these shapes with the same level of expression and quantity to straight Cyrillic letters, the result can be overwhelming. It’s important to maintain the unique characteristics of each writing system when working with different alphabets.

It was crucial to approach this with caution. First, I created a capital version of the inherited from the Latin alphabet letter yУ. Then, I experimented with the terminals in Cyrillic letters, trying to transform them in a similar way to the Latin letters. However, the effect was too strong, so I decided to only apply it to one letter — Лл.
Experiments with the Headline Set in Cyrillic. SFT Schrifted Sans Black.

Experiments with the Headline Set in Cyrillic (м looks too extravagant).

SFT Schrifted Sans Black.

But that wasn’t enough. I needed to add something else to support the new rounded solutions, but I had to do it very carefully. In the end, as a final touch, I added a few shapes from the straight Cyrillic cursive — г and д. By the way, I think this set looks especially good in Bulgarian because of the abundance of round shapes in it.
Headline Set in Cyrillic. Final version. SFT Schrifted Sans ExtraBold.

Headline Set in Cyrillic. Final version.

SFT Schrifted Sans ExtraBold.

As a Conclusion
In this article, I have briefly described the logic of Cyrillization of the font. Of course, I could go into more detail on these processes, which I may do later as more projects are added to the collection.

My main thoughts are as follows:

  • It is better to design Cyrillic characters from the beginning, rather than leaving them for future updates (although it is possible to do so, the work will be more difficult and compromise will be necessary).
  • Cyrillic characters also provide a new context for the already designed Latin characters, allowing for fresh perspectives and the correction of any illogical or inaccurate areas. Thus, the addition of Cyrillic characters actually improves the quality of the font.
  • Cyrillic includes a wide range of languages. Therefore, adding Cyrillic characters to a font significantly increases its inclusivity.
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