Right: The range of digital fonts available is breathtaking. Though many downloadable fonts can be used freely, be aware that font usage in general is covered by strict licensing rules that prohibit the purchaser supplying fonts to a third party such as a print company.

The term font was originally spelled ‘fount’. It derives from the type foundry, where individual letters were cast from lead alloys to form metal blocks, and then combined with one another by the typesetter to build up words.

Blank metal ‘slugs’ were inserted to separate words, and sometimes to add a little extra space between individual letters. Most fonts are designed either for setting large quantities of text (such as a book) or for decorative display.

In the case of the former, legibility is vital. In the case of display, there’s more scope for experimentation.

Above: A page-layout program has been used to type and repeat a phrase without punctuation. The text boxes are duplicated, offset over one another, and the colour tint varied for each. The final message is typed along a curving line.

Above: A single word is duplicated many times, each tilted or ‘rotated’ by varying degrees. Using an enlarged letterform as a template, the individual words are randomly placed to build a representation of the single letter.

The ‘template letter’ is subsequently removed. The same method has been used to create the background texture, the individual words duplicated and their position shifted in groups to speed up the process.

Right: Type as pure visual pattern is taken to the extreme by representing each letterform as a simple block of colour. Even though the traditional medium of communication is lost, the brain still tries to make some sense of the pattern as it understands the recognized metaphors of paragraph indents and ragged lines.

This example has been created manually in a basic word processing application by selecting a colour for each letter and then changing it to a square ‘dingbat’. Programming code that generates this effect purely by using the keyboard has been explored not only by mathematicians, but exponents of digital art, such as John Maeda and Joshua Berger (with his 1999 Colorface Color font).

Based on the theory of Semiology, which reassessed the relationships of language and objects with the concept of the ‘semiotic sign’, Berger argues that ‘language is anything that communicates information’.

Type is no longer solely the letters and punctuation marks that from words and sentences, but ‘the building blocks of meaning in whatever form that meaning arises – type can now be an image, a sound. Type can be a colour.’

Above: The meaning of the word has been removed by striking through each line of text with a colour rule, leaving only a hint of the actual letterforms.

The effect is intriguing, as the viewer is both confused and frustrated by his inability to understand the true meaning, while being stimulated by the resulting pattern of colour and form.

Above: By taking the letter and word spacing (kerning and tracking) and the space between lines (leading) to extreme levels, the words themselves become less important than the textural effect.

This tutorial is part of our guide to the world's best type tutorials. See the rest here.

Above: Based on an experiment in typography by German designer Hans-Rudolf Lutz, these words, created in a vector program and converted to outlines, were overlaid with concentric circles.

A ‘divide’ filter cut the path elements and the resulting ‘rings’ were turned by degrees to produce configurations of the fragmented letters.

Above + below: Colour can play as important a role in design as the letterforms themselves. Here, the letters are used merely to create the composition. Converted to vector paths and filled with solid colour, the transparency blending modes have been adjusted to allow the colours to interact.