Designers create new font from satellite imagery

Aerial Bold is the first map and typeface of the Earth

After realizing their mutual enthusiasm for maps, or, more likely, bizarre patterns in our planet’s surface, data visualization designer Benedikt Gross and geographer Joey Lee collaborated on a project called Aerial Bold. The project, which was inspired by the many shapes of pools in Los Angeles, will be the first typeface created from shapes and patterns from Earth’s topology.


Since the duo spends so much time looking at satellite images, it was only a matter of time before they got creative with it. After realizing there are some letters in the images, as with any oddity, they began noticing them all of the time.

From there, the two decided to turn topography into typology, and were off to a strong start with their successful Kickstarter campaign. To “read” the planet for letterforms or alphabet shapes “written” into the topology of roads, buildings, rivers, trees, and lakes, Gross and Lee had to traverse Earth’s satellite imagery and develop the tools and methods needed to map these hidden features. In order to stick to their word, they had to create a bespoke automated process to detect letter forms from aerial imagery.

Here’s how it works. The duo synthesizes satellite imagery and preps it so an algorithm can read it. This involves cranking up the contrast and blocking out distinct shapes in red, since their software can read those blocks of color and extract letters. So far the team has scanned images of Germany, Turkey, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, California, and New York. Letters made of right angles, such as H and I, have shown up more often than others.


The letterform database will be available as a usable dataset for any of your art, design, textual, or science projects, and selected letterforms will be made into a truetype or opentype font format to be imported to your favorite word processor.

Aside from creating their font from satellite images, Gross and Lee could have a number of creative uses for artists. They’ve already been approached by publishers interested in flipping the typology into a children’s book on the ABCs. The pair of map geeks have dreams of sharing their image-detection methods with the entire world.

Story via Wired.

Written for Electronic Products.

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