An interview with Canada 150 typeface designer Ray Larabie

Ray Larabie created the Canada 150 typeface, by expanding one of his existing fonts, Mesmerize

If you’ve played a video game, opened a computer document or downloaded a free typeface in the last ten years, chances are you’ve seen Canadian typeface designer Ray Larabie’s portfolio without knowing it.

Owner of Typodermic Fonts, he is a prolific creator of fonts, many of which are distributed for free online. Larabie designed the Canada 150 typeface and offered it to the Government of Canada as part of the 150th Anniversary of Confederation celebration.

The Ottawa native’s fascination with fonts started when he was young, experimenting with dry-transfer lettering as a kid and graduating to computer design. Currently residing in Nagoya, Japan, his fonts most notably appear in video games like Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne, and his OpenType and TrueType designs are used by Microsoft and Apple.

What did you think when you discovered Canada 150 was interested in the font?

Oh I was really happy! I’d seen the new logo—I love the new logo, I do. It’s obviously [inspired by] the [the 1967 Centennial logo], but the ‘67 one is cool!

I used to have a big plastic Centennial logo on my wall when I lived in Fenwick, Ontario, near Niagara Falls. I don’t know where I found it, maybe a garage sale, but I always loved that logo.

How did you get into typeface design?

I was really into it when I was a little kid, I already knew the names of fonts at four years old, I thought it was weird that no one else did. I was learning to read, and learning to recognize the fonts as I was reading, which I guess was unusual.

I got into computers as a kid in the ‘80s, and I’d make kind of pixel-y fonts. In the mid-nineties, I worked at a video game place, when I was bored at night, I’d start making fonts, I made them for free for a long time. Now it’s all I do.

Were you excited to be a part of Canada’s 150th celebration with this design? How did you decide which languages and characters to include?

I was really into being part of Canada 150. As far as the language thing, I decided that, hey for Canada’s birthday that might be kind of nice, for everyone. Once you go down that path, there are a lot of languages to cover.

The Canada 150 Typeface includes Latin and Cyrillic characters and Canadian Indigenous language characters that are based on phonetics—was that a challenge?

Designing the Indigenous characters was new for me, although the phonetic part actually makes them more logical—there’s only one way to say it. There’s no big guide anywhere telling you what characters you should do—there are thousands and thousands of them.

It’s harder with languages where you aren’t sure it’s still alive anymore. You just have to follow the clues and say okay, twenty people still speak this, I’ve got to add it.

The Canada 150 typeface is available for free from our website, how are you hoping to see people use it?

I always like big billboards (laughs), or on the side of a bus maybe, you know, big stuff! It’s a display font, it’s supposed to be for headlines.

Along with the Canada 150 logo, the typeface is available for free to the public through a simple application process. The typeface comes in two weights: light and regular. It includes all Latin characters and accents, common Cyrillic characters, and syllabic and diacritical elements contained in Canada’s Indigenous languages.

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