Letterform Analysis: The Key of D

by Dr. Joseph M. Vitolo

Forming any letter consistently well requires precise knowledge of not only the pen strokes involved but also the structural components that help form the letter. Of course, some letters are harder to pen than others. In this installment I would like to discuss the challenge that is the Engrosser's script capital 'D'.

A properly formed 'D' is shown in Figure 1 (penned by the author). The direction of the pen strokes forming the letter are shown in Figure 2. Begin as indicated by the ‘start’ with the main shaded compound curve. Think of this as the backbone of the letter. It should be noted that The Zanerian Manual suggests forming the letter in one continuous stroke as indicated. My own approach to forming this letter involves using separate strokes; however, that is beyond the scope of this article. To understand how to properly form the letter we will break the letter into the structural components that help form it.


The initial stroke is a graceful compound that extends three full line spaces. As I have explained in past articles, the compound curve is formed on imaginary ovals that have their overall slant dead on the main slant angle as shown in Figure 3. As the stroke hits the baseline it extends back in a gently curving oval that continues around and forward to form a delicate oval before sweeping first downward then upward to form the forward portion of the 'D'. Keep in mind the final form. By this I mean that both the forward and rearward portions of the letter are form by two imaginary ovals indicated by red dotted lines in Figure 4. Achieving this result is dependant on how the lower portion of the letter is formed. Note how the lower portion of both the rear and forward curvatures are formed on nearly identical imaginary ovals that are horizontal to the baseline (red ovals in Figure 5). Or to say it another way, 'the way you curve in is the way you curve out.' This will help impart the proper upward trajectory to the forward hairline portion of the 'D' without it getting too wide or too narrow.

The forward hairline of the 'D' continues 'curving' gracefully upward and should intersect the compound curve at or slightly above the top of the first ascender space as indicated by the red arrow in Figure 5. Continue the graceful curvature back. If done correctly, the maximal height of this curvature will be no higher than the top of the second ascender space as indicated by the upper most line in Figure 5. In addition, this height of curvature should be located approximately over the center point of the main compound curve as indicated by the downward pointing red dotted arrow in Figure 5.

Place a rear shade as the curve descends in the rearward portion of the 'D'. Be careful to make this rear shade less wide than the main compound curve of the letter. Continue the stroke around and up to end in a hairline that should be should be parallel and harmonize with the forward hairline portion of the 'D' as shown by the red dotted lines in Figure 6. The completed 'D' should have an overall form consistent with Figure 1. Go ahead and try your hand at the letter. Be sure to compare it to the exemplar. Then pencil in the imaginary component ovals of your letter as I have done. Make adjustments as necessary. I tried to show with this article that the Key of 'D' is rests in the ovals!