font creation - the usual process and computer software programs used

Hello everyone, I'm new to this site.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure quite where to post this, but I just started creating my own fonts, and needed some guidance, help and advice on what the typical process is in building or creating a font. In other words, how do you start out or begin the process?  Do you start drawing the letters, glyphs, etc. first, then move onto the software programs? If so, what software or computer programs are normally used for creating a font?  I've started creating fonts using FontStruct, but it uses blocks to build the fonts, and I was hoping for something else where I could just either handwrite my letters/glyphs or draw them out. If anyone here can offer some feedback and/or advice on what I should do, I would gladly appreciate it.

Thank you!
Arnold V.


  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,051
    A very brief overview:

    There are probably as many ways as there are type designers, but a common general method is to sketch and plan out ideas on paper (loose or tight as you require) and then construct glyphs in a font editor (possibly tracing over scans of the sketches).

    Some people start directly in the computer with minimal sketches. Many glyphs can be made from parts of others, depending on the design.

    Most font editors have a tool to allow you to "write" glyph shapes as if with a pen or brush, although I've never made fonts that way.

    Lowercase letters are usually first, followed by uppercase, punctuation, numbers, etc., but there is no "best" order to work. It can depend on the design or your preferences.

    Spacing (adjusting sidebearings of glyphs) is usually worked out as you're constructing the glyphs (the two go hand in hand). Once basic spacing is good as you can get it, do kerning for problem pairs that can't be address through normal spacing.

    Test things continually and critically as you progress.

    Eventually you may have a font you're happy with.

    As for software, I use Glyphs (Mac) as my font editor mostly these days, but FontLab Studio (Windows/Mac), RoboFont (Mac), and FontCreator (Windows) are also popular. There are tons of other more specialized tools for making fonts and some other less well known font editors. A lot will depend on your level of skills and interest.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 848
    If you want to jump right in and make fonts, choose a font creation application and work inside it. Drawing in other applications is a hard habit to break. It's possible...some professionals do it but I don't recommend it. What most beginners try to do is draw an alphabet and make a font out of it. This approach might work for certain types of fonts like graffiti, messy handwriting, comic, horror etc.

    Figure out what you want this typeface to be. Who needs it? What characteristics should it have? What size will it usually be seen? Develop a plan, even if just in your mind. I think it's more useful to have ideas and characteristics planned out than to sketch the entire alphabet beforehand. But some people prefer sketching it beforehand.

    I recommend going into your font application and drawing one letter. Preview the text RRRRRRR (or whatever letter you want to start with) and figure out the spacing. Go on to the next letter. Lets's say it's O. Type OOROORROOR (etc.) There's no rule for which letters you start with. You might want to go lowercase's up to you. At this point treat it almost like a logo design. Maybe you need to go back to first letter and make compromises. When you get to the 3rd letter, make sure it looks like it belongs with the first 2. Type words with those 3 letters and make adjustments until it looks good. Keep adding a letter and testing. Eventually you'll be testing sentences and paragraphs. If you rush ahead and draw the whole alphabet it's very hard to make adjustments. Which letters are right and which are wrong? You see it all the time when students post their fonts here for critiques. Sometimes I see beginner fonts posted here that are basically unfixable. There's no direction. If you were to design in non font application, it would be very difficult to be able to preview how your font looks in words as you're going. You'd have to manually arrange them? It would be very difficult. Do some research on spacing techniques before you start. Kerning is done at the very end. Never kern early.

    I can't advise on which is the best font design application because it depends on platform and budget. Most beginners who post fonts here start by intending to make a useful text typeface with wide language coverage, multiple weights and italics. It's a bit like trying to write a symphony before you're capable of playing an instrument. All caps display font is a sensible first step. Your first fonts won't be good but sometimes with display fonts, bad is good. Bad and interesting is sometimes better than good and boring. But with text fonts, bad is always bad.
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 309
    edited July 2018
    There was a bitmap master workflow chart somewhere here on the board. I can't seem to find it on my workstation. But it's basically:

    A) design stage
    0. an idea, on paper or the desktop

    1. H, O
    2. Uppercase
    3. lowercase
    4. numerals
    5. punctuatuon and non-alphanumeric symbols ($, & etc.)
    6. diacritics
    7. 2+6 = Extended Latin
    8. extended numerals (, oldstyle, tabular etc.)
    9. other writing systems
    10. other glyphs (ligatures, special cases etc.)
    master test

    1-9. quality control at all points. some of them may vary, generally go from the more important to the less important glyphs. Rough spacing from the very start, than refine. No kerning before the spacing is perfect, overkerning reveals poor spasing habits.

    B ) coding stage
    sometimes done by other people. needs general and sometimes specialized knowledge of font technology

    C) business stage
    a) talk to a lawyer and draft a good EULA. This can not be overstated enough. 
    1. presentation and deployment. Here's where you talk to vendors, retailers and cash in on your creation. Includes social media campaigns. Keep in mind that people are used to a very high standard of promotional imagery. A presentation can make or break the whole project.
    2. support. You better have every base before this point covered or you will get complains for years.

    You will have to deal with lot of e-mails about how and where the font will be used, bespoke jobs etc. After some years you will do more answering e-mails than actual font creation. Think of a seasoned musician managing his cash cows.

    Besides the font creation software, you have to have a general knowledge of typography, and be familiar with a variety of websites, docs and other resources to check the font, I can't remember them all right away. There is a website to tell you which kerning pairs never happen, there is KernKing, I use an InDesign document to kern by hand, other people use programs, there is MetricsMachine, there is DTL OTLMaster etc. It's not easy ;)

  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 140
    I have a Windows computer so I cannot comment on Mac software.

    On Windows there is a free and Open Source font editor called Font Forge.  But be warned it is difficult and idiosyncratic to use and has many bugs (or at least the version I tried some while ago did, it may be better now).  However it is free and will give you a taste of what you are in for.

    A bit more up-market there is Font Creator which is a reasonable price and works very well, it is very easy to use and does everything you need to create a professional font.

    At the top end of the market there are the offerings from Font Labs, they do everything but be warned they are hideously expensive and Font Creator does almost all of the stuff you can do with Font Lab VI.

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 848
    edited July 2018
    I'll second Font Creator if you use Windows. The learning curve is pretty quick. It's has built in validation so you can ensure the fonts you release have no technical errors. Lots of instructional videos available too. FontLab's learning curve is out of this world. I don't think a beginner could use it. I can't figure out the new version at all and I tried for a solid month every day. But I'm an old man so that might have something to do with it.
  • Bhikkhu PesalaBhikkhu Pesala Posts: 188
    edited July 2018
    Before you decide on a Font Editor to purchase, consider what you really need to do.

    1. Are you just creating a few fonts from your handwriting for use in personal art projects? If so, Scanahand might be the best choice for you. If the projects will be sold, you will need the Professional Edition. 
    2. If you're only planning on creating one font, there are sites that will generate it for you.
    3. If you want more control over the fonts, but it's just going to be a hobby, then FontCreator Home Edition might suit you.
    4. If you plan to sell fonts, then you will need the Professional or Standard Editions.

    I have used Fontographer in the distant past, and did not find it too hard to use, but I have been using FontCreator for years and contributed a lot of my free time to coding the Complete Composites feature and creating the tutorials. Just so that you know that I have a bias. 
  • I'm definitely no expert, but if you want to work in Adobe programs like PhotoShop or Illustrator because they're familiar to you, Fontself Maker is an excellent extension to create fonts with.
  • [...]
    C) business stage
    a) talk to a lawyer and draft a good EULA. This can not be overstated enough. 
    Can I ask why one shouldn't use the same License for basically all projects (that are sold in the same way for the same use)?
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 309
    You can, it's Your decision. But different products may need different approach.
  • Ofir ShavitOfir Shavit Posts: 371
    This 30min video is a speed up of a typeface design process with Fontark* which is a free browser based font design app, with a built in "Skeleton" mechanism and a unique real-time multiple glyphs editing and sync system.

    I have created this font during "A Typeface a day - week" event, made to demonstrate Fontark's unique capabilities. 

    When you start a font design, you better have a quite solid idea about the character and use of the font when you start, because it involves with a lot of work and effort, yet, any font design demands a long phase of development for harmonising and unifying, both stylistic and technically speaking. Fontark was designed especially for this phase of the development of a typeface, and you can acquire with it the needed skills and practice much easier and faster than with the "classic" contour drawing method.

    If you'll ask most (if not all) type designers they will probably tell that their first fonts were quite "bad" and didn't look great at all ,there's just a lot to learn and practice before you start to really "get into business", that's why it can be wise start with designing several "basic" typefaces, just trying to achieve a decent looking typeface even if it is not so creative, it will make you learn the essential basics of type design.

    *Disclaimer - Fontark is my baby :)
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 140

    *Disclaimer - Fontark is my baby :)
    Your baby only works in Google Chrome if you have a Windows system !

    Google Chrome comes with built in spyware (Google Analytics is built in to the browser so it is as if ALL websites have Google Analytics).

    Safari is not supported on Windows, the most recent one is version 5.

    It would be nice to see this font editor on a wider range of browsers.

  • Ofir ShavitOfir Shavit Posts: 371
    Your baby only works in Google Chrome if you have a Windows system !

    It works with Safari on iOS too! 
    And Chrome runs on iOS as well.
  • I have not tried it, but probably it works with Vivaldi Browser too, but without the privacy risks of using Chrome. 
  • Ofir ShavitOfir Shavit Posts: 371
    I have not tried it, but probably it works with Vivaldi Browser too, but without the privacy risks of using Chrome. 
    I have just tried it and it looks like it is working fine with it. Thanks!
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 140
    Your baby only works in Google Chrome if you have a Windows system !

    It works with Safari on iOS too! 
    And Chrome runs on iOS as well.
    I wasn't talking about Mac systems only Windows, I only have a Windows system.

    I like your online font editor, I just don't want to be forced to use Google Chrome.  Don't get me wrong Google Chrome is a good browser, it just comes with a great deal of user surveillance and monitoring.  Google get a full report of where you have been and what you have seen and although they say there is no user identifiable data in there it is linked to the copy of Google Chrome you are using which is almost as bad.

    Your editor doesn't seem to play nicely with Firefox but I will take a look at Vivaldi

  • I highly recommend this book for learning the process of making a font:
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