3d Font Format

Is there such a thing? I've done some searching and I can't find anything.

These are just prelim, brainstorm like ideas.

What would that look like, and why is it important?

A 3d font format would be parametric and allow inputs like bevel, embossing, etc. It could be several layered typefaces that do boolean operations on each other to achieve 3d effects. It obviously doesn't need to be exclusive to text; decorative patterns could be done.

Customization of 3d printed products, like jewelery, cups, etc.
3d displays like Magic Leap and Hololens.

Any thoughts?


  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,524
    Any vector type can be converted to 3D by converting to outlines and extruding. So a 3D font would exist only for a tiny niche of users who can use extant fonts in 3D. More complex typographic uses of 3D (See Abott Miller’s Dimensional Typography) are probably an even smaller niche. So I doubt there’s enough money in this—at least at this time—to justify the effort.
  • Bogdan OanceaBogdan Oancea Posts: 11
    edited June 2015
    There are complex and interesting types of bevelling (just think of some car name badges), or no bevelling at all but some other 3D surface that can't be reduced to the usual extrude & bevel routine. So many possibilities…  :)
    This can be made in any 3D modelling program that supports working with components—you could basically make a library of shapes (one for each letter), then use scripting (for 3D apps it's Python usually) to make 3D text appear while typing (press "A" and the script takes the "A" shape from the component library). Each component can have pre-applied materials, so the result can be very close to final… just type the 3D text and render.
    @Jeremy Dooley You could still mention those preliminary, brainstorm-like ideas. I'm interested.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 906
    edited June 2015
    It's not hard to imagine three-dimensional letterforms that are not simple extrusions of 2-D shapes. Neon letters, for instance, with its overlapping tubes. TrueType is extensible by design. All you need are the right tables and a rendering engine that can interpret them.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 727
    edited June 2015
    I think any 3D font could use fallback 2D version so perhaps that's also a good excuse to make 3D glyphs an extension of  TrueType. That way with older applications or 2D printers, the extension is ignored and the regular font is displayed and everybody wins.

    Even if this font format were 2D, like let's say Postscript with layers of vector and bitmap. That could allow the inclusion of height, normal, occlusion, displacement, specular, color, tiling texture etc. But for actual 3D modeled glyphs, I doubt PS or TT curves would be suitable. 3D PostScript is possible (not sure about TT curves) but I think it would be more sensible to use an existing 3D format with polys, splines and primitives, and more importantly, established 3D modeling software. Imagine struggling with a FontLab 3D font modeling system.

    Mark: Would a TrueType extension be limited to TrueType curve tech or could any bitmap, polygon, spline format be used?

    I think the reason we don't have this technology is that it's not needed right this very moment. When VR and AR become commonplace, when phones use the selfie-cam for creating reflective textures and other 3D magic stuff, then it'll be relevant. Which is really soon, I think. I've heard the argument of "just extrude it" but I think that type of thinking reveals a lack of imagination. Walk through a city and you'll see lots of real 3D lettering that you couldn't make with extrusion or special effects.

    http://www.customwoodcarvings.com/gallery/gallery images/signs/inspirational signs/commercial1.png

    A full 3D model of each glyph probably isn't totally necessary and possibly be too labor intensive for type designers. If you know how modern game engines work, you know you can make complex looking 3D objects by mapping a flat surface with height and displacement maps. It's pretty incredible what game designers can do with textures alone. If you're not familiar with displacement mapping, look into it. If you were to use displacement mapping on a flat letter and look at it on an angle, you would see what looks like a 3D shape, The above examples could all be rendered with displacement mapping on flat glyphs.

    There is a limit to the viewing angle. You can't look at the letters "edge on" and expect it to look wonderful.

    But it's hard for these things to get started. We still can't even get grayscale transparency. I think the people who decide of what goes into new font formats only look at how existing font designs can be adapted to it, rather than giving us the tools to create something that's never been done before.

  • TrueType already can have PostScript outlines (i.e., OpenType) and all sorts of other stuff that was not part of the original spec.
  • Georg SeifertGeorg Seifert Posts: 509
    edited June 2015
    The problem is not that is to time intensive but that there is no standard that backs it. This would need some effort to bring all the developers of 3D apps to the table to discuss and support this. And that effort has to come from type designers and 3D people who don't know each other and have different ideas about things like this.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 727
    You're right, Georg. I think that effort will most likely come from some kind of specific corporate necessity. Be it smart watches, phones, Magic Leap, Oculus Rift or the next thing. It's not the kind of development that's going to happen without millions of dollars thrown at it, but we can dream.
  • Has this been considered since this post was made? Any murmurs of this kind of tech happening?
  • edited March 7

    I am almost finished with my 3d actions for illustrator. The actions are finished. Just need to get the marketing material finished. These are the same tools I used to make my font Versatile Bold. Versatile has 7 stackable layers.


    This is a sample showing the shadow on the right. The actions allow the shadow to be either left or right, 7 different cast shadows, outline and inside shadow.

    It should be finished and available at creative market soon.

  • shoot wrong post. Meant to be in font technology. Oh well please excuse this.
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