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Mark Simonson


Mark Simonson
Last Active
Member, Type Person
Invited by
Admin James Puckett
  • Re: Show me your failures!

    Here are a couple of my early attempts at type design (way before I could do it on my own computer).

    The first is from 1976, when I was in college. An assignment in Lettering II, drawn in ink on a full-sized sheet of illustration board (letters about 3" tall). This assignment was when I first became interested in doing type design. I guess this wasn't a failure exactly (I got an A), but I think it has a lot of problems as a type design.

    The second is from 1978. This was my one and only submission to ITC (understandably rejected). The letters were drawn 4" tall with marker, photographed and made into rub-down type for the sample setting shown here. I didn't consider it to be a finished design, but a raw idea that I assumed the folks a ITC would guide me in finishing. I had no idea how little I knew about type design when I undertook this, but by the end I was starting to get a clue.

  • Re: Units per em

    The 18 unit em John mentions is from the metal type days, and it was strictly to do with the widths of the characters. The shapes of the characters were not constrained by any sort of unit grid the way they are in digital fonts.
  • Re: Home office vs. office

    I have a studio at home, in a repurposed bedroom. I fantasize about having my studio somewhere else sometimes, to make the line between work and not-work less blurry. I did that for a while back in the eighties, sharing a space with an illustrator (who unfortunately was a fan of working while listening to speed metal at maximum volume--we ended up avoiding being in the office at the same time). There are lots of interesting buildings in walking distance from my home. But in the end I can't give up the convenience (or the commute) of working at home. I've done it so long now it's hard to imagine doing otherwise. I've become accustomed to the blurriness.
  • Re: the OpenType features UI questionnaire /Q2

    When I started adding OT features in the mid-2000s, there were some popular apps, like MS Office and Flash, with poor or nonexistent OT support. So I made "supplemental" fonts where certain discretionary features, like small caps and alternate characters, were the defaults. For example, if your app didn't support the small caps feature, you could choose the supplemental font from the font menu instead.

    I made the decision to include these supplemental fonts at no extra cost with the standard version. But it resulted in some confusion both for the customers (who, for example, often don't realize they can get alternate characters with the normal fonts), and for my distributors (who sometimes try to sell the supplemental fonts separately or are not set up to include them). It also meant extra work for me to create the extra fonts, especially at first when I was making them mostly manually. I have scripts now that create the fonts automatically, but it takes time to write and configure the scripts, and to manage distribution of them alongside the standard fonts.

    Because support for OT has improved, I've somewhat reluctantly stopped doing this on my more recent releases. I say reluctantly because I know that many users will never discover the discretionary features I've included. At least the supplemental fonts made it obvious that these things existed in the typeface. I would love to drop the supplementary fonts from my older fonts, but my sense is that many users are used to having them. If support for discretionary features were more visible and standardized, I would be a lot happier about dropping this "hack" for good.

  • Fontself as an alternative to ScanFont

    I have only vaguely followed the development of Fontself, seeing it mainly as something for dabblers and novice type designers. It lets you make a font directly from Illustrator or Photoshop. I'm only going to discuss the Illustrator part here.

    I quit trying to use Illustrator to draw font artwork long ago, and, really, a font editor is the way to go if you want to be productive. It's optimized specifically for making fonts, whereas Illustrator is a general purpose tool. I thought, this is interesting and I would have loved this back in the nineties. I know better now and didn't think I had any use for it.

    But sometimes I do need to get something from Illustrator into a font. Copy/paste works, but is slow and tedious if it's more than a few characters. In the past, I have used ScanFont to quickly move Illustrator artwork or images (auto traced) into FontLab. Unfortunately, it hasn't been very well supported on Macs since the ability to run PPC software went away. You basically have to run the Windows version somehow. Technically, this works, but kind of sucks, and some things (kind of important things) don't work properly in the WINE version that FontLab offers for Mac users and it doesn't look like it will be fixed.

    This morning I noticed Fontself mentioned in another discussion. I took a closer look at it and realized that it can do everything that I was using ScanFont for, and works directly from Illustrator. It exports to OTF, which can be opened in your favorite font editor.

    I don't think I would ever use Fontself by itself to make a font, but it looks like a pretty good alternative to ScanFont for Mac users. Maybe everybody already knows this, but I don't think I've seen it mentioned before.