Creating opentype font in FontLab 5

I have basic setup done for working with Illustrator to bring in glyphs, but still unsure of what else I need to setup.

1. Let say, I want to create an Opentype Pro font, what are the things I need to do setup character set? (Do I simply add stuff from font info > Encoding and Unicode? or generate glyph?)

2. What should I setup for Tools > Options?

3. If I go over 1000 UPM, it seems like glyphs I copied from Illustrator screws up in scale. (4000 UPM made it go 4x what I copied) Should I just change to appropriate UPM after adding glyphs?

4. What mode should I work with? Unicode ranges? codepages?

Please throw any advice essential or useful!


  • The copy-paste from illustrator is not always perfect.  It is best to set Ai units prefs to pixels.  The best solution is to draw the original in FLS but if you have already drawn your glyphs in Ai, then scale your Ai drawings to fit your UPM choice in FontLab.
  • This procedures helped me:

    1. Define what you will include in your pro font. Latin extended? Greek? Cyrillic? Math operators? IPA? This is the very first step. Of course, you can add glyphs and Unicode blocks anytime. But to begin with a clean idea will help all the further work.

    2. Try the FL Index mode. Contrary to codepages or ranges, it will let you freely drag-n-drop glyphs. You can use any order and this may be helpful in a number of situations: to compare different scripts, to control the base+diacritic composites, to group all phonetic characters, etc.

    3. Organize your own 'blocks' with colors. You can also use a color to mark glyphs already finished.

    4. The easiest way to add glyphs at a glance is to choose a Unicode range and double-click over the drafts you want to include. But note that FL5 Unicode blocks are not up to date and you need to verify the charts.

    5. Consider to make all draws directly in FL. I also begun with Illustrator, but after two or three days using just the FL tools, I understood why most type designers prefer this way. It is quicker and more confortable.

  • Thanks for the tip Igor.

    I'm following this atm. So start with default character set and add in glyphs as I need them?
  • This pro set is a good start point. You may also define if the font will include (1) small caps, (2) old style figures, and (3) diacritics adjusted to caps. Other possibility is to include all currency symbols from the places whose languages your font is covering.
  • So work in index mode, add glyphs/characters according to set. Do I also do anything with Font Info > Encoding and Unicode to make things work properly?
  • Should I include .null and CR in the set?
  • Check under options, there's a setting to automatically generate them when you export but it's a good idea to add them anyway. Also make a .notdef and put a rectangle or something in it.
  • Speaking of rectangle, does .notdef rectangle and U+2F8FF rectangle needs to be different or can be same?
  • The best solution is to draw the original in FLS but if you have already drawn your glyphs in Ai, then scale your Ai drawings to fit your UPM choice in FontLab.
    AFAIK Glyphs and RoboFont also require to set Adobe Illustrator units preferences to pixels. The consequence is that one has to enlarge smaller images to a certain size to prevent loss of detail. There must be a very good reason for handling the Ai data this way, I reckon, and I’m sure some of my colleagues will enlighten me here. TBH, I’m not really an expert in this area.

    In the good ol’ BezierMaster and the its new successor GlyphMaster one centimeter in Ai is treated as 1000 units. I always considered this to be normal practice until students showed my how they import data from Adobe Illustrator into FontLab Studio and Glyphs.

  • Drawing in Illustrator and copying the glyphs over is a horrible workflow, prone to errors, and with lots of other drawbacks.

    But Ai can also offer you nice technical solutions for stuff that otherwise can become very complex to control.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,380
    edited September 2015
    Yes, Frank. Adam Twardoch once posted the process, perhaps on the FontLab site? As I recall, it was well explained but my memory is showing its age ;-)
    Try this link:

  • Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the link! Only after reading this I’m already breathing like Darth Vader, let alone if I would have to apply this all.

  • Igor FreibergerIgor Freiberger Posts: 193
    edited September 2015
    Sigurður Ármannsson has an article describing the Illustrator+FontLab workflow. Recently he also published another article about issues found after the CS5 release.

    Chris, IIRC, Twardoch's instructions were posted in Typophile. Maybe he can rescue that and make available again.
  • Hopefully, the vast resources of Typophile will become available again soon!
  • Joon Park said:
    Should I include .null and CR in the set?
    No. You don't need them and the recommendation that mentions them is currently reworked. 
  • The .notdef rectangle lets the user know that a glyph is missing. You can make any kind of rectangle you like. Some people put have rectangle with an X through it. I use black boxes with a white question mark.
  • So do I, Ray.
  • edited September 2015
    If one is very capable of drawing in Illustrator or for instance wants to use the Ai autotracer, which is quite good since CS6, then IMHO it perfectly makes sense to incorporate Ai in one’s workflow. If this results in some horrors, then the origin of the problem does not have to be by definition Ai, but also could be the way a preferred font tool is handling the Ai-output. Then it makes perhaps sense to incorporate another tool in the workflow. If one does not want to use BezierMaster, then Fontographer 5 nicely imports EPS files. It scales the EPS to the em (which is optional in BM), as I recall Fontograper 3.x did in the 1980s when one could copy directly from Illustrator using <alt> + <cmd> + c.

    If I try to import the same EPS in FLS 5.1.4 I get an error and FontForge crashes hard. One could blame the EPS file here or the alignment of dwarf planets with Jupiter, or whatever, and one can be convinced that the font tool one is using is highly professional, but one has to be always cautious with drawing conclusions IMHO.

  • Frank, 
    if I remember well, when using FLS back in the days, I imported drawings from AI to FLS by using copy and paste. There was also a checkbox for handling the clipboard data, which was something like "pdf". I don't remember exactly anymore. I couldn't find it in the FLS 5.1.4 preferences - maybe this is not necessary anymore.
  • edited September 2015
    Hi Lukas,

    The question is not whether, but how FLS (and Glyphs, RoboFont, FontForge, etc.) handles Ai data (see also the link to Adam’s manual) and the conclusion one can draw from that handling.

  • attarattar Posts: 209
    Tal Leming has a repository called aicbTools (AI clipboard), isn't that integrated into robofont?
  • I see people using null as "NULL" or ".null" or "NUL" which is the correct use for naming u+0000?
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 544
    edited September 2015
    ... If I try to import the same EPS in FLS 5.1.4 I get an error ...
    To align the dwarf planets and Jupiter, you need to save as "Illustrtor 8" EPS.

  • eh, another question here, how do you exactly make use of Private Use Area glyphs?
  • 1. .null
    2. When you assign to a glyph any Unicode value from the PUA range, it becomes parte of PUA. But avoid using it. For glyphs without a Unicode value (like small caps) simply use a logical name (like a.smcp). Any Unicode you adopt from the PUA will be outside any standard and may cause issues. Just very specific situations justify the PUA use, as the niche standard developed by the MUFI research group.
  • Thanks again Igor
  • This is grinding my gear, how come U+2126 is named Omega and not U+03A9. Also U+2206 is named Delta and not U+0394?
  • Unicode and AGL5 are somewhat messy because they were developed through several years and also need to keep compatibility with older standards. You will find other contradictions, as some currency symbols and combining diacritics using descriptive names and other using coded names. No solution except to get used to this.
  • Some Greek letters are also math symbols.  This has long been an issue.
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