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80s / 90s font production software and workflow?

Noah BurneyNoah Burney Posts: 26
edited February 2023 in Type Design Software
Besides type, one of my other hobbies is collecting and playing around with old computers. I mostly have 8-bit machines (Atari 800XL, Apple IIc, etc.). But, I also have a 1989 Mac SE/30 running Mac OS 7 and an iMac G3 running OS 9, and have been having fun messing around with the software that kicked off the desktop publishing revolution.

Nowadays we’re spoiled for choice with great font editors, but I'm curious if anyone is familiar with or has first-hand experience with font production tools from the late 80s and early/mid 90s?

I believe Fontographer was the first commercially available option for personal computers, and know that FontLab first came out mid-90s, but wondering about what other other tools were in wide use at the time.
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    Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,654
    edited February 2023
    In the early nineties on the Mac, besides Fontographer, there was Letraset's Font Studio and URW's Ikarus M. I used the first two but don't know much about Ikarus M. I know some others here used it.

    FontLab wasn't available for the Mac until 2001. (PC-only before that.) Older versions (3.1, maybe 4.x) should work in OS 9.

    There was also Fontastic, a bitmap font editor made by AltSys, the company that later developed Fontographer.
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    On the Apple // platform there were Apple Mechanic, Shape Mechanic and Font Mechanic from Beagle Bros.
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    Ares Fontmonger was a po-man's Fontographer. They also made Font Chameleon, a sort of early MM implementation that Adobe bought to remove from the market. There was also a tool named Softy.
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    Ah interesting @Mark Simonson , I vaguely knew of Ikarus, but only the “large” UNIX version. Didn’t realize there were Mac and DOS versions released later. Would be interesting to try drawing vectors that aren't Bezier curve-based. Font Studio looks pretty nice. How did it compare to Fontographer back then?

    And @John Butler yes I’ve actually played around a bit with those Beagle Bros ones. Seems like there were a good number of them for the various 8-bit platforms. Guessing because for a lot of them it was a common hack to redefine fonts for bitmap graphics in games etc.

    Had never heard of those Ares programs, but Font Chameleon in particular looks pretty cool. Will have to give those a try on my Win 98 PC.






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    What was the process for developing bitmap + outline fonts for the same face?
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    Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,654
    edited February 2023
    Font Studio was very nice, but a little buggy. And it didn't get many updates before Letraset stopped working on it. Eventually it was bought by Adobe. Not sure what they did with it. [Edit: Actually, it ceased development when Adobe bought Ares, the company that developed it for Letraset. See @Thomas Phinney's post above.] 

    I really liked the overall design of Font Studio. It used the structure of the font files as a UI model, starting with a suitcase and a printer file view, and then you could drill down into each of those structures to build the font. I also liked that its pen tool was closer to the one in Illustrator than the one in Fontographer, which was like the one in Freehand, which AltSys also developed. I finished my first release with it (Felt Tip Roman) because it had the ability to automatically generate bitmaps, even though most of the work happened in Fontographer.

    There were some dedicated Font Studio users. I think Luc(as) de Groot, who I heard was still using it in a Mac emulator on a PC the 2000s.

    Fontographer had a built-in bitmap editor. You would specify the sizes you wanted to include and then hand-edit each glyph, with the outline in the background for guidance. It was quite time-consuming to do the larger bitmap sizes. Eventually, Fontographer got the ability to auto-generate bitmaps, and I routinely used that in the later stuff I built with it instead of hand-editing.
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    One other thing about Fontographer: The early versions could only make Type 3 fonts, which were really equivalent to EPS (Embedded PostScript) for each glyph. Technically, this meant that you could do anything that was possible in PostScript, including shades of gray, although I don't think Fontographer let you do everything. Unfortunately, Unlike Type 1, Type 3 fonts did not support hinting, so they didn't work as well on lower-resolution devices. 

    Fontographer wasn't able to generate Type 1 fonts until about 1991, when Adobe published its previously proprietary Type 1 format in response to the announcement of TrueType.
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    John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,977
    edited February 2023
    Note that if you can find a copy of Ikarus M with which to experiment on your old hardware, you’ll also want to track down one of the optical plotting devices that were used to input artwork into the Ikarus system. Ikarus was specifically source digitisation software, not an outline editing tool: it presumed analogue artwork.
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    John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,977
    I could only find images of this model of Ikarus plotting tool, which has a lot more buttons than the one with which I was familiar.


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    @John Hudson one of these?



    From this blog post: https://medium.com/@fpeulrich/a-brief-overview-of-developments-in-digital-type-design-561d9e63a122

    I feel like my odds of finding one in working order is pretty low these days…
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    Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,146
    edited February 2023
    My workflow:

    I was working as a graphic designer at the time, with font making an emerging side gig.
    My software environment comprised Fontographer, for making fonts—and, for testing them, which was also part of my design process, Quark XPress (first choice for making and checking specimens in my studio, with a Laserwriter II NTX printout at a slightly heavy 300 dpi), Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Corel Draw and Pagemaker were also quite popular, but in my neck of the woods (Toronto) the trio of Quark-Illustrator-Photoshop was the professional default/standard, on Apple computers. 

    At the time, before high-res computer screens and the WWW, you really did have to print out typography to inspect its subtleties, and because print was the predominant medium for type. I did also order the occasional high-res “stat” type specimen (on RC or resin-coated photo paper) from my service bureau—a bicycle courier would transport my floppy disc to the bureau and bring back the print.
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    ATF Type Designer, typeface editor by ATF/Kingsley. The basic license didn't allow the user to sell fonts they produced commercially. I recall paying $50 for a demo license just to play with it but I don't know if the company lasted long enough to sell any retail licenses -- which would have cost over $50K+royalties on the fonts. After the bankruptcy the software was bought by Adobe, probably because they wanted the optical scaling algorithm for their own use.

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    John ButlerJohn Butler Posts: 245
    edited February 2023
    @Thomas Phinney:

    I wrote such a long response to you that I turned it into a blog post.
    I stand corrected! Though I regret nothing. The backstory was worth my embarrassment. I always wondered what happened with Ares.
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    Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,654
    edited February 2023
    Apple also had some font development tools in the nineties for making TrueType fonts, although I've never used them. I read somewhere that the first Microsoft TrueType fonts were made on Macs at Microsoft.
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    What about ATF’s short lived type design software? Did anybody use it? Years ago I read that it could do the scaling and stretching tricks that the Benton pantograph could.
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    George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 633
    edited February 2023
    What about ATF’s short lived type design software? Did anybody use it? Years ago I read that it could do the scaling and stretching tricks that the Benton pantograph could.
    I mentioned that, above. The module you mention was the Optical Scaling module, an extra $1K on top of the license one bought.
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    Apple also had some font development tools in the nineties for making TrueType fonts.
    The Apple TrueType editor was called RoyalT. I played around with it when it first came out but I recall almost nothing about its strengths/weaknesses.
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    Ah yeah looks like they had a ton of font tooling available:
    https://web.archive.org/web/19980418032322/http://fonts.apple.com:80/Tools/index.html
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    Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,379
    I started on the TRS-80 Color Computer on a program called Chargen. It was developed for use with a high-res add-on for the Model I and Model III, but there was a version that could run natively on the Color Computer. The hardware character generators on these computers had no lowercase, so people came up with workarounds. I don't have experience with the Model I and III versions, but I used the Color Computer version a lot. Chargen included a simple bitmap font editor. It was very memory efficient, so you could use the fonts in BASIC programs, and it wouldn't eat up too much RAM. But, because it was drawing each character in graphics mode (PMODE 4), it was significantly slower than the hardware character generator.
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    Microsoft VTT was based on Sampo Kaasila's Visual TypeMan and/or Visual StingRay, if I recall correctly.
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    Two weeks ago I demonstrated to my KABK Type & Media students the font editors I used to work with in the 1990s. As a student in 1993 I started with Fontographer 3.1, followed by Fontographer 3.5, and Fontographer 4. The last one I used up until the early 2000s. Now I have those editors -- and many more -- running virtually on my MacBook Pro.

    Back then the computer lab at KABK had a Mac running Ikarus M with a digitiser tablet. I had to do some digitisation assignments with them, and here is one of those files.




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    I also liked that its pen tool was closer to the one in Illustrator than the one in Fontographer, which was like the one in Freehand, which AltSys also developed.
    AFAIK Macromedia developed Freehand. And Macromedia bought Altsys before Fontographer 4 was released.

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    Apple also had some font development tools in the nineties for making TrueType fonts, although I've never used them. I read somewhere that the first Microsoft TrueType fonts were made on Macs at Microsoft.
    Yes. Microsoft VTT (Visual TrueType) was originally a Mac application. Here is an example of VTT4.0 running on System 7.


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    John ButlerJohn Butler Posts: 245
    edited February 2023
    Somehow I forgot RoboFog, the customized version of Fontographer 3.5 that changed type design forever by integrating Python, later spawning RoboFab then RoboFont.
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    Apple also had some font development tools in the nineties for making TrueType fonts, although I've never used them. I read somewhere that the first Microsoft TrueType fonts were made on Macs at Microsoft.

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    Greg wrote about it here, there is also a an article in Type Magazine, link in the LinkedIn article 

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thirty-years-truetype-fonts-greg-hitchcock
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    One more : ) 
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    James MontalbanoJames Montalbano Posts: 78
    edited February 2023
    I used Ikarus M quite a bit. I was introduced to it at a debate at Type 90. David Berlow was on the Fontographer side and Veronika Elsner was on the Ikarus M side. I also owned a very large Aristo tablet that I paid a fortune for, and held on to long after it ceased to be useful.

    I suppose "debate" is not quite accurate. The session was billed as a demonstration of the 2 softwares, but all David and Veronica did was chat while drinking martinis
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