Type Design Like It’s 1987

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Mark Simonson
Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
edited June 19 in Type Design Software
I did a talk last week in Minneapolis for Type Tuesday where I did a live demo of early Mac font editing software on a real Mac Plus. I recorded the talk and posted it to my YouTube channel if anyone is interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqbnocp7j_A

I demoed Font Editor 2.0 (Apple, 1983), FONTastic and Fontastic Plus (Altsys, 1985-88), Fontographer 2.0 and 3.5 (Altsys, 1987-92), Adobe Illustrator 1.1 (1987) and 88 (1988), SuperPaint (Silicon Beach, 1989), and Letraset Font Studio 2.0 (1991).

Comments

  • Adam Ladd
    Adam Ladd Posts: 259
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    Cool! Planning to watch the video shortly.

    Curious, in revisiting the past setups, did it make you miss anything or give you new appreciation for modern setups? (Maybe you express this in the vid.)
  • Thomas Phinney
    Thomas Phinney Posts: 2,808
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    Software performance is insanely fast these days. The degree of lags and waiting was very different back in the 80s.

    Also, so many limits gone because the computers can easily handle them. And in some cases, formats have developed to eliminate such limits.

    @Mark Simonson I would love to know the glyphs-per-font limits in each of these apps!
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
    edited June 19
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    It does remind me how amazing the tools we have now are (both software and hardware). Making bitmap fonts is the only thing I miss. That was fun, although it got pretty tedious to make them manually for PostScript fonts in multiple sizes, which you had to do in the early days.

    On hindsight, I should have spent more time reacquainting myself with some of the apps (especially Font Studio). I went into the demos assuming it would all be familiar and come back to me. But I was a bit lost a few times.

    I also should have mentioned how badly constructed my early PostScript fonts were. I had no idea about where best to place nodes or how to construct paths efficiently.
  • Matteo B.
    Matteo B. Posts: 4
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    I've seen the previous video about Font Editor. Weirdly enough it still looks comfy to me... like an "Aseprite for fonts" you'd find on Itch nowadays.
    On the other hand that Fontographer demo here got less impressive as it went on. Possibly a great feature set for its time, but I feel like it was a maddening environment to create a font in.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
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    I would love to know the glyphs-per-font limits in each of these apps!

    Technically just the 8-bit ASCII extended range (0-255), but code points lower than 32 were off limits. It was the same for all of them as far as I know. 

    At some point, if I remember correctly, it became possible in Fontographer to go beyond that limit with unencoded characters, for instance, and Unicode. But not in FOG 3.5.

    I might be mis-remembering, but I think pre-OpenType TrueType could go beyond 8 bits and had Unicode support. I tried opening an Apple TTF font that I'm pretty sure went beyond 8-bit ASCII, but Fontographer 3.5 complained that it wasn't a TrueType font. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
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    Possibly a great feature set for its time, but I feel like it was a maddening environment to create a font in.

    For sure. I was always pining for a bigger display and a faster processor. You really felt like you were pushing the limits of what was possible for the time. 
  • Thomas Phinney
    Thomas Phinney Posts: 2,808
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    I would love to know the glyphs-per-font limits in each of these apps!
    I might be mis-remembering, but I think pre-OpenType TrueType could go beyond 8 bits and had Unicode support. I tried opening an Apple TTF font that I'm pretty sure went beyond 8-bit ASCII, but Fontographer 3.5 complained that it wasn't a TrueType font. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    Yes, even back in the early 90s, TrueType fonts could have 64K encoded characters. It was a noticeable feature of TrueType over Type 1, back in the day, pre-OpenType.
  • Igor Petrovic
    Igor Petrovic Posts: 271
    edited June 19
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    Thanks for this video Mark, it recalls the initial joy and magic of getting into type design. Regardless many of us started decades later, I see that same feeling of being delighted by the possibility (in the first place) to make a font, regardless of limitations.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
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    In a way, I made it look better than it was since I booted from a BlueSCSI device, which uses an SD card in place of a spinning hard drive. It's not as fast as modern SSDs (limited by the speed of the SCSI interface), but it's much faster than the typical hard drives of that era. And when I was first using Fontastic and Fontographer, I was working from floppy disks.
  • Kasper Pyndt
    Kasper Pyndt Posts: 32
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    Just watched the whole thing while working on a project in Glyphs App simulatenously. Makes one appreciate all the developments that has happened (and is currently happening) in the industry. Very curious about how AI is going to inform the workflow of type design going forward. 
  • Stephen Coles
    Stephen Coles Posts: 1,001
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    Making bitmap fonts is the only thing I miss.
    Don’t forget about FontStruct, a modern tool which lets you make bitmaps in the browser and export fonts.
  • Eris Alar
    Eris Alar Posts: 441
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    Thanks @Mark Simonson, as I mentioned in the other thread I loved this video 
  • Eris Alar
    Eris Alar Posts: 441
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    Making bitmap fonts is the only thing I miss.
    Don’t forget about FontStruct, a modern tool which lets you make bitmaps in the browser and export fonts.
    @Stephen Coles I loved Fontstruct around 2008/2009. I really wish it had an iPad OS app version as using it on my iPad would be great fun I think. 
  • Yves Michel
    Yves Michel Posts: 163
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    I find FontStruct a wonderful program to exercise laterality when conceiving and constructing new shapes you determine you need.
    Until now, I just designed A and (almost) B but I think it's a funny little piece of software.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
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    The story behind the Mac Plus I used for the talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGHW9zMhc_A
  • Ray Larabie
    Ray Larabie Posts: 1,402
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    Does anyone have memories of font editors before 1987? I started making my own fonts with Chargen on the TRS-80 CoCo around 1984. It used the PMODE4 graphics mode, and could be used with BASIC programs. There was a bitmap font editor I used on the Amiga called Amiga Font Editor or “FED”, which was included on the Kickstarter Extras disk.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
    edited June 27
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    I did a little bit of font editing on Atari home computers (the 8-bit line, pre-ST) before I had a Mac. Custom fonts were of limited use on those early systems. You could use them in your own programs, but without resorting to advanced display interrupt tricks, you couldn't use more than one on the screen at a time.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
    edited June 27
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    Actually, if you used a non-text graphics mode, you could "draw" text anywhere on the screen in different sizes, which is basically how computers like the Mac worked, which didn't have dedicated text-only modes.
  • Ray Larabie
    Ray Larabie Posts: 1,402
    edited June 28
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    @Mark Simonson Yeah, that's what this TRS-80 one did. For printing, the only option was screen dumps. I think most of those old computers had their character sets in ROM so you couldn't mess with them. But I recall that you could modify characters in RAM on Commodore PET, Vic-20, and C64. And I think the Atari 8-bit models would do that. Not sure about Sinclair.
  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,687
    edited June 28
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    @Ray Larabie The Atari had a really clever way to change the current character set. There was a set in ROM, of course, but there was a memory location where you could put the address of a different character set that was stored elsewhere in RAM, and it would instantly change. This worked even in BASIC. You could switch between as many character sets as you wanted on the fly, limited only by memory (1K for each set, which was a lot).

    Getting more than one font displayed on the screen at once was trickier (but possible using display interrupts in machine code), and more than one on the same line practically impossible, unless you used a graphics mode instead of a text mode, which was a lot slower and required extra code.
  • John Hudson
    John Hudson Posts: 3,058
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    [Thinking now of the incredibly loud sound of the daisy wheel printer I had hooked up to my Atari c.1988.]
  • Ray Larabie
    Ray Larabie Posts: 1,402
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    I'm sure this information will be of no use to anyone, but the TRS-80 CoCo had an unusual graphics mode where you could display character graphics and change them on each vertical line. You could take the top few lines of the C, the middle line of the E and the rest of the C and make a C with rounded ends. I remember drawing the characters on graph paper and trying to figure out how to make different letter shapes by combining characters. I think the most famous use of that rare graphics mode was a Defender clone called Protector II.