Where to look for type design/editing opportunities, in a general sense?

Hello all, I hope this post is appropriate for this topic.

I used to be a type nerd, designer/digitizer in late 80's early 90's, and with a partner ran a small font company where we created and sold dozens of fonts and our font editor app. to the Atari ST/Calamus market. Things changed suddenly back then and I had to find a job. ... Here I am 30 years later and on Jan. 1st this year was relieved of my employment status of 16 years at the Humungous Software Corp. (Not that one. Or that one.) 

With all my new spare time, I began thinking about designing and drawing fonts again, and so I've spent the last couple weeks doing just that -- and I'm loving it. I've spent 12-16 hours a day at my desk designing and drawing. It's so much more relaxing than the pressure-cooker cubicle at the office where I did things I really didn't enjoy. It's dang cathartic. I have now vowed to only take jobs I enjoy doing, for sanity's sake.

Anyway, my question for you is this: Are there jobs out there for folks to just digitize/draw fonts? I have no interest in starting a foundry and running a business again (at least I don't think I do). I just want to draw. What type of company would hire someone like me (okay, me specifically)? I'm quite out of the type industry loop and not sure where to even investigate. I am somewhat technical and very font nerdy and history-loving, but I am not a software developer -- at least not employably so. 

What directions should I look? Where might the opportunities lie, if any? Your thoughts are appreciated.

-- Todd J.


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Comments

  • There are a lot of font designers now but there are not so many real professionals in font engineering, it is quite in demand if you want to work for a company. Drawing a font is only half the job. https://www.monotype.com/resources/expertise/font-engineering-explained
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,097
    Yes, there are such jobs. But there are a lot more such jobs, the more technical you are alongside the drawing skills. Although programming is ideal, a highly technical non-programmer is still well-regarded.
  • Thanks for the link. Dobro. 

    Yes, I see that. Font technology has become far more technical, not only in the embedded features and functionality, but also in the graphic design problem solving for current output devices. Web fonts are a cool new challenge.

    I imagine at a smaller scale operation, type designers need to understand and use the full OpenType feature set, but still be able to release a product without needing a Font Engineer or equivalent expertise to get the job completed. I suspect, the real challenge for font designers, is learning to leverage every aspect of their type design software of choice so that they are not leaving any quality or features on the table.

    But yes, it has become more of an engineering feat to produce a high quality font than it used to be.

    ..tj

  • Yes, there are such jobs. But there are a lot more such jobs, the more technical you are alongside the drawing skills. Although programming is ideal, a highly technical non-programmer is still well-regarded.
    Thanks for the response, Thomas. Being a bit nerdish, I'm enjoying the immersion into OT technology too. It sounds like I'll need to continue in that direction. 
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 227
    edited March 13
    The market currently is so saturated everyone and his mother thinks they're the next type designer. I would start by posting your drawings on social media and in typedrawers, get some feedback and see how that goes. It'll give you some kinda evaluation on your work to determine where you stand before you go guns blazing over passion. I also agree with Thomas, the more you know, better your chances, kinda sucks but that is how the market is these days. Given you've been out of the loop for so long perhaps you need to take baby steps. A boring cubicle job pays bills, passion most times don't. Doing typedesign as a side gig till it's profitable enough for you to quit your boring cubicle job is a more rational approach for the current market which also gives you time to learn the trade while still earning income.
  • Points taken. Thanks Abi.
  • Also, you do not need to create your own foundry, you can sell fonts as an individual, it will work like a portfolio, you will be more easily noticed and you will also make money from it. 
  • Roel NieskensRoel Nieskens Posts: 151
    Slightly off topic to why you started the thread, but I'd love to hear more about that Atari ST/Calamus time. Which fonts did you make, which process did you use? Are the fonts still around in one format or the other?

  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    Slightly off topic to why you started the thread, but I'd love to hear more about that Atari ST/Calamus time. Which fonts did you make, which process did you use? Are the fonts still around in one format or the other?

    +1, your story is interesting :)
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,097
    Ditto! I am super interested in that as well.  :)
  • It was a Christmas card that you put scratch tickets into a pouch on the inside.
  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    Many thanks for the story @Todd Johnson we were right when felt there is more behind your first post :) Its DIY sentiment is exactly what involved me in type design and recalls nostalgic memories of my first steps 5-6 years ago. Wish you all the best coming back to type design!
  • Thanks Igor. Fun old memories.
  • I didn't answer the original question from Roel Nieskens about process and fonts. The knock-offs were just traced from enlarged photocopies of whatever fonts they were. For my own creations, I drew the letter ideas on paper about 1-2 inches high so I could draw a few together and see how the idea carried through. Then after the basic features were established I traced the papers in the font editor. Screens were really low res back then so printing large letters was the only proofing option. I do remember my apartment being wallpapered with large laser printed letters that fit one per page. And I remember buying new toner cartridges for the laser printer every few weeks. Occasionally, I'd run lino's at work to see what things looked like in high res.   

    One font I remember drawing was initially based on Jensen's letterforms, but discarding some of the very early features that fell out of general type use over the centuries, including those sky high ascenders. It's that idea I've been working on again this past couple of weeks. I guess it's a revival of sorts but only in the most general of senses. It will be a normal text font that doesn't look like it only suits Latin words on handmade paper. Current example attached. It's still very rough. Some glyphs were just loosely roughed in (the last 5 diagonals) and there's a ton of adjustments still needed everywhere before it's ready for serious review. (So hold the critiques for later). It's pretty boring as design goes. But I just wanted to dive into drawing and that was the only idea I had kicking around that day. Seemed reasonable so...

    I'm struggling with FontForge as its interface doesn't scale well onto my 4k monitor. The UI elements are microscopic. The mouse pointer and toolbar icons are about 2 mm square. x/y coordinates of control points and bezier handles are less than 1mm high and unreadable. Very frustrating. But it's impressively powerful. I'm  unemployed, so no budget for the commercial tools (yet).  

    ..Todd
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,181
    edited March 14
    Thanks for the glimpses into history, Todd. My first computer was an Atari ST (c. 1988), although I think I never really did anything with fonts on it. I used it almost exclusively for writing university papers, and my printer was a hefty daisywheel machine with a single, Courier-like font. I wish I could remember the name of the printer: it was thunderous, and my flimsy student desk would shake.
  • Thanks for the glimpses into history, Todd. My first computer was an Atari ST (c. 1988), although I think I never really did anything with fonts on it. I used it almost exclusively for writing university papers, and my printer was a hefty daisywheel machine with a single, Courier-like font. I wish I could remember the name of the printer: it was thunderous, and my flimsy student desk would shake.
    Daisywheel! Nice. I forgot about those. 
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 227
    That card looks amazing. I love the way they used the font was it? or lettering. 
  • Todd JohnsonTodd Johnson Posts: 12
    edited March 14
    It was one of our Cherry fonts. It was also used in this winery brand identity. After the winery sold years later, the new owners changed the font to something more Chancery-like. I guess they had trouble finding that font.

    If memory serves me right it was my take on one of the typefaces that caught my eye in the old ATF catalog I had from 100 years ago. I think that moves it out of the knock-off category into a revival. I seem to recall modifying it fairly extensively. I've always loved it's um...  Dr. Suess kinda feel.


  • Roel NieskensRoel Nieskens Posts: 151
    Thanks for sharing your memories, @Todd Johnson! Knowing the (home)computer scene back then, your fonts must've travelled to a lot of Atari STs in ways of questionable legality. Welcome back to the game :-)
  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    edited March 15
    Dobro said:
    There are a lot of font designers now but there are not so many real professionals in font engineering, it is quite in demand if you want to work for a company. Drawing a font is only half the job. https://www.monotype.com/resources/expertise/font-engineering-explained
    Thanks for this link, I've just gone through this interesting article, and was wondering does anybody can give even a very rough approximate estimation:

    1) What would be the cost of outsourcing the font engineering part. 

    2) Is there an option just to send the font for the detailed review, and get the info from the font engineer on where the problems are. What would be the price then? 

    3) What would be the price for outsourcing font kerning?

    Let's say we are talking about sans serif font, with two masters (thin and black), with contours already well-drawn and ready for interpolation (points on extremes, compatible, without kinks), supporting somewhat extended Latin with about 400 characters in total. With usual OT features already set and with PS autohints, but which still should be manually adjusted here and there, by the engineer, where there might be a problem.  

    I am asking all of this because seems there is a gap in the internet knowledge base between beginner/intermediate and advanced type production level. People who worked in type departments of studios and big corporations got this knowledge directly through work. But for some of us who are 100% self-taught by the web, advanced level sounds pretty mystified. For example, I am perfectly aware of all the things mentioned in the article, but still feel that after reading it I don't know anything more about real font engineering work.

    My second question was intended to give me an answer to what exactly I don't know about my fonts.


  • Todd JohnsonTodd Johnson Posts: 12
    edited March 15
    Johannes Neumeier great post! For someone in my current state of exposure to the subject, it seems that there is a great opportunity available for an in-depth font engineering book that targets the type designers with that interest. Your summary list is a good potential table of contents.

    My searching for reliable and helpful, practical techie information has produced too much dubious and sometimes contradictory information. Ahh, the Internet. The various published specifications are a great resource, but don't broach practical matters. They same could be said of GitHub's content. The commercial font editor manuals are by far the best source I've found. That's to be expected as they have real technical writers and UX teams translating (or trying to) software engineering concepts to practical actions. Kudos to those teams. It's not easy. 

    At my ex-job, there was a constant challenge to make those translations. The software engineers thought allowing Doctors to enter their own SQL queries as needed was a good idea, the UX team had to convince them that radiologists are concentrating on reading the various modality images to diagnose people with diseases and are reading upwards of 200 studies/day, so they need to find ways of removing software engineering concepts from the product so it's focused on efficient, effective diagnostics protocols. Two different worlds. We called the problem 'engineer syndrome'. Thats somewhat applicable here.

  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    Thanks Johanes! This sheds some light on the matter and gives keywords to search further. Also, by reading it, I realize that it's not only a knowledge base but also a specific point in the career I am in. For example, I still haven't finished my first type family, and once I do so I will search for solutions for possible problems once they arise, I wasn't aware of before. It's not easy to do everything all at once.

    Also, if I chose to be a freelance type designer, selling my own fonts only, I have to accept some limitations in terms that it's not realistic to have a level of expertise as someone working in the engineering department of a big studio, and solving tech problems fulltime. First things first in other words :)

    That said, I agree with Todd that there is a demand for such a book or resource. I understand that some engineers have their own workflows/tools/secrets which don't want to share with the public. Also, there is so much more than for one book. But something like "Intoduction to font engineering" would be a success I believe. Or kind of blog with specific case studies explained.

  • I'd love to hire someone to just digitize for me. Unfortunately, The pay would be terrible :(
  • I'd love to hire someone to just digitize for me. Unfortunately, The pay would be terrible :(
    There's an autotracer joke in there somewhere. 😎
  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    I'd love to hire someone to just digitize for me. Unfortunately, The pay would be terrible :(
    That's one of the points with outsourcing-type projects. It usually doesn't pay off, unless you have well-developed sales, and most of us don't have. It's not always about the font quality. Some fonts make good sales, others don't, and you don't know in which to invest, and you can't invest in all. 
  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 113
    Dobro said:
    These are interesting, thanks!
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