Font Creation

Most programs specifically designed to create fonts utilize the same structure. You'll be given a list (or a grid) of characters which changes depending on the character encoding type and will be able to create / modify them using tools similar to the bezier spline tools showcased earlier in the graphic design section.

The difficulty comes in how time consuming the process is. An entire set of alphanumeric characters will be 26 lower case, 26 upper case and 10 numerals, not counting special characters like exclamation points or question marks.

The general process is not entirely different than designing a logo or icon.

  1. Choose a style or description to guide the entire font. Imagining it used in a particular setting can help.
  2. Sketch or create some preliminary designs, possibly just with pencil and paper, preferably with alternate versions you can choose from.
  3. Create basic versions of the entire alphanumeric set in your chosen font design software.
  4. Do a pass over the characters to emphasize the personality.
  5. Adjust the kerning between pairs while previewing a pangram using the font.

So in the first step, you might ask yourself, what is this font going to be used for?

You can't control how or when people will use your font, you can not include instructions saying "only to be used" on light or dark background, simple or complex images. You can only consider the font.

That said, there's nothing wrong with envsioning specific uses for your font, in fact that can help to build relationships betwWeen each Wcharacter via a single "goal". In your head you can imagine an actual setting it's used in. Would it be good for a business environment, a newspaper ad, an inter-office flyer for the bosses pot-luck lunch?

It's recommended that you do several passes on each character instead of trying to bring a character to completion before moving onto the next so that the style doesn't change between them. If you create an "A", finish it, ceate a "B", finish it, and so on, then it's guaranteed that by the time you get to the "Z" the overall style will have changed.

And what's that "pangram" mentioned in the last step?

A Pangram is a sentence that uses every letter in the alphabet.

Once you've got most (or all) of a the preliminary version of a font done you'll obviously want to see what it looks like in action. Having a specific sentence can help with that. You shouldn't need to write an entire paragraph to preview your font (especially if your font creator has a small preview window) so you may want to use a "pangram". That would be any sentence that uses every letter of an alphabet. For instance;

  • "Junk MTV quiz graced by fox whelps",
  • "Fix problem quickly with galvanized jets",
  • "Big fjords vex quick waltz nymph",
  • "How quickly daft jumping zebras vex",
  • "Waxy and quivering, jocks fumble the pizza",
  • and "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

Now let's seperate readability and personality into two components.

Readability & Clarity

Readability here refers not to whether or not the style matches the mood or atmosphere that you are trying to create, but to how easily and effeciently a viewer can actually absorb the information.

Probably the primary thing to keep in mind when creating a font is, "can I read this". It won't be enough to be able to read it when the glyph is enlarged on your screen during creation. Can you read it when you zoom farher out? Exactly how small can you make the image before it becomes unrecognizable.

This is part of why it's helpful to imagine where your font might be used. If designing for a web page or print setting (such as a magazine) then it may be perfectly fine to create fonts which have narrow lines and gaps. If creating a font for, perhaps, an outdoor setting then the font might be different. It might feature wider lines and gaps, perhaps modified kerning. Why? Highway billboards are always a good example.

Imagine traveling down a highway at a high speed. What kind of text is used on the billboards? Is it a small, narrow text? Or a larger, wider text that's easier to read when it goes by you in a matter of seconds?

Typographic Color is the impression of "color" created by the line thickness, combined with the spacing settings.

Second, how does each glyph look when in a sentence? Do they all have the same weight (general thickness)? Is the typographic color even and what does that even mean? Examine the following images.

Here are four fonts used for the same text. The blurring of the second set is an old trick used to examine the general feel of a font without getting hung up on the details. Even without it though, you can probably see the qualities that might make one font more readable than the other.

Leading describes the space betwen lines of text. (Pronounced like the metal as the origin comes from lead spacers used by typesetters).
  • Fonts that have a regular pattern of alternating light and dark from word to leading leading are generally more readable.
  • Fonts that have more filled in space (in this case black) throughout the image are harder to read than fonts that have an even amount of filled and empty.
  • Fonts that seem to have gaps within the word itself (horizontall) are harder to read. Horizontal gaps in a paragraph should denote spaces between words.

The real test of clarity is to make a font readable while maintaining the personality. The traits that dictate "readabality" are not nearly as prevelant as the ones that imbue "personality".

It is not an ironclad rule that every font designed has to be useful for any situation. If a font creator is ok with the idea of their font having a limit and/or specific use, then that is up to them.

Personality in Design

The personality of a font is where the creator has the most creative input. As was mentioned before, you can't dictate when and where a font will be used by a designer. You won't know if the font is used in good viewing conditions, loud, calm, distracting, or any other quality about the environment.

Becase of this the best any designer can do is try to create a font that matches their inteded purpose. Never design a font thinking that it will be good for any and all settings. Never think one font has universal application.

Font Programs

FontForge is very capable, and more importantly free, font creation program. It is not the most user friendly of the major font crafting programs however and make take a bit of time to get used to. Once you've figured it out however it is fully capable of exporting a variety of font types from TrueType to SVG and Bitmap based fonts. One drawback to consider is that it seems to have problems importing shapes from other programs without very precise settings from the export program.

The FontForge website can be found at the following link...