How can I build my own font?

Step 1: Sketch

Fonts begin like anything, with sketches on paper. It's important to draw as many characters as you possibly can, including punctuation, and numerals. Once you have doodled your letters for quite a while, it is time to draw out the sketches in a more refined way, perhaps on grid paper as is shown in the sketch below.

A more refined sketch of grid paper of some lowercase script letters.
A more refined sketch of grid paper of some lowercase script letters.

Step 2: Vectorization

The next step would be to trace your scanned artwork with vectors. Fonts are made out of vectots, which are images made out of dots that are connected with either curved or straight lines. Photos are an example of bitmap artwork, because they are made out of differently colored pixels. At any rate, once you have your letters drawn by hand, you must trace them in font creation software.

Currently, Fontlab Studio 5 is the industry standard for creating fonts, and though it has many features designed for professionals, there is no reason that an amateur would be unable to use it, provided they are patient and passionate. Compare learning Fontlab to learning how to cook a perfect omelette... blindfolded... using only the sun... at nighttime. Just kidding, its not that hard.

See the sketch in light purple, and the traced line in black. Bezier points in red and green.
See the sketch in light purple, and the traced line in black. Bezier points in red and green.

Step 3: Letterfit

Equally important as the shapes of the letters themselves are the shapes of the spaces between letters. Letterfit (coined by an old type design professor of mine) is a term defined as the location of the letter between two invisible walls. Glyphs (any letter, number, or punctuation mark) are placed right next to each other in running text, so a bit of padding on either side ensures that letters won't touch each other. This part of letter fit is called "metrics", but letterfit is not complete until some attempt at "kerning" has been made.

Kerning is the process of adjusting the distance between a specific pair of letters. For instance, placing a capital W right next to a capital A relying on metrics alone will yield less than desirable results. See below.

Top: Withouth kerning. Bottom: With kerning. See how on top, the distances between W and A, and A and T are too generous. This problem is corrected below.  Font: Gotham.
Top: Withouth kerning. Bottom: With kerning. See how on top, the distances between W and A, and A and T are too generous. This problem is corrected below. Font: Gotham.

A quality font will have hundreds of kerning pairs, but this does not mean that a high number of kerning pairs makes a font high quality—lots of kerning pairs can actually be an indication of poor metrics.

Step 4: Hinting

Hinting is the process of preparing your vectors for optimized appearance on digital monitors. Well hinted typefaces look good and legible even at the tiniest of sizes, while others start looking uneven and wobbly when they get real tiny. As the resolution on computer monitors continues to improve, hinting will become less vital, but for now, all quality screen fonts must be hinted letter by letter.

See how uneven this capital O looks when tiny?
See how uneven this capital O looks when tiny?

A few good type design books

Final Thoughts

Of course design is never a linear process, but this is a very basic order to some of the major steps in font creation. Perhaps you may like the look of your letters independently of each other, but when they form words, things get awkward. It might be time to go back to the drawing board, literally. That is ok! Don't think of it as a sign of ineptitude, but rather more opportunities to improve the strength and consistency of your design.

Designing type can be as complicated and time consuming a process as you want it to be. On the other hand, a simple font could be made in a weekend, or a few hours if you're a seasoned pro. Many of these steps can be tedious or feel boring. If that is the case all the way through, creating fonts is most likely not your thing. It is certainly not for everybody, and even if you love lettering, turning.

I should note that these are the basic steps I use when I go about creating fonts, but of course depending on the typeface or your personal preference, it might make sense to do things totally differently. In fact, it could be perfectly acceptable to not sketch by hand at all. I list it here as step one because it is the most efficient way for me to get a lot of ideas more fleshed out very quickly. The farther along you get in this process, the more restricted the changes you make become, that is why sketching can be so much fun—complete freedom and no laborious consequences for changing an initial idea.

It should also be noted that FontLab is quite buggy and often dissapointing software. Like any necessary tool that is less than perfect, professionals find a way to make it work for them, and you can too. Patience is key. So is hitting the save button.

Personally, i love designing in black and white, which works out great for designing fonts. If you're bored by that—maybe you're a lover of gradients, drop-shadows and the like—try to keep the bigger picture in mind. There is plenty of time for fun effects after a quality foundation has been laid.

The fun you have designing, and the pride you take in your work is always evident in the finished product. Be patient with yourself and practice drawing (both on the computer, and by hand) as much as you enjoy doing so. I always find it fun to explore MyFonts.com just to see what the newly released typefaces look like, and their corresponding type specimens.

A font of mine called Wisdom Script.
A font of mine called Wisdom Script.

More by this Author


Comments 18 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

I have been wondering about the process for so long and all the other explanations I came across just left me confused and slightly dizzy. Your explanation, on the other hand, is fabulous. Thanks so much for writing the Hub!


jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for asking the question simone! I've been meaning to write this Hub for a while.


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

You are a font genius, James. I'm always very impressed with your creative fonts, and I appreciate you walking us through your process!


jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks Robin. More typography hubs coming soon.


Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 5 years ago from Burlingame, CA

Can I get a personal font? Like a theme song.


jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Paul. Yes, absolutely. What is your budget? Can I name it Turd Boy Sans?


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

Yes, yes, yes, yes Font Guru James!

What a lovely surprise this morning! Makes my DAY!

This Hub is GREAT! Clear, concise, not intimidating yet making sure to explain Font Creation is not a walk in the park! A relaxing meditation for many; a hair pulling chore for others!

Love your humor: "learning how to cook a perfect omelette... blindfolded... using only the sun... at night time" which is exactly how I still see my web site!

I am delighted this Hub will be one of many! YOU are soooooooooo GIFTED and there is no better way to share those gifts than through HubPages!

I like Paul's idea of personal fonts! How about we launch it here on HubPages? Wouldn't that just make the whole site look creative and ahead of the curve! I do think in the future we WILL each have our own unique font!

Are Fonts copyrighted? How does that work since we all use so many who were created by other people!?

If they are copyrighted, would it be unfair use to start with one font and embellish upon it?

Is there any sense in creating just a set of fancy capital letter fonts? I've always wanted to do that and use a large, fancy, self-created single-letter font at the beginning of my book chapters!

You always get my little blonde brain working on new ideas, projects and even Hubs! Although I know enough to leave the fonts to you, Mr. Font Master, Beloved Font Guru James!

Have a GREAT day James! YOU are just the BEST!

Blessings always, your biggest fan, Earth Angel!


Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 5 years ago from Burlingame, CA

I want Handsome Paul brand font.


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

I vote: Hub King Handsome Grill Master Paul Font! The serifs could be bar-be-que tongs! ;-)


Michelle Padro 5 years ago

Great hub, James! The part about how long to leave a toaster in the fridge is really helpful.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

Good hub, really WAS able to follow it, to my own surprise!


LeslieAdrienne profile image

LeslieAdrienne 5 years ago from Georgia

I love fonts and graphics.... thanks for this Hub

I learned something


scott33thomas profile image

scott33thomas 5 years ago from Germany, Colombia, USA, Panama, Mexico, Spain

interesting hub when you want to do my own font


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Awesome Hub, James. As a former phototypesetter and graphic artist, I can really appreciate what you're saying. One type shop I worked at had something like $80,000 in fonts, a $40,000 phototypesetting engine and about $60,000 worth of terminals all running a variant of Unix. Then the Mac came out and with a laser printer, we lost our biggest customers. An industry died. But new ones were created.

I have several fonts I've been wanting to finish. Thanks for giving me the tools to make it happen.


jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Lone77star! Thanks so much for the comment!

Come on back if you have any specific questions. I would love to get a typography community more active on HubPages.


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

Dearest James!

I vote yes on the typography community here at HubPages!

Blessings to you Mr. Font Master! Earth Angel!


ThePelton profile image

ThePelton 5 years ago from Martinsburg, WV USA

Neat idea for a hub.


Hugo Furst profile image

Hugo Furst 3 years ago from Australia

Just what I needed to read! Thanks for this hub, man ;-)

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