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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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