How to Make a Font—an Overview

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What is on your heart?

Are you considering creating a font? Maybe you already have drawn the typeface by hand, or maybe drawn up the lines in Illustrator. I have finished my first font, and believe I have a few tips to pass on from my experience.

This article is intended to give an overview, and to make sure that you have an idea of what you are getting yourself into. This is in no way a tutorial, but I link to several awesome external resources so you can learn more in depth. This is the article I was looking for, but didn’t find when I was about to start my endeavor to become a font-creator.

Creating a font is not impossible, but time-consuming and rather meticulous. So… what to think about before diving into the process of creating it?

Typographic Terms

Before we continue, here is a quick explanation of the most used terms in typography.

A typeface is the design of the type that you are making.

A font is the typeface packed together digitally so you can install and use it.

Glyphs are all the letters and symbols in a font.

Diacritical marks are the marks that are on some letters, like é, å, ä and so on.

Spacing is when you set the side-bearing, which is the space on each side of a glyph. No matter where you put that glyph, it will have that specific space on each side. And it may be different for each glyph and each side of the glyph.

Kerning, or kerning pairs is the space between certain combinations of glyphs. If you write “Yo” the o is very close to the Y in order to come in under the slanted line and closer to the stem. But if you write “Lo”, the o is a bit further away so as not to merge into the L. So you can set each pair to act differently, as opposed to spacing, where one letter has a fixed side-bearing no matter the context. (Don’t worry about when to use what, keep reading, and it will be clear.)

An example of kerning pairs.

Do Things in the Right Order

If you rush forward, your font will suffer. If you start kerning before you have the side-bearing in place you will pretty soon need to scrap everything and start over.

Spend good time on each step, and don’t move on until you are absolutely satisfied.

In this list I link to the in-depth tutorials for my favorite font creation program Glyphs, but you can still learn from then if you use a different program, since all of this is basic functionality. There is a free trial on the Glyphs app. It is only for Mac though.

  1. Draw your basic latin glyphs + diacritical marks separately. Whether by hand or directly in Glyphs, or Illustrator. You don’t need to make and Ä. You can make A and ¨, and most programs will put them together for you, and therefore making. Ä, Ö and so on effortlessly. Wondering how to get hand drawn shapes into Illustrator? Follow this tutorial.
  2. Place them all in the program (Glyphs, somebody?) and make sure everything looks good.
  3. Choose what languages you want to include in your font. The more, the better (and also the more work). In Glyphs, you can add a character set like “Western Latin” and stuff. I only added that one to my font, in order to keep the project doable.
  4. Do diacritics for all your character sets. Preferably in a program that automatically adds them to the different base letters (yes, I love Glyphs).
  5. Do .case diacritics to separate diacritics for upper and lowercase letters. (You need to scroll a little bit down in that linked article to find the info).
    Now all the singular glyphs should be finished before you proceed to make them play well together.
  6. Create kerning groups. (Don’t start kerning, only make the groups!)
  7. Do side-bearing right. Take your time.
  8. Kern like there’s no tomorrow.
  9. Export your font.
Handwriting a typeface that will be turned into a font.

Anything you write can become a font.

Kerning the Font Will Take the Longest Time

If you are on a schedule, plan knowing that the kerning will take the longest time. Also, this is a crucial part. It gives you that final touch that will make your font look on-point. There may be cases where the kerning goes fast, but I have not heard about it. My tip—turn on an audiobook (preferably Wheel of Time), and let time pass as you pull those letters back and forth.

I realized, when kerning my font in glyphs, that if you really want full control, you must sit and kern every single character combination (or kerning-group combination) until it looks good. There is no satisfying automation when it comes to kerning. This also means that if you are experimenting with an artistic or quirky font where you are unsure of how well the letters will play together, you will in the end have full visual overview of how every letter combination in the font will turn out.

With Glyphs you can paste in text, and sit and kern it ’till you turn blue. Here are a few links to text you could paste in and work on.

Just spend time. Don’t rush it.

A quick tip: If you create a handwritten-style design, it will be easier to kern correctly, because it is kind of meant to be a bit messy. That’s what I did anyway.

Create Your Typeface

Thinking of the time I put into the font, I realize something. Being overly happy about the typeface you have designed is crucial before wanting to go into the huge process of making it into a font. The road is long, so before you step from the paper (or design program) into the font-creation, make sure it is worth the investment.

Make sure you can stand for the font that emerges out from the time-consuming process.

So What Kind of Font Did I Make

I was drawing words for my side-project Wrds, when I made a word I wanted to expand into a font. So I did. I wrote the whole story here.

Ink & Blotts font, shown in its colors.

The font Ink & Blotts.

I think I let myself go the easier way, by making a handmade, kind-of sloppy looking font. Because of this I don’t have to create perfect symmetry, and the kerning can be a touch more loose. But don’t get me wrong—I did spend a long long time in kerning.

I would guess that if you are a good planner, and good with structure and math, a symmetrical font may be your perfect way to go, while me as an artistic feeler have a better time feeling out that kerning.

Final words: I am happy about my font, and wish you the best of luck with yours. If I have forgotten something in this article, or if I explain badly, please help me improve it.

This one was written by Benjamin Antoni

Reaching about 10 years experience developing for the web, and have been doing various forms of graphic design since he discovered a copy of Photoshop in his brother's room a long long time ago. Mail him if you want work done.

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