How long until a first font?

eliason's picture

If you had to guess, how long would you expect it to take for a newbie to design an alphanumeric font, u&lc? Imagine that this hypothetical person is...

... very good with computers generally, but only moderately experienced in vector drawing and not at all in font design apps
... pretty well versed in typographic history and closely familiar with a wide range of existing types

How many hours/week, for how many weeks or months would you estimate it to take? What other variables might need to be taken into consideration in estimating the person-hours required?

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

What other variables might need to be taken into consideration in estimating the person-hours required?

Is the font going to be a display font, or a text font?

Dan Gayle's picture

Good question. I'm afraid of even starting, since Thomas Phinney came to my class and scared the bejesus out of everyone by telling them how long Robert Slimbach would work on a font. Ouch.

So here are my guesses, based on what I would plan on doing, 1-2 hours a day to start:

There's obviously the need to know the interface and workings of the design app. Maybe a week or less of fooling around with tutorials?

Then the design stage on paper or rough digital, with pre-production planning, thumbnails and roughs. Maybe 1-2 weeks? Maybe have the basics of the entire U&lc/numerals within 3?

Then the outlines begin, and if my Adobe Illustrator classes have taught me anything, good beziers only come with time and experience. For me, I'd say that this would be the bulk of the work. 2-3 months? Any longer than that, and I quit. This is supposed to be my first font, not my last.

Last, spacing and kerning, which I know should be done roughly during the previous stage, but finalized and perfected here, alongside testing and revising. Maybe a month?

So, what's that add up to? I'm willing to invest about 5 months to get a good, solid font that covers all the basics and doesn't suck. I'm sure I could whip out some autotraced "grunge" font in about a week, but who'd want to?

Anyone think I'm totally off base with my assumptions?

Quincunx's picture

I think it all depends on when you define something as 'finished'. What are your quality standards, etc. I guess you could make a typeface in 5 months, but I think 2 years isn't so strange either.

cuttlefish's picture

It depends on your level of preparation, your comfort level with the tools at hand, and your goals for the design. If you're limiting yourself to basic western Latin character sets (union of Windows Latin, MacRoman, Latin-1 and Latin-0 encodings), five months might be a bit long of an estimate, but not unrealistic.

I turned out my first font in about a week, but the one I'm working on currently has been in progress off and on for 5 years or more.

Dan Gayle's picture

But as a first font? I'm sure you could have one in the works for two to ten years, but it's like anything. You need to see tangible results of your effort, and two years stretches the credibility of any first-time endeavor.

Most of the people I know started out making less-than-perfect fonts because they were made relatively quickly, but they got bitten by the bug and their patience and quality control standards rise with every subsequent typeface.

I'd say that for myself, I might very well stretch out the bezier perfection stage, because I'm a perfectionist when it comes to that sort of thing. (Of course, that's exactly what is needed in a type designer, and is precisely the reason why Slimbach will spend a decade on his fonts.)

blank's picture

My first font took a couple of months working sporadically. I don’t know that it was ever really finished so much as I did as much as I could with my first big typeface idea before realizing how fundamentally flawed it was.

But it was definitely worth the effort.

jupiterboy's picture

How long does it take to find a gap in the current offering of type that really needs to be filled?

Si_Daniels's picture

A more interesting question is how long after releasing your first font will you regret doing so? ;-)

kegler's picture

answer to all of the questions above: 128 hours 42 minutes 3 seconds

dezcom's picture



FeeltheKern's picture

I did my first font as an undergraduate thesis project. I still am happy with the overall concept I had, but if I were ever to bring it to market, there would be thousands of extra hours I'd put into it. I'd say I grossly underestimated what was involved in creating a font, and I'd imagine that's a common realization for most designers.

Check out for some general guidelines

The best thing to do is open up FontLab and look at how some fonts you love are built. The first thing I realized when doing this is 1) most of the bezier points are at 90 degrees or 180 degrees, and 2) the best fonts are not slaves to the sketch you scan in, nor do they slavishly try to adhere to any geometric or mathematical rules.

crossgrove's picture

Simon has it: first fonts aren't usually fit for release. While you're learning a process with so many weird variables, don't work under the expectation of a final product. If you happen to take on something manageable and within your capabilities, it MIGHT end up worth releasing, but that's not something you can determine until you get halfway into it.

Possibly a better question: how long until a good font?

Since there are thousands of different approaches, and thousands of possible styles, there can be no standard, even if you gave the same challenge/assignment to 100 people of equivalent experience and skill. Some fonts are autotraced (and not necessarily garbage), and some are carefully hand-drawn, one glyph at a time. Revivals, digitized lettering, adapted handwriting, large type systems, roman and italics, etc. etc. are different kinds of design challenges. Your first font is likely to be a learning experience, so you will repeat or discard previous work when (yes, when) you discover it isn't right.

The other thing about estimating this time is the additional time that typefaces seem to need to be left alone, unseen, while the designer has other experiences and gets some distance from the design. You can't count that as design time, but the time has to pass, and it contributes to the design.

Let's just say the answer is probably "longer than you think".

William Berkson's picture

>Let’s just say the answer is probably “longer than you think”.

Great answer, Carl.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Wow. Many great answers.

Your first font is likely to be a learning experience, so you will repeat or discard previous work when (yes, when) you discover it isn’t right.

So true in my case (and I haven't touched it in a good two years, now). But don't be discouraged, eliason -- making mistakes is good, as long as you are ready to learn from them. :-)

Hiroshige's picture

Hey eliason, sorry I can't answer your question - I'm currently kickin' out one of my own. Athough I'm down with Illy and PS (etc.) I'm still in a paper and pen phase. And to that I've gone through about two hundred pages of drawings (including putting together some words), and so far - I have worked up 22 letters yeah! Only 4 more to go! Type design is friggin awesome stuff!

Usually I spend a couple of hours in the morning and a couple more at night 4-5 days a week for the past three weeks working one this 'thing'. I'll take my work into Illy in about a week. I'll also kick out some PS stuff featuring a few of the more groovtastic letters long before I get through the vector phase, just to say hello.

I'm not using anyone else's work as a blueprint. Its all fresh. But, in a round about way I am trying to honor Bodoni and Glaser - just to say thanks (yeah know what I mean).

Yeah Dez - never, sounds about right much fun!

Dan Gayle's picture

We should totally start a thread where the old tymers here on Typophile can show us some of their firsts. Ya know, just to throw something to the newbie type designers.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Personally, I'm rather embarrassed by my first typeface, and glad that it's hidden away on a shelf. Along with my second, third, fourth.... :)



Nick Job's picture

Boo hoo blub sniff.

crossgrove's picture

Neil: To save large chunks of your time: Don't use Illustrator, and certainly not Photoshop (PS?). Waste of time; you can spend one week (force yourself) using TypeTool, Fontographer, FontLab or whatever actual type-making software, get used to the drawing tools, and avoid all the converting, scaling, pasting, etc. etc. Once you're accustomed to the environment, you will wonder why you wanted to use Illustrator. If you want to draw in Illustrator (or you already have), you can use FontLab's ScanFont to conveniently convert everything and assign it into FL cells, but that to me seems like a last resort.

As long as we're talking about type design taking forever..... ;)

It would be fun to show early efforts, but probably psychologically unhealthy. Or at least cruel.

eliason's picture

Thanks to all for the answers, esp. to Dan for the detail!

How long does it take to find a gap in the current offering of type that really needs to be filled?

This newbie's assumption would be that it is for his own sake, and not the world's, that this type would come to be!

dezcom's picture

The trouble is, at first, you don't know that you don't know. It takes a couple of years to acquire the skill and knowledge to figure out that what you did at first was pretty naive and that you need to learn more. The catch 22 is that until you have stumbled around for a while, you won't be able to properly perceive and absorb what you need to know. This all, perhaps, may come more quickly in a fine school like Reading where you are surrounded by a community of expertise and colleagues going through the same process--I can't say for sure. I have been stumbling around for 4 years now on my own and have a dozen typefaces "in the works" but none "finished"--whatever that means is a moving target. The more you learn, the more you realize that you are further from being "finished" than you first thought.


1985's picture

I have been 'designing a typeface' for around a year. As I have never designed type before the year has mostly been spent learning, reading, sketching. The result, however, is not a pre production set of sketches ready for digital drawing, it is simply a better idea of what it is I want to achieve!

I think my project is fairly ambitious for a first typeface. As a result it will take a lot longer and may be designed several times over. These different versions will encompass several attempts.

My first typeface may therefore truly be my 3rd or 4th.

Dan Gayle's picture

I wonder how many "unfinished" typefaces there are floating around in the ether? I bet there are some good ones that people are too picky about the let go, but that in other's opinions are amazing.

See also Slimbach, Robert.

I wonder what Garamond or Caslon's first typefaces looked like. I bet the master punchcutter busted them over the knuckles with a stick, and heaved the whole lot into the Arno river. Who knows, maybe we should go diving?

dezcom's picture

Think of it like your perspective when climbing a mountain. When you are at the base of the mountain, you think you clearly see the summit so you start to climb what looks life a reasonable obstacle. As you climb up to the first level, you see that what you thought was the peak, was actually just an interim step. You continue to climb only to see that just as you approached what you thought was the tallest reach, your vantage point gives you a view of something still higher. This continues to happen again and again the further you climb. Since I have yet to reach the summit, I don't know enough to tell you where it is or how much farther I will need to climb. I can only say that from my vantage point, the view to the top is now less than the view to the base down below where I started in 2004.


1985's picture

It's strange that you mention that analogy ChrisL because I was thinking of something similar.

Climbing Mount Improbable By Richard Dawkins uses the same analogy to make the theory of evolution more palatable.

1985's picture

Although I have just become aware of a massive contradiction in that comparison! Dawkins is explicity rejecting the notion of design!

1985's picture

Although I have just become aware of a massive contradiction in that comparison! Dawkins is explicity rejecting the notion of design!

dezcom's picture

After rereading my last, post, I realized that it was somewhat akin to Plato's allegory of the cave in his Republic.


Si_Daniels's picture

Most designers I know reject "intelligent design" (both kinds)

1985's picture

I have not read Plato's Republic.

dezcom's picture

That is OK, 1985, I have not read "Climbing Mount Improbable By Richard Dawkins" either :-)


eliason's picture

After rereading my last, post, I realized that it was somewhat akin to Plato’s allegory of the cave in his Republic.

I dunno, sounds more like Sisyphus!

Dan Gayle's picture

Who you calling a sissy?

dezcom's picture

"sounds more like Sisyphus"

His task was unrewarding though and without achievement. That is not true of type design.


eliason's picture

But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
-- Albert Camus

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Dawkins is explicity rejecting the notion of design!

Indeed. See another book of his, The Blind Watchmaker, which is also about Darwin's theory of evolution.

Don McCahill's picture

> I wonder how many “unfinished” typefaces there are floating around in the ether?

Most of them are available on the free font sites on the web.


Goran Soderstrom's picture

My first font (Neptuna/Exemplar, which today is more of a "super family") took totally 14 years to finish, and it's not even out in the market yet (but almost there). But perhaps 8-10 years out of that I was not productive at all since I got stuck with a "bad contract" on it.

My second (Navelfluff), third (Trentor), fourth (Trentor Script) and fifth (Autostyler) font I made in couple of months altogether, while learning FontLab, but that was crazy display fonts and they take less time.

My sixth font family (Flieger) took about one year to finish and now waits for "administration-before-release issues" to be solved.

Now I have been working on my seventh font family for a 2-3 years, and my eight I started working on a couple of months ago.

But I have a full time job also.

1985's picture

Sorry to have turned this thread into a book review :)

That said, I believe that the above titles are all of interest to a type designer because the process often appears insurmountable!

David Sudweeks's picture

Since we're on the subject; how long does it take to learn to play guitar?
I've always wanted to.

jupiterboy's picture

Since we’re on the subject; how long does it take to learn to play guitar?
I’ve always wanted to.

I got one as a gift at age 12. Wasn't mature enough to deal with lessons until I was 14. From there I played non stop to about age 21 when I landed at a Jazz school and realized I was an underexposed idiot and had no taste. Now at 41 I've wrecked my wrist and have convinced myself again that I do have taste. What was the question? Oh, it has taken me 29 years to learn not to play the guitar. Perfect!

dezcom's picture

"...The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
— Albert Camus"

This is Camus' wonderful take on it and I quite agree that the undertaking of type design is not only a labor of love but a love of the labor. However, the intention of Zeus in the original was of an eternal punishment having no redeeming value for Sisyphus. Camus was using the classical example of Sisyphus to explain his own thoughts, not what Zeus had intended for the guy who pulled a Linda Tripp on him :-)


Si_Daniels's picture

>Since we’re on the subject; how long does it take to learn to play guitar?

Guitar lessons at Punchcut

now we know why the edit comments bug still isn't fixed ;-)

Dan Gayle's picture


kris's picture

How many hours/week, for how many weeks or months would you estimate it to take?

In a few weeks I'll be publishing an article on iLT about my type design process. I'll be using my soon-to-be-released Newzald as an example. Even though it isn't my 'first', it may help to answer your question!


1985's picture

I look forward to reading that Kris, compliments on your designs, National in particular!

One question; what is iLT?


eliason's picture

what is iLT?

I love typography

Hiroshige's picture

Carl, thanks for the tip(s), and I don't mind posting my work. It'll be good to get the funk out. I look forward to the Typophile brand of push - nothing wrong with honest crits.

One thing I have noticed that's very cool about Type design is the totality of the letters. Each letter seems to have it's own character, yet each letter keeps within the same groove, yeah? Letters are such characters... but when all combined the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I'll post something in a couple weeks...

Jongseong's picture

I'm embarrassed to say that my first attempt at a font probably lives on in the critique section. I'm too scared to check.

I soon realised that my first attempt was a dead-end and soon abandoned it. I started drawing all over again with a better idea of what I wanted. And then I found fatal flaws in that design as well, and that got aborted as well. And then rinse and repeat.

While my numerous attempts so far bare little resemblance to each other (I've done garaldes, transitionals, bracketed serifs, wedge serifs, and waded through a broad range of design decisions), each successive attempt represents a refinement of the previous idea. So arguably, I've been working on my first font for more than two years.

The mountain metaphor is a good one, I find. Well, I wrote about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in my college application essay, and noted how scaling the peak in the cover of darkness with no real sense of how much we had left to climb probably prevented us from giving up in despair.

I remember thinking when I began my first font that I'd be able to finish it in a couple of months at most. I can't believe how untrained my eyes were at the time, and as much as my font has improved in the last two years, I know now that I still have a long climb to go. You can expect my font by 2015.

Christian Robertson's picture

I would recommend making a several fonts quickly, even if they are no good, rather than agonizing over the same thing for years. As a matter of fact, I would recommend if anyone has spent more than a few weeks on a particular font, and it's still not working, just put it away and start something else. The font may work out once you look at it with fresh eyes, but usually what you draw in the mean time is better anyway.

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