Mastering fonts

Redway's picture

I have designed a font called Heisenberg and have the (limited) ability to transfer it from Illustrator into Fontlab. Just wondering what the next step is? I know professional foundries can master fonts (hinting etc) for you but it costs a bomb.

Anybody know how one goes about geting in touch with the finer points of font making?



Ramiro Espinoza's picture

Reading Typophile's Build section is a good starting point. Then, Fontlab Manual and Postcript Specifications (also TTF and OT Specifications) are a must. You can download them from internet.
And if it takes too long I can do it for you without charging 'a bomb' :)


kentlew's picture

Technically speaking, if you have letter outlines in Illustrator, you haven’t designed a “font.” You might have designed a nice typeface (or maybe just a nice bunch of letters), but if you can’t use it yet to set type, it ain’t a *font*.

kentlew's picture

Sorry. Nothing personal. Musta just woke up cranky this morning.

Ramiro Espinoza's picture

...And let me give what I think is a good advice: draw your letters directly in Fontlab.

blank's picture

Kent is correct; you have not designed a font. You’ve just sketched up letters in Illustrator, that’s often less than half the work. At this point it’s time for you to start learning Fontlab.

BeauW's picture

The next step is spacing. Then revising. Then spacing again. Kerning. Adding a full character set. Adding opentype features.

I left out some details (and some 'revising again' steps) but that is the general plan.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Not everyone is a type designer. I have had designer friends come to me with ideas for a typeface they did not have the know-how to produce on their own. You’re free to contact me with your “sketches” at any point, Matte.

Queneau's picture

I agree with frank. I've met several designers with great ideas for typefaces, but never coming to the point of realizing for lack of time and practice. A cooperation with either a type designer or a foundry would help to bring these fresh ideas into production.

I also remember that igizio marini offers iKern, a service for spacing and kerning, which would normally take up a bulk of time and a lot of experience to complete. I know that Jos Buivenga (of Calluna and Museo fame) has also used this service for some of his fonts and it seems to work quite well. You already need to have all your character set completed in fontlab though, so perhaps you could start on that.

And if you plan to import your illustrator drawings in fontlab, make sure not to have to scale them in fontlab, as this will cause a lot of distortion. the x-height of your letter needs to be 1000 points high if I remember correctly, to import at 100 percent in fontlab.

.00's picture


If you decide to proceed on your own with this, I strongly recommend ScanFont, from the FontLab folks. It's only $99 or so and it makes importing Illustrator outlines into FontLab a breeze. If you set up your Illustrator outlines in any kind of alphabetical order, you can bring them all into the correct code points in FontLab in a blink of an eye.

I never leave home without it.

Richard Fink's picture


Thanks for the practical and upbeat advice - I too, will be taking it.
Also, I've found David Bergsland's new book, Practical Font Design quite helpful. It deals extensively with integrating work in Illustrator with work in FontLab. As well as working with scans.

Good luck with your efforts.

.00's picture

1 point in Illustrator equals 1 unit in FontLab. If you are working with a 1000 unit em in FontLab, your Cap height will, most likely, be in the 650 to 700 unit range (depending on the design of course) and your x-height will be somewhat less than that.

Bloodtype's picture

Is this possibly inspired by 'Breaking Bad', or is it the original Heisenberg?

Redway's picture

Thanks everyone! Pedanticism aside, I really appreciate your help.
I would love to take some of you up on your offers of help, but then I wouldn't learn how to do it myself. Thanks anyway.

Queneau and James - Thanks so much, this is exactly what I was looking for. As you can tell Im not a real type designer, I just like drawing letters and want to find a way of getting them out there.

Kent - Dont worry mate, I do all the time. I really am just a designer with an interest in type design, hence the preference for illustrator.

Bloodtype: A bit of of both..

dezcom's picture

"...A bit of of both."

You say that with a bit of "Uncertainty" ;-)

.00's picture

If you use ScanFont, you don't have to scale your drawings up in Illustrator. ScanFont has a scaling tool that does that for you. In fact, if your Illustrator document is too large (dimensionally) you may run into some problems with ScanFont.

Redway's picture

Dezcom, if I hadnt looked up the original Heisenberg after feeling the guilt of using the name after watching Breaking Bad, then I would have no clue what you're talking about!

Thank f for Wikipedia.

quadibloc's picture

Getting the meaning of words correct is important. Thus, I will not criticize Kent Lew for pointing out that creating the outlines of glyphs does not, itself, constitute the creation of a font, even if it is the design of a typeface.

However, while it isn't the creation of a font, if it is the design of a typeface, then it is also the design of the important part of fonts which implement that typeface. One can indeed say that designing a font may also involve setting up the hinting and the kerning, but it is possible to skip those steps and just push a button and have a font of sorts created from a set of character outlines. So the term "design a font" is perhaps too ambiguous to properly criticize in this fashion.

dezcom's picture

"...after watching Breaking Bad"

Now I have to google "Breaking Bad" because I don't know what you are talking about;-) Did it have something to do with quantum physics, too?

Nick Shinn's picture

So the term "design a font" is perhaps too ambiguous to properly criticize in this fashion.

Not so.
If one is going to ask this sort of question at Typophile, then one should be apprised of elementary mistakes in terminology.
A collection of glyphs is not a typeface, especially if it has never been made into a font and never been used for setting type.
It could at best be described as "a design for a typeface", in the way that an architect's plans may be termed a design for a house.

.00's picture

I always like to use the term "alphabet" in these situations. Ed Benguiat used the term all the time to describe what he did. He drew alphabets.

Bloodtype's picture

Breaking Bad is the best thing I've seen for years. Having said that, I think the titles stink. Although that might be fitting.
I'd love to have got that job.

Redway's picture

Nick: Could the architect still say that he/she has 'designed a house' then? Since the design stage is separate from the building stage?

Jmont: I like too.

Dezcom: It has more to do with crystal meth...

dezcom's picture

Thanks, Matte. What is the Heisenberg connection, then? Was that a character name in the story?

Redway's picture

Yeah, its the street name a science teacher gives himself after his scientific hero! Quality viewing.

dezcom's picture

Thanks, Matte! I am glad that it was all about the same fellow after all.

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