Contextual Alternates

hello seb's picture

Hello Typophiles, been a while since I've been on here, hope everyone is well.

I have recently accepted a design job, nothing too strenuous, and I was thinking about designing a custom handwritten font. This would be the first time I've properly attempted to design one (handwritten or not), and I want to learn more about the misty realm of contextual alternates.

I was reading an excellent article about them, written by Nick Shinn, someone who I believe roams the forums here, but I still have a couple of questions and I hope you can all help.

First of, do you need them to properly execute a handwritten font? Attached is a sample of the style of handwriting I'll be emulating (not looking for critiques just yet, and yup I will be increasing legibility) so you can judge it subjectively...

Second, should I outsource the scripting job to someone with more experience? I have no fear designing the font and the alternates myself, but actually publishing the font and creating the script required might be a little out of my comfort zone.

Thirdly, if I do decide to take the challenge on, what program should I be using to write the script? And will Fontlab Studio work with it? (I work on a Mac, and craft all of my draft glyphs in Illustrator, if that is relevant).

Forgive my ignorance, I'm only starting in this business and eager to learn



Khaled Hosny's picture

Your choices for "programming" contextual alternates are MS Volt (GUI, Windows only), writing feature files by hand (you can either then "compile" them using Adobe's AFDKO command line tools, or from within FontLab), or FontForge which have both GUI for OpenType code and can import feature files.

It can be a bit of learning, especially if you want something "clever", in addition to the usual font development stuff, but nothing can't be dealt with given enough time.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

If this is your first font, I suggest you team up with someone with a little more experience. There are plenty of caveeats, and scripting is the least of them.

A certain degree of randomness is often called far when emulating handwriting, and scripting a (pseudo) random feature using multiple sets of alternates is a fairly easy task. With Type 3 you could even mess with the curves, but this format is by and large defunct by now. I also suggest (as someone once suggested to me) you explore how the writer adapt his/hers writing to context.

hello seb's picture

cool thank you for the advice Khaled & Frode!


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