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How to make fonts

Equipment needed
• pen & paper
• flatbed scanner
• font creation software: FontLab
• vector drawing software: Adobe Illustrator
• other software: Adobe Photoshop

1) Draw/sketch the letterforms
Use whatever drawing tool seems best for the mood of this font — pencil, charcoal, a hair dipped in ink, or a dismembered finger. Be as precise or wild as it needs. The less scaling and adjusting you have to do later on the computer, the better. So try to make the letters a consistent size, with a bit of space between each one. If you don’t have a design, be crazy… maybe that’s the design too. You may also choose to create your letters with software tools, and skip this first two steps.

2) Scan the letterforms
Scan your lettershapes into the computer at 300 dpi in grayscale mode. Perform any cleanup necessary. Use eraser tool with an efficient brush size. Lowering the white point in Image>Mode>Levels can remove smudges. Then save the file as a .TIFF

3) Convert bitmap art into vector art
There are a number of different software tools can convert bitmap or raster images like TIFFs into vector artwork. Adobe Illustrator CS2 contains a new feature called Live Trace. Check here for other plugins and options. Convert your TIFF bitmap into an EPS that Illustrator can read as vector shapes. (Though more time consuming, you may choose to trace the letterforms using the drawing tools of Illustrator or FreeHand.)

4) Clean up the vector shapes
Open the file in Illustrator. Make any adjustments. Separate and scale the letterforms. For efficient transfer to the font software, scale the characters to a common height and align in horizontal in groups. Use guides for assistance. Then move or cleanup any stray points. You can completely change anything about your letter shapes at this stage. (You could also use FreeHand or CorelDraw for editing vector shapes.)

5) Cut & paste the letterforms into font software
In FontLab, select File>New Font then check "do not rescale EPS" in Preferences/General. In Illustrator preferences, change the units to points (1 point equals 1 unit in FontLab) and change the copy format to AICB (turn off PDF). Make a box 1000x500 ponts in Illustrator, add baseline, x-height lines and any other guidelines you might want. Fill or stroke everything (FontLab won't import paths with no fill/no line). Open a glyph window in FontLab and paste (into the Outline layer). (You can also export letter shapes as EPS files and use Glyph>Import from EPS option in FontLab.)

6) Clean up the glyphs
FontLab is a powerful, professional font editing program, and much can be done to the glyphs within the software. Experiment with settings under Tools>Outlines and with the points themselves. Check Connections and Optimize under the same Tools menu. Move or cleanup any stray points. Scale the letterforms with Window>Transformation Panel. You can still completely change anything about your letter shapes.

7) Save the font
Give the font a name in File>Font Info, then save it under File>Save. (This saves a .vfb font metrics file. After the next step, you may be ready to generate font files.)

8) Space and kern the font
There is plenty of documentation with FontLab which needn’t be paraphrased here, but these menu items will help create basic spacing for a typeface. (Creating hundreds of kerning pairs is often necessary for a precise professional typeface.)
Tools>Kerning Assistance…
Tools>Metric Assistance…
Window>Preview panel


(This method is based on the use of FontLab and other standard commercial software applications. There are other font apps that require other methods.)