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Learn How to Make a Font (Written & Video Tutorial)

By Gary simon - Mar 19, 2018

Until recently, if you wanted to make a font, you would have to purchase very expensive software. This software was also usually quite hard to understand with poor user interfaces.

Fortunately, there's some software -- technically a plugin -- that's both relatively inexpensive and intuitive. This plugin is called Fontself.

We're going to use Fontself in parallel with Adobe Illustrator CC to create a few characters for a brand new font. This will help you get up and running and on your way to designing and producing your very own fonts that others can use.

Let's get started!

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First, what is Fontself?

Fontself is an extention for Adobe Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC that allows you to use either of these applications to produce OTF (OpenType Font) fonts.

While both of these applications can handle designing the actual characters, they can't create a font file that can be installed. Fontself takes care of that, and much more.

With Fontself, you can tackle:

  • Kerning
  • Ligatures
  • Character alternates (this allows you to create unique, more natural fonts)
  • Color fonts with OpenType-SVG, which even support gradients!

At the time of writing this article, it costs a one time fee of $49 for either a copy for Photoshop or Illustrator. That's not bad, considering alternatives cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars.

Getting Started

After installing Fontself for Illustrator CC, load up Illustrator and go to Windows -> Extensions -> Fontself Maker 

On this panel there's a hamburger menu aligned to the right, click on this and select Font Template.

The document looks like this:

With that loaded, let's examine what's happening on each line.

Understanding the Guide Lines

If you zoom up close to each line -- ALT-SCROLL WHEEL -- you will notice 5 different horizontal guidelines:

Starting from the top:

  • Ascender
    This is the maximum height of the portion of a lower case character that exceeds above the xheight.

  • Cap Height
    This defines the height of a capital letter.

  • XHeight
    As the name suggests, this is the height of a lowercase x. It helps when defining lowercase letters, with exception to ascenders.

  • Baseline
    The base of a character, with exception to descenders.

  • Descender
    This defines the ending point of characters that traverse below the baseline, such as j, q, etc..

Once you understand this basic terminology, you can begin to make your font!

Of course, there's a lot more to typography than just these terms, but for a beginner, it's all you really need to know. 

Designing Your First Character

We'll start with the easiest character, an uppercase "O". Zoom and pan your way close to the capital "O" in the template and choose the Elipse tool from the left menu.

  1. Starting from the center -- use the smart guides to help you find the center point - Left click + hold SHIFT+ALT to create a perfect elipse from the center.
  2. Give it a stroke of 3pts and no fill.
  3. Click on the Stroke underlined text in the top left toolbar and choose to align the stroke to the inside.
  4. The size of your capital "O" should be confined within the cap height and baseline.

The result should be similar to below:

Also, ensure that your layers are open and you work within the Your artwork here layer.

At this point, should you want to add this letter O to Fontself, you would have to first ensure that:

  • Your artwork is converted to outlines -- Object -> Path -> Convert to outlines.
  • If your character has multiple paths, ensure you use the Pathfinder -- Window -> Pathfinder -- to merge them into a single path or shape.
  • Rename the name of the path or group to the character (capital or lowercase, depending on the character itself). 

Then, you would simply open up Fontself from the extensions, select the character and drag the path from the layers panel to the Fontself panel.

It's that easy. In the preview, you can begin to type with your font and quickly export your font to .OTF where it can be installed and used by others.

Let's keep designing a few characters, though. 

By the way -- All of this stuff is covered in greater detail in the video above.

A Bit More Complex Character

The "O" was quite simple. Let's move over to the "M" character. 

This time, instead of using a path with a stroke, we'll use the Rectangle Tool to create a 3pt width stroke -- we want to ensure it matches the width of our O -- to construct the M.

  • Construct the first leg on the left of the M with a rectangle.
  • Replicate it -- CTRL-C and CTRL-F - and left click + while holding SHIFT and move it over to the right:

  • Select the left rectangle, duplicate it, and hold SHIFT, left click and drag to the right on the bottom right edge of the rectangle to rotate it to a 45 degree angle.
  • Position it as shown below, and then duplicate it -- right-click on the duplicate, choose transform -> reflect and hit enter. Position it to the right as shown:

  • Scale in each of the rotated rectangles to finish the M:

  • You can select all of the paths and use the smart guides to position the "M" and center it within the block for this character.

At this point, if you wish, you could use the Pathfinder to merge all of these shapes if you're finished with it. However, I advise against this if you need to make adjustments, or you wish to reuse one of the lefts for other characters.

Let's do one more character (the video shows 5 characters).

One More Letter

We're going to do a capital "B" for the next character. This will involve using a different tool.

  • Take one of the vertical legs of the "M" and replicate it. Drag it over to the beginning portion of the "B" in the template.
  • Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool with a 3pt stroke and create two rectangles similar to what's shown below. The bottom of the top rectangle should overlap perfectly with the top of the bottom rectangle:

  • Make the bottom rectangle larger and make sure it hits the baseline:

  • Next, under the transform panel -- shown to the right -- click the three dots to extend more options where you can adjust the top left and bottom left corners. Set them to 0 for both the top and bottom rounded rectangles:

  • Finally, drag in with your mouse one of the corner radius icons so that the right side of both the top and bottom rectangles are half elipses:

That's a pretty solid B, don't you think?

Using the PathFinder to Add a Unique Treatment

We have a pretty solid and consistent font right now, but if you really want to add a unique treatment to your characters, the Pathfinder is a great way to do just that.

Let's add a 45 degree angle of negative space in certain areas of each character. In the video, I show how this is done across all 4 capital letters, but for this tutorial, I'll just show how it's done once.

Head over to the letter "O" and we'll cut out a part of it!

  • First, ensure that the "O" is converted to outlines.
  • Take one of the rectangles of the appropriate width and replicate it. Rotate it 45 degrees and fill it with white.
  • Move it on top of the "O" as shown below:

  • Once the shape is in place, select both of the paths and use the Pathfinder's Minus Front icon to cut out the top shape from the bottom:

The result is now that the "O" has an empty portion. You can do this with the rest of the letters to create a consistent, unique effect on each chracter!

Exporting the Font

Fontself makes it incredibly easy to export the font as an actual installable .otf file once you're ready.

Once you've dragged all of the letters onto the Fontself panel -- Window -> Extensions -> Fontself Maker -- you can use the extension to make any adjustments that are needed to kerning and such. Then, once you're ready, you can click on the Export button and give it a name:

At that point, you can choose a location for the font and Wala, your custom .otf font is now ready to be installed and distributed!



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