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How to Design a Font: {Part 4} Finishing Touches

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Well this is it – the final part in my series “How to Design a Font”! Be sure to catch up with the previous articles in the series:
Part 1: Get inspired
Part 2: Draw up a Storm! and
Part 3: Make it Digital

Great now we’re finally into fontlab. This is pretty much the easiest part of the entire process, so no worries. First thing you need to do is open a new font. Go to File, New and a window will pop up with a bunch of different characters: uppercase, lowercase, and various other characters. If you double click any of the windows with a character in them, you will be able to add in your own design. When the character is grayed out that means there isn’t any information there.


Now all you need to do is copy the character in Illustrator and paste it into Fontlab. Something to keep in mind is you may have to look around for your letter after you’ve pasted it into the window. Usually it won’t perfectly paste near the grid lines. You may need to move around the canvas and grab the letter and move it to the grid area. Just make sure that you are selecting all the nodes.

When the nodes are selected they will be red. Just click and drag to select all of the nodes at the same time. If you’d like to select only one node than all you need to do is click one at a time, pretty simple right!

Something that I love so much about fontlab is that each node is given x and y coordinates, so it’s easy to move around the nodes perfectly into place. You can move the nodes using the arrow tools on your keyboard. If you hold down the shift and arrow key together you can move an object much faster. If you’d like to work on another letter you just close out of the character window you’re working in and double click on another one. Continue copying and pasting your letters into each of the windows until you have imported your entire font.


Wow, you’re so close to finishing up this font it’s scary! You’ll notice that there are dashed lines on each side of a letter; these are to help with kerning. The red line is used to tell you the measure the distance between the stroke and the dashed line, I use this all the time. So how exactly do you figure out the right spacing for your letters? I have to admit that I am not a kerning pro but I have a little recipe that I’ve gotten from my book, Designing Type, that I’ve found really helpful. It really helps you to understand how letters work together and breaks down pretty much every letter’s characteristics. I would really recommend buying the book because there are lots of useful tid bits on how to make a kick ass font. Below is the formula that I follow whenever I am working on the kerning for a font.

Spacing Capital Letters

1- Set the left and right sidebearings of the H. Each sidebearing is 25-50 percent of the width between the inside of the strokes. Sans serifs have tighter spacing than serif fonts.
2- Test the sidebearings of the H by setting the word ‘HHHH’. The letters should be harmonious – not too open or cramped.
3- Set the left and right sidebearings of the O. These sidebearings are slightly less than the sidebearings of the H.
4- Test the O by setting the word ‘HOH’. The O should appear balanced between the two H forms, and the color of the word should be even. If not, revise the sidebearings of the O.
5- Re-test the O by setting the word ‘HHOOHH’. Again, all six letters should be harmonious, and the color of the word should be even. If not, revise the sidebearings of the O. The initial H may also require readjustment.
6- Once the H and O are satisfactory, the other upper case sidebearings can be set as follows:

Diagonal and open letters with minimum space:

4-A-4 4-V-4 4-W-4
4-X-4 4-Y-4 4-T-4 4-J-1
Straight sided letters with heavy verticals:
1-D-5 1-P-5 1-R-4 1-L-4 1-K-4
1-B-3 1-E-3 1-F-3 1-U-2 1-I-1
Straight sided letters with light verticles:
2-N-2 2-M-1
Letters with round sides:
5-Q-5 5-C-3 5-G-2
Letters with a central spine:
3-Z-3 *-S-*

1 Equal to the sidebearing of the H
2 Slightly less than the sidebearing of the H
3 Half of the sidebearing of the H
4 Minimum sidebearing
5 Equal to the sidebearing of the O
*Must be adjusted visually

Spacing Lower Case Letters

1- Set the left and right sidebearings of the n. The right sidebearing will be slightly thinner than the left, since the arched corner is lighter than the vertical stem. The left sidebearing is 25-50% of the n counter.
2- Test the sidebearings of the n by setting the word ‘nnnn’. The word should be even in color, and neither tight nor loose.
3- Set the left and right sidebearings of the o. The sidebearings of the o are smaller than those of the n.
4- Test the o by setting the word ‘non’. The o should appear balanced between the n forms, and the color of the word should be even. If not, revise the sidebearings of the o.
5- Re-test the o by setting the following words: ‘nnonn’ ‘nnonon’ ‘nnoonn’
Adjust sidebearings of the o and/or n as necessary.
6- Once the n and o are satisfactory, the other lower case sidebearings can be set as follows:

Diagonal letters with minimum space:

4-v-4 4-w-4 4-x-4 4-y-4
Letters with short vertical stems:
1-r-4 1-m-2 1-j-1 2-u-2
Letters with tall vertical stems:
1-b-5 3-p-5 3-k-4 3-l-2 3-h-2 3-i-1
Letters with round sides:
5-c-6 5-e-6 5-q-1 5-d-1
Irregularly shaped letters:
*-g-* *-a-* *-s-* *-z-* *-f-* *-t-*

1 Equal to the left sidebearing of the n
2 Equal to the right sidebearing of the n
3 Slightly more than the left sidebearing of the n
4 Minimum sidebearing
5 Equal to the sidebearing of the o
6 Slightly less than the sidebearing of the o
* Must be adjusted visually.

Ok, now our kerning is complete! This is pretty tedious but it’s so important to get a nicely kerned font, I would say that it is equally as important as a nicely designed font. If your font is hard to read then who will want to use it? So to test out your kerning abilities open up quick test to see how the kerning looks. To open up quick test go to tools > quick test as > Open Type TT (.ttf). A window will pop up with how your font would look all typed out. You can highlight the text and add in your own. A good sentence to test out is: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This will give you a good idea of how the characters will work in a sentence. You can also grab some Lorem Ipsum online to test out whole paragraphs. Print out a variety of sizes so you can see how the letters work large and small. REALLY scrutinize the font at this point. You want to make sure that it’s easy to read. If it burns out your eyeballs you should probably keep working on the kerning.




Once you get something you feel proud of, you’re done. My test is that if I want to show the project to everyone I know, that means I did a sweet job. Fonts aren’t as easy to make as some people may think, it has taken me weeks to finish a font. You should be really proud of yourself for kicking butt and making something awesome. After reading these tutorials if you have questions please feel free to email me. If I’m not too slammed with design projects I’d be happy to help critique fonts or answer any questions. Thanks for sticking it out and getting through this marathon of a tutorial!

About the Author, Katie Major

I'm a graphic designer with a passion for typography, learning, photography, reading, knitting, and playing music. Check out some of my personal projects here.
Discover More by Katie Major

Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • http://www.battlemedialab.com Joe

    Great article!

  • http://www.battlemedialab.com Joe

    Great article!

  • http://www.williambiwer.com Bill Biwer

    Great explanation of spacing inside and in-between letters. Not a lot of other type tutorials go into these important details. Those are the details that turn a font into a typeface.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.williambiwer.com Bill Biwer

    Great explanation of spacing inside and in-between letters. Not a lot of other type tutorials go into these important details. Those are the details that turn a font into a typeface.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.studio5555.de/ Philipp

    Nice work!

  • http://www.studio5555.de/ Philipp

    Nice work!

  • Simon H.

    great complete and detailled. nice ;-)

  • Simon H.

    great complete and detailled. nice ;-)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/29770458@N03/ Max Dominguez

    awesome tutorial overall, this is a major help considering im taking a class that covers almost nothing but this in a month or two

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/29770458@N03/ Max Dominguez

    awesome tutorial overall, this is a major help considering im taking a class that covers almost nothing but this in a month or two

  • http://tendou86.blogspot.com/ Takumi86

    Umm no offense but the final result wasn’t that great cause you know, that font will makes people hard to read. well at least thats my opinion

  • http://tendou86.blogspot.com/ Takumi86

    Umm no offense but the final result wasn’t that great cause you know, that font will makes people hard to read. well at least thats my opinion

  • Tim

    impressive tutorials. I’m definately gonna have to give all this a go.

  • Tim

    impressive tutorials. I’m definately gonna have to give all this a go.

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  • http://twitter.com/gosquared/statuses/1050076651 gosquared (GoSquared)

    How to design a font from start to finish: http://tinyurl.com/5zzq57

  • http://twitter.com/gosquared/statuses/1050076651 gosquared (GoSquared)

    How to design a font from start to finish: http://tinyurl.com/5zzq57

  • http://twitter.com/gosquared/statuses/1050076651 gosquared (GoSquared)

    How to design a font from start to finish: http://tinyurl.com/5zzq57

  • http://twitter.com/_Fabio/statuses/1051261962 _Fabio (_Fabio)

    Como criar uma fonte: http://is.gd/b9MF

  • http://twitter.com/_Fabio/statuses/1051261962 _Fabio (_Fabio)

    Como criar uma fonte: http://is.gd/b9MF

  • Pingback: How to design a font

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  • Matt

    Thanks for this nice work!
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  • Mohammad Nikookar

    good process but have no greate result!
    thanx

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