(newbies) How to make a font based on your own handwriting

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Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2003 10:05 pm
Location: Göteborg, Sweden

(newbies) How to make a font based on your own handwriting

Post by elak »

How to make a TrueType font based on your own handwriting
Using Font Creator Program 4 (henceforth "FCP") from High Logic, and Adobe Photoshop.

1) Get FCP.
If you haven't already, that is. A 30 day trial version can be downloaded here: http://www.high-logic.com/fcp.html
The information in this tutorial applies to version 4, public as of summer 2003.

2) Design your font.
Write your glyphs (characters) on paper using your writing implement of choice. A fairly complete list of glyphs can be obtained here: http://www.htmlhelp.com/reference/charset/latin1.gif
You can of course pick and choose which characters you wish to include. For a comic lettering font for example, you may want to skip small letters. For a title font you may want letters only, skipping numerals and punctuation.
:!: I highly recommend checking the list out, since there is quite a bunch of characters which are easily overlooked.

3) Scan it.
Scan as high-resolution (600 DPI) monochrome bitmap. Be careful to get the base line perfectly horizontal.

4) Split the glyphs.
Copy and export the glyphs from the bitmap to individual files in the .BMP format. You can use the glyph list above as a reference for naming the files, since the FCP follows the same naming scheme.
Since there are a couple of steps do for each glyph, you will want to make this process as smooth as possible.
Here's how to do it in Photoshop 7:
  • Make sure guides are visible, and that the "snap to grid" option is selected (that is, both view->snap and view->snap to->guides). Make guides around all your glyphs, i.e. one guide above and one below each line of glyphs, as well as between them. Each glyph should have some whitespace around it on each side.

    Bring up the rectangular marquee tool options, and set Style to "fixed size" and size to roughly the same size as the grid size formed by the guides.

    Set up a macro for copying and creating the new glyph file. (Basically ctrl+C, ctrl+N, set Mode to Bitmap and Width and Height to your marquee size, Ok, ctrl+V, ctrl+W)

    Select and export the glyphs one by one, using the rectangular marquee tool and your macro.
:idea: Do not worry if the glyphs are not perfectly placed, since they will be re-aligned during import.

5) Create a new font file.
Open FCP and create a new file. Give it a name. Leave the default settings for Character Set and Font Style. A window called "Yourfont.ttf" appears, containing greyed out "ghost" versions of all glyphs.

6) Import the glyphs.
Again, this is a repetetive process, so I recommend using the keyboard shortcuts in order to speed things up. To speed things up even further, you might want to check out a keyboard macro program, as suggested in this post by Bhikkhu Pesala.
For each glyph,
  • Open it, either by double-clicking it or selecting it and pressing enter. The Glyph window appears.

    Choose Tools->Import Image (Alt+L, Alt+I)

    Choose Load (Alt+L)

    Browse to the folder containing your character bitmaps, and open the current glyph file (i.e. A.BMP) by typing it into the "Filename" box, or by double-clicking it in the browser window.
    :idea: Typing is generally faster, since you only have to type the first few letters, then select the desired filename using the Down arrow.

    Choose Generate (Alt+G). The bitmap data is vectorized. If necessary, adjust the vertical placement of the glyph, by Selecting All (ctrl+A) and using the arrow keys. Since generated glyphs are placed relative to the baselines (the red intersecting lines), this is necessary for characters that should extend over these lines; for instance "," and "j".

    If necessary, adjust the spacing lines (black, vertical, dashed lines). These should normally be about one whole grid square from the glyph on each side, except brackets and the like, which should have less space on the inside.

    Close the Glyph window (Ctrl+F4).
If the newly imported glyph appears in a different size than the surrounding ghost glyphs, you will have to adjust the Size Multiplier under the Glyph tab of the Import Image window. I recommend you re-import the glyph, since this ensures that all imported glyphs will be the same scale.

For a glyph bitmap of 200x200 pixels, Size Multiplier should be about 10.

:idea: Make sure that you check the "default" box under the Glyph tab, or you will have to adjust this setting again for each glyph.

7) Re-map glyphs (Optional: Single case fonts only)
To make single-case fonts (for instance ALL CAPS ones), there are basically two approaches: the Quick Way and the Right Way.

The Quick Way is to simply select all letters (A..Z) and copy them to the other case (a..z). This is bad for a couple of reasons: for one, the font file will unnecessarily bloated, since the same set of glyph data is stored twice. And more importantly, it means more kerning pairs, which translates to more work for you in the end. If this doesn't bother you though, then by all means, go right ahead.

The Right Way is to add a new character mapping for each one of the letters, like so:
  • Choose Format->Mappings... (Alt+O, Alt+M)

    If you are making a PC font, select "Microsoft Unicode" in the Platforms list.

    Highlight a glyph in the Glyphs list.

    Choose Select (Alt+S)

    Find and select the desired mapping (for example "LATIN SMALL LETTER A"), and press Ok.

    If a warning dialog appears about the character already being mapped to another glyph, just click OK.
:idea: The letters a..z have mapping values that are the same as A..Z + $20, so it will be quicker for you to type the value into the index box and press Add for these, than going via the Select window.

You may erase the unused letters (a..z) in the main window, but I would recommend this only if you know that you will not be needing them later.

8 ) Auto Kern it.
  • Choose Tools->Auto Kern...

    Choose Next.

    Select the character you wish to auto kern in the left-hand list, and choose ">" to bring them to the right-hand list. You will probably want to kern them all. Be aware though, that there is an upper limit of 128 characters at a time for auto kern.

    Choose Next.

    For a reasonably tight font, type 300 into the "White space between characters" box.

    Choose Next. Kerning pairs are automagically calculated.
9) Test it.
You are now ready to take your font for a test drive.
:!: The Test window (Font->Test or F5) will NOT display the font with kerning, so you will have to install the font in order to view it properly.
  • Choose Font->Install... You will be asked if you wish to save the font.

    Choose Yes. The Font Installation Wizard appears.

    Choose Next, Next and Finish. Your font is now installed.

    :!: If you run into problems writing the font, try closing other applications which use fonts (such as Word or Photoshop).
    :!: If still no go, check the "Launch Windows Fonts Folder" box, and remove the old version of the font manually.

    Open up any application that can handle TTF fonts, for example Photoshop, and type away.
10) Polish it.
You will most likely discover a bunch of visual quirks and problems. Pay special attention to how the text flows in larger blocks.
    :( All characters appear too close together or too far apart.
    :o Adjust the Metrics (individual vertical spacing), using Tools->Auto Metrics
    :idea: You will probably have to do the kerning all over again after this.

    :( Some characters appear too close together or too far apart.
    :o Adjust the kerning pairs, using format->kerning.

    :shock: Some characters do not appear at all!
    :o Either you missed importing them, in which case you just have to do that, or the characters in question have no mapping, in which case you will have to add mapping for them using Format->Mappings.

    :? Some characters need minor adjustments.
    :o Adjusting individual anchor points in the Glyph window is fairly straight-forward.

    :( Diacritical marks (little marks above or below some non-english characters) appear clipped.
    :o Adjust the top or bottom lines (solid, black, horizontal lines) in the Glyph window.
When you have performed your adjustments, test it again!

11) Describe it.
FCP adds some copyright information automatically to the english language version. You will probably want to change some of it, at least add your name as the copyright owner. The TTF format also supports a bunch of additional data about the font. To edit it, do as follows:
  • Choose Format->Naming.

    For PC fonts, choose Microsoft Unicode under Platform.

    Select English in the Language list.

    Change or uncheck the undesired information, and press Ok.
    :idea: There is even more information added by FCP as default. This can be found and modified in the Advanced Naming section, found by pressing the "Advanced..." button.
12) Publish it (Optional)
These forums have a Gallery section, where you can post a link to your font to have other FCP users give their input on your work.
:idea: This is also a good place to get help (after first consulting the Help file, of course).

13) Mac export (Optional)
If you want Mac users to be able to use your font, you will have to convert it to Mac TTF. There is a tool called CrossFont from Acute systems that does this. It is shareware and costs $45 to buy. It can be downloaded here: http://www.asy.com/scrcf.htm
Usage of this software is outside of the scope of this tutorial, though, sorry.
:!: Don't forget to add Mapping and Naming information for the Macintosh platform to your Mac fonts!

14) Buy the program.
If you haven't already and enjoy the program, please consider purchasing it. It's not only much easier to use than other professional font design programs out there, it's reasonably priced as well.


Johan C. Brandstedt
Download my free fonts at http://johancb.freelancers.net.
Comments and suggestions are welcome!
Posts: 331
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2002 11:05 am
Location: York, UK

Post by Jowaco »

What an excellent contribution.
If I were to list the things which I find good about this tutorial it would be very long and I do not wish to belittle the bulk of useful information that is in this comprehensive treatise. However, those who do not have Photoshop 7 will immediately ignore the whole thing because it would then be impossible to implement. Other methods, using the free Irfan View at http://www.irfanview.com/ or the underestimated MS Paint, are available using the Copy/Paste function into a glyph Edit window. Copy/Paste uses the same 'platform' as Import. This method obviates the need to store individual, and disc-space consuming, .bmp files of individual characters. I wish I were able to write a description of this as well as that which you wrote.

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