Fontlab Studio 5

FontsIf you’ve never designed a font, there’s a certain way you assume and hope it’ll be done should you ever want to, and Fontlab Studio knows where you’re coming from and what you’ll expect and delivers it to the letter.

A quick lesson on fonts; they’re vector files. The code of a font tells your application where to draw the curve and the result — much like an .ai or .eps document, is a much smaller file because there’s no pixel information, just mathematical equations for curves. The application loads them all from a font file or group of them (family) and renders them as the relevant key is called upon.

So as you’d expect, creating a font is a matter of creating a character for each letter, number and symbol for your font, then collating them into a small database — your font file, be it Truetype, Type 1, OpenType or otherwise.

There are two ways to create your individual character designs, in Illustrator or a similar vector drawing program, or directly in the interface of Fontlab Studio. The former method is a good theory, but exporting our Illustrator curves as an older version .ai, .eps and .bmp did no good so a bit of investigation is in order if you are going to import designs for assembly in Fontlab Studio.

If you want to draw the characters in the program, simply start a new font set, and you’ll be met with a large grid of every character you’ll need to draw. Then just double click the one you want to start with and a pop up window will present you with a drawing grid. The tools aren’t dissimilar to those in Illustrator with a curve tool, pen tool, corner and shape drawing tools, so if you’re familiar with Bezier paths and other vector concepts you’ll be comfortable.

Fontlab Studio actually has more detail than Illustrator or other vector tools that’s specifically designed for font design, such as diagonal guidelines along with the usual paint bucket and curve editing tools. There’s also detailed metrics control that lets you set the white space either side of a character depending on what it appears next to (automatic kerning).

At any stage throughout the process you can generate a small preview window where typing will show you your results in a string of text. It’s invaluable for small adjustments and tweaks, particularly for decorative or novelty fonts.

When you’ve got all the characters and symbols the way you want them it’s time to generate your font or suitcase ready to activate on your system and start using or sharing.

Like all design tools, Fontlab Studio won’t make you a designer. But if you have a hankering to design your own typeface or have all the characters drawn and ready, it’s a good — if pricey — way to take the next step.