Font design is an area few traditional designers dabble in, despite most of us ending up with tens of thousands of fonts on our system simply because they’re so addictive. We know very well we’ll never use 90 percent of them but that doesn’t stop our font compulsion.
If yours extends to a lifelong wish to build your own font, Fontstruct is a good introduction to the area as a simple tool that explains some of the methodology behind font construction and should serve as your jumping off point to bigger and better tools if you’re serious.
Few people — even few designers – know the first step in designing a font is to create a simple vector image (so the size is scalable) for each character in your font set. The process to make it a font from there on is what Fontstruct does behind the scenes, but until then it gives you an appreciation of the image-based nature of a font character.
So bear in mind that with a high-specced system that probably has Photoshop, Illustrator and the other high-end tools you’ll need to construct a font file, you’re not really Fontstruct’s target market. It’s more geared towards everyday computer users who like to play around and create something they can call their own.
It starts with a very simple sign up and log in process. Your browser window then becomes a pasteboard with the tool palettes you’ll need. It’s very simply set out — there’s a baseline and zoom controls, a small toolbox with drawing and erasing tools and a list of brick shapes. There are about twenty preset style elements that offer different brick shapes (the shapes you’ll use to construct a character), and you simply click on the pasteboard to apply a brick or drag to create a line or rectangle.
Professional font design must be much more precise than the tools offered by Fontstruct allow – which is where Illustrator and other tools would normally come in — but it’s actually pretty good fun drawing letters and numbers and then tailoring them with little corners and serifs, tweaking until you have it just the way you want it. A ‘Save’ button commits every character to memory and the corresponding character along the bottom of the page greys out so you can move on to the next one.
A preview area lets you type a sentence with the characters you’ve created to make sure everything lines up on the baseline and your proportions are correct, and then a download button lets you download the collection as a truetype font. As long as all your characters are saved you can quit out of your browser and when you log back in later your work will still be there.
Despite being cute, it can get very time consuming and won’t really teach you how to design a font. If you’re serious, spend ten minutes playing with it and then move on to a more serious package.