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I am looking to build a custom font from my handwriting for lettering a comic.

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what professional tools exist to build such a font and export it into one of the mainstream formats (TTF, OpenType, or Type1)?

I am not a typography expert, but I imagine there are two approaches to this - a vector-based and a bitmap-based one. While I'm open for both ways, vectorizing the handwriting would surely be a very attractive option.

WYSIWYG kerning/pairing functions (with previews for each pair) would be much appreciated.

I can use Windows or Linux. Open Source is preferable, but I'd be prepared to cough up for a commercial solution too.

Tutorials on the process are most welcome as well, as I have never done this before.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I can assure you that FontForge can do everything that FontLab can, with the exception of two things (that come to mind right now): fancy visual Truetype hinting tools, and support of the UFO format that's widely used by script collections like RoboFab, Superpolator etc. That said, FontForge has a fine and useful Python API itself, which could be used for the same purpose. FontForge does, however, have a much more intuitive interface for writing OT Features and editing things like gasp tables.

FontForge's GUI is, well, special, because George Williams happens to have a dislike for both GTK and Qt. At first it may seem a bit unintuitive, but once you have the keyboard shortcuts down working with FontForge actually becomes very fast.

Also make sure you get the lastest version from SVN and compile it yourself. The binary releases were outdated and buggy (at least last time I checked).

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Thanks for stepping up in favour of FontForge! I think the visual hinting tools are something I could use but I will definitely be taking a look at this and see whether I can work with it. –  Pekka 웃 Feb 23 '11 at 10:51
    
Unless you want to create manually hinted TrueType fonts (I can count them on the fingers of my hand), probably not. It's a process that can take months or years, very pain-staking pixel pushing, and doesn't have much to do with font design. FontForge has a decent OpenType autohinter though (you can edit them manually too). You can also use Adobe's autohinter available in their AFDKO, or Microsoft's VisualTrueType. There are also some websites that deal with hinting, for example this one. So unless you know you'll manually hint TrueType, you won't need it. –  sebastian_k Feb 23 '11 at 14:15
    
Tried FontForge, couldn’t find a single download that just works out of the box. Stupid open-source, never works... –  Timwi Feb 26 '11 at 0:09
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Quit flaming, Sir, this has nothing to do with open source. FontForge was written in and for Linux. If you want to use it in Windows, you'll have to fight your way through Cygwin-Howto's (or the equivalent in Mac). I've seen it done before, it's not rocket science. Curiously, Linux users never whine when Windows software doesn't work on their computers ... –  sebastian_k Feb 26 '11 at 21:25
    
You could also run it in a Linux VM within Windows. –  e100 Jul 20 '12 at 10:41
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FontLab Studio is the heavy hitter. Most pros use it. FontLab also took over Fontographer (what most folks used back in the day) and have updated it. That's likely a better option for what you need.

On the open source side of the aisle, there's fontForge: http://fontforge.sourceforge.net/

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Here's my typical workflow. I use this for regular families I've sketched out and handwritten type.

  1. Scan your sketches and break up the individual characters (and versions of characters)
  2. Set-up a template doc to do your vectorizing that will align with your font building tool (there are certain dimensions that will have to line up in the end depending on your chosen font app)
  3. Use AI (Inkscape might work to) to autotrace the drawings (AI can do a very nice job if you adjust the settings carefully).
  4. Clean up the auto-traces if needed/desired
  5. Import into your font app (FontLab is excellent but, you'll probably need one of the other suggestions for budget's sake)
  6. Extra credit: Build in OpenType programming to do randomized character selection and ligatures for convincing handwritten type (some Python scripting might be in order for the randomization)

This forum is a great resource for further questions: Typophile > Build

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I forgot about this excellent resource: typedrawers.com –  plainclothes Jul 20 '12 at 20:14
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If memory serves me correctly, FontLab is still the best option for creating, editing, and outputting font files.

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Thanks, FontLab really looks like the top dog. Unfortunately, $650 is too stiff a price for me right now - I will need something more affordable for this, or look for used versions, if there is a market. Edit: Argh, there is no market - 1 hit on ebay.com :( –  Pekka 웃 Feb 22 '11 at 21:19
    
I might have linked to the full Studio suite, but I'm pretty sure they sell the individual components. I don't remember it costing that much, but it's been many years since I've had to purchase it. –  Philip Regan Feb 22 '11 at 21:22
    
you're right, they have smaller editions that look interesting. Will take a look at those –  Pekka 웃 Feb 22 '11 at 21:23
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TypeTool is their entry-level product (in terms of both features and Price). Check that out first. –  DA01 Feb 22 '11 at 22:40
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There are a number of fairly inexpensive services that will do this for you. A quick Google search turned up this one, but I've seen others.

That said, I have to agree with those who suggested fontforge. The interface can be a little weird to get used to, but converting your handwriting to a font is fairly easy to do with it. I'm not a typography expert by any stretch, but I did it for fun about six months ago. I just used a template similar to the one on the yourfonts site to help with sizing and then imported the scan of each letter into fontforge.

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Fontlab's TypeTool is a cheaper Windows/|Mac alternative to their full-featured FontLab Studio, which might be of interest if you find FontForge's interface an issue.

It's US$99, although I managed to find an older version as a magazine giveaway and upgraded to the latest version for about US$40.

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You're welcome to try yourfonts.com. Unfortunately they are no longer in their free BETA, but it doesn't hurt to try (you can preview your font before you buy). In the past I've made fonts with my own handwriting using this website with pretty good results. This is a much faster method to making each character digitally, of course, this method will probably not be as accurate as doing it digitally.

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