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FontForge is an open source, cross-platform font editing and engineering software. As far as I have researched, it seems to be the only available open source tool in the market that has almost complete list of capabilities for font editing and we can get much out of it. But, even with this capabilities and a large advantage of being open source, FontForge seems to be not much popular in the designing market.

I performed a research on open source fonts available on Github, and much of them found to be built with commercial font softwares like Glyphs App and Fontlab. I found some fonts, having less glyphs and limited character sets are made with FontForge, but more complex fonts, like Devanagari and other Indic fonts, found to be made with commercial software.(Although, with very very few exceptions.)

Even some popular commercial type foundries have launched open source projects. They also don't seem to be using FontForge, but prefer commercial font programs.

Overall saying, no expert and experienced designers seem to be using FontForge. So my questions are -

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of FontForge as font editing program ?

  2. Why FontForge is not popular ? (This point is often not discussed over internet. I searched on the internet, but not got a detailed answer to it.)

It would be better if explained along with comparison between FontForge and commercial popular font programs.

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    Ultimately it is not about features, its about usage ergonomics. I mean i cant even use it to open a specific file on disk, on a Windows computer. You have to do tricks that no standard Windows user knows.
    – joojaa
    Dec 20, 2021 at 19:38

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This question is opinion-based. But here is my opinion.

I have never designed a font. It is a very specialized niche. If I wanted to make a very casual work, I would use an open-source program.

But I think is the same as other open-source design programs. If you are making money out of your design work, the extra productivity that some commercial software pays the extra cost.

For example, Inkscape is a nice program. But it still does not compare to Illustrator, Affinity Design, or Corel Draw. Although Gimp is very popular and is very robust, to some extent. But also, when compared to Ps, the extra productivity counts.

Probably one exception is Blender, for two reasons. 1. The prices of the commercial software were really high (I am sure Blender has a big role for the prices of the other software going down), and 2. It has a very strong community both users and developers. This is a thing on 3D software. Very passionate set of users because the final work reflects the capability of the software more than any 2D design.

I doubt that will happen with a niche so specialized as font design.

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  • I upvoted, but actually I'd disagree with your Inkscape comparisons. Inkscape is pretty unique IMHO. It's an SVG editor. None of the others you mention are actually SVG editors. SVG to them is merely another output format, but Inskcape is built around SVG. I use it commercially. I also use Illustrator. I like Inkscape's simplicity and lack of bloat. I like the way its tools work, especially in comparison to Illustrator which I often find to cumbersome and cranky. I was also a Macromedia Freehand user, which IMHO was also much better to use than Illustrator. Each to their own though!
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 29 at 9:08
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Fontforge user interface is simply horrible. If you only ever tweak a font or just script some actions its fine. But if you intend to author a font it is simply totally unacceptable.

At the point where you work weeks on something then the cost of alternative is not so expensive. Especially since you save time with modern features and less cryptic GUI.

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  • I do use fontforge for my fonts, but i dont author the glyphs in it. Reason being that i want a tool that allows me to generate shards of fonts and istance those shards across my character sets. Fontforge has this, but its a direct modeller it manipulates the data directly by replacement while i would like the logic processing separated. Ive only very superficially used birdfont and glyphs and they seemed much better suited to actually authoring the glyph outlines in the application than fontforge is. Once you have the glyphs then fontforge is okay the kerning gui could better organized though
    – joojaa
    Dec 20, 2021 at 19:29
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FontForge has a very steep learning curve. It's a fairly-powerful tool once you've learned your way around it, but those first few steps are almost impossible.

Source: I've recently begun using it to design glyphs for a side hobby project of mine (a modified English alphabet allowing for a 1:1 phoneme:letter correspondence, in case anyone's curious), and I came darn close to uninstalling it out of frustration after my first less-than-successful attempts at making the first of the over-a-dozen glyphs needed for the project - the online documentation is not the clearest, the user interface isn't the most intuitive, and I spent quite a bit of time floundering around trying to make it work by trial and error. (I did get the hang of it after a few days, though, fortunately.)

Most users who aren't strapped for cash will probably be willing to pay money to get font-authoring software that doesn't give someone trying to learn how to use it the urge to strangle its developers.

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I have used Fontforge for about 2 years now. Though some people think it's UI is terrible, I find it very clean and get to the point ( by the way, I used to work as SQA to check UI/UX and other software problems, so I know what I am talking ). I tried it on Fontlab & FontCreator, they all seem to overwhelm me with so many menus and panels. I find those two are so hard to learn. And you need to know Opentype features how to write codes in there too. In Fontforge, I can write these Opentype features in FF without writing a code. Easy to follow thru with dialogboxes. The best thing is I can create my characters or glyphs in Coreldraw or Adobe Illustrator and import them into FF as svg files and all I need it find problems and generate font. You are done in 3 minutes. For importing SVGs, I use FF internal Script and you can import hundreds of SVGs in just under 1 minute. Then generate the font and that is it. Though other programs give lot of features, the main thing for me is just create font pretty quick for Coreldraw/AI to FF. It takes a lot lot less time in FF if your glyphs are created perfect in AI. No other program can match this. This is my real experience with FF.

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  • The fact that you dont draw in fontforge is telling. Your supposed to you know author the thing in your font application. But yes your workflow is the same as mine. Fontforge is fine if you just use it as a font compiler.
    – joojaa
    Mar 29 at 15:16

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