One of the most important visual parts of any operating system is of course, the fonts. Many times users on the net have argued about bad quality fonts used (installed by default) on alternative OSes. For the companies or individuals who would like to resolve such issues and create original and high quality fonts for their OSes (and not just for OSes), I would like to introduce them to FontLab 4.5.1. The FontLab application is very light (only a few megs) and its vector engine (when resizing characters) is very fast even on my old 2×533 Celerons machine. Among its features you will find that there is a Glyph editor, support for a number of font formats (TTF, Type1, OpenType CFF, PFB, PFA and its own format VFB). The applications supports TrueType & Type 1 hinting which allows for better looking fonts on smaller sizes, while another useful feature is FontAudit (checks character outline while you edit it). The app also supports plugins and transformations, metrics and kerning editor with automatic functions and full support for Multiple Master fonts, full support for Unicode encodings with multiple codepages and optional font reencoding. Double-byte Codepages for Chinese, Japanese and Korean fonts while you can create Arabic and Hebrew Fonts – right-to-left writing is supported in all panels and in the Metrics editor. There is also a Python script interpreter inside FontLab lets you extend FontLab features by making your own tools and plugins.
As you can see this is the one application for font creation for your OS. It even allows you to load, edit and export existing fonts, so if you do not feel all creative, you can “hack” around existing fonts and then save them with another information and name (not that this is legal of course, but FontLab let’s you do it… 😉
I used FontLab for a few days last month, and my only problems would be the rather loaded UI which is difficult to understand as there is no help included with the application! Users would have to use the 700-page printed manual when they buy the full box or download a PDF file from their site (problem is that the PDF does not have good search features as in the standard “Help”)…
The second problem was that fonts created with FontLab on really small sizes (7 and 8) were not exactly as good as advertised, or as good as other well known fonts like Arial and Verdana (even the sample fonts coming with FontLab, like FreeSans and FreeSerif were not as good on small sizes). People might need to mess with the TTF “programming” language in order to get the best quality out of their fonts on small sizes.
The only other professional font creation tool is of course Fontographer from Macromedia, but unfortunately this application has not been updated for years, plus it is featureless compared to FontLab.
FontLab offers its application for MacOS/OSX & Windows, it sells for $549 USD and I believe that it worths every penny. It is a full featured application and obviously a real pain to develop (as in “complex”). Operating system makers are encouraged to at least download the demo and try it out if they are serious about creating unique, high-quality fonts for their OSes instead of paying thousands of dollars on licensing ready-made high quality fonts for use with their OS.
The last nine stories were posted by Eugenia. Cool. So much for the New Years resolution, though.
Glad to see that your retirement from OSNews was short-lived.
I think you have misunderstood. I am not back, at least not as I used to.
Creating “newsbits” only take me 1 hour a day. The problem starts when I am the main person behind emailing companies, checking out the forums, developing stuff, writting long articles etc etc.
My new role, is only to write a few newsbits every day, which do not take time to do. However, I still have 2-3 promised longer articles to do. Expect a review soon from me, but that is only because I want to keep my promise to the developers.
And now, please let’s go ontopic.
oh well, such is life with professional software.
No free font software, free software writers don’t seem to care about fonts. It has been years and barely a finger has been lifted ove this issue. There’s barely any choice for software for font production, and the prices show. This package costs more than a whole computer.
Maybe so. But this software is also immense. There is a whole lot of work in it, and obviously, not everyone needs it. Exactly because this software sells only to very specific people, means that the price has to go up in order to get the outcost its development and have a profit.
I remember a few Be engineers back in the day discussing that BeOS should cost $500 in order to make sure that there is profit there and a reason to continue working on it! Even if the price might sound outrageous, when you actually do the math, as to how much you need and how much you actually sell, it makes sense. This is one of the reasons why OS/2 was always a bit pricey…
Eugenia, you propose that people use this package to create good-quality fonts for their favorite alternative OSes, yet FontLab only runs on the Windows and Mac. 🙁
So what? This is the tool to use and create something for your OS, it does not matter where the tool runs. What matters is the outcome and how this outcome can be used.
And btw, I did not proposed simple people to use this tool in order to create good-quality fonts for their favorite alternative OSes. I proposed that developers and companies who do OSes should have an interest to use it, not necessarily simple users.
I’m not under any illusions about the scale of difficulty and amount of work these Fontlab (lol I typoed it as “Fatlab”) people must’ve put into their package. But there must be 100s of free software projects of similar scale and difficulty, and often for far less useful things than fonts.
Maybe so. But there is no free software, not even shareware, not even fully commercial that does what FontLab does. That gives them an edge…
Would it be leagal to print another companies font unto paper, scan the paper and then use that as a guide to recreate the font in FontLab. Wouldn’t that be simple reverse egineering?
pfaedit is free and does edit font. it works under linux and is VERY powerful..
Just think you should know…
(it edits truetype, type1, not just only pfa fonts… bad name I think…)
METAFONT is one of the most powerful font-programming languages around, apparently. And it’s free. Pity its output only works with TeX-based engines.
check out cheapskatefonts.com for a guy who is putting together some good GPLd fonts for Linux I think using FontLab (he makes them available for windows too).
FontLab is exactly the sort of app that Wine is meant for. Chances that it’ll be ported to Linux are low, there aren’t really any equivalents in terms of functionality and I doubt it makes tremendously complex use of the Win32 apis.
Too bad none of us have a copy Still, at some point it’d be nice if whoever makes FontLab would hire some Wine developers on contract to make it run well.
“oh well, such is life with professional software.”
Yes, that is a typical price for design software. Adobe and Macromedia
sell their programs for similar prices.
There is a much cheaper font design program (Typesmith) available for
AmigaOS, but it doesn’t have all the features of FontLab.
Designing a font is not a task to be undertaken lightly – at least,
not if it’s a text or web text font. There are hundreds of characters
to draw, and they all have to look good together, not just
If it does what you say well, I’m willing to buy it. After I buy a new computer that is :-). But isn’t there at least a stripped down version (like Photoshop Elements) for those interested but can’t justify the huge cost before actually using it?
Well, I’m definately interested in using this mainly because this is the only all-in-one that supports Unicode, which of course is important for me living in Asia.
Well, I’m downloading the demo.
See the about box, “Powered By Python”. And the app is remarkably easy to use, I just created “#”. I expected it to be like writing code in assembly :-). Maybe I could get a winding fonts by this week, who know’s? 🙂
Like Eugenia wrote, fonts are very important for the appearance of an OS. If I look at Windows applikations before Windows 95, they look really ugly due to their inferior fonts. The same holds when I fire up a Java application and look how it gets rendered under Windows, Solaris or Linux. The notable difference between the apps is more or less the quality of the system fonts!
But how do we get improved fonts in our open source OSes?
There seem to exist two roads:
1. Pay some typographic expert to develop cool fonts
2. Educate those typically technical people, who are behind open source to be able to the task
This featured tool would be one ingredient for the do it your self approach. But I guess while this gives a nice tool which operates under the standards of professional type setting folks, this still leaves us with problem who to education the user to create taste- and useful fonts with tool.
Even Knuth, the inventor of TeX and METAFONT, got some help.
He had one of the greatest font designers around as help, Hermann Zapf. You can read this in Knuth’s excellent book “Digital Typography”.
I would really love to learn how to create nice fonts, but how can I learn this?
Is there any kind of lecture in typography out there?
As far as I can observate, the guys in that business learn it by creating lots of fonts themselves, constantly looking and other peoples fonts with professional eyes and have some access to experienced designers.
I don’t think the cost of the program is the real issue.
Creating GOOD fonts is a difficult and time consuming process. Just having the letterforms isn’t the issue. Optimizing them so that they use the fewest number of control points, creating kerning pairs, and creating proper hinting (so that the item looks good at smaller sizes) can be a very time intensive process.
It’s also NOT a mathematical thing that you can just throw computer horsepower at. Quality font design begins with a quality designer. It’s more of an art than a technology.
If you look at most of the homebrew fonts that people make, they tend to be in the handwritten, or “extreme” categories, where precision isn’t necessary. Otherwise, it’s just a very intensive task.
Not saying that people shouldn’t get into designing fonts if thats what they want to do – but nobody should think that its the lack of tools that keep there from being more fonts. It’s the lack of people who can do this work.
pfaedit is FREE and advancing faster than fontlab…
Feature wise, everything said in the article are included.
And there are new features, fixes coming out almost
everyday. How about that?
The problem is that pfaedit is a FREE software running on
a FREE operating system. So your Windows users are out of
luck if you don’t want to spend some time to port it to windows/macs.
The fact that PFA is free is not the point. OSNews is not an OSS site. We support all software, free or not, and we report on the BEST ones, not necessarily the “free” ones. Bottomline is, FontLab is much better than PFA (PFA doesn’t even support TTF hints). From the PFA site:
PFAedit does support TrueType, it’s just that the hinting sucks. Besides, you said As you can see this is the one application for font creation for your OS. – well, not MY OS anyway
And to whoever suggested scanning and reverse engineering fonts – that’s okay for very simplistic sans serif fonts (and still not easy), but once you get into hinting, kerning, and everything else that makes fonts scale well and look great everywhere, it’s a huge undertaking.
I tried it a bit with WineX and it worked fine with me. WineX installs it smoothly and everything works (Some menus are ugly drawen but..) just fine..