How to use the pen tool_?

satya's picture

Hello Typophiles!!

Please tell me how to use the pen tool while drawing a typeface?
I am designing a Devanagari typeface(attached) and really don't know how to use the tool so that it look more professional and finished. Any tricks_??

I tried converting few existing faces into the curves to see the node structure and they really looks so perfect and almost the same structure in most of the typefaces.
But mine looks totally unprofessional and dirty. Please tell me how they work in the industry_? Or they use completely different tools_?

This is a snapshot from the Illustrator just to show the node structure of my Devanagari face am working at the moment.

thanks a lot

Pieter van Rosmalen's picture

Try to put nodes only at extremes. First remove overlap, add two node (arrows) and remove the nodes you don't need (redraw the curves).


William Berkson's picture

Remember to paste your outlines to mask before you put nodes at extremes. Then it is easy to adjust to get back to the look you wanted. You may well need to put a point here or there to get the curves you want, but this is ok so long as you have points at the extremes. (Also there are some exceptions to needing points at the extremes, such as at the terminal of the e and similar situations.)

In Font Lab control-e (windows) will automatically put the nodes at extremes, but you may want to do it selectively.

satya's picture

Pieter, thanks for demonstrating!! I'll definitely keep all these things in mind from next time.

hey willi..
I've used Adobe Illustrator for this. Should I try Font Lab? What are the advantages?


William Berkson's picture

I am relatively new to drawing type, but experienced pros here on typophile say they used to start drawings in Illustrator but now work directly in Font Lab.

The most basic thing, according to Leslie Cabarga, is that when you delete a node the outline springs out instead of collapsing as in Illustrator. For letters this is useful. The are a whole lot of other things also that FontLab does, but download a free demo of one of their products and you can try it and explore for yourself.

FontLab is not very intuitive at first, but is very powerful, and you will keep discovering new things as you use it.

satya's picture

Here is a node structure snapshot from Frutiger Regular
in letters s, a, t and y. Why there are some extra nodes(circled in orange)on letters a and t? Are they playing any role in making curves more smoother??

TBiddy's picture

It's hard to tell from these drawings, but one of the reasons may be because the stems flare a smidge. If the stems were completely vertical, there'd be no need for two nodes. The "t" I'm not so sure about. Once you import into FontLab, the Font Audit feature would give you an error message about these points. It's a useful tool...but completely useless for a rough looking font.

Pieter's diagram is right on the money.

William Berkson's picture

If it's Frutiger, those aren't "extra": those are what it took to get the curve he wanted. If you ask me Frutiger typeface is one of those that is worth studying again and again--a masterwork from a master.

Because with Bezier curves you are dealing with cubic equations, there is a limit on what shape you can draw from point to point. So if you want a different shape between nodes than what you can get with one Bezier curve, you need more nodes to get what you want.

More experienced type heads than I can tell you more, but I would say draw it with as many nodes as it takes to get the shape you want. Then copy to mask and take away all but the extremes. Then adjust handles and maybe nodes to approximate what you had originally. Then add more nodes if not satisfied. Repeat again and again and .....

If you open a number of good typefaces you will see in what situations intermediate points are added. But the eye is the final arbiter.

dan_reynolds's picture

When you convent a digital font to outlines in Illustrator, you don't necessarily get the same number of points that are actually in the font. I think that Illustrator approximates.

Somewhere in the archives is a thread where Typophiles asked why one of Evert Bloemsma's typefaces had so many points on it! It didn't have all those points in it at all… that was just Illustrator. He posted real FontLab outlines to prove it.

William Berkson's picture

>you don’t necessarily get the same number of points

That had occurred to me, and may be the case here, but I suspect you will find if imported into fontographer or fontlab that you will get a significant number of points between the extremes. This is because, as Terry said, there are subtle flairs in Frutiger. They don't give the look of obvious flairs, but rather give balance and liveliness to the letters. I don't own it or I'd post examples; perhaps others can.

dezcom's picture

FontLab is a far better tool for drawing type than Illustrator. Even if you import the Illustrator vector art into FontLab, some of the points may be doubled or incorrect. It may take a brief time to learn the drawing differences in FontLab but it is well worth it in the time you will same later trying to fix your outlines.


satya's picture

Just downloaded n installed the demo version of FontLab Studio 5.
It looks great.

Does anyone know where can i find some tutorials(video tuts will be better) for fontLab? Or any good sites? I've also downloaded the User manual though.

I'll be there in fontLab for next two weeks;)

William Berkson's picture

Leslie Cabarga's Learn FontLab Fast is a must. It is an instruction manual, whereas the "user manual" is really an compendium of functions, a reference work.

There are a few tutorial things on the FontLab site also, if I remember rightly.

satya's picture

Whats are the benefits of having minimum nodes in letters?
What if there are more nodes then needed like i've added in the 'S' no 2?
What if I save the typeface with these extra nodes...when they'll create problems?



FontLab is really impressive!!! Loved at first try.

paul d hunt's picture

Does anyone know where can i find some tutorials(video tuts will be better) for fontLab? Or any good sites?

this is one of the best. also Leslie Cabarga's Learn FontLab Fast. read through the user's manual. ask questions in the "Build" forum. i've also started some tutorials in the how-to section of the wiki, but they're not really FontLab specific.

William Berkson's picture

>benefits of having minimum nodes in letters?

1. Theoretically, it will operate as a program more quickly, but this is not significant with modern computers, I have heard.

2. Putting nodes at the extremes tells automatic hinting to hint correctly. As I understand it this is the main reason to put them there. Some of the tech-savy people can tell you more about this.

3. On your 'S', it does normally have some nodes along the spine. This is not a problem. But you have a stray node off any line. This might mess up your font. You will probably get a warning from FontLab that you have off-curve points, if you try to generate a font (which you can't do with the demo, I think).

4. Generally, when you have more nodes you have more problem making a smooth curve. The trade-off is that with fewer nodes, you may not be able to get the curve you want. There are no rules about this, so far as I know. You just work with it until it looks good to your eyes.

satya's picture

Willi, thank you very much.

dezcom's picture

The general rule is to make the fewest nodes it takes to make the curve that you want while making sure that there is one on each extrema.


WurdBendur's picture

Different rendering systems will draw curves differently. For example, I've found that when I use Windows TrueType fonts on Mac OS (it's not so bad with newer versions) or Linux, the shapes of the curves can be look weird. Putting nodes at the extremes helps at least keep them in the same place. I notice this more with less professional fonts that have poor node placement, except it doesn't seem to matter with Linux.
PostScript curves don't seem to have this problem in Mac OS, but they do in Linux.

dezcom's picture

The major users of the Mac are graphics and publishing professionals who demand acute attention to typographic issues. I would imagine that linux users are more science and technology users who don't have the same needs.


zwoelf's picture

Hi Satya,

You might find useful also this help:


satya's picture

Péter, thanks for the link.

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