FontLab Studio vs. Fontographer

This topic was discussed in 2005 but I feel is worth re-visiting since the recent release of fontographer 5. Fontlab has a comparison chart for their entire collection of software which can be located here http://www.fontlab.com/fontlab-products/compare/
I suppose my primary interest is with those who have used the new Fontographer.
One reason the program fell the way side, it would seem, was its lack of support for opentype which is now included in fontographer 5.
I also feel it is important to hear from two groups of users, those who have historically designed the font in a second application such as illustrator, then imported to fontlab or fontographer, and those who have done the entire process within the application. Has fontographers tools or workflow gotten any smoother. Myself I am a fontlab pro user and have always designed in illustrator because I do not like fontlabs lack of keyboard shortcuts for switching between tools.
Any and all constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Also I had heard a rumor some time ago that FontLab Studio was coming out with version 6 but that was nearly a year ago and I have heard nothing new. Anyone else heard anything?

Arno Enslin's picture

Myself I am a fontlab pro user and have always designed in illustrator because I do not like fontlabs lack of keyboard shortcuts for switching between tools.

You can assign shortcuts to almost all commands in FontLab, inclusively the tools.

And the ability of Fontographer 5 to generate OpenType fonts is the last reason, for which I would buy it, because it is not much more comfortable than generating them with the AFDKO.

With regard to OT production Fontographer 5 is a half baked thing. The combination of Fontlab Studio and the AFDKO is by far better.

In my opinion Fontographer 5 even does not much improve the workflow, if you work with FontLab Studio and Fontographer, because if you save a vfb file with Fontographer, that you just have imported, you seem to loose everything, that Fontographer is not able to make use from.

In my opinion the development of Fontographer 5 was a waste of the resources of the small developer crew. It would have been better to integrate some of its abilities, that are better (like the enbolding function) into FontLab and provide for the owners of Fontographer a more attractive update price. And additionally I would stop the development of Asia Studio. Maybe this would require to make FontLab Studio a bit more expensive, but I would prefer one perfect tool in comparison to three half baked tools.

If I had a budget of 399 Dollar, I would buy TypeTool and OTMaster.

keith's picture

I couldn't disagree more. Instead of examining the reason why Fontographer 'fell by the wayside', I think we should look at the reasons why it has refused to die, it's still going strong after 24 years.

For me, its fundamental beauty is in the elegant, intuitive, and friendly drawing tools. Fontographer just makes me want to create glyphs, experiment and play with Bézier curves; it's perfect for making display fonts and instantly accessible in a way that TypeTool and FontLab (and even Illustrator) aren't. Fontographer does almost everything I want in one easy-to-use-straight-out-of-the-box package. Plus it's got depths that you can grow into when you're ready, and now it has greatly improved functionality thanks to FontLab's expertise.

I believe that Fontographer is a better entry application for the designer than TypeTool, well worth the extra money, though I respect FontLab's strategy that FontLab Studio is for the font engineer (so TypeTool may be a good intro for the prospective type technician) whereas Fontographer is for the graphic designer or typographer who cannot afford, or doesn't wish, to get bogged down in the complexities.

Historically, Fontographer was nothing short of visionary and did so much to achieve the democratisation of type design. Macromedia left it to die as the Mac design community embraced OS X. But even stuck in Classic, and without OpenType capability, type designers continued to use it, and FontLab in their wisdom, and to their great credit, had the vision to secure it's place in their business plan and to offer the twenty-first century designer a real alternative.

Keith / K-Type
Manchester UK

Arno Enslin's picture

And I feel contricted in a corset, when I use Fontographer. In FontLab Studio you can save workspaces and options. Fontographer does not seem to store the options in the registry. I wonder, where there are stored. I can reduce the skin of FontLab Studio to the things, that I need. I can switch between workspaces (although this actually seems to destabilize the tool). Just an example: I neither can change the background color of the glyph window nor I can display a grid in Fontographer. Even those simple things are not possible with Fontographer. Or are these hidden options? Really, if I am willing to invest months or years in developing a typeface, I don’t need an oversimpled tool. I need a simple tool for tasks, that I have to do every third months, but not in case of a tool, that is daily in use.

inkxel's picture

I couldn't disagree more. Instead of examining the reason why Fontographer 'fell by the wayside', I think we should look at the reasons why it has refused to die, it's still going strong after 24 years.

That is a valid argument. I am new to the game and FontStudio Pro is the only fore mentioned application I am actually versed in having never used fontographer before. I also have used fontforge but it never ran all that well compiled on my mac.

And the ability of Fontographer 5 to generate OpenType fonts is the last reason, for which I would buy it, because it is not much more comfortable than generating them with the AFDKO.

These are the kinds of things I wondered about. I have just begun learning about substitutions with ligatures etc in open type and up to this point have not created a type face that took advantage of OpenType.
I suppose it is my faulty assumption that I figured the newer application would handle OpenType creation better.

Ultimately my curiosity comes from the fact that I am now in the market to buy software for home instead of relying on the schools applications, in my mind FontStudio would have been the way to go (because it is what I already began learning) but the introduction of Fontographer 5 made me dig deeper.

The other part of my first comment was the question if FontStudio 6 was being worked on and that was primarily because I would put off longer on purchasing an application if I knew they were currently developing a new version, I will direct this question to FontLab and post back if they reply with anything.

For me, its fundamental beauty is in the elegant, intuitive, and friendly drawing tools. Fontographer just makes me want to create glyphs, experiment and play with Bézier curves; it's perfect for making display fonts and instantly accessible in a way that TypeTool and FontLab (and even Illustrator) aren't.

I just downloaded the trial of Fontographer 5 and couldn't agree more, The tools don't feel archaic as they do in FontStudio (in my opinion) I would say that the tools in illustrator still seem more comfortable but that is based of what I know and use on a daily basis. The tools in Fontographer feel much more welcoming and I am now willing to give them a try where as I was not in FontStudio.

Ultimately I do not know that I will ever be much more than a hobbyist type designer but would love to be able to delve in as deep as possible some day. It is beginning to look like Fontographer may be my purchase but is there anything that I may sorely miss in the near future coming from FontStudio?

Thanks for all your feedback This is really helpful to me and I am sure its benefiting others as well.

blank's picture

The tools in Fontographer feel much more welcoming and I am now willing to give them a try where as I was not in FontStudio.

I tried the FOG 5 demo, and if what you want is to feel comfortable in an Illustrator-like program it should be fine. To really get comfortable in Fontlab you have to spend so much time drawing fonts that Illustrator’s drawing tools become a hindrance. Arno is right about the insane level of flexibility FLAB offers and how fine it’s drawing tools are, but he’s wrong to assume that everybody has time to figure all that stuff out. I’ve been using it daily for almost four years and I still haven’t touched at least a quarter of Fontlab Studio.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

> but is there anything that I may sorely miss in the near future coming from FontStudio?

I don’t think so. I mean, who knows? Only Adam and Yuri, but they have been reluctant to talk about release dates (and I understand their position). If you want to start drawing today, and if you feel comfortable with Fontographer, go ahead! You can’t work now with a software not released yet… ;)

Now, let’s see:
FontLab Studio 5: US$649.00
Fontographer 5: US$399.00
FontLab Studio 5 Upgrade from FontLab 4.0, 3.x and Fontographer: US$299.00

My bet is that the charge for the upgrade to Fontlab Studio 6 will be the same or very similar than today. If this is the case, you can purchase Fontographer now and upgrade to Fontlab Studio when the new version is ready and the difference will not be that big (US$49)… and you’ll have two good applications (and not just one).

Good luck!

inkxel's picture

I have to go through the manuals for Fontographer because so far from what I have seen it just doesn't seem to have all the tools I am accustom to, but as I said I may end up eating my own words later as I have not begun working in it yet. I may just need to get used to the layout of the menus etc.

inkxel's picture

Cristobal,
really good point. Although I do not yet own either, I was using fontlab studio at my school. I did not notice the fact that you could upgrade from fontlab studio or fontographer for the same price. That is really nice.
I completely agree with not discussing release dates, it would indeed adversely effect their profit margins but that does not mean I can't complain just a little (;
Thanks for your advice.

tmac's picture

Question: Is fontographer stable on Mac OS 10.4 and up?

Certain friends of mine on the facebook are always posting their anguish about FontLab crashing on their macs.

I assume this release is solid.

My other concerns with fontographer:
1) no diagonal guides
2) no undo

Are these a huge deal? I imagine diagonal guides are handy, but perhaps you can fake them with a stroke?

I will try the demo version first.

Mark Simonson's picture

I don't use it a whole lot, but I can't remember Fontographer 4.7 crashing and it may be too soon to say how stable 5.0 is. So, far, it has been crash-free for me in less than a week of sporadic use.

FWIW, FontLab Studio is not very crashy for me on my Mac (running 10.6.3 currently). I know that's not true for all, so it may depend on what you do in it.

Regarding your Fontographer concerns:

1) You can make any kind of guide you like, including curves. Anything you can draw can be a guide. Guides are paths, just like on the outline layer. Same with the template layer.
2) By default there are 100 levels of undo, but you can increase or decrease it. (My recollection is that Fontographer was one of the first programs that had this many levels of undo way back when.)

Mark Simonson's picture

One little oddity: As I was playing around with this, I noticed that nothing will snap to user-created guides or templates in either 4.7 or 5.0. I don't recall this behavior in earlier versions.

Edit: I just checked an older version and it worked the same way. So, I guess I just remembered it wrong.

tmac's picture

Thank you Mark.

The compare font editors table indicates "N/A" for fontographer's Levels of Undo. Maybe I'm not understanding. http://www.fontlab.com/fontlab-products/compare/

I think this is the right tool for me as an amateur.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

Yes, I was confused with that “N/A” indicator too. But download the demo and try for yourself!

matt_yow's picture

on a budgeted note, I was recommended TypeTool from FontLab; a $99 alternative, sort of a FontLab Lite. has anyone tried that? opinions?

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

That has been asked many times here on Typophile. Try here.

My opinion: yes, TypeTool is a FontLab with less options. It is really a good program for starters – mostly because it is cheap – but I’d go for Fontographer. Try for yourself anyway: download the demos of Fontographer and TypeTool and see what feels better.

http://www.fontlab.com/font-editor/fontographer/
http://www.fontlab.com/font-editor/typetool/

Good luck!

Froy's picture

Thank you David for this post. I have read a lot about this subject here at Typophile but these questions with this amount of detail have never been answered entirely or at least in the fashion it is being done here. This is very helpful.

Charles_borges_de_oliveira's picture

Does anybody know if they fixed the cap on how many kerning pairs a font can have. Sucks that there is a limit.

keith's picture

Has there ever been a limit to the number of kerning pairs in Fontographer? Using Auto Kern it's either 'As many as necessary' or you specify the number, 'No more than ___ pairs'. I think you can kern as many pairs as you like, but for efficiency I think the recommendation is to get your spacing right, then you won't need to rely too heavily on kerning.

evertype's picture

I've said it this way for years and years: I draw in Fontographer and process in FontLab. I can do some limited glyph editing in FL but just can't appreciate its tools for doing major drawing work. Fog is my bread and butter...

keith's picture

Michael, do you think that Fontographer 5's ability to generate OpenTypes, hopefully now of comparable quality to those generated by FontLab Studio, might tempt you to work wholly within Fontographer? Or are there other good reasons for post-processing in FontLab Studio?

Charles_borges_de_oliveira's picture

Keith I agree that the metrics need to be perfect before the kerning but when doing brush casual type there are times when you need to have lots of kerning. Fontlab caps out I think around 10,500.

matt_yow's picture

Cristobal Henestrosa, thanks for your help. I am going to get the demo & try them out.

evertype's picture

Keith, I need FontLab Studio's ability to do things with Unicode tables, and I have a routine that I follow to fix the headers of the font before generating. So I always import into FontLab Studio and post-process.

The real thorn in my side is the 6,400-glyph limit that FontLab Studio imposes. It prevents my further developing Everson Mono, which annoys me a lot. Now Fontographer can handle 20,000 glyphs—but if I generate a font in that, I can't post-process in FontLab Studio.

Sigh.

I've asked Fontlab if they would release a patch to do away with that glyph limit... but I have not heard from them if they are considering it.

chinazhang's picture

I suggest you buy a Razer Naga mouse, it will improve efficiency.

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