How does one make curves proportional in a font?

CreeDo's picture

At some point I learned about trying to make strictly horizontal and vertical handles with my beziers, wherever possible. And I avoid unnecessary points... e.g. a perfect circle ought to be four points.

When I open other people's fonts, particularly scripts, the curves look so perfect. Like someone took a circle or ellipse and then chopped it half (or wherever). Or maybe did the equivalent of drawing a stroke in illustrator and outlining it.

When I try to draw curves on my own, I'm awkwardly stretching first this horizontal handle, then that vertical, then the horizontal... as the curve seems to bulge towards one side or the other. Just when I think I have it perfect, I zoom out, and it's not right, the curve's skewed. I look at this image and think "how'd that get so clean and perfect, especially where the the bowl fattens.

Is there some trick to this, a way of measuring the length of handles relative to each other? Or is it just eyeballed?

Jackson's picture

It takes a lot of time and practice to develop a good eye. Meanwhile, http://remix-tools.com

oldnick's picture

Sometimes, deleting the center point and allowing the curve to find its "natural center" works, but only sometimes...

cuttlefish's picture

If you can manage to get FontForge running on your system, try drawing in Spiro mode.
see:
http://www.typophile.com/node/33531
http://www.typophile.com/node/38483
http://www.typophile.com/node/57651

You'll have to switch back to Bezier mode before final output to fine-tune some things, and probably before that because certain operations don't work as predictably in Spiro mode, but I think you'll be happier with the curves you produce once you get used to it.

blank's picture

• Don't start shapes as curves. Draw the extrema points first, close the shape, and then shift-click on the lines to pull the curves into place. This is much more efficient than drawing a bunch of curves and trying to figure out where the extreme points go.
• Optimally each handle should extend about 1/3 of the distance of the curve. But you have to break this rule a lot.
• Good curves look continuous and not like a series of smaller curves. You have to shift-drag nodes along a curves to get the sweet spot.
• Learn to work by shift-clicking on curves and dragging them around instead of using the handles. Only touch handles to make minor adjustments.

.00's picture

Why are you co-opting my graphic for this thread?

You didn't even choose the bezier example.

Next time post your own graphic, maybe then someone could critique your problem.

CreeDo's picture

Thanks for the responses so far. Dunwich's especially, it never even occurred to me to just draw the extrema points and go from there, but it makes sense as I think about it. And the shift-clicking on curves too, I'd been strictly working with the handles. I never really played with manipulating the curves directly because mostly I've drawn in illustrator. I'm not sure if illy even allows this.

I will also check out Spiro and the remix tools. edit: so I have to run cygwin emulator to run fontforge, then figure out how to add the plugin? Don't suppose there's an easier path for a lazy windows user?

Nick - as for deleting the center point on the curve, when I open fonts I often see these points, and when you outline them in illustrator etc. you get dozens of extra unneeded points. But if I see a center point in, say, fontlab, does that mean the designer added them? Or just some quirk of how fontlab draws the glyph?

JM: I used your graphic because it struck me how perfect the curves looked. Since it was the inspiration for the thread, I decided it would be suitable to show what I meant (to show what really nice perfect curves look like, as opposed to the crap I produce). I was in no way criticizing you or anything you've made. In my ignorance I thought the little blue points were the handles on the beziers, and it struck me how consistent they were. But apparently they're not. My apologies.

blank's picture

I'm not sure if illy even allows this.

It does, but it doesn’t work well. Your best bet when drawing type is to just not use Illustrator for anything other than prototyping. I have yet to find anything better for drawing type than Fontlab Studio.

…so I have to run cygwin emulator to run fontforge, then figure out how to add the plugin?

Stay away from Fontforge if you’re not a competent Linux/UNIX user.

oldnick's picture

I have yet to find anything better for drawing type than Fontlab Studio.

To each his own: personally, I find CorelDraw 9 to be superior to ANY other program for drawing fonts but, then again, I've been a CorelDraw user since version 1.

if I see a center point in, say, fontlab, does that mean the designer added them? Or just some quirk of how fontlab draws the glyph?

It's not a quirk: it's the proper way to draw bezier curves for PostScript. Autotracing in ANY program tends to introduce a lot of superfluous points: it's best to draw the oultines on your own, from scratch...

RSWihananto's picture

There is an unofficial mingw version of FontForge that doesn't require CygWyn to run. The site is in Japanese http://www.geocities.jp/meir000/fontforge, but the software itself is in English. Just download, unzip, and run the program.

Tim Ahrens's picture

CreeDo:
Check out Glyphs: http://schriftgestaltung.de/glyphs/about.html

It has exactly the "proportional handles" functionality you want, if I understand you correctly. I don't think this concept will help you draw nice shapes, though.

BeauW's picture

Working with Illustrator, if you can, do any outlining in a pre-CS3 version of illustrator. I still have CS2 installed on my machine for exactly this purpose. It does a good job of minimizing the number of points and not creating overlapping points. In my opinion, this feature in CS3 and higher is broken.

I always use Illustrator to draw glyphs, probably because I have years of practical experience working with it. Just a question of ease of use.

blank's picture

In my opinion, this feature in CS3 and higher is broken.

That’s a fact, not just your opinion.

.00's picture

Illustrator 10 is still my preference. It still works in SnowCat and has a MM interface that still functions.

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