Technique and workflow when designing a typeface digitally

marisama's picture

Greetings Typophiles!

I'm starting work on my first typeface and I've run into a lot of issues and questions concerning how to translate my ideas from my sketches to vector. I've been sifting around for information quite a bit to get a sense for the process and all the little important details this encompasses...But for everything I've read I still don't quite have the experience to get me that confidence I need to get going with this project.

Recently, I've read through these forums, countless blog entries and these websites:
http://www.typeworkshop.com
http://www.typedu.org
http://ilovetypography.com/2009/03/23/the-first-ones-the-hardest/
I even asked for this book for Christmas, which is proving to be quite a help concerning designing my letter forms and learning about them:
http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Type-Karen-Cheng/dp/0300111509

One piece of the puzzle I'm missing after all my research is how to go about translating my sketches and ideas into vector format.

  1. Typophiles, what are your guidelines and workflow when it comes to starting a typeface?
  2. What glyphs are the most definitive and will give me my basic curves and shapes for all the other letter forms?
  3. I'm kind of a noob at bezier curves. Type workshop had some really helpful tips on how to keep the handles of the curves vertical or horizontal and to keep it simple..but I can't get the curves I want (Yes, I'm talking about you, 'a' and 'C')
  4. Concerning construction in Illustrator, how does everyone go about making their letter forms? Do you use a grid? Right now, I am using stroked lines to trace out the shapes. Or is it better to construct them out of filled shapes by subtraction and addition with the Pathfinder? This question also leads me to....
  5. Different weights. How am I to achieve different weights? What is the logic behind increasing the weight of a typeface? How do I know where and when I should adjust curves? And should I keep a spare copy of my typeface in stroke-only format so I can increase and decrease the weight as needed using stroke weight, then expand it into a solid shape?

To help you to understand more about what I'm asking, I will enclose some sketches of the proposed typeface. Please note that this typeface is still in the conceptual stage and I have by no means refined it to anywhere near where I want it to be. These are simply sketches and doodles...

I call it Canoe Sans because when I started to design it, the shape of the letters made me want to write 'canoe' over and over. It is very rounded and casual, but the organic curves are proving difficult for me to render digitally. Sorry for the wall of questions...any guidance or critique is greatly appreciated!

Thanks

Mary

blank's picture

Typophiles, what are your guidelines and workflow when it comes to starting a typeface?

Start small. Work in sections of the font—adhesion, hamburgefonts, alphabet and numbers, and then finish the rest. In between, stick the font in a folder and work on something else for at least a month.

What glyphs are the most definitive and will give me my basic curves and shapes for all the other letter forms?
adhesion, handgloves, hamburgefonts

I'm kind of a noob at bezier curves. Type workshop had some really helpful tips on how to keep the handles of the curves vertical or horizontal and to keep it simple..but I can't get the curves I want (Yes, I'm talking about you, 'a' and 'C')

Add some on-curve, non-extrema points. The general rules are just general rules, not laws of physics.

Concerning construction in Illustrator, how does everyone go about making their letter forms? Do you use a grid? Right now, I am using stroked lines to trace out the shapes. Or is it better to construct them out of filled shapes by subtraction and addition with the Pathfinder? This question also leads me to....

Don’t work in Illustrator. Illustrator’s bezier tools are worthless shit. Design your letters in a font design application. Don’t try to build much with strokes unless you draw scripts. Letters don’t have even strokes, so why bother designing with them?

Different weights. How am I to achieve different weights? What is the logic behind increasing the weight of a typeface? How do I know where and when I should adjust curves? And should I keep a spare copy of my typeface in stroke-only format so I can increase and decrease the weight as needed using stroke weight, then expand it into a solid shape?

Don’t worry about families until you know what you’re doing. You’ll just waste a lot of time populating mistakes over multiple fonts. Draw a lot of single weight fonts based on the proportions of existing designs in a wide range of styles. Worry about families after you can already design a good light font, a good black font, and anything in between.

hrant's picture

For a display face, start with things like the "a" and "g".
For a text face, start with things like the "o" and "n".

Try to avoid Illustrator and work directly in the font design application.

More later[, hopefully].

hhp

eliason's picture

Those are great answers from James (Dunwich).

You may also want to start a thread about your design on the Crit forum.

mrs.laurenv's picture

The very best instructional book in my opinion is by "The Logo, Font & Lettering Bible" by Leslie Cabarga. Also, "Learn Fontlab Fast" is a fantastic guide to the software, and he'll sell it as a digital download so you can have it immediately if you buy it off of his website.

marisama's picture

Dunwich > Thanks for all the great advice. As I go forward, I will take these into consideration. I recently acquired Fontlab, and will start to design everything there as soon as I learn the basics.

hrant > I will take note of these characters while I'm designing..and I eagerly await more of your advice!

eliason > I was thinking about that, but I don't feel like my design is up to snuff right now. I will definitely make a post for it there once I go from the sketch stage to getting most of the glyphs down in Fontlab...But for now I'm more curious of how other type designers go about handling this stage of the process so I can learn as much as possible.

mrs. laurenv > I will definitely check out these two resources. Thanks for the tips!

William Berkson's picture

A must read: Letters of Credit: Walter Tracey.

You will learn more by studying fonts you admire in a font program than by anything else.

bojev's picture

Ditto the Leslie Cabarga books - they are great

dezcom's picture

Don't look at any other fonts, admired or hated, start working just from within what you see as you work. Avoid How-to books and manuals of all kind. Learn to see by looking as a child looks when seeing something for the first time. Don't read any books on type design until you finish at least one font. Spend days discovering what makes an "n" different than an "o". Create a curve that melts perfectly in to a straight line without a hitch or a bump. Watch ice melt and notice the artful way it makes curves. You have only one chance to work totally naively, don't throw that chance away.
Draw hard bezier curve lines that feel like spring steel. Then draw some that look like overcooked pasta. Figure out why they have these differing appearances.

marisama's picture

Riccard > Noted and read...I wish those links still worked, but this helps me understand what I have to do once I start finishing the design and assembling the font.

As for the books recommended, I am getting them.

dezcom > Interesting advice...I admittedly have done a bit of research already, but I think just diving face first into it without worrying about what others have done is sound advice. My biggest hangup is just taking the leap...thanks for the guidance, I will try to be brave. :)

Thank you everyone for all the helpful responses. Maybe soon (or later) you'll see my typeface up on the critique board. I've got a long way to go though...but now I think I have a better direction.

.00's picture

Draw a lowercase n and then figure out how many other glyphs are hiding in there. Then draw a lower case o and examine it in the same way. Then look at both of them and see what else is lurking in there. Repeat for the Uppercase H and O.

Rinse and repeat.

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