Designing a new font for Urdu Language

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear Sir

I want to develop a new font of Urdu by using Calligraphic Samples of one of famous Calligrahper.
Can someone inform me step b step procedure.

I shall be very thankful

Rashid Shaikh

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Hi Rashid.

Thanks for posting again in a new thread. It is hard to advice when I don’t know what you’ve done in the past, so I assume you are a beginner.

Starting from scratch, I’d try to figure out what tools the calligrapher used, get hold of one, and try your own hands at calligraphy. That will teach you how direction, pressure, angle, speed and all the other factors affect the outcome. Pay attention to thins and thicks, terminals, verticals, horisontals etc. The second step is learning how to draw Bezier curves with extrema points. The third step would probably be scanning and digiziting the calligraphy samples in a vector drawing application like Illustrator, or ideally directly in a font drawing application like Fontlab. Now it starts to become very apparent that letters are not only black, but also white: white inside letterforms and white between letterforms. These areas should harmonize with each other as well as with the black. Therefore, step four is studying spacing. Step five is optical adjustments. Why does the /O/ go above and below the /H/? Why is blacks in /g/ thinner than the blacks in /o/? Why is a bold taller at the x-height than a regular? Why is the /u/ narrower than the /n/? And so on and so on.

That should take you a couple of years. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll explain the rest :)

dberlow's picture

Step 1, scan the material
Step 2, get into the calligrapher's mind
Step 3, make good Urdu

It would be hard to be more helpful without knowing more about your experience, your tool prefs, and the goal, the Urdu itself.

hrant's picture

I think the first step is to make sure you have the time and ability to do it yourself - it's very technical. You might consider hiring somebody who's done it before to help you.


Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Thank u Frode Frank for your detailed answer.
I am a Civil Engineer by profession and Calligrapher and researcher of Arabic Calligraphy for about 3 decade. I have written two books on this subject.The detail is available at: Rashid Shaikh

Now come to the point.
I have deeply studied all font developed uptill now and I think that none of them possess beutie of Nastaleeq Calligraphy. The main reason is that almost all of the font developers do not have ample knowledge of Calligraphy.I have books written by a famous Calligrapher but they are in Litho not Offset. Now my proposed line of action is as follows. Please inform if there is some output from your side
1. First of all the program will be character based. If the outcome is not as beautiful as required then it will be ligature based.
2.Scanning all Characters in and taking print out in large size.
3.Tracing the Characters very very carefully.
4.Scanning the tracing papers.
4.Checking minute details by scanning in Adobe Illustrator. If some modification is required then doing at this stage.
5.Glyph preparation
6.Programming using MS-Volt.

Now please inform about these steps.

Rashid Shaikh

Khaled Hosny's picture

Nastleeq is fairly complex than avarage Arabic fonts (or rather OpenType does not lend itself to that kind of sophistication), so my advice is to start by studying and mastering basic Arabic OpenType techniques, before moving to more sophisticated ones.

CRULP have a nice Nastaleeq font, together with the Volt project (and a license that allows free use and modification), you may want to study it for advanced OpenType techniques used to build high quality Nastaleeq fonts.

The font has its issue though, it lacks many Arabic letters not used in Urdu, and the vowel marks positioning is completely broken, and has no support for kashida. I started a derived project to address the first two issues, and I hope to add kashida support along the way of learning more about Nastaleeq and OpenType.

As for your points, 1-5 are the easy ones and does not differ greatly from the way regular fonts are designed. Step 6 is where all the complexity and steep learning curve. I never used Volt, I usually use FontForge, but for such a project I'd write the substitution code in Adobe feature files (and compile it in with FontForge, but most people will use AFDKO).

Khaled Hosny's picture

This page have a nice summary of the methodology used in developing Nafees Nastaleeq font:

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear Khaled Hosny

Thank u for your comment and writing about new font.Actually I know very well about Nafees Nastaleeq and font developed. I had close association with Syed Nafees ul Husaini who was one of the towering Calligraphers of Pakistan. Truly speaking Nafees Nastaleeq does not have beauties of Nasteleeq script. The main reason is that words made by glyphs are not same like words written by an expert Calligrapher. The joining of letters by Calligrapher is as per rules and finally very beautiful whreas joining by glyphs is not as beautiful. In my view the possible solution is developing a font on ligature based not character based. In this way all joining of letters will be same as done by expert Calligrapher.
Please inform your expert opinion about it

Rashi Shaikh

Khaled Hosny's picture

A ligature based font will require tens of thousands of glyphs (18,000 according to, so it will take some effort to draw them all.

But a ligature based font would be easier to implement on the OpenType side, as it makes certain things simpler e.g. you have total control on dot positioning without the need of complex substitution rules, control over vowel positioning might be easier too (but I had some bad experience with mark positioning over ligatures in the bast, it is one of the reasons I maintain a ligature-free policy for all my fonts), and it would work even with most simple-minded OpenType implementations (where is fonts like Nafees Nstaleeq require the most sophisticated ones).

But if you have to draw every ligature for every possible combination of members of a letter group the number of glyphs might be much higher e.g. if you have a بي ligature, and given that Arabic and Urdu have 12 Baa-like letters in the initial form and 4 Yaa-like letters in the final form, you have a total of 48 ligatures for every possible combination, while Nafees Nastaleeq has only 2 glyphs etc. Some of these combinations might not be valid in Urdu e.g. ىى so you may just choose to support only valid combinations but if some day someone invents a word that uses such combination e.g. in transliteration a foreign name, your font will give suboptimal and inconsistent result, but, depends on your goals, this may be an acceptable compromise.

I think Monotype built a Nastaleeq font that way.

Khaled Hosny's picture

BTW, if the font is going to be available under a libre font license (e.g OFL), I would be interested to help with the OpenType side of things.

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear Khaled Hosney
Thank u very much for your reply. Actually my main point of thinking is to develop a font having full beauties of Nastaleeq script. NOne of available Urdu fonts possess these beauties . As per my knowledge this font can be developed as ligature based because all ligatures will contain same joining beauties of characters as written by Calligrapher. But I will not stress on ligature based if someone will help me and inform how character based font will have same beauties of script as written by a Calligrapher.
Please see following link for my written book on Islamic Calligraphy and other topics: Rashid Shaikh

Thank u again

Rashid Shaikh

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear Mr John Hudson

Presently I am studying
1.Adobe Illustrator
2.Font Creator

for developing a new font of Urdu Language having all Calligrpahic beauties. Please inform me if some other softwares are required to complete this Project.

Rashid Shaikh

John Hudson's picture

You should begin by carefully planning the glyph set. I recommend doing this in a spreadsheet, in which you can keep track of all the letters, positioning forms, ligatures, etc. For a big font project, this is very important.

I've not tried to use Font Creator, so can't advise on whether you might need other software.

If possible, see if you can do the design and outline creation work directly in a font tool, rather than in Illustrator. This will save you time having to import from Illustrator files, and will mean that you can apply spacing and doing live tests as you go along.

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear John Hudson

Thank u for your reply.
1.Can u please send me an spreadsheet as an example , in which I could keep track of all the letters, positioning forms, ligatures, etc.

2.Please inform how I can do the design and outline creation work directly in a font tool. I could not understand how this task will be accomplised.

Rashid Shaikh

John Hudson's picture

I think you need to experiment with different tools and work out what approach will be most comfortable for you. I use FontLab for most of my design work, using its drawing tools which are similar to Illustrator but with some differences. Most font tools have drawing tools like these, and most have free trial versions that you could download and test.

For the spreadsheet, you would start with a list of unique glyph names. If you want the names to be parseable by Adobe Acrobat, so that it can reconstruct text strings from PDFs distilled from printer streams, then you probably want two different sets of names: one set of easily understood development names such as 'aReh.fina' and one set of parseable names in the format 'uni0631.fina' (in accordance with Adobe's glyph naming rules). I can't really provide an example, because the whole point of the spreadsheet is to organise the font planning in a way that makes most sense to you. So whatever information about glyphs you think would be helpful can all be collected in one place.

You might find this workflow document helpful:

[UPDATE: corrected that link]

It seems to me that you are setting out to do something very ambitious without a lot of experience of the basics of font creation, which is a pretty technical job. I suggest you try to break down your learning into steps, and start by familiarising yourself with what the different tool options are, explore how they work, and decide which suits you best (while at the same time confirming that it will be able to do everything that you need it to do in order to make the kind of font you have in mind).

AzizMostafa's picture

> I think you need to experiment with different tools…

Impossible to make a stand-alone Nastaleeq?!

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear John Hudson

Thank u for your assistance. I am continuously working and trying to find out shortest way to achieve this goal. Now please inform me that instead of using
Adobe Illustrator+Font Creator+MS Volt

Can I use following combination to achieve the goal
Fontlab+MS Volt

I do possess practical knowledge of above 3 softwares but I do not know anything about Fontlab.

Your reply will shorten the way,


Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Can anyone inform me which is the best software for perfect outline of Arabic fonts

Zuhair Albazi's picture

I suggest instead of further asking you should test fontlab also. If you have the practical knowledge of font creator then it will not be difficult for you. I have not used font creator so do not know much about it. Also there is much material about fontlab that you can easily find on web. In fontlab you can also copy and paste directly from illustrator. It is one of the most wide spread font tool used by top type designers but it has some limitation.

It allows maximum 6399 glyphs per file or per font. Looking at your ambitions it will not fulfill your need as 6399 is very small number of glyphs for a ligature based Nastaleeq font that may contain much large number of glyphs. In this case you may try Asia Font Studio that support up to 65,535 glyphs per file. It has almost same interface and same functions as Fontlab Studio so if you get satisfied with fontlab then you may start work in Asia Font Studio.

In short, you have to test these software by yourself to find out which one is easy for you and which one gives best output outlines in a font.

Shahid's picture

السلام علیکم
Rashid Bhai i m from Karachi. I think i can help you about Nastaleeq Font. u can contact me. my email ID is


Shahid Butt

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Mohtaram Shahid Butt Sahib
As Salam o Alikum WRB

Thank u for your mail about assisting me in developing a new Urdu font. Please call me on 03212099742 or send your cell nr. for furthur discussion.

My Salam to all


Muhammad Rashid Shaikh's picture

Dear Shahid Attari Sb

I am waiting for your reply

Muhammad Rashid Shaikh

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