Fontographer 4.7, by FontLab
Posted: 14-Sep-2006

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: FontLab Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Les Murayama Class: UTILITY

Overview
Fontographer 4.7 is a powerful, no nonsense font editor. It allows the user to modify or create fonts. The application is as complex as you would expect a professional application to be and assumes that the user is well educated in font physiology. Fontographer expands existing fonts to include fractions, symbols, foreign characters, and logos in Type 1, Type 3, and TrueType fonts, or create an entire typeface from scratch. Fonts created with Fontographer can be used in any program with a font menu. Fontographer 4.7 for Mac OS X was released in November 2005 and is the first upgrade to Fontographer in nearly a decade.

New Features

  • native support for Mac OS X
  • support for the Euro character
  • updated encodings
  • copy-paste compatibility with new Illustrator and Freehand versions
  • numerous bug fixes


Requirements
Fontographer v4.7 requires Mac OS 10.3 (Panther) or later, 5.1 MB of disk space and at least 10 MB RAM. Stepping out of Never Never Land, you really need at least 15 MB of disk space for the application and other parts. You'll really need at least 16 MB of free RAM. That means that if you are using a G3 or G4, you will need at least 160 MB of RAM and a graphics card with at least 16 MB of video RAM. A G5 will need at least 384 MB RAM, and a graphics card with at least 64 MB of VRAM. There is currently no Intel version of Fontographer, but it will run on an Intel Mac under Rosetta.

Setup
Installation is very straight forward. Launch the self contained installer application and decide where to install the Application (default is the Applications folder on the System disk). The installer presents the End User License Agreement (EULA). You have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of it before it lets you accept it. After Installation, the installer's last action is to open a finder window with the application and supporting items included with the application.

In Use
To get started, I first downloaded a Fontographer PDF users manual from
http://www.fontlab.com/fontographer. The Manual is 530 pages long. I'm considered a heavy reader, but let's face it, it can take a while to read a novel half that size, and reading a manual is seldom as entertaining (unless you happen to like reading manuals). Fortunately for the novice, you can begin poking about by just reading the first section. Your first experience with Fontographer is best handled by copying an existing font, like one of the samples included with the application, and opening it with Fontographer.


Opening a font with Fontographer

For new users, modifying a commercially produced font is a good way to become familiar with the tools, their behaviors and how to properly set the font spacing. A full featured font set gives the user an idea of how much goes into font creation and why font copyrights are taken very seriously by commercial providers.


Creating a new font

Opening a new font presents you with a blank Font Window. Double clicking a character opens its editing window and presents the user with the tool set and layer pallets.

Fontographer has four basic menus that are unique: Element, Points, Metrics and Hints. Fontographer appears to be a direct import from the previous "Classic" version. The items in the Hints and Metrics menus are advanced items that are not essential for simple font creation. Hinting a character allows the creator to specify how font renders as it is made smaller. Certain features can be emphasized that ensure fonts remain as legible as possible as their size is decreased. Auto-Hinting is usually on by default, but some characters may need manual hint settings to properly render. Metrics deal with spacing and special behaviors when two characters are placed together in a certain order. The Points menu allows the user to align or adjust character points. The Element menu contains the bulk of the tools used during character creation. This application does not have a "Help" menu.


Element menu options

The menus will be familiar to experienced "Classic" Fontographer. One of the items is "Remove Overlap". Removing the overlaps will often smooth a font, but can lead to some irregularities if the original work is sloppy.

When you open a font, you see an array of all the characters in that font in a window called the "Font Window". The size of the view is on the small side, but not too bad. If you select a character, the name, keystroke, ASCII decimal and hexadecimal and Unicode values are displayed. A drop down menu allows you to select the way the window labels the characters. The default view is by character, but you can choose other views such as octal, decimal, hexadecimal, keystroke, Unicode, width, left sidebearing, right sidebearing, fill tint, stroke tint, and stroke weight. For most, the character view is the most practical, with width and sidebearing views as a good check for spacing. If you want a mono-spaced font, these three views become critical. In the lower left hand corner, the 2 icons are for character lock and info bar toggle. Click on the info bar toggle to hide or display the information bar above the character. The lock ensures that an inadvertent keystroke doesn't change the current working character. Unlocking the view allows you to select a character by keystroke. If a path direction is selected in the font, a third icon will appear showing the direction of the selected path. Clicking that icon will change the direction of the path.


Sloppy work can lead to undesired serifs, artifacts or poorly rendered characters

Double clicking a character opens that character in the "outline" view, a layer window and a tools palette. This is the most common workspace for creating or modifying fonts. The interface takes some getting used to. The Outline View gives you a few guides that help you to keep your character constrained within size limits and set the spacing. There's a Baseline, Origin line (left sidebearing) , Base Point, width limit line (right sidebearing), Descent line (absolute bottom of the font) and Ascent line (Maximum height of the character). The base point is normally set at the intersection of the baseline and the Origin line. The coordinates are displayed from this point and relative to where ever the Base Point is located.


Fontographer Preferences

The preference panes give the user some control over the interface, but not always complete control. The option to "Automatically fit character to windows" is a nice feature that allows the user to zoom in by expanding the window and keeps the character centered in the workspace.

The Layer Palette can be misleading for Photoshop users. In Photoshop terms, characters are displayed and edited in a single layer. The Fontographer "layers" in the palette represent different views. The layers are Outline, Template, Guides and Hints. The Outline layer is the editing view for the character. Template displays imported graphics. The "Guides" layer displays the origin, Baseline and other reference marks. The "Hints" layer displays manual character hinting for rendering smaller sizes. Selecting any other layer other than the Outline will hide all the points on the character and presents the user with a very handy preview of the character.

One oddity of the application is that your actions are accompanied with sounds. This is fine for people who enjoy sound effects, but the problem with Fontographer is that there is no option turn them off, and the volume appears to be set at maximum. With the exception of just turning off sound on your Mac (not ideal), the only other way to disable these sounds is by locating the sounds file in the Fontographer folder and renaming the file or by deleting it.

The Tools Palette includes 20 functional tools. Again, Photoshop users will find the tool behaviors different from what they are used to. For example, the pointer allows you to select a guide point or items in an area, but if you want to move your selection, you have to click and hold one of the reference points on the items you selected. Clicking anywhere else will cancel the selection. Depending on how you miss, you can deselect, or initiate a curve modification between points. The Hand tool scrolls the window, and because the scroll bars are set to a very large workspace, one can easily scroll the character out of the editing window.


Fontographer editing window


There are four shape tools: circle, line, polygon, and rectangle. Double clicking the line, polygon, and rectangle will bring up a menu for refining the shaping behavior. In the "Multigon" tool window, the default selection for the polygon is a star, but you can select other standard shapes by specifying a polygon and the number of sides.


Fontographer Multigon Tool

The other tools are for "Freehand", pen, knife, and transformations. The Arch tool is at the bottom instead of grouped with the other shape tools. The Freehand tool draws a line and if there's any curvature to the line you draw, it fills in the curve.


Autotrace Function

Graphic manipulation is not a function of the application. Instead, you can import ".pict" files. Graphic content is imported to the template layer and Fontographer provides the user with the Autotrace function. You can scan or otherwise create your new character, and save it as a .pict file. Then you can import it or copy and paste it. If you have Photoshop, the easiest option is to just draw your character (300 x 300 pixel drawing box works well), select it, copy and then paste it into the Template Window. Use the Autotrace function to create your character. After you import and trace the character, you can scale, adjust its position and set the spacing. I experienced some minor quirky behaviors in manipulating the font, but overall the paste and Autotrace function is my favorite method to create a character.

As you create your font set, you should save your work as you create each character. Fontographer stores them in a database that it will use to create the actual font. It's a good idea to name your font with the style that you created (i.e. font1 Normal, font1 Bold, etc.).


My Custom "Scribbled" Font

Creating your own fonts is fun, but it can be tedious as each character is drawn separately. The above is just a single style of a font project. Each standard full-featured font can have almost 250 printing characters for each of the four standard styles.

There are four basic type styles: plain or normal, bold, italic and bold italic. Each font style is a separate set of characters. If you want to create a full-featured font, that's 976 characters, 244 printing characters per style, not including the spaces. When you generate a font, a dialog box will ask you for things like where you want to store your newly created font and what type of font you want to create. Keeping all the generated font styles in the same folder makes it easier to manage them. As you create your styles, you can activate them using Font Book or another font management application.


Sample of my "Scribbled" font in use

It can take weeks to create a custom font. Tweaking the spacing and alignment will result in a font that renders well. In the above example, many of the characters could use some spacing adjustments while others can benefit from a little work to remove artifacts or imperfections.

Useful Reading


Summary
Fontographer provides graphic content designers a means for creating and editing customized fonts. Love it or hate it, Fontographer has been the standard for font creation for ages. Functionally, Fontographer is virtually unchanged from the Classic version, so don't expect exciting new features or interface overhauls. On the other hand, those who have had experience with the Classic version will find everything where it should be. The fact that is runs native on Mac OS X may be exciting enough, and the application is solid and works as advertised. The new user will be confronted with a steep learning curve, and experienced graphic designers will have to re-learn some functional concepts that differ from modern day applications such as Photoshop and other graphic design suites. Fontographer is not cheap, so it is likely out of reach for hobbyists, geared more for professionals in graphics design or game design. Bottom line: Fontographer provides a solid interface that includes everything that is needed to build professional custom fonts.

Pros

  • Creates or edits fonts
  • Autotrace function for picture imports
  • Allows the user to view the entire contents of font
  • Runs solid and produces reliable fonts
  • "Classic" Fontographer users will find the application familiar


Cons

  • Steep learning curve
  • No help menus or tutorials
  • Tool behaviors are inconsistent with modern day OS X applications
  • Lacks graphic tool functions that are standard in modern graphics applications
  • Price prohibitive for hobbyists


Overall Rating

3 out of 5 Mice