An Introduction to Type Design Special | Font Constructor
FontConstructor is a new standalone application for educational use to research the basic construction of the alphabet. This easy-to-use and intuitive tool allows you to design basic elements, and use them to assemble your own ‘typeface’. By doing so, you learn which are the relationships between the different shapes in an alphabet and how they refer to each other.
Although it is primarily aimed at students, FontConstructor can also be used by aspiring type designers, graphic designers and amateur type enthusiasts – basically anyone who wants to have fun with building type.
FontConstructor is the result of a type design workshop at the ECAL in Lausanne, where Frederik Berlaen was invited to teach scripting in type design during a ‘semaine speciale’ in May 2007.
Frederik started with some basic Python lessons in DrawBot so the students could play with basic shapes applying scripts. Then the class was divided into two groups. The goal for the first group was to program an autoTypeGenerator – a script which uses predefined basic elements to construct a whole alphabet. As these basic elements have integrated ‘magnetic points’ they automatically connect smoothly. The output was a font consisting of a large number of components. This meant that – after using the script – one could end up with a completely different typeface simply by altering the shape of the basic elements.
Simply by altering the shape of one basic element of the font...
... any character containing that specific basic element is altered accordingly.
The second group was more focused on design and scripting. They created a booklet which was assembled entirely by a script. The program would place text and images, and apply style sheets to the text.
After the workshop Frederik kept working on the idea of building a complete font out of some basic elements. The result is FontConstructor, a stand-alone entry-level application that is free for anyone to download and use. It allows you to import and export UFOs, export OpenType file format (please note this is basic: no hinting, no kerning, no features), copy/paste from Adobe Illustrator or FontLab. The application also features a basic vector editor.
There are several possibilities to import or create base elements for the font you wish to build. If you are familiar with FontLab and Robofab, you can create them in FontLab and then export your element-font as UFO. If not, elements can be added by either drawing them directly in the vector editing window or copy-pasting them from Adobe Illustrator or FontLab.
When selecting a glyph, your elements can be dragged and dropped into the glyph view. It is possible to drag multiple elements at once. Now these elements can be moved around, scaled and rotated. Selected elements can also be copy-pasted from one glyph to another or within the same glyph. Adjusting the spacing of the selected glyph can easily be done by dragging the left or right margin value. The spacing can be checked in a designated preview window.
Fonts can be saved as .fb files, which consist of a UFO of your elements and an XML file with all the transformations of the elements in your font. FontConstructor allows you to generate UFOs of your constructed font, in case you want to open your result in FontLab or in any other application that supports UFO.
Also, FontConstructor lets you generate an .otf font file of your font. Please note that this .otf font file is very basic, so use it only to test it. In any case it will show up in the font list of most of the popular graphic typesetting applications. The .otf font file has no kerning, no hinting nor features – it only contains the contours of the glyph, spacing and some basic naming. These generated fonts have not been tested in a Windows environment.
Some basic documentation can be found on the FontConstructor website. So get cracking and have fun with it! And show us the results.