Hidden Linux : DIY Font Creation
Mention the term font and people tend to think of A, Bs and Cs. But fonts can be a little more than that ...
Here was my problem: I wanted to add a series of graphical symbols to a spreadsheet. The sort of symbols you get from a font like Webdings. You know, this sort of thing ...
The problem was that Webdings didn't have the symbols I wanted. So I created my own font!
You'll need FontForge and AutoTrace. Ubuntu users can install both with the command
sudo apt-get install fontforge autotrace
You'll also need some graphics. They should be monochrome and stored in bitmap (.bmp) format. Here's one to get you started ...
- Start FontForge and choose New to open sparkling new font grid ...
- Double-click one of the X'd spaces to edit the associated letter. This will open up three new windows; a Toolbox, a Layer Selector and a large Editing window.
- In the Edit window, choose File, Import, select the .bmp file you want to use and click the Import button.
- In the Layers window, select Back (for background) then move and resize the image to fit within the central frame.
- Now choose Element, AutoTrace to convert the bitmapped image into vector-based graphics. The image will magically appear on your font grid.
At this point you can simply choose File, Generate Fonts from the letter grid and save your new font. If you want a font with more than a single character in it, simply repeat the process above.
A Few Explanations
TrueType fonts -- of the sort we've just created -- use what are known as vector graphics. Instead of storing the information as a series of pixels, images are stored as a series of points, lines and curves based on mathematical equations. What that means is that they'll scale to any size without any loss of quality. Here for example is a close-up detail of the chef's left whisker made by simply enlarging the original bitmap ...
Blocky, huh? Now check out its vector-based equivalent from the font we just created ...
What a difference!
AutoTrace is the program that performs the miracle conversion from bitmap to vector graphics. Consider it an optional extra. If FontForge finds it when it starts up, it'll be added to its menus. If not, you'll need to do the boundary selection yourself using the editor's Toolbox. It's not difficult, just a little time consuming. (See the Tutorials link below.)
One useful trick: AutoTrace only finds the external boundaries of an object. That's why I left gaps above and below the chef's whiskers -- so AutoTrace could find its way inside. Without the gaps you'll just get a silhouette. Again, you can use the Toolbox to add to the selection. It just means a little more work.
There is of course a lot more to FontForge than this simple example. It has all the in-built tools you'll ever need to create a font from scratch, or you can even use it to modify existing ones. Check out the FontForge Tutorials for all nuts and bolts.
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