This FAQ covers typeface/font design. It should be regarded a work in progress and not as a replacement for serious study or hands-on training.

Education

What websites are helpful when learning type design?
What books are helpful when learning type design?
Are there schools where I can study type design?

Software

What software do most type designers use?
I bought FontLab, but there’s no help file! How do I use it?
What’s the deal with Fontographer?
Is there an open-source option?
What about DTL FontTools?
People talk about various scripts, plugins, and third-party tools that I would like to use. Where do I get them?
Is there software to make kerning easier?
Is there a better way to handle interpolation than using Multiple Master fonts in Fontlab?
Is there an easy way to get all my master fonts ready for interpolation?

Font Production

How do I set up the names for a type family?
How do I create a font that randomly changes glyphs using OpenType?

Letter Design

Where can I learn about accented characters?
How do I know which marks go with what characters?

Education

What websites are helpful when learning type design?

Typedrawers.com
A forum for type designers, lettering artists, and calligraphers.

Typophile.com
Until 2012 Typophile was a popular forum for type designers. Now it is mostly crazed rambling. Old posts still have value on the days that local or Google search works, which is often not the case.

Forum.FontLab.com
The official FontLab forum hosts forums for FontLab products, Microsoft’s type design tools, Adobe’s ADFKO, and other stuff.

Briem.net
Insightful writings about lettering and type design.

Type Basics at TypeWorkshop.com
Underware’s insights into the basics of type design. A must-read for beginners.

What books are helpful when learning type design?

Logo, Font & Lettering Bible by Leslie Cabarga
Cabarga’s Bible is a guide to drawing good letters with vector graphics tools. Although it is written about Illustrator and Fontographer the text is applicable to designing type with Fontlab studio. If you do not already know why and how to keep your points in extrema you need to read this book.

Letters of Credit: A View of Type Design by Walter Tracy
Letters of Credit is a classic examination of type design by someone who worked in the field for decades. It covers technique and history of type design in the Linotype era; do not expect it to be directly applicable to digital type design.

Exploring Typography by Tova Rabinowitz
This is not a book about type design, but it does contain a chapter that serves as a step-by-step, letter-by-letter tutorial for designing a simple sans-serif typeface.

Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson
Lawson’s book describes and critiques thirty-plus classic typefaces and their designers. This one is a great study in type design and a handy historical reference.

Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering by Jan Tschichold
The Treasury opens with a (some would say dated) introduction about what makes good or bad letters. Facsimiles of great writing and type specimen make up the other 195 pages.

Designing Type by Karen Cheng
This book is a little notorious for not actually being a guide to designing type. Designing Type is a series of comparisons of letters, punctuation, and diacritical marks used with the Latin alphabet in Western Europe. There’s also dated description of spacing metal type rehashed from Walter Tracy. It is not an especially useful book for learning to design type, but it is a good reference work when critiquing letters.

The Stroke: Theory of Writing by Gerrit Noordzij
The Stoke is high-level treatise dutch type designer and calligrapher Gerrit Noorzij wrote about his theory of how drawn letters relate to written letters. The Stoke is dense, the translation isn’t great, and if you don’t care for calligraphy you probably won’t care for it. But if you enjoy thinking about type in historical and calligraphic terms The Stroke is a must-read.

Paul Renner: The Art of Typography by Christopher Burke
Burke’s biography of Paul Renner is complete, well-written, and deeply insightful. Reading this book can teach one a great deal about how and why type designers think and work.

Counterpunch: Making Type in the 16th Century, Designing Typefaces Now by Fred Smeijers
Counterpunch examines the history and techniques of punchcutting as a method of type design to connect metal and digital type design methodology. It’s one of the best-written and most enlightening reads about typeface design. The second edition is in print as of this writing.

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
Often considered the bible of typography, Elements is a great resource when you need an answer to some miscellaneous typographic question.

Learn FontLab Fast by Leslie Cabarga
The title of this book says it all. A must read book for people who make the mistake of using FontLab.

Are there schools where I can study type design?

The MA Typeface Design program at the University of Reading in Reading, England.

The Type and Media program at the KaBk in The Hague, The Netherlands.

The Type@Cooper program at the Cooper Union in New York City, United States

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Software

What software do most type designers use?

Most type designers are using Glyphs or Robofont. Glyphs is a new type design program with a simple and intuitive interface. Anyone new to type design should start with Glyphs. RoboFont is a system for creating programs to manipulate fonts in the UFO format, it includes an interface for creating and editing fonts as well. Anyone can use Robofont, but programming in Python unlocks its real power.

Until 2011 most type designers used FontLab Studio. After Glyphs and Robofont were released type designers began to abandon Fontlab due to the its numerous problems. Avoid FontLab products at all cost.

What’s the deal with Fontographer?

Macromedia stopped developing Fontographer after the release of Version 4.1 in 1998. In the years since Fontographer has largely fallen out of use as type designers switched to Fontlab. In 2005 FontLab purchased Fontographer and has released updated versions for Mac OS. Fontographer 5.0 was released in June 2010; unfortunately nobody remembers how to use it.

Is there an open-source option?

Fontforge is an open-source font design application. It is not popular with typeface designers.

What about DTL FontTools?

DTL sells a suite of task-specific typeface design applications. Most of the DTL software is Windows-only and this has limited their adoption by font designers, who primarily use Mac OS.

People talk about various scripts, plugins, and third-party tools that I would like to use. Where do I get them?

Poke around on Github.

Is there software to make kerning easier?

Typesupply sells Metrics Machine, which can reduce weeks of work to days. If you don’t want to do it at all, try iKern.

Is there a better way to handle interpolation than using Multiple Master fonts in Fontlab?

Design fonts in Glyphs.

Is there an easy way to get all my master fonts ready for interpolation?

Design fonts in Glyphs.

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Font Production

How do I set up the names for a type family?

Naming type families is tricky. Read the explanations from Karsten Lucke and Adam Twardoch to see how it works. It’s best to work out your naming system on paper before you start configuring fonts. To avoid cluttering your system with misnamed fonts, do not create font families until you are generating the final fonts for release!

How do I create a font that randomly changes glyphs using OpenType?

First create a font that contains an equal number of versions of every glyph, including spaces and punctuation. Assign the alternate characters a suffix that makes them easy to work with, for example a, a.alt1, a.alt2, and so on. Create OpenType classes for each character set, putting the glyphs into the appropriate set. In a three-character set font the classes could be default (for the default characters), alt1, and alt2.

The easiest way to rotate through the character sets is to use the CALT OpenType feature. The following OpenType code is based on a method devised by Thomas Phinney, and variations of it have been used successfully in commercial fonts.

feature calt {
lookup rotate {
sub @default @default’ by @alt1;
sub @alt1 @default’ by @alt2;
sub @alt2 @alt2′ by @default;
} rotate;
lookup rotate;
} calt;

The downside to this method is that CALT is not supported in some applications, and is not on by default in some applications that do support it, such as Illustrator.

You should also implement the AALT feature to allow users to easily swap out glyph versions.

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Letter Design

Where can I learn about accented characters?

The Diacritics Project is a wiki about the design and use of diacritical marks.

How do I know which marks go with what characters?

Research.

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