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i made a font

July 8, 2010 | bookmark | 4 Comments

If you’ve ever looked at anything I’ve made, you likely noticed that I like to hand-letter things. I used to be a type geek back when I was a graphic designer, but at some point — mainly when I started illustrating — I quit using actual fonts with any regularity and started drawing type on everything. This is sort of within the great plan of life or whatever, as it was a calligraphy kit my mom bought when I was 14 years old that led to my interest in type and design in the first place.
Over the years I’ve considered many times designing a font. However, it never really made sense, since the type I draw is usually improvised and created for the specific place in which it sits, and I like the look of each letterform being different. That is, if I have two lower-case ‘g’ next to each other (which happens frequently. Re: “Biggs”), I usually like them to look slightly different from one another. It’s part of the illusion I struggle with to keep my work looking as least digital as possible. So I’ve never really found the right project for which to create a typeface.
However, in setting up the workflow of this huge three-book project I’m writing and illustrating for HarperCollins, I’m realizing that every page is going to have anywhere between ten and a hundred captions and labels. And the prospect of lettering each and every one of these (“convertible,” “tow-truck,” “taxi,” “subway,” etc) makes my kind of want to go on an extended vacation. And it makes my hand hurt. So last week I realized that this is it. This is the time to make a font.

After googling a bit looking for an appropriate application, I located one called TypeTool. Back in the day when I was working at Adobe and stuff, everyone used Fontographer to make typefaces, which I thought had died. Apparently, Fontographer has been rejuvenated and is also published by Fontlab, but it’s about a million bucks. Since I have no current plans to make other fonts (but never say never, right?), TypeTool will do the trick and it’s a lot less expensive.

So… I set about painting/drawing a set of letterforms, which I then scanned at really really high resolution (1200 ppi) and cleaned up in Photoshop. I used Illustrator to trace the letterforms into vector shapes, which I could then copy/paste into TypeTool.

I haven’t had time to read the manual for TypeTool yet, but I remember the basic idea from back in the Fontographer days.

Not everything is perfect yet. There are some weird pairs and a lot of the punctuation and quotation marks aren’t really perfect yet. Furthermore, I didn’t include many of the more esoteric glyphs like the signs for foreign currency and stuff like ∆Ωª. I suppose if Everything Goes is translated into other languages, or if by some weird turn I need the Greek alphabet in my captions and stuff, I’ll add them later.

While tedious, this has been really interesting. Notwithstanding what I wrote above about likely not making another font, I could really see me doing this again for other picture books, rather than trying to find typefaces that work well for my illustrations…