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Larabie Fonts FontLab 3.1 Tutorial Page 1

How to make your own font using Pyrus Software's FontLab

Setting Up

So, you just bought FontLab 3.1. You read the manual and you're rarin' to make a font. I created Vahika with the intention of making this tutorial easy to follow. I could have gone with something more complex and less modular but I thought the explanation might be complicated enough as it is.

Dimensions

Hit Ctrl-F to bring up the font info window. Give the font a name, add some copyright info and input the dimensions of the font. It's not crucial that you do this at the beginning but you get these nifty little guidelines labeled x-height (the height of a lowercase x), descender etc. I like to set the caps height at 800 to leave some room at the top for accents. Hit OK and you're ready to go.

Save Yourselves!

Save often! Unless you're using Windows NT or 2000, FontLab can be a little bit crash prone and you need to whack on the Ctrl-S to save your file very, very often. Windows 98/ME users should be used to crashing so it's no big deal.

Guidelines

If you double-click on a glyph in the font window (in our example lowecase-h). You should be able to see the dimensions you had set. If not, check the icons on the right side of the screen and toggle some of them buttons until you see it. Now you can drag out some guidelines to make it easier to draw consistent stems. If guidlines are visible, hold shift and drag them out from the ruler of the edge of the glyph window. If they're not red lines then you're not holding shift! Blue guidlines apply to the current glyph - red guidelines are global. If you need help aligning the guidelines you can Ctrl-click on them and enter a numeric value.

The annoying thing about guidelines is that you can accidentally move them, unable to undo the action. If anyone has figured out how to lock these things down please let me know.

The First Letter

Start with a lowercase h. Why h? Everything you need to know about a font is contained within the lowercase h. You can determine x-height, the stem widths, serif style and what kind of curves it will have. Always finish the lowercase before going on to the capitals. The lowercase is what most people are going to see so they're a lot more important to legibility than the capitals. Obviously that doesn't apply if you're doing an ALL CAPS font. I'm working with the grid turned on but that's your choice; it really depends on what sort of font you're making. You can change the grid settings in the preferences menu (F10). Select the paint tool from the left toolbar and choose black and the box tool. You can drag boxes, overlap them and make a handsome h. Leave some jaggy stairsteps where you want a curve.

Making the Curve

Now you can turn those stairseps into curves. If you've used other font software, Illustrator or Corel Draw you're probably used to using Bezier curves. You can use Bezier curves in FontLab but this is a Larabie Fonts tutorial. I'm into quadratic outline editing and so are you! ... Besides, they all end up as quadratic curves when you generate TrueType fonts. You can switch between Bezier (Type 1) curves and quadratic (TrueType) using Ctrl-Shift3 and Ctrl-Shift2.

Before we go turning those stairsteps into a curve we'll have to make sure the startpoint isn't on the curve. The startpoint is the first point like in a children's dot-to-dot game. It serves no purpose except for getting in the way when you make curves. Click on the set startpoint button on the left toolbar then choose a point that's not along the place where we want to make a curve ; then click OK.

There's lots of ways to make curves in Fontlab and this is one of them. Click the curve tool on the left toolbar. Click the beginning of the curve then click the end of the curve. Bam! Instant curve. When you're done click OK.

Ick! A Bezier Curve!

Okay, they have their place but this isn't a Bezier curve tutorial, okay? So now we have two Bezier (Type1) curves on a quadratic (TrueType) font. Why did FontLab create Bezier curves in this case? It just does. It secretly loves them I think. You can always tell a Bezier by the evil green dots. If you click on the green dots you'll see familiar Bezier control points. Okay, that's enough. Stop playing with them. Don't try and fix the curve, just convert it to a TrueType curve. You can try Crtl-Shift 2 ... it might work if you're lucky. If not just select it from the tools menu as depicted in the following diagram.

After you've converted it to TrueType you'll see something something new. They're quadratic control points. Maybe two or three of them. They're always pale blue and they're your best friends. Try moving them around. Neat huh? There's no trick to it; just move them around to alter the curve. You can have lots of them along a curve to create a more complex curve. For this execrcise I'll keep it to a single point per curve. If there's more than one point on either of the curves select and delete them. If you line the points up the way I have in the diagram below you'll get these really nice friendly curves. Unlike using Bezier curves, it's really hard to screw these curves up. As long as you keep the control point in the corner you're curve will stay perfectly attractive. You can go back and forth between Type1 curves and TrueType curves as often as you like. A little bit is lost in the transition between Type1 and TypeType but it's usually nothing too serious.

Second Letter

Now your h is completed. Make sure it's perfect because your whole font will be based on this h.
Go to the font window (not the glyph window, the one with all the letters and stuff) then copy and paste your h to the letter n.

Double-click the n and it'll appear in the glyph window. Use the paint tool again, select white and the box tool. Make a box so it chops off the top of the h leaving you with an n. Congratulations, you just made an n. Let's add a serif . Choose black and use the box tool again to create another serif.

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