There is not a day goes by where we don’t get asked how to create fonts. So I decided to write a new blog post detailing the step by step process involved for creating a font or typeface.
Now before we get started I want to make it clear that making a font is kind of like making bread, everybody has a different method. But as long as the bread tastes good or in this case, the font looks good, does it matter? I guess my method is more mathematical, than artistry. But we will cover that later on.
Again quite like bread all fonts are different, so the methods and techniques used to make one font may differ greatly from another. For example, a script or calligraphy based font is likely to be created much more by hand, in order to get that naturally written look. Thankfully for me, (as I suck at drawing) this tutorial will look into the specifics of how to create a chunky sans font.
In section two we will be looking at including some dino silhouettes into each letter we create to give the characters a little added grrr.
Software you would need to follow this tutorial
- Adobe Illustrator (Corel Draw works fine too, but this tutorial will show instructions using Illustrator)
- Glyphs (or another similar font creation program)
It’s important to use a program that is vector based (like Illustrator or Corel Draw). Vector images can be scaled upward or downward to any size, without the image going blurry or losing focus. Using a raster based program (like photoshop) means the image is created using pixels. When that image is stretched above its creation size, it can begin to “Pixelate” or “lose focus”. Fonts are created using vectors, to ensure they can be used at any size, large or small.
Part One: Creating the Letters
- Open up Illustrator.
- Create a new document. I like to create my font work sheets at around 10000px wide and 10000px high to give us a little space to include all our characters on one sheet. If you create a workspace too small, it’s a bit tricky to move everything onto something bigger later. This tutorial will cover the creation of only four letters, so 2000 px x 2000px will most likely suffice.
- Now we need to turn on the grid. Simply click View found at the top then “Show or Hide Grid”. Your sheet should now look something like this:
I also prefer to use the “Snap to Grid” function, this is accessible by clicking View > Snap to Grid. This ensures your anchor points (which we will explain later) can only fall on a grid line, allowing for greater accuracy when drawing straight and curved lines. Without Snap to Grid selected, you can essentially place your anchor points anywhere within the work space.
To edit the size of your grid, select Edit or Illustrator (depending on your software version) and click Preferences > Guides & Grid. Then locate “Gridline Every” field and insert the spacing you want between each grid line. I generally choose 50 pixels, as it makes adding up easier later on.
Each box on your grid is now set to 50px squared.
4. Next you need to bring up the rulers to give each of your characters a boundary, this will help you see how tall and wide each character should be.
Click View > Rulers > Show Rulers. If it says “Hide Rulers” then you know its already displaying and no further action is required for this step.
Now locate your ruler bar at the very top, (they should border your work sheet on the top and left of the page). Shown below.
Starting with the horizontal ruler found at the top, hold down your cursor on the ruler and drag the line down. This will pull a horizontal ruler down on to your work sheet. As snap to grid is set you should notice the line jumps between each grid line one by one. Place it somewhere near the top, no need to be exact. This is our upper boundary for each letter.
Now repeat this process and place the second ruler 14 grid boxes below the first one. This will be our lower boundary line for each character. The reason we chose 14 grid boxes is not random. Each uppercase character should be 700 pixels high. Because each box is set to 50px, we know that 14 boxes will equal 700 pixels perfectly. Each lowercase letter is generally 500 pixels. That is a rule of thumb for most sans serif and serif type based fonts, which follow standard typography rules.
For script or more comic/cartoon based fonts the heights are generally fairly custom depending on the designers preference. It is however important to retain these sizes to an extent, because when we copy them into our font program, it would be very difficult to manage a character which is three times too big or too small.
If done correctly your space should look something like this.
The two horizontal boundaries don’t change per uppercase character, as the height for each letter won’t change. When you come to create your lowercase characters, you will move the upper boundary down four lines (200 pixels) to create a new boundary set to 500 pixels in height.
Though there are strict rules for the height of any given character, the width of a character is a little more flexible. Let’s get stuck in and this will become clearer.
You are now set up and ready to begin drawing your characters. By the way when I say characters, i mean letters. I’m not referring to the dinosaurs, just yet. We will talk about them in part two.
How to Create the Letter I
Our goal with section one of this tutorial is to write out the word DINO, explaining the techniques we used to create each letter.
I started with I, because its by far the easiest of the four letters we are creating today and will get you to grips with how to use the pen tool.
- Firstly, select the pen tool from your toolbar. The icon is shown in the example below. If one of the other three options is present, click and hold for the additional options to appear, then select Pen Tool.
2. Next ensure your colour is set to stroke not fill. You can do this via your Color panel (Window > Color) or via your toolbar. I use black as its easiest to see on a white background. Ensure the outline stroke is set to black and the fill is set to nothing. Just like the image below. You can also increase the stroke as well to make the line a little thicker and easier to see over the grid lines.
3. Starting somewhere on the left of your document, click on the upper red boundary. As snap to grid is set, Illustrator will automatically select a cross point or intersection between two grid lines. This will place an anchor point which will act as the top left corner of our I character.
4. Now, moving your cursor down the page, click on the bottom boundary line, vertically under the first point you made a minute ago. The idea being this will create a straight line. We already know the character is the perfect height as we have set up our rulers to the correct 700 pixel height.
Useful tip: Hold down shift between clicking the two anchor points to create a perfectly straight line.
If done correctly you should have something like this.
5. Now we need to select how wide we want the characters to be. It’s important to ensure each character retains the same width, otherwise the font will look uneven when typed out. For this particular typeface, I want a quite chunky look, so I move my cursor four grid blocks to the right from our last anchor point and click. Note: you should still be on the bottom boundary line.
Should you want a slightly thinner looking font you would set your width at only 2 or 3 pixels wide. Likewise if you want it thicker then place it at 5 or 6 squares wide. But do ensure all characters you create follow the same width rules, to ensure cohesion between your font when typed out.
6. Yup, you guessed it, now we want to go up directly 14 blocks to the upper boundary and click down for our fourth anchor point.
7. Lastly, don’t forget to close the shape off by clicking back on the very first anchor point again, this will join the top up. You should have something which looks like this.
If you now switch the color mode from stroke to fill, you should see the completed letter.
How to Create the Letter D
Okay, now we have the letter I mastered let’s take it up a level and create the first character D. To begin with we are only going to create the outline of the D.
Because the shape is a little more complex than the I shape we are going to need to set rulers where we want each of the shapes anchor points to reach. This will make creating the actual shape a million times easier later on.
This part takes some experimentation to ensure the character looks good for you. Anchor points can be edited or moved after placement, so if the letter doesn’t quite look right, you can easily edit it post creation.
- To ensure our character is created evenly we must first begin placing our vertical rulers. The first starts on the far left straight edge of the letter. The next is four squares to the right, this will ensure the vertical backbone of the character is the same thickness as the I which we created earlier. Remember that was 4 grid squares thick?
- The final is 7 grid squares the right again away from the second ruler. You may want to try six squares or 8 squares away, there is no perfect rule. For characters that have a little hole inside, it is the hole which defines the characters thickness not the overall shape itself.
- This is how it should look. I have attached numbers to indicate where the anchor points should go and in what order when we begin to create the D outline.
- To begin insert anchor point one at the top left cross point of the rulers.
- Next add the second anchor point straight down in the bottom left corner of the red rulers crossing. This makes the straight back of the D character.
- Next go four squares directly right to the next ruler crossing and place the third anchor point.
- The fourth anchor point is a little more complex because its a curved line rather than a straight line. Now where the furthest right vertical line and the middle horizontal line cross, (near point 4) insert your fourth anchor point. When you click to place the anchor, keep the mouse pressed down and drag the cursor up until the little blue circle touches the very top horizontal line. If done correctly, it should look like this.
When you click and hold down your cursor on any anchor point you will see a straight blue line and two blue circles appear. These are called handles. The line will bend in whatever direct you pull those handles, after placing the anchor point and dragging the mouse away. These are shown in more detail below. You can see this curve is slightly higher on the right, as the right anchor point handle is higher than the left. If these handles were aligned, the line would have a perfect curve.
Because we pulled our handle straight up, the bottom half of the D curve we have made so far remains perfectly smooth.
- Next place your anchor on point 5 where the top horizontal line and middle vertical line cross, you will notice the curve should automatically carry around perfectly to join us up with point five.
- Lastly finish the shape off by clicking back on point one to create our sixth anchor point and close up the shape. If created correctly it should look like the image below. Again if you now convert the colour from stroke to fill you will see the D shape appear in full.
For our finished Dino product, we actually don’t want the centre to this D to be empty (like a conventional D) but we have created the steps below to explain how you would go about doing this, should you want to.
The first thing we need to do (like before) is place new rulers out to ensure our white space in the centre of our D is symmetrical
If you are following the 4 square thickness rule you should find the rulers are easy to place. The lines for this central shape are shown in red.
The middle vertical line (the first red line) should remain in place, as this will act as the backbone to our mini D space. We then need to bring in a second vertical line which is four grid spaces away from the very final line on the right. If you check now the two vertical lines should both be four grid squares away from the left and right respectively. This will ensure the shape is balanced.
Lastly we need to bring in two final horizontal rulers to show us where the upper and lower boundaries are for this white space. The top horizontal line (for this shape) should be four squares under the very top horizontal ruler and the bottom should be four squares above the very bottom horizontal ruler.
Before you start change the stroke color to white or you won’t be able to see your new shape.
Useful tip: Zoom in as much as you need or increase the stroke size to make the line more visible.
Okay, starting at point one, insert your first anchor point where the two red lines cross each other. Move down six squares to point two and insert anchor point 2, across and up 3 squares to point 3 remembering to click and hold down the cursor dragging the handles up to the top of the white space shape, which is the second red line down. Finishing the shape off by clicking point one again, making point 4.
Convert the color from stroke to fill and see the space appear.
Now eagle eyed readers out there may have noticed that the space in the centre of the d is still white and not see through as it should be. That is because we have essentially laid a white shape over the top of the D, rather than cut a hole in the D which we need to do. When you come to import your letter into a font program, the central space will not be included and the program will only show the biggest shape, which is the black D.
So we need to now cut the white space from the black space to create an internal hole in the D. We do this as follows
At the top click Windows > Pathfinder. This opens up the Pathfinder window. Next you need to select both shapes. Click on the white shape, hold shift and then click on the black D shape. This allows you to select both shapes at once.
In the pathfinder window click on the second icon in the top row under Shape Modes. If you hover your mouse over it, it should say “Minus Front”. This means it will essentially remove the white shape from the black shape underneath, leaving us with the hole we require.
If done correctly you should be left with a see through hole in your D, just like the image below.
I always like to compare my characters side by side as I am going along to ensure I am on the right track. Here are the two we have made so far. You will notice they look cohesive together, as we paired up the character thickness before starting.
How to Create the Letter O
Okay the D was a bit intense, but I promise if you create it again from scratch, you will get there in half the time. You know the old saying, practice makes perfect.
Next we are going to create the O, which is a very simple character to create because of the Ellipse (Circle) tool.
On the shapes menu located on the toolbar, select the Ellipse Tool. If it doesn’t appear initially, click and hold on the first option until this slide out appears.
Next change the stroke color to empty and fill color to black.
Now holding the shift key create a perfect a circle between the upper boundary and lower boundary. It should look something like this.
Now begin inserting your rulers. Remember the shape needs to remain symmetrical and have a thickness of 4 grid squares around the outside. So pull down your first ruler to four squares under the top boundary line. Then pull another down to four squares above the bottom boundary line.
Next pull one vertical ruler from the left to appear four squares from the left edge of the circle (as shown below). Then pull another ruler from the left to finish four squares from the right edge of the circle.
Next change your fill color, this time to white, with the stroke color remaining empty. Then begin drawing your white circle (while holding shift) to fit within the inner boundaries we have just set up. It should look something along these lines.
Similar to the white spacing we had in the D shape, we need to subtract the white space from the black shape to create an inner path (or hole).
Click on the white circle, hold shift and click on the black circle. Then locate the pathfinder window once more (Windows > Pathfinder) and click “Minus Front”, it’s the second icon from the left in the top row under “Shape Modes”. Your white circle should now appear see through, showing the grind lines underneath, if performed correctly.
You may prefer your O character more of an oval than a perfect circle, in which case you need to pull in the right side of the shape by a square or two, ensuring the height always remains the same.
How to Create the Letter N
We are nearly there folks, our last letter is N. Our N character is made a little more easily as we can use the I character we created earlier to build up the two sides of the letter. To do this simply duplicate your I character twice (copy and paste), and change the color from fill to stroke.
To edit the color mode simply click the right angle arrows shown within the toolbar or color palette pop up. The bottom icon showcases stroke, the top (currently empty) shows fill.
I have now switched my I characters to stroke only, increased the stroke size to make them easier to see and placed them with a space of five squares between them.
I am now looking to create an angled shape between the two pillars to finalise my N shape. Starting at the top right hand corner of the left I, I will add an anchor point.
I will then place my second anchor point on the right I pillar six squares from the bottom. My third anchor point should be on the bottom left corner of the right I with my fourth anchor taking us back to the left I, this time six squares from the top. Finally to close the shape off click back on anchor point one on the corner of the left I shape.
If done correctly it should look like this…
The reason we used six squares from the top and bottom of the letter rather than 4 is because squashed/angled parts of letters deceive the eye and look much thinner than horizontal or vertical sections. We generally add 50% to each letter size, making this shape 6 squares high, rather than 4.
You can now black the entire character out, by changing the color mode from stroke to fill. Your N character now looks complete. But remember we need to join all three different shapes together into one final shape, in order to use it as a font.
To do this, open your Pathfinder window (Windows > Pathfinder), select all three parts of the N character and click the first icon under “Shape Modes”, entitled “Unite”. This particular tool combines various paths or shapes together to create one master shape, using the outline of those shapes together.
Here is your final finished N character.
What does our word look like combined?
Creating this particular word will give you all the skills you need to create any letter or character. Here is our summary of your newly learned skills
- Creating straight lines and shapes using the pen tool
- Creating curved shapes with the pen tool
- Subtracting white space from shapes to create an inner path/hole
- Combining paths together to create a new shape
Part Two: Adding Dinosaur Silhouettes
I hope you’re still with us? So the next part is where it gets really fun and creative. We are going to layer some white dinosaur silhouettes over our letters to give the new font an even cooler finish.
Okay so first we need to get some dinosaur silhouettes. I promise I am not going to ask you to make these too, that would be way too time consuming. I picked up a great pack from CreativeMarket for just $3, via this link. They come in EPS format which is accessible in both Illustrator and Corel Draw.
Before we open them up, I first want to edit our font one last time to give us more flexibility on how we can use our new dino pack.
We want to remove the white space in the D and O. Now if you have been following the tutorial step by step you will need to do this as well. Very simply double click on the D letter, until the remaining characters transform into a faded gray color. Like the image shown below.
Now select the internal white part, and just click delete. Repeat the process for the O also, until both characters are just black space. Your finished word should look like this.
Your now ready to go ahead and open up your new dino pack and copy across the various characters you want to work with.
You will notice the dinosaurs are also black, so for ease go ahead and edit their color to white, as this will make it easier to start designing your finished dino word. If the dinosaurs are not appearing when you drag them over your letter, make sure they are brought to the very top layer, so they appear above the letters we created. To do this right click on the dinosaur, click “arrange” and “bring to the front”. Alternatively, select the Dino word, right click > Arrange and send to the back.
Now comes the fun bit, lets start messing around with our dinosaurs, seeing how they fit best. When you are happy with your design, come back and read the final few steps.
Here is our finished word, what do you think? Pretty cool huh? Who knew creating a font could be so much fun.
The very last part is combining the letters and the dinosaurs together, using the same method as earlier, for the white space in both the D and O characters.
Lets start with D. Click on the black D letter, hold shift and click on the T-Rex silhouette. Open your pathfinder window (Windows > Pathfinder) and click the second icon from the left entitled Minus Front.
Repeat this process for each letter and character. If done correctly your finished design should look like this. Note the white space on each dinosaur has now disappeared and is replaced by a see through shape, showing the grid pattern underneath.
Part Three: Converting our Graphics into a Font
So our dino graphic is complete and ready to use, but only as a regular vector graphic. We are not quite finished yet, we have one final step to create our finished font.
Go ahead and open up your Glyphs App. At the very top, click File > New. A blank work sheet should appear that looks like this.
Starting with our D character back in Illustrator. Click to copy and paste our finished letter. Now open up the D letter space in Glyphs and paste in our graphic. It should initially appear like below.
This mode is used to edit the anchor points for the design. To be honest I do all my editing in Illustrator, as I feel it offers me greater flexibility and is easier to use than Glyphs. So when I am at the point of copying my graphics over to Glyphs, they should be 100% finished.
If you now click the T icon in Glyphs at the very top, your graphic should display in regular mode. Shown below
Now all being well our graphic should look perfect. If not, I would recommend deleting it and going back over the steps carefully to check which stage was missed or performed incorrectly. Generally the pathfinder area of font creation causes 90% of peoples problems, so that may be a good place to start. Still stuck? Drop us a comment below and I will do my best to help.
Below the character you should notice a little gray box. Shown below.
This little box indicates the space around either side of the character. Currently it shows 0 pixels space on the left of my D and 50 pixels on the right. My advice would be to first copy all your characters across, and use the T (type mode) to begin typing out how they look complete. You can adjust spacing from there. Here is our word typed out, without editing the spacing.
I am not too happy with the space between the D and I. So I will want to take a look at the spacing on the right of the D and the left of the I to see how I can tighten this gap up.
After reducing the letter spacing to 20 pixels either side, our word is looking much more even.
I am now happy with our finished product, shown above. However, should you continue onward to create the entire alphabet you may come across some letters that even after space editing, still refuse to look quite right together.
Letter spacing offers you a chance to edit the default white space around any given letter. However, some characters still won’t fit right. In the example below, we went on to create characters A and V, we set their letter spacing to 20 pixels for each side of each character. You can see the line between each character shows that the widest point of each character is very close, but the overall finished look is not too desirable.
But fear not, using something called “Relationship Kerning” we can edit the specific space between the A and V characters. This edited value tells the users computer to use your specific spacing rule for this letter pairing, when typed out.
To do this, type out your two chosen letters, click between the two letters and hold down the keys Ctrl + Opt (CMD + Alt on a Mac) keys and adjust the kerning using the arrow keys. You will notice the letters move closer together or further apart depending on your choice of direction.
Here is our edited result. This process will need to be repeated for any sets of characters that require additional kerning work.
Exporting your font
Once you have finished importing, spacing and kerning your font characters you are ready to export the font. Always remember to save the font as you go, using File > Save. I have lost many hours of work without saving enough, and it’s not pretty.
To export your chosen font, simply click File > Export. Choose your desired my export file location on your machine, tick if you want the file as TTF (Untick for OTF) and then hit export.
And that is it! That sums up our monster tutorial (no pun intended). I hope you stuck with us all the way through. Many of the technique’s used to create this are quite simple. They sound very daunting when read step by step but I promise they aren’t. I only started designing two years ago and now I make complex shapes and fonts from scratch, so believe me, if I can, anyone can.
Have a grrrrrrreat day!