Thomas Phinney was CEO of FontLab until 2019, when he retired from FontLab to pursue his font detective work and type design. Previously he worked at Extensis (web fonts and font management tools) and Adobe (as product manager for global fonts and typography).
Thomas is also a teacher, writer, and consultant on fonts and typography. He has been consulted by Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, Oxford University Press, a “big three” US auto maker, the US Treasury Department, and PBS “History Detectives,” among others. He teaches type design with Crafting Type and has been a repeat guest lecturer for MA Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Since 2004 he has been a board member of ATypI, the international typography association. His typeface Hypatia Sans is an Adobe Original with over 3000 glyphs per font.
Some of our users of FontLab VI who live in Westeros have been asking what the “VI” actually stands for. Since the TV tale of Westeros (that is, Game of Thrones) has just ended, we’re here to provide a spoiler-free answer: “VI” is an abbreviation that in High Valyrian means “Valar Ipradtis” (all men must eat). Or was it “Valar Ilis” (all men must have a registered place of residence*)? One of those, it was.
Part of what lures viewers into author George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world is the sense of rich history and detailed background in the book series A Song of Ice and Fire that the TV show is based on. Much of this can be credited to Martin, but one thing he didn’t do, beyond a few words and phrases, was create the languages. That is instead the work of a remarkable linguist named David J. Peterson, who has invented dozens of languages, including at least 20 for films and television shows.
For Game of Thrones, Peterson first won a contest to create Dothraki, the language of the barbarian/nomad horse people of the plains, a tribe that key player Danaerys Targaryen marries into and becomes the leader of, after the death of her husband. Peterson followed that up with a rendition of High Valyrian, a dead/scholarly language occupying a role similar to that of Latin in Renaissance Europe; not spoken natively by anyone, but the language of scholars everywhere, particularly written.
These are just two of the couple of dozen languages Peterson has made for various media properties, primarily films and television. He has done so many that it is easy to lose count, but one simple metric is: how many separate shows has he created an Elvish language for? Three to date, and one suspects there will be more. He has at least six films and nine TV shows to his credit so far, including two Marvel movies (Doctor Strange and Thor: The Dark World), The 100, Bright, and more in the works, including the upcoming Denis Villeneuve version of Dune.
Peterson didn’t create writing systems (also called scripts) for the Dothraki and High Valyrian languages for Game of Thrones, since both the books and the TV show spelled the phrases using the Latin alphabet. However, he has invented the scripts for many of his languages, especially the many he has designed for his own entertainment, on his own schedule. He also designed fonts that represent his invented scripts. While the visual representation is not his first focus, he still needs a flexible and powerful tool to make fonts for these fictional languages — and his tool of choice for years has been FontLab. First FontLab Studio 5, and now FontLab VI.
The invented or constructed languages even have a shorthand name: conlangs. There is a whole conlang community around them! While some people are fans of just one particular conlang because of the media associated with it (such as Star Trek fans who get into Klingon, or Tolkien fans who get into his Elvish Sindarin and his Dwarvish Khuzdul), others get into the entire idea of inventing languages and scripts. Constructed scripts are called conscripts. Some are used to write just one conlang (usually of the same name), some are used for multiple conlangs (just like the Latin script is used to write English, German, Polish or Yoruba). Some people even invent conscripts to write existing human languages.
From a font creation perspective, conlang fonts offer a number of challenges, beyond just figuring out what the characters should look like. At least some written languages have characters that combine or alter depending on context, or group in some interesting ways. In our world, the Indic writing systems (such as Devanagari, used to write the Hindi language) are a good example of this. Coding this involves using OpenType layout features — found in the Features panel in FontLab VI.
Another wrinkle is that these newly-invented characters have no standard slots in Unicode, so the designer is faced with the less-than-exciting choices of either using existing assigned slots “incorrectly,” or making use of Unicode’s Private Use Area (PUA) codepoints which have no standard meaning, and are not easily typed with standard keyboard layouts.
If the idea of making your own languages appeals, you are not alone, and making the fonts for them can be great fun. The ConScript Unicode Registry project coordinates the assignment of PUA codepoints for constructed writing systems, including scripts for conlangs, while the ConLang Code Registry provides ISO-639 – 3‑compatible language codes — so if you’d like to take a shot at making a Ferengi, Ssûraki or Tengwar font, make sure your glyphs are properly encoded!
*) “Valar ilis” literally means: all men must “be” or “reside”; from High Valyrian “ilagon”: to be there, to be in a certain place, to lie, to reside, to exist. The phrase is used in Westeros by the officials of the Bureau of the Master of Coins to remind everyone that you need to have a registered place of residence when you’re applying for a permit to excavate minerals, to sell minerals, to sell swords or sword-like objects that are longer than 21.5 inches, to operate an establishment that serves alcohol after 9:35 pm, or when you wish to import live chickens or other birds that resemble chickens from the distance or that produce sounds that resemble those of a chicken, or when you intend to play a musical instrument in public, or for other related purposes, unless you carry a Vagabond Certificate issued by the High Office of Beer, Groceries and Migration.
Five years ago, when Fontlab was in the midst of its ambitious goal of creating its next-generation font editor, I joined the company as Vice President to take over some management duties from co-founder and President Ted Harrison. Later, I became CEO, and Ted stepped down from most day-to-day operations.
Together with Yuri Yarmola (co-founder and Vice President R&D), Adam Twardoch (Director of Products) and the rest of the FontLab team, we revamped and modernized the way we develop our apps and collaborate across locations. We introduced a new support system and customer-centric approach, and saw a major increase in customer satisfaction with our tech support. We also updated our online store and most of our website from a 1990s look and feel, to something worthy of our modern apps.
Perhaps most importantly, we gave our users the long-awaited FontLab VI, a fully-modern overhaul of the company’s flagship pro font editor, and we have been providing them with regular updates and enhancements. The latest 6.1.4 update just shipped April 20th. We also recently updated three of our classic apps (FontLab Studio 5, Fontographer and TypeTool) to help our customers cope better with recent macOS updates. The FontLab team has really delivered for our users, and it has been deeply gratifying for me to help them do so.
At the same time, for me, what was once just occasional expert witness and forged-document investigation work has kept growing, and become quite frequent since I launched my “Font Detective” web site, a year ago — and more so in recent months due to publicity around a particularly high-profile case just this January.
Leaving FontLab allows me to further develop this detective work, which has already become too much to be compatible with my role at FontLab. Plus, I can take on other fun side gigs. (More on my blog.)
I leave FontLab in good hands: Ted Harrison is rejoining Yuri and Adam in the active management team, to keep operations smooth. The current plan is that I will still be active with FontLab into early June. FontLab has been an incredible experience, and I wish my colleagues nothing but the best!
We have just released Mac updates for FontLab Studio 5 (5.1.6), TypeTool (3.1.3) and Fontographer (5.2.4) to address recent macOS compatibility issues with the recent macOS 10.14.4 release, and copy/paste problems FontLab Studio and TypeTool on 10.13 and 10.14 (High Sierra and Mojave).
To download FontLab Studio or TypeTool, go to the app page link below, then scroll down to enter your email address in the form; Fontographer is a direct download:
The technical OpenType editor DTLOTMaster developed by Dutch Type Library (DTL) and URW Type Foundry is now available in version 7.9. The new version brings support for variable OpenType fonts, an all-new Proofing Tool for printing and creating PDF specimens, and many detailed improvements.
With OTMaster, you can inspect, troubleshoot and modify OpenType and TrueType fonts in a non-invasive way — in all their flavors, including variable fonts, color fonts, TTC collections, WOFF2 web fonts, and CID-keyed OTF fonts. You can view and change OpenType Layout features, edit low-level OpenType font tables, and fix bugs or problems. With OTMaster’s Glyph Editor, you can import a monochrome EPS or SVG drawing, ornament or logo, and add it as a new glyph or replace an existing glyph in a font.
Visit our DTL OTMaster web page for more info about the app, or buy or upgrade now in the FontLab store! The full license for macOS, Windows or Linux is US$228, upgrades from previous versions are US$57. We also offer an academic price at $114 (requires proof of your academic status, such as a student or staff ID card).
OTMaster is a perfect companion app for FontLab VI: draw, space, kern & hint in FontLab, test & tweak in OTMaster.
FontLab VI version 6.1.0 is now available as a free update to FontLab VI. This major update includes numerous new features, many tiny enhancements to make things work more intuitively, as well as countless bug fixes. This article covers major highlights, and gives brief explanations for some of them. We have another blog post that gives a detailed description of the font filters, components and metrics improvements, and our release notes describe all other improvements and bug fixes.
Design: Components, improved Metrics expressions, Nonspacing components, Measurements panel, X‑Ray view, display lengths and angles while drawing
Font Window: Sidebar, Filters, better character placeholders
Variations: Matchmaker enhancements, better kerning coordination across masters, Smart rounding, custom Family names for individual instances
Technology: Source panel, VFJ format improvements, customizable location of your user data, layer merging, improvements in TrueType Hinting and OpenType feature editing
The 30-day trial restarted: Don’t have FontLab VI yet and your previous 30-day trial run expired? We have restarted the trial period for the 6.1 update, so you can download FontLab VI and enjoy it again for a month! Buy or try it at https://fontlab.com/VI
Five weeks ago, we made many new users happy when we put FontLab VI on sale. The sale was about to end, but we have some great news: we’ve decided to make FontLab VI accessible to more people — permanently!
Effective immediately, what was the sale price is staying: you can buy FontLab VI at $459 instead of $689 today, tomorrow, and next month, too! FontLab Studio 5 users can upgrade at $199, Fontographer users at $229.
So if you didn’t get the chance to take advantage of our summer sale, visit our store to license FontLab VI!
FontLab VI is on sale for just $459 instead of $689 — 1/3 off until August 31! Buy FontLab VI now, and you’ll be drawing type, kerning or hinting faster and easier than ever, so you can spend more time in the sun.
FontLab VI, our radically re-thought, “ultra bold” font editor, is already packed with functionality that lets you create variable fonts, color fonts and large font families with ease, and it’s getting better all the time!
Many of you who have tried or bought FontLab VI have praised how quickly and precisely you can draw new glyphs. The new FontLab VI6.0.7 update adds major new features that help you complete your fonts faster:
Auto glyphs: extend and complete the character set faster with our new smart composite glyphs that build accented letters on the fly and keep their look, positioning and metrics up-to-date.
Cousins: draw and edit your glyphs while you see related letters in the background for reference, and quickly switch between them.
Improved geometric transformations: decide if you want to scale, rotate or slant all references or just the base glyphs.
New property bar for the Text mode: type basic letters and quickly get to their accented variants or alternate glyphs.
Pixel-perfect rendering: with sharper outlines, nodes and guides in the Glyph window, perhaps you don’t need those glasses quite yet.
FontLab VI6.0.7 also includes improvements in handling Elements, glyph names and Unicode, FontAudit, contour editing, plus user interface tweaks and many bug fixes — see the release notes for a full list.
TypeCon in Portland is about two weeks away, August 1 – 5, 2018. FontLab will be there! I (Thomas Phinney) will be teaching “FontLab VI for FontLab Studio 5 users.” There are still a few spots left in this half-day workshop (Wednesday August 1, 9 am — noon), so sign up now!
If you’re not in the workshop, feel free to ask me questions any time you see me, get an impromptu demo of some feature, or just say “hi!”
Conferences — including TypeCon in particular — are a great way to meet people of all levels in the type community. Even many of the top folks in fonts are amazingly friendly and approachable! Not to mention all the amazing talks and panels. Highly recommended!
1/3 off full price, 20% off upgrades and educational! We are celebrating this week’s #typolabs conference in Berlin by giving talks and demos at the conference — and by putting FontLab VI on worldwide sale for the first time ever. No matter if you’re in Berlin or elsewhere — sale ends Tuesday April 17, so get the discounts while you can!
At the same time, we have just shipped version 6.0.5, our biggest update since FontLab VI first shipped. We have added several of the most-requested features to FontLab VI, including autosaving; easier ways to work in integer coordinates; class kerning improvements; font window browsing by Unicode categories and scripts; a host of improvements to variable fonts workflows; and more — a total of 100+ improvements and bug fixes, more than in any previous update!
If you are at #typolabs18 in Berlin, come see us on Saturday April 14. First at 9:30 Adam Twardoch will show you what FontLab VI can do for variable fonts, with no limits on the number of masters and axes you can use! Then at noon, get a deeper dive on FontLab VI variable fonts capabilities with Adam and FontLab VP Yuri Yarmola, plus Q&A and some broader discussions.
After years of hard work, we’re happy to announce that FontLab VI, our “ultra bold” font editor, is finally available. Rewritten from scratch and in glorious Retina HD, this release is an important milestone in the development of our pro font editor. The app has been in public preview for two years, and we’re immensely grateful for all the feedback from our users. We’ve made great progress, and rest assured — we’re not stopping now!
We’ve worked with the type industry’s best brains, creative thinkers and problem solvers. We’ve redesigned the user interface, so you can work with tabs on a notebook display or with floating windows on multiple monitors. We’ve unified the Glyph and Metrics Window, so you can draw and edit across multiple glyphs and masters, working on entire words or phrases at once.
Did we say draw? Drawing in FontLab VI is an immensely pleasurable experience! (As it should be, really, since that’s what you do most of the time.) The Pen and Pencil tools are better than ever, but with the brand-new Rapid tool, you’ll get pretty curves in many fewer clicks. Fancy new phrases like Power Nudge, Servant and Genius nodes, Tunni Lines, tension, Curvature, Harmonize and Balance don’t just promise easier and faster ways of getting the right curves — they deliver! These new techniques can assist you in your drawing process, but of course you’re the one with the final control over the curves, whether they are TrueType or PostScript.
We’ve replaced the more limited old Multiple Master interpolation model with a new Variations workflow, so you can have virtually unlimited axes, intermediate font and glyph-specific masters. You are no longer forced to have your glyphs point-compatible at all times, but if you do need point compatibility, our revolutionary Matchmaker tool and automatic Match Masters will get you there.
Element References are a powerful way to work with repeating paths and contours — more like CFF subroutines than TrueType components. You can use them not just for base and mark glyphs, but also for open path fragments like serifs, and they’re linked in a bi-directional way.
There are tons of other cool features to help you design typefaces and create fonts from start to finish, from a simple design to a really “ultra bold” complex project.