Sometimes people make fonts that don’t have letters and such in them, but instead have some kind of symbols.
In many cases such symbols have legitimate encoding slots in the Unicode standard, which is used to dictate encoding for most fonts made today. But working with unusual characters from Unicode can be a bit of a pain. So sometimes people assign unusual symbols to the same slots as A, B, C, etcetera. This is technically wrong, but often convenient.
Here is a quick guide to the options and tradeoffs when creating a symbol or “pi” font. This advice is applicable across all font creation tools, not only ours.
- Use “proper” Unicode codepoints for all glyphs in your font. This means looking up correct Unicode codepoints for the symbols.
- Disadvantage: People won’t be able to type the symbols directly, unless you create custom keyboard drivers for your font. Likely they will need to use a character picker built into their OS or app.
- Advantages: If they switch fonts to another one that has the right symbols properly encoded, their content will remain correct. Unicode/text purists won’t complain.
- Use “normal” codepoints for your symbols, so that your symbols are assigned to a, b, c, 1, 2, 3, etc.
- Disadvantage: If people switch fonts, the symbols will turn into alphabetic gibberish, and it may not even be apparent what was intended. Also, that alphabetic gibberish really is the underlying text, so this approach will confuse screen readers, search, and other things that rely on understanding the text. As a result, it is considered technically “wrong.”
- Advantage: Can by typed off the keyboard!
- Use Private Use Area Unicode codepoints. These are codepoints reserved for special purposes, that have no pre-set meaning.
- Disadvantages: Has all the disadvantages of using proper Unicode, plus most of the disadvantages of of assigning the symbols to alphabetic codepoints
- Advantage: usually none, unless others have used these PUA codepoints in some consistent way.
How to Choose
Personally, if the font is going to be used to create public documents and text, I will tend towards option #1. If nobody is going to need to manually enter text using the font, or not often, I will tend towards option #1, If neither of those things is true, and the content will have more limited use or be in a closed system, I will tend towards option #2.
What if your symbols don’t even have proper Unicode codepoints? In that case, the first option is unavailable to you. You might consider whether there is a semi-standard solution being used for those symbols (for example, there is a block in the Private Use Area that has often been used for Klingon).
Thanks to the user who wrote me the question that prompted this blog post!
For the latter part of last year, and all this year, we have been expecting and saying that FontLab VI would ship, well, “this year” (2016). But we are not going to make that, as became clear to us earlier this month. Instead, we currently expect to ship in February.
FontLab VI in action (click for full size)
We could have hurried up with the last couple of things and “just shipped it.” But anybody who has used software a long time knows what that will do — FontLab VI just needs more “bake time.” That is, time for us all continue to give it a real workout, doing extensive and ongoing type design tasks, so we can find and fix a bunch more bugs and usability issues before we ship it.
We continue to make prerelease builds available, and even more frequently! Another one just came out on December 15th. If you already have a Public Preview build on Mac or Windows, just launch it and it will prompt you to download and install the newest built. If not, you can register and get emailed a download link from our Preview page. When you find problems in the Public Preview, please report them in our user forum! We appreciate your help and feedback in making this a better app.
FontLab VI, like previous versions, is a very flexible tool that can be used in many ways. That means it has many possible workflows. This is great, but means the app will really benefit from feedback from real-world users trying real-world tasks. Not just us doing things the way we would do them.
We really want to make FontLab VI a great tool for type designers and font friends everywhere. Thanks for your support.
Effective immediately, TransType 4 for Mac and Windows is on sale for half price for Cyber Monday 2016. Buy now!
- Full: was $97, now $48.50
- Academic Full: was $48, now $24
- Upgrade from version 2 or 3: was $39.95, now $19.97
Convert Mac and Windows fonts, reorganize font families, batch conversion, web fonts, special effects filters, and more! All in an easy-to-use app with a simple interface, so you don’t have to be a font geek to use it. All about TransType 4.
Sale ends Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 8 am PST.
Windows users, your font editor of tomorrow is nearly ready! For all you Windows users who have been patiently waiting for something new and better than FontLab Studio 5, there is now a Windows version of the free FontLab VI Public Preview. (Plus an updated Mac Public Preview.)
Visit fontlab.com/vi, learn about the features, register and download FontLab VI Public Preview for Windows now! Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, you can use its current full functionality. The current build will expire by the end of the month, but you will be notified of a new Public Preview build via the built-in auto-update system. FontLab VI Public Preview will remain free until we ship the final app!
What’s FontLab VI?
FontLab VI is our next-generation professional font editor, crafted for type designers and font geeks. Five years in the making, we’re still putting finishing touches on it. It’s a massive upgrade over FontLab Studio 5, and remains the only true cross-platform type design and font creation app. With FontLab VI, you get the same high performance, clean user interface, and innovative font making tools on Mac OS X and Windows.
What’s new in FontLab VI?
Seasoned FontLab Studio 5 users will find lots of familiar elements in FontLab VI, but we’ve carefully upgraded and polished each of them. The new Font Window allows for visual sorting, smart searching and filtering, and provides a table view that exposes lots of numerical glyph data. We’ve unified the Glyph Window and Metrics Window so you can access the Metrics and Kerning tools right from the main app toolbar. We’ve renamed the Class panel into the Groups panel, but it remains the home for Kerning and OpenType groups.
In place of the limited Components, FontLab VI introduces Cloned Shapes that keep bidirectional live links between contours that appear in different glyphs. FontLab VI still has the View, Transform, OpenType Features and Python Scripting panels, but we’ve redesigned each of those functions so you can achieve your goals faster.
FontLab VI also brings a lot of brand-new functionality. You can automatically Create Overlaps and even attach TrueType Hinting commands to PostScript outlines. You can scale your contours up and down or slant them back and forth losslessly thanks to FontLab VI’s internal fractional coördinate system. We’ve invented new contour design tools: the superfast Rapid drawing tool, Tunni Lines and Genius points for better curvature control; the Fill tool that lets you forget about path direction and allows you to simply turn contours or intersection areas black or white; the Power Brush for quick prototyping of calligraphic strokes; and the awesome Power Nudge mode that lets you typographically correctly condense, expand or transform your contours in a fraction of the time.
FontLab VI supports all of Unicode 9, including color emoji, and all of OpenType 1.8, including Arabic or Indic shaping as well as color and variable OpenType fonts. Speaking of variable fonts: in this build, you cannot yet generate them, but you can open them, and you can set up an unlimited number of font-wide or per-glyph Masters in a MutatorMath- and OpenType Variations-compatible design space, which is backwards-compatible with FontLab Studio 5’s Multiple Master model but much more flexible.
FontLab VI has unlimited glyphs, unlimited layers, multi-line multi-glyph editing, full color support, tag-based multi-glyph guides and zones, Anchor-based mark attachment, complex metrics linking via expressions, and the list goes on and on. And you can convert between various font formats, including .ttf, .otf, .vfb, .ufo, .glyphs, and all the color OpenType fonts such as OpenType+SVG.
What’s the Public Preview for Windows?
With the FontLab VI Public Preview, you get the full current functionality for free until we ship the final version. You can create, open, edit and generate fully-functioning OpenType fonts, you can turn your images or Illustrator artwork into fonts, you can do spacing, kerning, hinting. And you can use FontLab VI Public Preview alongside of your other tools such as FontLab Studio 5, Fontographer or RoboFont.
Because we develop FontLab VI on a cross-platform framework, the feature set of the Public Preview for Windows is practically identical to the established Mac version, and we expect only a few platform-specific bugs, likely largely interface-related (most other bugs that occur are cross-platform).
The Windows version of FontLab VI is a 32-bit app that runs on both 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows XP through to Windows 10. We have specifically tested it on Windows XP, 7 and 10. When we release new builds of the Public Preview, you will be notified via the built-in auto-update mechanism.
Please report bugs in our user forum.
Some keyboard shortcuts in the menus are marked with a “Meta” modifier key. They are not accessible. The Mac has three modifier keys: “Ctrl,” “Alt” and “Cmd,” while Windows computers only have two that can be used by app developers: “Ctrl” and “Alt”. We’re working hard on providing sensible keyboard shortcuts for our Windows users, but this will take a while yet!
Just a quick note to say that we have done spot testing of our current Mac apps with macOS 10.12 Sierra, and we have seen no new issues so far. We have also had no bug reports from users so far that turned out to be Sierra specific, either. So as far as we can tell, there are no such issues!
Moments ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, representatives from Google, Microsoft, Apple and Adobe unveiled version 1.8 of the OpenType specification, featuring a surprise in the form of variable fonts (a.k.a. OpenType Variations). This is an extension and updating of the 1990s GX Variations technology invented by Apple, and a functional superset of Adobe’s Multiple Master technology.
Links which should all be live shortly if they are not already:
The variable fonts enabled by this technology will offer more freedom to type designers and font users, and smaller file sizes for packaging font families. Type designers can enable one or more axes of variation, such as weight, width, or optical size. These can be done with true typographic finesse — we’re not talking artificial stretching and automatic algorithms.
FontLab has already recently begun work on integrating support for variable OpenType fonts in FontLab VI. Indeed, sharp-eyed users of the most recent FontLab VI Public Preview builds may note that they already contain a “Variations” panel, which already features some of the key flexibilities allowed by variable fonts but not in, say, Multiple Master: masters at any point in the design space, and potentially many more design axes. FontLab VI will ship with some degree of OpenType Variations support, and we will continue work on OpenType Variations afterwards, both for FontLab VI and other products.
Variations panel prototype from FontLab VI (build 6101)
Long-time type industry watchers might be aware that FontLab was the first font editor to offer designers a full visual environment for working with Adobe’s Multiple Master technology. I did my own Master’s thesis in this area, and FontLab’s Adam Twardoch has been suggesting for several years, to anyone who would listen, how it wouldn’t be hard to add GX Variations to OpenType.
So needless to say, the FontLab team is very excited to see the unveiling of this new technology, and is fully supportive of this announcement. I have already written an article for Communication Arts magazine about OpenType Variations and what it means for designers, and next week I will be talking about it at the WebVisions conference in Chicago. You can already see the seeds in our latest FontLab VI Public Preview, and there is more to come!
We have a new Public Preview (5926) available!
Download the new Public Preview (5962) build:
- If you have a public preview build from within the last month, just launch it, and use the built-in auto-update feature. This should work even after the build expires at the end of the month.
- Otherwise, you can sign up for the Public Preview on the main FontLab VI page, and that will automatically send you an email with a link to the newest Public Preview download. Yes, this will work even if you already signed up before.
Discuss and post bug reports in our user forum.
We still don’t call this a “beta”; that would imply being feature complete and fairly stable. Although we are not there yet, stability and usability continue to improve.
Dutch Type Library / URW++ release OTMaster 6,
available now at FontLab,
25% off until June 1st
OTMaster is the ultimate tool for examining final output fonts and tweaking them, without bringing them through a full-on font editor.
BUY NOW — sale ends June 1st, 2016
- Full version: USD
- Academic (student or teacher): USD
- Upgrade: $54.71
- Free Upgrade if you purchased version 5 in 2016!
Better Glyph Point Placement for Better Fonts
with Thomas Phinney
Tuesday 9 February 2016
9:00 am Pacific / noon Eastern / 18.00 CEST
FREE Live Webinar
Learn how to construct better outlines for fonts, and why it matters.
Make your fonts render quicker and better on screen, and your glyphs easier to edit.
Discover why so many designers think they have points at extrema when they don’t.
Note: to submit a font for live feedback during the webinar, write to “info” at the obvious domain (fontlab.com).
- Why outlines matter
- What to do
- Tools for Better Outlines
- LIVE feedback and example outline corrections on several real users’ fonts
Thomas Phinney is a type designer, educator, and font geek who used FontLab for 20 years before joining FontLab in 2014, and becoming President in 2015. Previously he worked at Extensis (web fonts and font management tools) and Adobe (product manager for global fonts and typography). Thomas teaches typeface design with Crafting Type, and has been a repeat guest lecturer for MA Typeface Design at the University of Reading. He is also secretary of ATypI, the international typography association. His typeface Hypatia Sans is an Adobe Original with over 3000 glyphs per font.
There are a limited number of seats available for this webinar, so don’t be disappointed: Register now
We’ve just posted a FontLab VI update, Public Preview 2 (build 5844) for Mac, because the initial public preview just expired on December 31st, 2015. We still don’t call this a “beta”; that would imply being feature complete and fairly stable. We are not there yet!