FontLab VI version 6.1 available
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
Backwards compatibility: If you save VFC or VFJ files in FontLab VI 6.1, you may not be able to open them in version 6.0. Version 6.1 is a highly recommended update, but if you want to keep an older FontLab VI installed as well, you can always rename your existing FontLab VI app before you install 6.1.
Display more info while drawing
It is subtle but pervasive, in a good way. You know how FontLab detects and displays stem thicknesses automatically when your pointer is near a stem? Well, now when you hover over a node, we do something similar for adjacent nodes (for line segments) or handles (for curves). If a line segment or a handle of a curve segment is horizontal or vertical, we show the distance, and otherwise we show the angle. You can turn it off with a preference if you prefer less information displayed.
Components are back in 6.1! Components are a standard way of building glyphs from other glyphs in FontLab Studio 5 and other tools. In FontLab VI, we replaced components with “element references”. Many users reported that element references work great if they want to re-use some portions of glyphs across their font, that they would prefer to work with components to assemble accented or other composite glyphs. We listened, and we’ve added components that just work as you would expect. In addition to components, you can still use element references.
If you open VFB, TTF or UFO files that use components in 6.1, they are maintained as components. If you open older VFC or VFJ files that use element references, there is a simple way to convert them to components. And your components will, of course, be exported into font formats that support them.
When you typeset text, nonspacing glyphs (such as diacritical marks) are visible when rendering but their metrics (widths and sidebearings) are “invisible” when laying out text. We have applied the same concept to the inside of glyphs in FontLab VI: you can define a component (or any element) as Nonspacing and then it is “invisible” to FontLab’s metrics calculation.
This is most useful when you use linked metrics. For example, you can make the “macron” component in “ī” Nonspacing, and link the sidebearings to “ı” — whe macron will be ignored when copying the sidebearings. Similarly, you can define the topline used in Devanagari letters or some serif elements Nonspacing, and you’ll be able to work with more sensible sidebearing values.
See this blog post for more details about components and nonspacing components in FontLab VI 6.1.
Many type designers maintain a long list of key measurements of their font, to help them keep features consistent across glyphs: vertical and horizontal round and straight stems, counter sizes, overshoots, and some font-wide dimensions. For them, every font is usually accompanied by a text file or a spreadsheet. Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a table of all this info stored right in the font source file? And maybe if it could be auto-populated with key values when opening an existing font? And have both icons and tooltips for all the features being measured? We thought so, too.
X‑Ray view in Preview panel
There has been much attention in recent years to the “rhythm of stems” or “patterning” in glyph spacing: Frank Blokland wrote a PhD thesis on the topic, which turned into a regular book. The X‑Ray view is a special way of looking at the density of letterforms, that helps reveal this stem rhythm or patterning. You will find it as a new filter in the Preview panel, right between reverse and blur.
The Font window shows all glyphs that exist in your font, sorted by whatever you choose in the Font window’s property bar Sort dropdown. But if you want to focus on a particular set of glyphs or if you want to create some glyphs that don’t exist in your font yet, you can use a font filter that shows the glyphs you’re interested in at the top of the Font window table. Previously, you could use the Filter dropdown to filter the Font window by Unicode script (writing system), category or a predefined glyph list (Encoding), or you could use the Search box. The Font window sidebar included your search history and bookmarks.
Now, the Font window sidebar has more sections for glyph filtering: Basics for beginners, Categories that filter by Unicode category, OpenType glyph definition class, by some design properties (glyphs that use components, glyph filters or color), or by the layers that each glyph includes, and Scripts that filter by Unicode script (OT alternate glyphs are also found). You can hide the unfiltered glyphs so only the filtered glyphs are shown, or show them (the filtered glyphs will be shown first and highlighted).
See this blog post for more details about font filters and the Font window sidebar in FontLab VI 6.1.
FontLab already showed a lot of character placeholders for various writing systems, for empty glyphs in the font window. But now thanks to Google’s Noto project, we have nearly 24,000 placeholders covering a vast range of writing systems. Even if you select Samaritan or Ol Chiki, we have it covered. For other characters, we rely on system fonts (including for Chinese, Japanese and Korean).
Matchmaker is our tool to help you examine and fix glyph compatibility issues for variable fonts (including when you are using Variations as a design tool to output regular fonts). The new Show intermediates option lets you see in-between points in interpolation to help you detect interpolation issues.
FontLab allows you to have different kerning classes, class pairs and exceptions in each master. When FontLab exports instances or a variable font, it needs to “match” each master’s kerning so that it is structurally compatible. In previous versions, this was done automatically during export. Now, you have the option to perform the matching yourself, and review the results: the Match Kerning operation is now accessible in the “hamburger menu” at the bottom right of the Kerning panel.
When exporting variable font instances as stand-alone “static” fonts, FontLab uses any available PostScript hints data to regularize stem thicknesses — avoiding rounding inconsistencies. In most apps, exporting instances (other than masters) from a variable or multiple master font will often yield “off by one” differences in stem thickness due to rounding. FontLab VI 6.1 can help you avoid this.
VFJ format improvements
The “VFJ” (FontLab VI JSON) format is a plain-text equivalent of FontLab VI’s native VFC format. In 6.1, we’ve updated the VFJ format for better readability. You can export any font into VFJ or you can enable parallel saving in VFJ in addition to VFC in Preferences > Save Fonts, where you can also choose to increase human-readability (and size) of VFJ files by adding indentation.
The Source panel gives you a view of the current glyph as editable text, in JSON (VFJ) format source code. You can edit the text representation of your glyph and Apply the changes to the current glyph, or you can edit the glyph visually and follow how the code changes — it is completely bidirectional. Since the JSON code is plain text, you can copy and paste it, send it in email, whatever you like.
Note: VFJ files saved in FontLab VI 6.1 cannot be opened in FontLab VI 6.0.x.
Too many minor improvements to list!
See our Release Notes for a full listing of the 50+ improvements and enhancements, as well as bug fixes. Here are just a few more highlights:
- Photoshop PSD and PSB files can be imported, or just drag and drop directly onto the Sketchboard or a Glyph window
- Quick Help panel has much more content, not just for the main tools, but also for all panels, and for all the major dialogs
- New options in “Add Glyphs” dialog: Font > Add Glyphs now offers the Range tab, showing all Unicode ranges (also known as Unicode blocks). Plus, the new “Filter” field makes far easier to find the desired glyphs. The Scripts section is more clearly divided into “Basic” and “Extended” scripts, and both sections are ordered alphabetically.
- TrueType hinting: the “TTH Stems,” “TTH Zones,” and “Other TTH Settings” dialog boxes got Cancel, Apply and OK buttons, and interact better with hinting. The Zones dialog was improved, to include a pane for editing zone delta hints.
- Linked metrics: Performance for metrics expressions (metrics linked to other glyphs, etc.) has dramatically improved! Because of this, the default for keeping linked metrics “live” is now on instead of off. We have also enhanced how metrics expressions interact with static values and with each other. Read more…
- Other metrics: Metrics always round to integers now. Tools > Actions > Metrics > Tracking now affects both sides of advance width proportionally, instead of just the right sidebearing.
- Variable Fonts export is improved.