How to make stroke-only fonts in FontLab Studio 5 (& TypeTool)

People working with engraving machines and vinyl sign-cutting machines sometimes ask for special fonts that are made with single-stroke lines instead of closed shapes. Even though this is not legal in the font formats, it is possible to work around it in FontLab Studio 5 and TypeTool 3. Here’s how, and why you might be fooled into thinking you have failed even when successful.

So, first draw your glyph(s) and don’t close them. If you need to re-open closed paths, that can be done by deleting points… unless you are like me and long ago changed your preferences to always keep your paths closed. In that case, you should change your preferences back: note the highlighted pref here. (TypeTool does not offer these prefs, but its non-changeable settings will work fine.)

edit-delete breaks contour


Then you can go ahead and generate your font. You will get a warning dialog (in FontLab Studio and TypeTool both) and need to change the settings. By default the app will try to generate a valid font, but in this particular case, that’s not what you want! Be sure to tell it to go ahead and include the “bad” glyphs.
open paths export warning

Now, that will generate the font with the open contours included!

BUT, you might get confused about this fact, because many things that consume fonts will choose to pretend that the shapes are closed, even when they are not. So in those environments, they will look like bizarre/bad shapes that are not useful to anybody. At a practical level this can be almost indistinguishable from the thing you might be worried about, the font editor closing the shapes for you. FontLab Studio doesn’t do this; if the contour is open, either it will be exported as is, or it will be left out of the font entirely. That is what the dialog above controls. For my part, I was able to verify that the shapes were still open by opening them in TTX and seeing the drawing commands directly as text. Both TrueType and PostScript outlines can be generated with open contours.

IF you are seeing this problem crop up in a way that makes the fonts impossible to use for you, there is one last workaround you can try. For (1) angular glyphs, make them up of separate straight line segments (no corners or multi-part lines). For (2) curves, the line needs to go back, backwards over top of itself, retracing the same line in reverse. That way any “close path” command added by the rasterizer either (1) retraces over the same straight line segment, or (2) find the “beginning” and “end” of the line already in the same place. In fact, you could even make these as closed paths, if you draw the bits this way.

Good luck!

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Thomas Phinney

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.