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A guide on how to design your own font

F O N T By Russell Mount

A guide on how to design your own font By Russell Mount



Consistency in Fonts In the image you can see several letters from Gill Sans. You can clearly see that there are huge similarities in the shapes of these letters. The b, d and p are all the same shape. Where the h and the a use the same shoulder shape as the b, d and p. It is important to keep consistency throughout the font so they all look like that they belong to each other. Keeping consistency through your font actually designs your letters for you. You can see in the letters of u, n, s, m from Gill Sans, you can just design the u and then the rest of the letters in the list come very naturally.


Keeping consistency through your font actually designs your letters for you.


ac_eo Letter Groups

Whether you start with the letter a and go to z, or create similar letter groups (aceos, lijft, bdghpqy, vwkyxz, mhnur) all the characters need to be created. I prefer to use similar letter shapes to generate new letters. It seems to be a faster and more productive way to work and helps to keep things consistent. Although there is no actual rule to whether your letters look the same. For example in Gill Sans when you look at the letter a and o, they are clearly not designed with the same process in mind. It is however a very popular rule of thumb and something to consider.


os bdg y

Handgl Ascender





Link | Neck

The Anatomy of a font One of the most important things to look into when designing and creating your own font is the anatomy of a font. You can see in the diagram all of the important parts you should look at when approaching your own font.

could be printed hundreds and hundreds of times. The film looks at how to make a letter blocks for letterpress. It is a good film to understand where modern typography started from and to see the physical construction of a letter.

A good typography film to watch is part one of Stephen Fry’s series The machines that made us, available on Youtube. Stephen Fry tries and recreates a copy of the Gutenburg press that was one of the first mass printing machines in the world, meaning that the same version of a book

The film Helvetica which can be found on Youtube is a great start to see how a font can have such an impact on our culture.


lovery Shoulder










How to draw a font In creating your own font, your probably going to want to start off drawing your letters on paper first. This gives you a great basis to play around with your ideas. Doing this, you should bare in mind that you’ll need a very sharp pencil ideally like the one on this spread. You can get these from most craft stores but they are quite expensive, so you might be better off carving and sanding down an ordinary pencil.

Grid paper is very helpful when first starting out, finding the design of your font.You can measure and see clearly the shape and form of each letter. A great documentary to watch about font and logotype design is Donald Young, Logotype Designer. You can see some of this work on the right for Sea Smoke from the drafting stage to the final product.

How to draw using Illustrator Drawing in Illustrator, you’ll want to set out either your own grid or use the default lined grid in Illustrator which you can see in the image on this page. Once you have your grid sorted the next thing to do is to try you’re best in copying out the letters you have drawn. You might want do this by scanning in your drawings

and tracing them; trace them ideally with the pen tool but you can also use shapes such as boxes and circles to build up the letter. This then however creates lots of different paths as shown in (Image 1) you can make your letter into one shape by following the steps from (Image 2) down to (Image 4).

S (Image 1)

LE (Image 2)

Preparing your font for fontlab If you set up your letters right in Illustrator then it will be really easy to import them into Fontlab. First you need to open a new file in Illustrator with the measurements in points. It needs to be a 1000 by 1000 point square. Next you need to start with a lowercase a and set up your guidelines, for the ascender, descender, caps height and baseline etc. (Image 1)

This is the most important bit of the process, you need to put in each letter, uppercase and lowercase and align it to the left of the artboard, using the align tool.

Each letter needs to be on a different layer as this will make it easier to organise your work when you come to using fontlab. (Image 2)


(Image 3)

Once this has been done you need to measure the different heights of your font to tell Fontlab later on. An easy way to do this is to set the ruler to zero at your baseline. To do this go up to the top left corner of the two rulers and drag the white square to your baseline that you have already made. This now makes it easier to take measurements of your letters. (Image 3 and 4)

UPM SI ZE ISS (Image 5)

Using fontlab

Open up fontlab and the first thing you need to do is go to file and then click on file info, which is near the bottom of the drop down list. When you click on this you need to select from the list on the side, Metrics and Dimensions. Make sure the font’s UPM size is set at 1000. (Image 5) You can change the name of your font under Names and Copyright in the list. Here you can set the different names of the different types of font

you create if you are making a family of fonts. (Image 6) Then click on key dimensions, underneath metrics and dimensions in the sidebar list. This is where you tell font lab the size measurements of your font. This will set up your guidelines for fontlab. When you have done this click the apply button (Image 7).



(Image 6)

00 (Image 7)




(Image 9)

(Image 10)

(Image 8)

Using fontlab The next bit is the easy bit, all you have to do now is to click on the relevant letters in the grid and a window pops up where you should copy and paste the relevant letter from Illustrator into this window. Sometimes when you paste in a letter it will paste in a weird place, so always remember if you paste it in and can’t see it, zoom out and it will be in a corner. You need to place it into the middle of the dashed box. Repeat this process until you have all of your

letters and glyphs in fontlab (Image 8 and 9). To edit an individual letter, double click on it in the grid and a window will pop up with it in. This is where you can edit you letters. The controls in fontlab for editing the letter forms are very similar to Illustrator, you have your paths and your handles to re-shape and define edges. You can see the anchor points in the image, the dots around the a (Image 9 and 10).

TRIA ERRO PROC Kerning in fontlab Auto Kerning saves a lot of time in Fontlab but it doesn’t do all the work for you. It will still need some adjustments after you have auto kerned it. To auto kern click on the New metrics window (Image 11, circled).

This is where you can test out your font, by typing and it coming up at the white bar at the top, under the icons. Click on the Metrics mode button and then click on the tools icon at the bottom of the window and then select Auto in the drop down list (Image 12). This is where you can decide how tightly kerned you would like your

font. Make sure that you have changed the settings so it says whole font in the top right of the window (Image 14). This is a trial and error process, if you don’t like how it is, you can always go back and re do the auto kerning process. If you are happy with it then go back and click on the mertrics mode button and you can test it out by typing in the white bar at the top of the window. This is also where you can fine-tune the kerning in between different letters. You do this by changing the numbers in the grid or by dragging the dotted line that pops up when you click on a letter (Image 14).

(Image 11)

AL & OR CESS (Above Image 12, Left Image 13, Below Image 14)

GEN_ Exporting your font Click on file and then select generate font, you will then get a window up where you can select where to save it and select the file type.You need to save it as a .ttf file as this is the most universal file type. (Image 15 and 16) Now install the font as you would any other normal font that you have downloaded and use it as you wish.

(Image 16)

(Image 15)


_ A T E

Russell Mount A graduate from Coventry University with a first in Graphic Design. An enthusiastic, highly motivated, creative thinker with superb communication skills. Has worked for the past year as a self employed freelancer gaining a large client base. Now looking for challenging, exciting new opportunities to continue and extend his knowledge and career in Graphic Design.


How to design your own font  

A short book, containing detailed instructions on how to design your own font. Author and designer -

How to design your own font  

A short book, containing detailed instructions on how to design your own font. Author and designer -