Roughly speaking, how do we create a font from scratch? What software is needed? Is there free software to do this? Please guide me step by step because I am a newbie in this field.

I cannot imagine how a font is created. In my imagination, each character is created using a vector graphics editor.


As stated in this tutorial, there are several ways to design a font. In any case, you will need a software for font editing. FontForge is a powerful and free font editor. In particular, it can generate TeX font metrics, in order to use the fonts with TeX. Moreover, it can auto-hint the fonts, which is essential for good on-screen viewing.

Another way to design a font is to describe the glyphs in a special programming language like Metafont. This has the advantage that you can use parameters to generate different weights and styles using the same program. For example, the Computer Modern fonts have been designed this way. One drawback of MetaFont is that it only generate bitmap fonts, which do not scale well. MetaType1 on the other hand can generate PostScript Type 1 fonts directly, but imposes some limitations on the constructs you can use.

Finally, remember Knuth's words from the Metafont book (page 9):

Type design can be hazardous to your other interests. Once you get hooked, you will develop intense feelings about letterforms; the medium will intrude on the messages that you read. And you will perpetually be thinking of improvements to the fonts that you see everywhere, especially those of your own design.

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  • Can PSTricks be used to programmatically describe the glyphs as Metafont can do? – xport Jul 11 '11 at 10:55
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    I don't know about pstricks, but you can compile Metafont code using Metapost, which generates one EPS file for each glyph, which you can import in FontForge. – Michael Ummels Jul 11 '11 at 11:31
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    @xport: take a look at github.com/khaledhosny/punk-otf he generates otf font using metapost and python interface to fontforge – michal.h21 Jul 11 '11 at 12:55
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    Unfortunately, I have experienced some problems with importing EPS to Fontforge. At the moment, I am using mf2pt1 to generate PostScript Type1 from Metafont directly. My project is located at github.com/ummels/fdsymbol. – Michael Ummels Jul 11 '11 at 13:30
  • Metafont bitmaps can be converted to outlines with mftrace (that's what I did with drm), and I can't notice any decrease in quality. – dgoodmaniii Jun 7 '15 at 17:02

With enormous care, and a lot of time. A background or training in typography and type design also helps. A text typeface usable for bookwork can take 3-4 years to design and test...there may be dozens of fonts involved for all the variant styles, weights, and series (and maybe the need to cover all glyphs in UTF-8 :-)

On the other hand, simple, non-rigorous, display types with only one font can be put together for fun in a few days.

It depends what you actually want to do. FontForge is a great place to start.

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