Creating a handwriting font!
July 22, 2010 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Can fonts have multiple versions of the same character with rules?

I really like my handwriting - kind of a post-modern
script, similar to the Champignon font - but more dynamic - so the flourishes I use here and there change with the context - my lowercase "t", for example gets crossed and descends differently if it is the final letter, in the middle of a sequence, or at the beginning of a word.

I have been researching how to turn my handwriting into a font.

I have searched the archives, but nothing quite touches on what I need to know.

So my question:

If I am trying to create my own font, can I establish rules that determine which version of a character are used based on the letters to the right and left or would I have to create a different version of each letter and use different keys for them? Is this possible?

If the software I am seeing online won't work, how much should I expect to pay a typeface designer to charge? Do you know of a good article/book/reference that would explain it any better than Wikipedia does?

This is kind of a new world for me, so I am a little ignorant about the details.
posted by Tchad to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In principle this is doable. Arabic is always expressed in cursive, not in individual characters, and the characters change based not only on which characters they are adjacent to but where they appear in the word (different at beginning, middle, and end). If you get a decently robust Arabic word processor, you can see the characters change as you type.

I have no idea how you'd go about creating a font based on your handwriting, but what you're talking about does seem to be doable, at least in theory.
posted by valkyryn at 11:54 AM on July 22, 2010

Perhaps this link will be of use to you?
posted by Grither at 12:02 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: Three paragraphs down in Valkyryn's link give me some of the vocabulary I lack:
"Since Arabic script is cursive, the appearance of a letter changes depending on its context/position: isolated, initial (joined on the left), medial (joined on both sides), and final (joined on the right). Arabic codepoints in the U+0600 - U+06FF range represent all of the letters without regard to their position. It is up to the font to show the letter with the proper appearance."
This gives me a slightly better starting place. I think I may go down and pick up a textbook from a design school's bookstore.

I was looking at the techland article Grither links to, but once you get inside the steps, it seemed like it would work better for block letters without much variety - my printing looks like fancy comic sans, so that is out.

And apologies for throwing all of those other questions in. My mind was spinning as I looked through things and I think I went to far out of the scope of my original question. Sorry about that.
posted by Tchad at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: As I understand it, Arabic is usually special-cased, since the variations are because of the script/language not part of the font really.

But yes, OpenType (and probably other modern font formats) can include rules for glyph substitution/alternates based on the character's position in the word, its position in the line, and for controlling ligature choice based on context. Not all things that display text are able to use all of these features, though.Some info (first decent page google found me).
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2010

What software are you using to make the font? It will have instructions on how to do what you want. It's part of the OpenType format. Look at a font like Zapfino, which comes with OS X, as an example. Get ready for a lot of work, though: Zapfino has 1400 glyphs. You'll need at least a few hundred to get something that looks decent.
posted by bcwinters at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: Not using any software yet - I am just feeling around for what can be done and how to do it.

Having spent the better part of two days turning various handwritten things into .gif files that have transparent backgrounds for a project I am doing, this seemed like a better idea.
posted by Tchad at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2010

Definitely possible, the word you are looking for is "ligature".
posted by themel at 12:52 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: And it looks like Hattifattener for the win!

That is a great link that explains EXACTLY what I was going for.

It looks like I may have to wait and do some research and then buy a program like the one they linked to - the free ones aren't flexible enough.

Thanks, guys! You gave me the push and hints I needed.
posted by Tchad at 1:06 PM on July 22, 2010

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