capsule review

Fontographer 4.7

If you’re plagued by nagging type problems, Fontographer 4.7.3 may be your savior. Long a favorite tool of graphic designers for creating original typefaces, Fontographer was the Mac’s first PostScript font editor, as well as its first Bezier drawing program. That was back in 1985—before Macromedia FreeHand and Adobe Illustrator were invented. Despite steady improvements over time, Fontographer languished at Macromedia without an update since 1996 until FontLab, its former rival, acquired the product last year. FontLab has now released version 4.7 for Mac OS X.

Fixing fonts

Say a font you like is too light at 9 points. You can use Fontographer to open it, as you would any other document, choose the Change Weight and Generate commands, and—in about two minutes—you have a customized font. If you think an italic font slants forward too much, just use Fontographer’s Skew command to make it look more upright.

You can also use Fontographer to change characters you don’t like, or to add missing accented characters, additional characters, and dingbats. You can import an EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) logo or signature onto an unused key within a font, or create a font composed of hundreds of logos or other EPS art. There is even a Blend function that lets you combine two separate fonts into one design. Why not use Illustrator to perform these tasks? Because, unlike Illustrator, Fontographer lets you re-use the font you create for other projects.

The program can open and generate PostScript, Multiple Master, and TrueType fonts for Macs and PCs, although it doesn’t work with the new OpenType format as yet. FontLab says Fontographer may support OpenType in future versions, but for now, you will have to use either FontLab’s $179 TransType Pro to generate basic OpenType, or use the company’s full-featured professional editor, Studio 5 ($649), to generate professional-quality OpenType.

Fontographer also does not let you edit TrueType fonts in their native format. It converts them into PostScript for editing, and then converts them back into TrueType before it actually generates them.

Apart from being OS X-native, Fontographer 4.7.3 has no additional new features since its last major release. Fortunately, the transition to OS X—the company’s main objective with this new version—hasn’t introduced any new problems other than FontLab’s annoying reassignment of the Redo key combination from Command-Y to Shift-Command-Z. Users of the classic Fontographer 4 should find version 4.7.3 as bug-free and stable as ever. FontLab plans to extend Fontographer’s capabilities over the next year by blending its code with FontLab’s more advanced font editor, Studio 5. The goal is to preserve Fontographer’s much-loved interface while avoiding Studio 5’s unfamiliar interface, steep learning curve, and un-Mac-like quirkiness.

Vendor restrictions

There is one thing to watch out for when using Fontographer to edit pre-existing fonts: ten years ago, most font manufacturers happily let you customize a font for your own or a client’s use, as long as you did not resell the font. Today, however, some font licenses are more restrictive. So check before you edit, and, if necessary, get permission to edit the font from the manufacturer. Most manufacturers with restrictive licenses will let you edit their fonts if you let them know what you are doing and why.

Macworld’s buying advice

For nearly any font editing task you’d want to accomplish—from simple tweaks to creating your own from scratch—Fontographer is still, after 21 years, the quickest and most intuitive way to go. Fontographer 4.7.3 has one of the best interfaces ever developed for a Mac program, and I’m looking forward to Fontographer’s third decade.

[ Bill Troop is a writer and font designer. ]

Fontographer’s Edit window with preview showing an unaltered lower-case e from ITC Galliard.The same character after applying the Change Weight command to optimize the font for a smaller point size.
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