capsule review

Fontographer 5

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At a Glance
  • FontLab Fontographer 5

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Fontographer was the tool of choice for both professional and amateur font designers. The reason for its popularity was that, besides its full feature set and clean output, its interface was understandable by mere mortals. Fontographer also became popular as the first Macintosh application that let you create and edit the Bézier outlines native to the PostScript language.

However, Fontographer languished when Macromedia acquired it from Altsys in the mid-1990s. FontLab acquired Fontographer in 2005, and that year released version 4.7 ( ), the first version that ran natively on Mac OS X.

The recently released version 5 of Fontographer maintains its user-friendly interface while replacing its font-generating engine with the engine from FontLab's high-end tool FontLab Studio. It also adds new features to support the latest font technologies, including OpenType.

Fontographer 5 is the third-ranked product in FontLab's software line, falling just below FontLab Studio (which costs $250 more), and AsiaFont Studio (which costs $1,600 more). Unless you need to create the advanced OpenType Layout features that automatically substitute alternate glyphs based on their location within words, or create Asian fonts, the $399 Fontographer is the program for you.

Tools for designers

Besides providing all the tools necessary to create a font from scratch, including generating glyphs from scanned drawings and copy/paste from Adobe Illustrator ( ) or FreeHand, Fontographer also provides tremendously helpful tools for graphic design studios.

For example, if you have a thin version of a font and a thick version, but need something in-between, it can generate new fonts with thicknesses between the two. If you need a heavier or lighter version of an existing font, it can generate one for you. It can also create a condensed version of a font (that isn't simply horizontally scaled), and generate true composite fractions from existing single numbers. If you don't like the kerning or letterspacing of a font, it can automatically generate new spacing, or let you manually generate optimal spacing. You can also add new glyphs to an existing font, such as a company logo, icons for signage, or a missing character. All these features can be lifesavers when the font you're using in a project isn't as expansive or professional as you need.

Fontographer’s Font Window displays all the glyphs that make up a font. Its View By pop-up menu provides 12 different ways to look at your glyphs, including Character, Keystroke, Unicode value and width.

Supports many formats

You can also use Fontographer to professionally convert fonts from one format to another. With a few mouse clicks, you can convert a font to OpenType, TrueType (Mac or Windows), PostScript Type 1 or 3 (Mac, Windows, or Unix/ASCII), or the now-defunct Multiple Master (Mac or Windows). It also reads Mac Type 1 font suitcases (FFIL), Mac datafork suitcases (.dfont), and TrueType Collections (.ttc).

While Fontographer supports all the features of TrueType, PostScript, and Multiple Master fonts, it is more limited in its support of OpenType fonts. It supports all the basic features (the same features found in PostScript or TrueType fonts, such as kerning and ligatures), but not some of the advanced layout features.

These advanced layout features are used by applications such as Adobe InDesign ( ) and QuarkXPress ( ) to automatically replace glyphs (characters) with alternate glyphs when they appear in specific locations in the text. For example, the Glyphs palette/panel in these programs offer access to contextual alternates, small caps, oldstyle figures, and swashes. Fontographer 5 discards these features and will not generate them in your new font. (However, you can create a text file containing instructions for these features, and then Fontographer will include them in the new font.)

Experienced Fontographer users will appreciate many improvements, including the ability to import and export projects in the FontLab Studio format, which makes it easier to collaborate. Also, it now displays smooth anti-aliased outlines, zooms up to 1600 percent, provides expanded Unicode and encoding tables, offers a redesigned Font Info dialog with intelligent font family naming, has a powerful new Glyph Search feature, and accepts most bitmap formats for autotracing. Version 5 now uses the more advanced on-screen autohinting algorithms developed by Adobe and FontLab, and can produce fonts with more than 20,000 characters.

The Outline Window lets you edit individual glyph shapes using tools similar to Adobe Illustrator or FreeHand.

Additional tools

In addition to Fontographer's features, the included 525-page manual contains a wealth of clearly explained information about font features and technology, including tips by successful font designers. In addition, its appendices point you to the best books and other resources available. It's a role model for every application developer.

Also included are helpful sample files, such as various styles of fonts, accents, scanned characters, and .eps (encapsulated PostScript) files to practice with, and a text file of common words that look best when their letter pairs are kerned. It can be helpful for not only determining which letter pairs are best kerned, but also to test how your existing kerning will look when applied to words.

Macworld's buying advice

Every design studio should have Fontographer 5 for its wealth of font creation, editing, fixing, and conversion abilities. Individual designers will have to weigh its price against their needs. If all you need to do is convert fonts among formats and platforms, FontLab's TransType Pro and FontGear's FontXChange are simpler and more economical options. But for font creation and enhancement, Fontographer is a must.

[Jay J. Nelson is the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly, an executive summary of graphic design news.]

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Professional results.
    • Commonly needed features.
    • Intuitive interface.


    • Limited advanced OpenType features.
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