A mention in Slate can really make a rising star.
Recently debuted, FontStruct, from FontShop International, is a free web-based application that allows even the tyro to make fonts, download them to their system, and share them. It is a very basic tool that nonetheless allows for a great number of variations in style and look. It has its limits, but those who just like playing with fonts, regardless of the level of aptitude, will probably have a great time creating with it.
The author of the Slate article wrote so eloquently about it that the site went down with a non-Slashdot Slashdot. It’s back up now and … it’s pretty nifty.
The author plays with FontStruct’s FontStructor web application
How does it work? The word for the day is “blocks”.
Playing With Building Blocks
The FontStructor (where one constructs their fonts, or, in the argot of the interfact, “FontStructions”) is a very simple thing; a large grid paper, with the left margin and the baseline clearly marked and with the lower-left origin marked with a red dot.
The left sidebar contains a scrollable box of blocks. These blocks, combined with the simple toolbox, are scattered about on the graph paper, much as one would fill in blocks on a piece of graph paper with a pencil. The toolbox and zoom control appear on floating palettes within the interface, giving the whole thing a rather familiar and comforting feel; anyone who’s used just about any bit of graphics software developed in the last decade or so will find the whole thing very wonderfully intuitive and figure it out pretty quickly
Toolbox and Interface: Just What You Need
The toolbox only contains some basic tools that are nonetheless appropriate for working within the paradigm: the pencil fills individual blocks, the line draws a line of them (holding down the mouse button whilst dragging gives a ‘ghost’ image that allows for more precise placement); the rectangle tools allows you to drag a rectangle which will then fill with the selected blocks, the hand tool allows for dragging the view about, and the eraser tool … well, it erases.
Zooming is also controlled by a simple slider on a floating control palette. Advanced controls are another palette, which allows you to control scaling of the blocks for creating different effects.
The blocks sidebar, previously mentioned, not only holds all the blocks available for contstruction as well as another window that shows only the blocks used int he current character, which assists in consistent construction. Also another advanced feature that helps in this wise is the ability to turn on ghost images of adjacent glyphs.
Just as notable as what it does do is what it doesn’t do; you don’t set hints, or kerning pairs, or any real professional-level attributes and features. The fonts you download are TrueType which, these days, seems to be much less of a design deal-breaker than it once was. But the limitations are perfectly reasonable within the offerings of the web app, which allows the user to pretty much design whatever they want to within the limits of the block canon (our tour included font sets that were Mexian wrestler (luchadore) masks, which were quite cool indeed. We imagine that funky character and symbol sets may exist there; the library is quite large!
Free For the People
The FontStruct website is available at no cost to register and use; the only requirement is that you have a capable browser. Once there, you can create, save, and share at will; part of the allure of the site is community, where you can have your font voted on.
FontShop, of course, has an angle into its own creation, offering fonts that you just can’t get the modular way. But the ads are restrained and though not obtrusive, easy to find.
Even the most sophisticated designer will sometime get out a basic tool to see where creativity happens. FontStruct is cool in this way. We can see where one might prototype on it during a slack time and download the result for work in a more advanced program. Amateur font enthusiasts will find a big fun playground that doesn’t require intensive knowledge and is easy to learn; more advanced amateurs will find a tool which they might have fun pushing the boundaries of and a group of people to share and get inspired by.
We think FontStruct is a great deal of fun. Find it here.