TypeTool 2 by FontLab

Entry-Level font editor offers complete font editing and creation services for the beginning or casual digital typefounders

Type Inside Out: A Designorati:Typography Continuing Series


The rise of digital design, to state the obvious, has changed not only the face of design itself but the things the indivdual designer can do. Type design, once the province of people who worked with hot metal, has been opened up to anyone with a powerful enough computer. Not only that, but anything done by the individual type designer can be shared–or even sold–to the world at large. Anyone with talent and the proper digital tools could influence, even if in some small way, type design.

The preceding may seem like high-flying language, but after looking at some of the tools we have available now, we’re not so sure our optimism is misplaced.

Currenly, the leader in type design software tools is FontLab, Ltd, who produces arguably the most well-known and widely used type editing and composing tools in the market today. FontLab produces a variety of programs at a variety of price levels and for a variety of different users. Thier entry-level solution, for amateur and beginning digital typefounders, is the aptly-named TypeTool, currently in release version 2.

TypeTool 2 UIThe interface for TypeTool 2, which follows a form paradigm already familiar with those who use programs such as QuarkXPress or Adobe Creative Suite

The Face of TypeTool

A new user who fires up TypeTool for the first time and opens either one of the sample fonts for editing or chooses to create a new font will be faced with a font window just like the following:

TypeTool2 Font WindowThe TypeTool 2 Font Window, displaying all glyphs available for editing in the currently-open font. To edit any glyph, simply double-click on the glyph cell.

Double-clicking any cell in this display brings up the TypeTool glyph window, which is show in the first graphic. By now, the designer who has any experience in digital design and layout will feel a sort of familiarity; the interface follows the familiar paradigm of floating toolbox, editing window, and toolbars. Many of the tools are fairly self-explanatory too.

Much is put up front for the designer to use; not only are a great deal of tools available without having to go to the pulldowns, some often-used commands are assigned to buttons on two detachable toolbars which show up on first run at the top of the UI.

Your Type of Drawing

The actual drawing of the font uses familiar tools; a pen tool draws Beziér curves, points can be added, subtracted, and changed, control handles can be changed and moved. Most aspiring type designers will find that they have a handle on the program, so to speak, going in. If one would prefer to draw the glyph in Adobe Illustrator first, they can do so; export it as a legacy EPS, and it can be imported to TypeTool.

TypeTool Glyph WindowThe TypeTool glyph window is the ‘art board’ on which the designer does all thier work.

The Glyph window (pictured above) is the heart of the editing process. It has all the visual cues you’ll need to draft your glyphs, all of them adjustable, for right and left bearing, ascender, descender, and cap height and x-height. It’s all very straightforward and quite easy to use, though, if you’re new to TypeTool (or digital font design) you’ll want to read the manual to understand the right way to draw paths (or, as TypeTool calls them, contours); the most important thing to remember is that the filled area is always on the left, so when drawing the counter, that contour must be drawn in the opposite direction from the outer contour.

In all it’s a very straightforward approach that a designer can pick up in a hurry; FontLab has made TypeTool very approachable

Learning the Metrics System

Regardless of how artistic your glyphs are, though, drafting them is only half the story; metrics are the mortar that holds the edifice together. TypeTool makes viewing, experimenting with, and changing them as easy as opening the Metrics Window.

TypeTool Metrics WindowThe TypeTool Metrics Window, allowing direct access to tweaking font metrics in a live visual way

The Metrics Window allows fast and efficient access to all metrics: sidebearings, kerning, widths, either by graphical means (the user can click amongst the glyphs to reveal handles which can be dragged at will) or by entering values into the spreadsheet-like grid aligned over the glyphs. The user shift-click select a group of glyphs from the Font Window, use one of the preset strings in the Metric Window dropdown, or key in any string they feel like using.

The metrics can be viewed, tweaked to the designer’s heart’s content, or generated automatically by the program if the designer doesn’t wish to mess around with it.

The Rest of the Story

TypeTool can do a whole lot; it can create Mac font suitcases, TrueType and Type 1, also Windoes TrueType and Type 1, it can convert between formats, export font metrics as separate files (including AFM format), and while it doesn’t create OpenType files, it can edit fonts with up to 65,000 characters (the interface includes a special small Font Map panel to help you find your way around in.

A Bit Helpless

The only real drawback to the program is that it’s a bit weak in the help department. There seemed to be no online help, which required us to have open the manual while we worked (arguably this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we hear that more people should be reading the manual, but we digress). Help files are…well, a great help, especially in a program that seems intended for the relative beginner. There is a web-based help forum available, but as someone who was once a beginner once himself in various design programs, we can’t say enough how much easier a program can be to use if some quick online help is provided.

The manual, while quite helpful, explains a great deal but could do a bit more of a complete job. Reading through the manual will give the user enough of a grounding to find the rest of the answers on thier own, though.

The Skinny

Designorati:Typography highly recommends TypeTool for the serious beginner or hobbyist. Since the program doesn’t generate OpenType, it would be of limited interest to those looking to design OpenType fonts, but the program is quite powerful for the average user and at the price, it’s a great value. TrueType and Type 1 fonts are still widely used and in demand, so TypeTool is still quite relevant and valuable, and would be a great addition to any designer’s toolbox if they’re interested in ‘rolling thier own'”.

Still To Come…

Please make sure to join us in two weeks’ time, on 20 September 2006, for our review of FontLab’s upper-end solution, FontLab Studio.