Font Maker: Things You Should Know

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From the movable type of the Gutenberg Press to 1980s desktop publishing, history has been witness to many incredible advances in typeface design. If you are a web designer or font maker, you might consider the 2010 creation of the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) the best yet. Designers now enjoy unsurpassed freedom in creating unique, web-based fonts and typefaces. WOFF opened the door for the creation of easy to use, online font generators, three of which we'll be taking a close look at: Prototypo, Type Nugget and FontStruct

The Emergence Of Online Font Makers

Until recently, web designers had limited typeface design options. Non-standard fonts used in web design would inevitably default to a web-safe font on the user end. Because it would at least guarantee that the user would view type systems as they were meant to be seen, default web-safe fonts were grudgingly accepted as the norm. But a recent emergence of online font maker tools has given web designers the freedom to create non-standard fonts without the risk of defaulting to traditional web-safe fonts on the user end.  

How Much Will A Font Maker Cost?

Luckily for designers who don't want to pay for industry standard font maker software costing upwards of $1000 a license, there are a few excellent, and free, options out there to build quality specialty fonts. These free font maker tools are by no means lightweight, and may require a little time for even the most seasoned designer to master. But with the Prototypo, Type Nugget, and FontStruct font makers discussed here, designers can make professional grade, unique fonts in SVG and other web-friendly formats without the exorbitant fee.

Prototypo

The Basics

When graphic designer Yannick Mathey created Prototypo the reason was simple: he wanted to make his own typefaces without the time consuming, complicated software. The Prototypo font maker is browser based and made specifically to ease the pain of font creation.


With the dream of quickening the difficult process of creating a new designer font, Mathey kickstarted Prototypo in 2013 to the tune of approximately $44,000, and in the Market Today raised over $100,000 more in seed funding. Now boasting around 26,000 subscribers, Yannick and his team are building a Prototypo plug-in for Adobe Creative Suite with an eye to tapping in to those six million Adobe Cloud users.


How It Works

Prototype's four-step process could not make font creation any easier, or more user-friendly. The first step allows the designer to choose from one of Prototypo's five parametric font templates. Next, the designer can make global adjustments to the template font using slider bars for thickness, width and contrast. Using Prototypo's parametric technology, these changes are instantly applied, in real time. The third step allows designers to refine each letter for perfect fine-tuning results. Lastly, the designer can export the new font maker creation with just one click.


What About The Price?

While a single user can sign up and begin using Protoypo for free, there are two other options that provide added support. For around $100 a year a single user can receive 24-hour tech support, enjoy the full range of parameters, get web previews, and more. For teams with many designers, a $100 monthly plan is available and offers options such as team support and user role designation.


The Verdict

Prototypo has everything a designer could want in a font maker: it's easy to use, makes unique, professional grade fonts for the web, and best of all, it's free. The act of creating a typeface, which used to take hundreds of hours, has been significantly simplified by Prototypo. And while free fonts used to arrive with missing glyphs and punctuation, Prototypo provides a professional grade font set with ultimate customization, at zero cost to the designer.

Type Nugget

The Basics

Frustrated with the limitations of online typography, web designer Morgan McGuire took up the challenge in the Market Today to make online font systems more attractive and robust. Touted as a user friendly answer to complicated and clunky CSS code, Type Nugget generates instant, code free CSS nuggets in a live browser that designers can then plug directly into their sites. Type Nugget, while still in beta mode and designed with input from the community, builds type with relative units and is already fully responsive.


How It Works

In a live browser environment Type Nugget offers a handy interface that allows designers to edit and alter every element of a style sheet without the hassle of code. In addition to standard CSS parameters such as heading, paragraph, and list styles, Type Nugget brings designers right into the wheelhouse of type design, offering full type system customization in every element from font family to weight, style, spacing, and decoration.


Registered users can save their progress with a Type Nugget account, and the site promises more options to come: user-created theme galleries, more web fonts, and finer font controls. As it stands Type Nugget currently creates and saves multiple themes, edits user created themes, and generates LESS, SASS and CSS coding.


What About The Price?

At the moment, designers can create a Type Nugget account and use their beta version, in-browser software for free. The only thing that might cost you some dollars from Type Nugget are their witty t-shirts and hoodies, selling for $20-$35 and boasting catchlines such as "Stylin,'" "Feel The Kern," and "Nugs Not Drugs".


The Verdict

While Type Nugget lacks the vibrant and super-simple interface of Prototypo and the rigor of FontStruck, there is a lot to like here for designers looking for quality font and style customization. Seemingly more focused on CSS creation, Type Nugget still offers much in the way of font specialization.

FontStruct

The Basics

Sponsored by FontShop, the world's foremost digital type creator, FontStruct combines the rigor of traditional font generating technologies with an easy to use, friendly interface. At the core of FontStruct is the "FontStructor," a user friendly web-application that allows designers to construct fonts with simple geometric shapes over a grid-like canvas. At FontStruct, registered users can tinker with letter shapes and make their own fonts, as well as provide comments and criticism to other designers.


How It Works

This user friendly online font maker lets designers quickly create unique font letters by assembling bricks and tiles on a geometric grid. FontStruct's attractive online application features the menus, toolbars, and canvas grid that designers will recognize from popular graphics software like Quark Express and Photoshop.


Using clever terminology (created fonts are called "FontStructions" and designers are "FontStructors") FontStruct encourages a creative and inclusive environment of experimental font makers and designers. Registered users can also access blog posts containing fonts made by other designers, freshly made bricks uploaded for use in new FontStructions, and news about contests and other promotional offers. FontStruct also employs a balanced rating system which lets designers find the best fonts as voted on by the FontStruct community.


What About The Price?

FontStruct is absolutely free. You only need to create an account to get going.


The Verdict

Not unlike Prototypo, FontStruct creates custom, professional grade fonts for web design. What FontStruct also brings to the table is the ability to save fonts in standard True Type (ttf) format, meaning that you can install these fonts on your Windows or Mac for use with Photoshop and other graphics software.

Conclusion



WOFF Compression

When in 2010 Web Open Font Format (WOFF) compression for TrueType and OpenType fonts received support from all major browsers, a revolution in font making for web-only typography was born. Web Open Font Format technology essentially allows web browsers to read unique font files without the need for the font file to exist on the end user's desktop computer, laptop, or handheld device. WOFF created the environment in which web-based font makers such as the three we have reviewed here, Prototypo, Type Nugget and FontStruct, have flourished.

New Era

In 2018 we find ourselves in a new era of web font making. No longer do designers need to rely upon traditional "web-safe" fonts like Arial, Verdana, or Times. The emergence of responsive type and adaptable formats like SVG have allowed designers to break through the systemic banality that "web-safe" font restrictions engendered. Designers can now confidently design pages in creative ways they know will be realized on the user end, from conventional newspaper type to decorative calligraphy to graffiti style lettering.

Easy To Use - And Free

Not only can unique fonts now be created and used with assurance on web pages, they can be created easily and affordably with the emergence of new, browser-based font makers like Prototypo, Type Nugget and FontStruct. There is no longer a need for designers to shell out thousands of dollars for licenses on complicated, cumbersome and time consuming software. These innovative new font makers allow even the novice type designer the ability to create custom letters and typographic systems for their web pages. And the best part about these three font makers? They won't cost you a cent.  

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