What Do I Need to Design a Font?

What do I need to create a typeface?

This post is supposed to be on nuts and bolts basics. What do I need in order to start?

Type design is a process. The design brief is like the platonic ideal of a cake in my head amalgamated from too many cake pictures on Pinterest. I know what I want. But what I need is a recipe.

Like a recipe, my design needs ingredients, a strategy for what to do with the ingredients, and tools to execute that strategy. I’ll talk about ingredients and strategy a bit more later (to stretch the metaphor a bit thin). Today’s post really focuses on tools.


Type design requires a few of the same tools as lettering, but only a few.


  • pencil
  • paper
  • scanner or digital camera
  • type software
  • printer

This will get me started making letterforms, get them into the proper digital format, and get them printed out for testing.

I’ve got a Canoscan LiDe 210 scanner. It’s a good scanner and does the job without breaking the bank. When in need, though, an iPhone camera can do the job.

For software there are more and more options. Glyphs is getting popular. I already have FontLab Studio 5, so I’ll most likely stick with that. However, FontLab has a public beta release of Studio 6 available, which is very tempting. There’s always the chance a bug or glitch could kill my typeface. But perhaps if I save often, if something goes wrong I can continue designing the font in Studio 5.

The principles for all the different software, however, is the same. And for a first typeface, any software will work.

As for printer, I’ve got a Brother HL-L2340DW Compact Laser Printer. It works.

A little more in depth:

  • tools specific to the typeface design (if any)
  • type samples (if using)

By “tools specific to the typeface design” I mean if I’m making a calligraphic typeface, I’d better have calligraphy tools to make the letters. If I’m making a typeface that looks like Sharpie® on cardboard, then I would be wise to have those stinky permanent markers and broken down boxes.

It’s not always necessary to make the letters from scratch, however. There are two other ways to approach type design. The first is just making it all on the computer. It’s possible, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

The second way to make type without lettering is by using type samples, aka a revival. Scanning in old type specimens or ephemera (as long as they’re fair game according to copyright law) means getting type that’s been tried and tested and then bringing it into the digital age.

Because I like making letters by hand, I’ll be doing a tool-specific typeface.


I’d like to think I’m good at making letters by hand. But that’s not necessarily a prerequisite for type design. Type design is a whole different beast. It’s about aesthetics, yes. But it’s mostly about results. It’s putting together a set of glyphs that will work together interchangably to make a system—a system with an intended purpose.

So the skills needed to make a typeface are fairly abstract.


  • An ability to plan
  • An ability to use the software
  • An ability to follow best practices

Yep. As far as I can tell, this is what’s necessary. I shall see.

A little more in depth:

  • Drawing skills
  • Calligraphy (if using)
  • Eye for detail

Depending on how the font is being made, craftsmanship makes a difference. Ultimately, an eye for detail becomes crucial. In the end, it’s the details that make all the difference. (As far as I can tell.)

Helpful References


These are largely for reference. I’ll likely only use the Tracy method of spacing from his book, and it’s actually reprinted in Moye’s book.

I’m also going to look into David Bergsland’s Practical Font Design With FontLab 5. I hear he is a typeface workflow guru.


Next Steps

That’s it! I’ve laid out my proverbial bowls, mixer, and measuring devices. Now I need my design breif. So that’s what I will be detailing next week.



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