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Font Template: the simplest way to create your own font using Adobe Illustrator and FontForge

Adobe Illustrator font templates that allow you to edit shapes of glyphs (characters) altogether in one .ai file (or in their separate, respective .ai files if you want), then export them as .svg files, which can be imported into a font file in free and open-source font maker FontForge, and generate final production font files (.otf, .ttf, .woff, .woff2, etc.).

Beautiful version of this tutorial on my website

Files

  • font_template.ai (download): Adobe Illustrator font template for basic and extended symbols and latin letters (significant CP1252 coverage), each glyph has a separate artboard, so that you can easily export each of them as individual glyph SVG file.
  • font_template_single.ai (download): Adobe Illustrator font template for a single glyph. If you want, you can use this file instead of (or along with) font_template.ai.
  • batch_import_svg.py (open, then Ctrl+S / Cmd+S to save): a python script that can import multiple SVG individual glyph files into FontForge's .sfd font file (and can optionally convert it to production font files, i.e. .otf, .ttf, .woff, .woff2, etc.)

(Instead of downloading the files, you may also git clone https://github.com/tomchen/font-template.git or download the whole repository)

(Make sure you use the latest version of FontForge, which is 20th Anniversary Edition (2020-11-07) (GitHub Release Page or FontForge.org Download Page). Old Windows version 20200314 crashes when importing SVG files.)

Usage

Open font_template.ai, draw your glyphs in the "Artwork glyph" layer.

(It doesn't matter if your glyph is partially and slightly outside its artboard.)

AI font template

After finishing drawing the glyphs, hide "Example glyph" layer. Click "File" -> "Export" -> "Export for Screens".

AI menu export

Select the glyphs you want to export (do not select empty ones), select "SVG" format, click "Export Artboard".

AI export

Exported individual glyph SVG files are inside an "SVG" folder, put it in a folder that also contains the batch_import_svg.py script file.

For Windows users, run C:\Program Files (x86)\FontForgeBuilds\fontforge-console.bat,* navigate to the folder using cd <FOLDER_PATH> and execute the Python script using ffpython batch_import_svg.py. An output.sfd font file will be generated.

For Mac or Linux users, cd <FOLDER_PATH> and execute fontforge -lang=py -script batch_import_svg.py.

(*: for 64 bit Windows it's Program Files (x86), for 32 bit Windows it's Program Files)

FontForge import

Open the output.sfd font file with FontForge. Adjust glyphs' width (use Shift key to select all the glyphs you want to adjust width, then, in the menu, select "Metrics" -> "Auto Width", OR, double click a glyph and manually drag its border line).

FontForge adjust width

In the menu, select "File" -> "Generate Fonts..."

FontForge menu generate font

Type in a font name, select a font format (typically TrueType or OpenType), click "Generate" button. Then you have your self-made computer font!

FontForge generate font

You can stop here and do not need to read the following sections.

Other optional workflows and tips

font_template_single.ai file

This font template can be used to draw single glyph and produce single glyph SVG.

The following image depicts the guides of a single glyph. Font template single description

In FontForge, select a glyph or open a glyph, then click "File" -> "Import...", select "SVG" as "Format", select your single glyph SVG file and import it.

batch_import_svg.py file

Modify batch_import_svg.py file if you want to open an existing .sfd font file, or generate .otf, .ttf, .woff, .woff2 directly, instead of doing so with FontForge GUI.

Export all glyphs as individual SVG files in FontForge

In the FontForge menu, click "File" -> "Execute Script"

Copy and paste: SelectWorthOutputting(); foreach Export("%e_%n.svg"); endloop;

Select "FF" radial button.

Click "OK" button.

Join overlapping paths

If a glyph's shape contains multiple overlapping paths, it would be better to join them (a nice YouTube tutorial) instead of grouping them or making them a compound path. This step helps to avoid font rendering problems for overlapping paths. However, for seperate (non-overlapping) paths, feel free to use "group" (Ctrl+G) or "compound path" ("Object" -> "Compound Path" -> "Make").

Use existing free and open-source font file

Instead of creating a font file with FontForge from scrach, it's sometimes a good idea to use an existing free and open-source font file as a base and fallback font. Typical open-source fonts with good glyph coverage are Adobe's Source Sans Pro and Source Serif Pro. Choose a weight such as "Regular", depending on your needs. Open the font file with FontForge, edit it to create your font. However, if you use an existing font, you may need to edit not only A-Z, a-z but also their ligatures such as "ff" and "fi".

Do not use empty glyphs

When you select glyphs in Illustrator's "Export for Screens" window, you should not select empty glyphs, otherwise, you will see "I'm sorry this file is too complex for me to understand (or is erroneous)" warning when you execute batch_import_svg.py script. Nevertheless, it will not stop and will continue to generate the output.sfd file.

Update your font_template.ai before 2020-08-19

On 19 August 2020, the project's font_template.ai file was updated (many artboard names were changed, e.g. 44 , were changed to 44 comma) to fix an Unicode filename issue. If you have downloaded font_template.ai before 2020-08-19 and made your .ai file based on the old version, you may optionally** update the artboard names in your font_template.ai using either of the following methods:

  • Copy your "Artwork glyph" layer (and any other layers you have added) from your old .ai file to the latest font_template.ai
  • Or execute /other_files/update_artboard_names.js in Illustrator: open your .ai file in Adobe Illustrator, in the menu, click "File" -> "Scripts" -> "Other Script...", find and select the downloaded update_artboard_names.js file, click "Open"

After the update, delete and regenerate your glyph SVG files in SVG folder.

(**: If you are using the old version but your glyphs are limited to basic ASCII characters therefore will not encounter any SVG Unicode filename related problem, you may opt not to update your .ai file)

Web fonts (alphabet or icon)

Once you have your own font, you can use it on your web pages (including websites, web applications, Electron-compiled cross-plateform Desktop applications, or even React Native / NativeScript mobile app).

Your font can be alphabet font or monochrome icon font. If you want to show color icons, use SVG or PNG.

Put your .woff2 and .woff font files (my_font.woff2 and my_font.woff in the example) in your CSS folder and insert the following code in your CSS file (it supports IE9+):

@font-face {
  font-family: 'MyFont';
  src: url('my_font.woff2') format('woff2'),
       url('my_font.woff') format('woff');
}

(If you do not want to support any IE, you can delete the .woff file and use only .woff2 (the smallest and latest format))

Then use your customized font-family name ('MyFont' in the example):

.my-special-font {
  font-family: 'MyFont', sans-serif;
  color: yellow;
  font-size: 20px;
}

HTML:

<span class="my-special-font">B</span>

If it is a monochrome icon font, the letter B in the HTML code will be shown as the monochrome icon mapping to the letter B. Although web developers usually use characters in Unicode Private Use Area such as U+EEA0 and U+F2BB instead of basic latin letters and other commonly-used characters over semantics / SEO / accessibility concerns, nobody prevents you from using latin letters. To address those concerns, you may semantically identify a font icon by adding role and aria-label attributes to your HTML element:

<span role="img" aria-label="A bag" class="my-special-font">B</span>

Real-world example

References and credits

License

MIT License for everything in this repository

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Simplest way to create your own font with Adobe Illustrator and FontForge πŸ”€

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