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If you want to get a handle on what it takes to create fonts using FontLab products, then look no further than Learn FontLab Fast.

Book Review: Learn FontLab Fast – A Simplified Guide To Creating Fonts With FontLab, Fontographer, TypeTool, and Asia Font Studio By Leslie Cabarga

Trying to learn how to create something like a font can be a hard thing to do, especially if you are trying to use a complex program such as FontLab Studio 5. Sure, some of it is figuring out the correct steps to go from idea to implementation, but it is also that a product like FontLab is a complex program with lots of bells and whistles that make it harder to sort out just what is needed when you are starting out. Even if you are using one of the simpler programs such as Fontographer or TypeTool, it helps if you understand the basic process.

In Learn FontLab Fast, author and designer Leslie Cabarga attempts to take you down the path to creating fonts by first letting five font designers describe how they tackle the process of creating fonts, and then he takes you down the path using a logical organized method. Learn FontLab Fast is 154 pages long and breaks out in to eleven chapters.

Chapter 1, "Preliminaries," begins by letting five professional font designers explain their approaches to font creations. Then you get a tour around FontLab explaining different features about FontLab that will be important to your work. Here you will learn about Glyph windows, Font Encodings, cap height comparisons, and even how to save a font. All of this, as well as the entire book, are displayed in multi-panel views that describe everything in what can be described as the written equivalent of a sound bite. That is, blurbs that take you through the steps to create your fonts.

Chapter 2, "Starting a Font," begins by showing different methods of getting character drawings, or glyphs into your font. These can be from existing fonts, import scans, the use of a digital tablet, using Illustrator, drawing in Fontographer, or drawing the glyphs in FontLab. Each of these techniques is discussed.

Chapter 3, "Drawing a Font," shows you the steps in creating a font. First, a discussion of the Glyph Window leads into understanding Alignment Zones. Next comes a demonstration of how to work with the Drawing tool, including point making, breaking connections, selecting points and paths, use of the Magic Wand, and working with nodes and paths. Finally, you will see how to draw Glyphs, preview your drawing, and see other optional drawing tools such as sketch mode, TrueType Curves, Snap-To grids, and Meter Mode.

Chapter 4, "Generating, Installing, and Printing a Font," describes the process of exporting a font for use. Because there are several different types of fonts that are available for use on different platforms, one should know how to generate each one so as to satisfy customer requests. This chapter shows how to generate, install, and test print different types of font formats.

Chapter 5, "Spacing, Kerning, and Hinting a Font," describes how the use of spacing is important to the development of a font. Good metrics, or letter spacing, has to be designed into the development of a font. As a necessity, kerning is also discussed as is the topic of autohinting; the process of making certain fonts more legible on screen when viewed in the 9-14 point range; as well as maintaining a difference between serif and san styles.

Chapter 6, "Accents, and Composite Characters," will show you the ins and outs of creating accented glyphs. It is logical that if you design a font, there may be people around the world who will want to use it. Fontlab Studio provides efficient ways to create accent characters and so you will want to make the most of your accent and composite characters.

Chapter 7, "Making a Family of Fonts," explains how font families are stylistic look-a-likes, but also need to have enough differences to stand on their own in the group. These differences may be due to weight, width, and even sometimes the details of the design. Also discussed is family naming for Mac, OpenType, TrueType, and Win Type 1.

Chapter 8, "Making OpenType Fonts," begins with a discussion of what an OpenType font is and its potential importance to the industry; cross platform access, extended language support, and the ability to have vast numbers of additional characters. Also discussed are how OpenType fonts can be used, how to add OpenType Features to existing fonts, as well as what OpenType features are.

Chapter 9, "Features, Tips & Tricks," adds some nifty tips and tricks not found elsewhere in the book. Chapter 10, "What's New in FontLab Studio 5," highlights some of the new features in FontLab Studio 5.0. Chapter 11, "Using Asia Font Studio," gives a brief explanation of the differences between FontLab Studio and AsiaFont Studio — the cousin product that is able to understand the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean font sets. Since Asian fonts can contain many more characters than the standard font, these require special handling and AsiaFont Studio is the product to handle it.

Learn FontLab Fast is the perfect book to learn about font creation using FontLab, or any of the FontLab font editors. If you want you can see some sample chapters or you can order the book on-line for $32.99.

It lays out a step-by-step process for creating a font clearly and in an easy to understand manner. With all of the picture bytes, it is very easy to follow what the author is talking about, and hence, makes it easy to implement. There are quite a bit of more advance techniques that would probably be useful to an experienced font creator, but it is really geared for the beginner.

The version of the book that I got was called the "Update in progress" version. What that means is that the book has not been totally converted to FontLab Studio 5 and that at some point it will. I still found it useful to get a handle on what it takes to create a font and so from my perspective, it was not an issue. If you want to get a handle on what it takes to create fonts using FontLab, Fontographer, TypeTool, or AsiaFont Studio, then look no further than Learn FontLab Fast

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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