Getting started in Type Design (and possible next steps)

So, you’re interested in type design, but you are still figuring out how & where to start or get to the next step. This post is a non-exhaustive attempt to share an overview of how you might learn some basics, how you can get started with font editing software, and where you might consider growing your skills after that. It reflects my bias and (some of) my personal experience, and it completely skips important topics like formal education, calligraphy and sketching, bezier drawing tips, and more.

This started as an email listing my favorite RoboFont extensions, and then I thought that it would be worth sharing publicly, and then I added more and it turned into a bigger post. In the future, I hope to bring it onto a proper blog as a collection of separate, more-focused topics.

General learning

Useful Internet resources

Useful books

My favorite font editors: Glyphs & RoboFont

Making type is involves many things. Digital drawing is only one of the areas to master, but it is a core aspect. When I started out as a student in graphic design, I remember thinking, “Wait, Adobe doesn’t just make a type editor??” I was daunted by what seemed like a confusing world of indie apps, and not sure what to use and how to get started. Here is what I would tell someone in that position, today.

Glyphs & RoboFont are the two most-commonly used editors in professional type design, and also the two editors I have the most familiarity with. This post isn’t really a comparison of the two; I 100% recommend either of them.

Generally, Glyphs is more approacheable and feels more “Mac-like” as an app: it is quite approachable and does some helpful things for you. RoboFont is a bit more intimidating to get started with, but provides more flexibility because it is less “opinionated” about what tools you need.

I got started in Glyphs, and I now use RoboFont more. I use RoboFont largely because I like the way it encourages me to think about my workflow and consider what a given type family should be like. RoboFont is somewhat nicer for scripting (partly because it uses Python3), and its format is nicer for Git versioning. I also really like its approach to spacing.

To be honest, my initial motivation to use RoboFont was that most of my heroes in type use it. A couple years in, however, I have become more fluent in drawing with it, and I like it for many reasons. But, there are also many professionals who use Glyphs to make amazing type. Some studios even use both, though this takes some scripting to handle well.

I have a lot of love for both apps!

Alternative editors

Getting started in Glyphs

Glyphs does an amazing job in tutorials & support. Check out https://glyphsapp.com/tutorials for advice on getting started. The Glyphs Forum provides excellent support, often faster than seems reasonably possible. There are great extensions for Glyphs, but I don’t really know much about these – see https://glyphsapp.com/extend for some good suggestions.

Getting started in RoboFont

Due to its unopinionated nature, RoboFont can an intimidating program to get started in,. If you are just getting started (or if you’re just curious to see what I like), here’s some basic advice that may help get you off the ground.

The docs are pretty good at https://robofont.com/documentation/introduction/. Read through these, and keep clicking to the next page. Don’t get distracted by all the links in each page on the first read through – consider clicking them on subsequent reads.

If you have questions, the RoboFont Forum is very helpful: https://forum.robofont.com/. They usually answer questions within a day (many questions, of course, are already answered if you search for them).

RoboFont Extensions

Most RoboFont extensions can be found at https://robofontmechanic.com/.

Some of the free extensions I couldn’t work without:

Paid extensions:

You can get more-detailed documentation about RoboFont extensions at https://robofont.com/documentation/extensions/.

Other useful tools:

Technical areas