Setting up FontForge on a Chromebook with ChromeOS and Linux (beta)

You might think you have to spend a lot of money on a power Mac computer & software like Glyphs or RoboFont to get started in type design. While these things are very nice, it’s not actually a requirement. You can instead get a Chromebook for about $150 to $250, then use open-source software like FontForge.

A screenshot of FontForge running on ChromeOS

Set up Linux (beta)

Not all Chromebooks will be able to run Linux out of the box, so check out the supported devices before buying a Chromebook, if this is a thing you are seriously considering doing.

To quote the official ChromeOS Linux instructions, here’s how to install Linux on a Chromebook:

  1. At the bottom right, select the time.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Under “Linux (Beta),” select Turn On.
  4. Follow the steps on the screen. Setup can take 10 minutes or more.
  5. A terminal window opens. You have a Debian 10 (Buster) environment. You can run Linux commands, install more tools using the APT package manager, and customize your shell.

Install Flatpak

Note: to copy on a Chromebook, use Control+C. To paste in the terminal, you must use Control+V, then right click on the terminal.

First, follow the instructions to install Flatpak on ChromeOS.

Note: for step 4 of the instructions above, you will probably have to add sudo to make it work:

sudo flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

Install FontForge

Then, install FontForge:

sudo flatpak install flathub org.fontforge.FontForge

Note: If you run without the sudo, you might get an error like this:

stephen@penguin:~$ flatpak run org.fontforge.FontForge
error: app/org.fontforge.FontForge/x86_64/master not installed

Off to the races!

For tips & resources on getting started in type design generally, check out my blog post Getting started in Type Design (and possible next steps). This advice does skew towards Mac & RoboFont (my main setup), but it also includes some good information that is about type design & development not tied to any particular OS or software.

For guidance specific to using FontForge, check out fontforge.org/docs/tutorial.html and Designing with FontForge.