By Steve Bain
The challenge of tackling your own font design can be daunting without the right tools. Fortunately, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite has everything you need to design your own custom logotype font or typeface design.
It’s no small wonder that typing a few words gives you the ability to communicate across boundless distances in near limitless ways. We routinely email, digitally publish, post online, blog, and text with one another. This communication hinges on the existence of digital fonts you see and use every day. In fact, someone somewhere designed the font you’re reading right now.
It isn’t difficult to create a digital font. The tricky work is in the planning and construction of the letter shapes and how extensive or complex the font character set is. CorelDRAW users have long enjoyed tools and options for creating character and symbol font designs. You have everything you need to create, edit, and export your own custom digital fonts.
In this two-part tutorial, I’ll explore how you can benefit from creating your own font. I’ll cover font design considerations, available tools you can use in CorelDRAW, and best practices. You’ll also learn how to prepare and export your characters to a font file you can install and use on your system.
Although the instructions, step sequences, illustrations, and resource files provided with this tutorial were created using CorelDRAW X3, generally any CorelDRAW version (all the way back to version 3) can be used to create letter shapes and export font files.
Benefits of Designing Custom Fonts
Designing your own typeface is a creative endeavor that can yield significant rewards. Whether you’re creating a symbol font comprised of only graphic images, designing a set of custom icons for a unique use, or customizing a proprietary logo font for creating quick corporate documents, the effort is an investment that will pay dividends over time. Here are a few of the potential benefits:
- Create a unique font for a specific use Create a new elite custom font for a specific product or corporate identification package for an exclusive design project that no one else has used before.
- Create a custom logotype font Design a custom logotype font that includes corporate logos, proprietary graphics or icons, or specialized symbols to save time and money. Avoid the need to copy and paste logos into corporate documents by creating and installing a custom logotype font in corporate network environments.
- Copyright and sell your font If your font design is a hit, you may wish to license it or sell it to others and turn your creative design talents into fame and fortune.
Deciding on a Font Design Style
If you’re planning on designing your own typeface it’ll certainly help you to have at least some basic typeface design knowledge. Creating a proper typeface design is an art form unto itself and there are designers who pride themselves on their type design knowledge. Some typefaces are designed specifically for use in headline applications, while others are designed to be used primarily as body text. Of course, few fonts come equipped with a rule book, so the designer’s original intent is largely a moot point.
Most fonts fall into one of two basic typeface classes-Roman or Gothic. Roman typefaces are designed for headline applications and typically include vertical and horizontal character strokes that feature different widths. Gothic typefaces are designed for use as body text and usually feature consistent character strokes. The illustration below highlights the main differences between Roman and Gothic typefaces.
The presence of tails or serifs on letterforms is another characteristic in typeface design that differentiates one style from another. Serifs were originally introduced to increase legibility and compensate for degraded printing processes that no longer exist today. Serifs do nonetheless add a certain degree of elegance and decorative quality to type and remain in wide use. The illustration below shows examples of both serif and sans serif (meaning no serifs) character designs.
Exploring Font Anatomy
Most fonts have their own unique style largely determined by the shape, structure, and form of each of the font letters. In the typographic world, this is referred to as the letterform of the typeface. The size, construction and internal proportions of the characters all play a role in the impact and readability of the typeface. The diagram below identifies physical characteristics at play in typeface design and the list that follows describes their typographic purpose.
- Character height Vertical measure that encompasses the total character height from below the descender to above the accent height.
- Cap height Height measurement between the baseline and the top of a typical uppercase character.
- X-Height Vertical measure of a lowercase x character measured from the baseline.
- Baseline Invisible horizontal line on which all characters appear to rest and align.
- Descender Portion of a lowercase letter that extends below the baseline.
- Ascender Character portion that extends above the x-height.
- Accent height Vertical measure that encompasses the accent portion applied to an uppercase letterform.
Typefaces also incorporate reference points that determine relative character position and size. This includes the origin point for each character, the maximum horizontal width, the typical character width, and the maximum vertical height. The illustration below highlights these critical reference points.
Character origin Lower-left point at which typical characters in the typeface align to.
Maximum character height Maximum vertical measure of the largest character including all accent shapes.
Typical character width For design reference only and indicates the typical width of an average character for alignment purposes.
Maximum character width Maximum width that any character in the set can occupy.
Certain letterforms are aligned vertically and horizontally to compensate for the visual distortion caused by their inherent curvature. Rounded characters (such as O, C, D and so on) and characters with extended serifs are designed to extend above, below, left and right of the points at which typical characters align. Vertical extensions are referred to as overshoots, while horizontal extensions are referred to as sidebearings. Typical character overshoots and sidebearings are shown in the illustration below.
Overshoot Extra vertical portion typically added to rounded characters or serifs that extend above the x-height or below the baseline.
Sidebearing Extra horizontal portion typically added to the left or right edges of rounded or serif characters.
CorelDRAW Font Design Tips
If you’re tackling your own complete or partial typeface design, keep in mind these essential guidelines to ensure your final design withstands the test of time. The following points should get you started on the right path:
- Create One Design For All Sizes Unlike early digital font technology where each point size was a unique font, you only need to create one font size for your design to be available in all sizes. Create your character design at a size of 720 points. There are two reasons for this. First, working at this size will enable you to easily spot any line work errors. Second (and most important), your final design will automatically match the requirements called for by CorelDRAW’s font export filter.
- Maintain a Consistent Character Thickness Be certain to create the vertical, horizontal, and angled strokes in your typeface design using a consistent thickness.
- Maintain Curve Shapes If your typeface design features rounded contours, be sure to maintain a consistent curvature across all similarly rounded characters (as shown in the samples below).
- Simplify Object Nodes Keep an eye out for excessive or redundant nodes on the shapes of your characters. A straight path need only include two nodes, and simple curves often require only two to three nodes. Keeping your characters node-simple will ensure the font is easily displayed and printed at any size. The illustration shown below highlights the optimum way to simplify a letterform.
- Re-use Common Font Forms Create and copy letterform parts for use across similarly shaped character forms. This includes character curvature and serif shapes as well as vertical, horizontal, and angled strokes (see below).
Essential Font Design Tools
When it comes to creating vector font shapes, CorelDRAW is an excellent resource. CorelDRAW includes everything you need to create, modify, transform, and/or manipulate your typeface letterforms and export the final shapes into a cohesive font.
Before you begin, you should be at ease working with basic line-drawing tools and be familiar with CorelDRAW’s node-editing tools, the Shape Tool and related path and node commands, as well as various shaping commands. As you prepare to create your character shapes, consider these guidelines:
- Establish a Template Create a template with master guidelines placed at key points to ensure consistent character origin, placement, sizing, proportions, and spacing. Download this font design template (shown below) originally set up for a font similar to Times New Roman to use as the basis for your own design.
If you are creating your own font design template, set your unit page measure to points. Use the Object Manager to create a new master layer on the master page layer, place your reference marks on this page, and lock these objects in place using the Arrange > Lock Object command. Place your guidelines on the Master Page Guides layer and make both of these layers non-printing and non editable (see below).
- Match Your Page Origin to your Character position Dragging your Ruler Zero origin to align with the bottom left corner of your character position at the baseline will set the zero origin of the printable page to the lower left corner of your characters. This will be a requirement when exporting the characters using CorelDRAW’s font export filter later on.
- Use Multi-Page Drawing Files to Store Character Sets Create character sets in a single CorelDRAW document using multiple pages. This way you can create complete character sets in a 100-page CorelDRAW file with each page storing a single character. Label each page using its character name for easy navigation (as shown below).
- Weld Together Common Form Shapes Use the Weld shaping command to combine multiple object shapes and create completed character composites.
- Use Guidelines, Dynamic Guides and Snap to Guides Activating the Snap to Guidelines, Dynamic Guides, and/or Snap to Objects features in CorelDRAW (as shown below) will enable you to more easily align drawing tool cursors as you draw your letterforms.
- Combine Separate Paths Use the Combine (Ctrl+L) command to assemble two or more subpaths into a single object.
- Use Contour Effects for Design Variations Use contour effects applied using the Interactive Contour Tool to create variations on character weights. Apply subtle Outside contour effect offsets to create bolder versions and Inside contour effects for lighter versions (see below).
If you’ve never contemplated using CorelDRAW’s font building tools, this tutorial has covered many of the design and build steps you’ll need to perform in advance of creating the actual digital font file. In Part 2, I’ll cover how to export your character designs as text, logo fonts, and/or symbols for use as a resource in any application.
Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and an author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW The Official Guide.