An Element is a collection of contours or images, which exists independently of any glyph. A glyph can contain one or more elements. Multiple glyphs and layers can refer to the same element. If you open a font, FontLab will read the element
A from the glyph
A, and then the element
A will exist in FontLab’s memory, and the glyphs
Adieresis etc. can all refer to it.
When an element is shared across multiple glyphs, it is a referenced element. An Element Reference is a linked copy of an element. It shares the same outlines (or images), element guides and pins as the original, but can have its own unique transformations applied to it, as well as it own fill color, stroke color and stroke thickness. In FontLab, multiple elements can refer to the same contents, they can contain references to other elements, and can form complex elements.
Elements are FontLab’s new concept of composites. They offer more functionality than “components” in FontLab Studio 5. Components in 5 were modeled after components in the TrueType format. In FontLab, elements are partly inspired by the CFF font format, where each glyph can refer to one or more subroutines. Elements are more flexible and powerful than components were, and do not require the element to exist as a distinct glyph in the font—although it may.
A Contour element is a collection of one or more closed or open contours built from PostScript and/or TrueType segments. This is the most common element type. It can also contain alignment objects: element guides and pins. The “inside” (i.e. the existing contents of a contour element) can be modified using the Contour tool, Eraser tool, Knife tool, or Scissors tool. New contours can be added to an element using the Brush tool, Pencil tool, Rapid tool, Pen tool, Ellipse tool and Rectangle tool.
An Image element contains a bitmap image or an SVG image. You can apply some image filters to bitmap images inside FontLab, but detailed editing of SVG and bitmap images needs to be done in dedicated apps outside FontLab. You can convert SVG image elements into editable contour elements within FontLab, but more complex SVG effects like gradients will be lost. You can also convert bitmap image elements into contour elements via autotracing.
A Complex element is a collection of one or more contour elements and a contour filter that adds advanced, live (non-destructive) contour effects to the contours: Fill makes open contours and complex fill effects, Smart Corner makes rounded or inktrap corners, Glue can fluently stick an open contour to another contour, and Power Brush creates skeleton-based calligraphic strokes.
Element group consists of two or more elements grouped together, so that they can be moved, transformed etc. together. Although a single element can only have contours or images, both types may be in a single element group.
An Element Sticker is a special element that can be used to create “sticky notes” with arrows inside glyphs.
Element references (components)»
Any element can be referenced in multiple glyphs. Each element reference shares the same contours, element guides and pins, but has its unique transformation (position, scale, rotation, slant) as well as, for color fonts, its own fill color and stroke color and thickness.
Element > Add Element Reference… will open a dialog which allows you to select and insert elements by glyph names in the list:
Start typing the glyph name and then choose the element you need from the list. When you click on OK, a reference to that element will be pasted to the current glyph layer.
Element references (or references) are linked. If you edit the contents of one reference, the other references change as well.
Element references can work like traditional components. You place an unlocked reference to an element in a primary glyph (such as A). There, you can edit the contours. Then, you place locked references to the same element in other glyphs (e.g. Aacute, Adieresis). When you try to edit the contents of a locked reference, FontLab will open the primary glyph where you can modify the contours, and the changes will propagate to all the locked references. So locked references behave like TrueType, UFO or VFB components.
However, you can always unlock some or all of the locked references. Then, you can also edit the contours in-place in each unlocked reference, and the changes of the element contents will propagate to all references including the one in the primary glyph. So in fact, the primary glyph is just one of the glyphs that contains a reference to a given element where that reference is unlocked. If a reference is unlocked only in one primary glyph, FontLab will use that glyph as the contour glyph when generating fonts in formats that support components (TrueType-flavored OpenType, VFB or UFO), while all the other references will be exported as components. If you unlock more than one reference, FontLab will automatically pick the best contour glyph.
Elements are drawn within a light gray rectangle which we call the Element frame. These frames may have captions with element names and the number of references to this element in the font:
You can turn element frames off and on using the View > Element Frame command.
In the element frame caption, you can see how many references in the current font exist for the current element. There, you can also lock and unlock an element. If an element is locked, its contents cannot be edited in-place, but if you double-click on it, the primary glyph will open where you can edit the contents.