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 compound elements.
Elements are FontLab’s new concept of components. 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 advanced SVG effects like gradients will be lost. You can also convert bitmap image elements into contour elements via autotracing.
A compound 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 advanced 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.
If a glyph is an auto glyph in the current layer or master (i.e. the current layer has the Auto layer property turned on in the Layers and Masters panel), then FontLab tries to automatically build the contents of the layer by adding anchors, adding and positioning element references from the primary glyphs, and by inheriting the sidebearings of the base glyphs. As long as the layer is an auto layer, you cannot manually edit or position the metrics, any anchor, guide, element or its contents — but you can define a custom glyph generation recipe to tell FontLab how the layer should be generated. If you turn the Auto layer property off, you will be able to edit the contents of the 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.
Elements can have their own guides. Differently than regular ones, Element guides are not created from the rulers. With the Guides tool, hold Alt and drag anywhere in the Glyph Window to create a vector element guideline in the current element. Hold Shift while dragging to maintain the vertical or horizontal direction.
Element guides belong to Elements and are moved and transformed with them.