Getting Started in FontLab VI»

We understand the pains of learning the ropes of a new application, but starting your next font in FontLab VI couldn’t be easier. This tutorial will give you a jump start in starting a new (Latin) font, drawing some glyphs, spacing them, and exporting your font for testing.

Setting up»

Open FontLab, and go to File > New Font… or press CmdN to create a new font. What you see now is the Font Window. The Font Window displays all the glyphs that are in your font. Right now, it will show only one glyph, the .notdef. To see more glyphs, select New font in the sidebar. This will bring up the special Drawing encoding, which is organized in such a way that you see all the glyphs that look alike together – an advantage when you are still determining the proportions and features of your design. Once you have the design DNA figured out, you can change the encoding to suit the scale of your project.

Before you start drawing, it is good to define some basic vertical metrics. This will ensure that the letters you draw are of consistent height. To do this, click on the Font Info icon in the top-left corner. Select Family Dimensions from the left of the Font Info dialog, and enter values for Ascender and Descender, and in Font Dimensions, enter values for Caps Height and x Height. These values can be changed later, so don’t worry too much! We are only entering them now to give ourselves some structure to work within. When you are done, press Apply and then Ok.

Don’t forget to save by going to File > Save Font… or using the shortcut CmdS.


We will keep things simple, and draw a sans serif in this tutorial. The first letters we’ll draw are the lowercase n and o. Why start with them first? n is a typical rectangular glyph: it will give you the vertical stem as well as the arm that joins two stems. These two shapes get repeated in m, h, r and u. You’ll see them all grouped together in the Font window. Similarly, o will give you the curves that will be reused in c and e, as well as b, d, p and q.

To start drawing, double-click on the letter n, or select it and hit Return to create the glyph. You will know that the glyph has been created when the background of that cell changes to white and the placeholder becomes grey. Double-click on the n another time to open it in the Glyph window. The Glyph Window has an Editing Area in the center. This is where you edit and view your drawings. Zoom buttons at the bottom-right of the Editing area allow you to quickly change the zoom. The Toolbar is docked to the left, and the Property Bar is on the top.

Start with the Rectangle tool (I) to draw the left stem of the n. You are probably familiar with this tool from other vector drawing applications, like Adobe Illustrator. Select it in the Toolbar, and to draw a rectangle, just click and drag.

Then switch to the Pen tool (P), FontLab’s traditional Bézier drawing tool, to draw the right stem of the n and the arm that joins it to the left one. Once the Pen tool is selected, click in the Editing area. The starting node will appear. Drag the mouse to the position of the next node and click again to make a straight line. The Pen tool can also be used to draw curves. Hold down the mouse and drag to create a curve and set the length of its handle. To close the contour, click on its starting node.

Now fine-tune your curves by adjusting the nodes and handles using the Contour tool (A). Select a node or handle by clicking on it, or several of them by Shift-clicking on them one by one. Move them by dragging them to their new position. Similarly, you can select a contour by double-clicking on it, or a sub-segment by clicking on it once. You can also convert a line to curve by selecting the Contour tool (A) and clicking on the segment while holding down Alt.

Let’s draw the o next. The o can also start with a geometric shape, this time an ellipse. Select the Ellipse tool (O), and click and drag to make an ellipse.

Make adjustments to get the right shape. Then make a copy of this ellipse by switching to the Contour tool, holding down Alt and dragging it. Select one of these ellipses and open the Transform panel Window > Panels > Transform. We will use transformations to scale down the ellipse to make the inner contour of the o. In the panel, choose the center in the nine-point origin at the top-left of the panel, enter appropriate values for horizontal and vertical scaling, and press Apply. Fine-tune this smaller ellipse to get the right shape.

Finally, use the Fill tool (F) to unfill the middle of the o: hold down Alt and click inside the smaller ellipse with the Fill tool selected.

Voila, you have your first two glyphs! They can now form the basis for more glyphs. Take h for instance: you don’t need to draw it from scratch. Simply copy over the n and make the left stem taller. Ditto for the m: start with n, create a copy of the right stem and arm, position it correctly and then adjust the width of the letter.


Once you have a few basic shapes, space your glyphs. Choose the Text tool (T) and type ooo into the Glyph Window. Now switch to the Edit Metrics tool from the Toolbar to activate the Spacing mode. Make sure you have View > Show > Spacing Controls turned on, and that you can see the left and right sidebearings of the glyphs.

A useful rule-of-thumb for spacing is that the white space inside the counter of the o should be visually equal to the white space between two os. Remember also that o is a symmetrical letter, and so its left and right sidebearings should be equal. You can manually drag the sidebearings to modify them or enter specific values in the fields for the left and right sidebearings in the Property Bar.

Once you are happy with how the o is spaced, you can use it as a control letter to space the n by using the spacing string nnnonooo, and then use both n and o to space the remaining glyphs.

Font Naming & Exporting»

When you are happy with your progress, you can export your font and test it in other applications. Before you do that, give the font a name, even if it is temporary. This will make it easier to find in other applications. Open the Font Info dialog by clicking on the Font Info icon. Enter the name in the Family Name field, and then press Apply and Ok.

Go to File > Export Font As, where you can set export preferences. In the left pane of the dialog, you can choose the final export format. On the top-right, you can choose what font content you would like to export; for a simple single-master font, such as the one you have created now, select Current Layer. Finally, at the bottom of the dialog, you can select the destination folder for the exported font. If you choose Source, the font will be exported in the same folder as the source; or you can enter a different destination by choosing Folder. Once you have selected your preferences, click on Export. You’ll find the exported font in the destination folder of your choosing.