8 Tips for Fontself maker and photoshop when creating Opentype-SVG bitmap fonts by Simon Stratford

8 Useful Tips for Fontself in Photoshop creating Opentype-SVG Fonts

Colour fonts are exploding right now. Mainly due to the superb software for Photoshop and Illustrator called Fontself Maker.

I’ve created a few colour bitmap fonts now with Fontself and Photoshop. Fierce, Yeah and Hello Monday. Everything I’ve learned so far was by trial and error.

So rather than be secretive with this knowledge, I’m sharing it with anyone who cares to listen. Take it with a pinch of salt and make it your own.

1. Create your work at higher resolution

Scale your glyphs to around 600-700 pixels in height

Scale your glyphs to around 500-700 pixels in height

Bitmap fonts need to be around 500-700 pixels for Fontself to convert them properly. I suggest 600-700 pixels, as photoshop is very memory hungry. I think (but not totally sure) that includes descenders and ascenders. Need to ask about that.

I would also make sure you have all your glyphs at a higher resolution (see smart objects point 4 below). That way you can provide a fallback for people who don’t have photoshop or want to create higher resolution images or large prints (without using the font ironically).

2. Version control your font when exporting

When testing your font change its name each time you export.

When testing your font change its name each time you export.

What do I mean by that? Well, name your font name-v1, name-v2 etc each time you export. You do that via font info in the Fontself extension.

This will avoid anything getting cached by your system. Test often, don’t wait until you have every glyph in photoshop—that way leads to madness, trust me. Test after you have just a few glyphs.

When you have finished the font you can remove all the old versions (the files are mahoosive).

3. Test your transparency

If your font has transparent glyphs then test a few glyphs first. Save it out as a font, quit and restart Photoshop.

Select the new typeface and test it on a colour background or colour photograph.

Is it too transparent? or not transparent enough?

Testing early will allow you to iron out any problems (like transparency) the last thing you want is to is go back and re-do everything.

I’ve found it much easier to create a photoshop action that changes the levels of my scans so everything is consistent.

I use the levels in Photoshop (Image/Adjustments/Levels) on one of my files, write down what level adjustment I made. Test it, change it. Then when I’m happy I’ll record an action so I can apply the exact same settings to each scan.

The action also sets the transparency and cleans out any dust and stray paint marks.

4. Create smart objects

As your original artwork is far bigger than you need I’ve found the best method is to convert that to a smart object and scale it down.

Fontself at the time of writing this won’t use the bigger smart object but rather uses the dimensions you have scaled it down to.

The beauty of this is that you can scale the smart object up or down without losing any quality at all. And you can grab every layer and scale them down together, so everything keeps the right proportion.

If you want to be really clever, and you are super organized then add each glyph as a linked smart object (Layer/Smart Objects/Convert to linked).

Photoshop will prompt you to save the smart object as a .psb file, name it the same as the glyph. Also, create folders to categorise your saved letters (see points below about layer names and sort your glyphs)

That way you will have all the glyphs saved in a super organised way. It will be much quicker to run a batch action on those linked smart objects to convert them to png files and standard photoshop files.

5. Name all your layers

Name all your layers so you can drag and drop them into Fontself

Name all your layers so you can drag and drop them into Fontself

When you are cutting out your glyphs, name the layer with whatever the glyph name is. I have a copy of all the glyph names in TextEdit, so I can copy and paste them into the layer name.

This takes more time initially but will save you tons of time in the long run.

After you convert A-Z, a-z and numbers via the Fontself extension you can then select a group of other glyphs (with names) and either click the batch button or just drag them into the glyphs window.

Glyphs will pick up on the layer name and do all the rest for you. How cool is that! Saved me so much time. I only covert in small batches, so I can check they are all positioned correctly. And I save after each new batch of letters is converted.

Unfortunately, this won’t work for alternatives, so I just name them A-alt1, A-alt2 etc, and convert them manually.

6. Sort your glyphs

Sort your glyphs into logical smaller groups and line them up.

Sort your glyphs into logical smaller groups and line them up.

In Fontself I find it easier to convert my scans if I have every glyph in a long line. The trouble with that is the photoshop file gets too big and long, and unwieldy.

The solution I found, is to still have the glyphs in a line but break them up into smaller groups (so each line is shorter). It makes the photoshop file much more manageable and easier to handle.

So I have A-Z in one line a-z in another and so on. All those layers are in layer groups so I can easily turn them off and on. It also makes it easier to find and replace glyphs.

My groups go something like this.

  • Uppercase
  • Lowercase
  • Ligature
  • Alternatives
  • Numbers
  • Punctuation
  • Symbols
  • Marks
  • Others

Try and keep everything super organised as it saves you time later on.

7. Kerning and crashing

If you don't see this green message box your font has not exported.

If you don’t see this green message box your font has not exported.

I’ve found that sometimes when I export after kerning, the file kind of crashes and I lose all my latest kerning changes.

The trouble is its hard to tell if that happened. Photoshop for me at least does not crash. Fontself does not crash. I get no error messages.

And I’m not sure why it happens, too many glyphs? Glyph size too big? I just don’t know, but I think it’s file size related.

What I can tell you is that it’s very annoying. And that I have a sort of workaround. When you export your font—watch the Fontself plugin do its thing. Don’t take your eyes off it. If you don’t get the little green message saying the font has exported, then it’s silently crashed and you have lost all your work up until the last time you exported—what the hell, 1 hour kerning down the drain!

So what I now do is kern in little bits, and export often. This next bit is going to sound crazy, but I don’t care. I’m paranoid about my kerning going awol.

Just before I export I add a blue square (add anything with bright colour) add it as a capital A (alternative) so you can quickly find it.

Then when you export, if it crashes that blue square will disappear (file reverts back to when you didn’t have a blue square).

So you know you just lost your work. If it doesn’t disappear, your export worked fine—happy days!

If it exports fine, you can remove the blue square, and do more kerning. The next time you export add a green square and repeat the process above.

This bug could be just something wrong with my Photoshop setup, so keep an eye out to see if it happens to you.

8. Fontself Baseline

Make sure you add your baseline, just one guide is all you need. Setting this up is important, as it controls how fontself will place your character.

Protect the baseline with your life. Don’t accidentally move it or everything will go pear-shaped pretty quickly.

Lock the baseline when you are not using it, keep a backup layer with the baseline. I’m paranoid about accidentally removing the baseline (if you couldn’t tell).

That’s your lot. I hope you can understand the tips, and find them useful. If you’ve not tried Fontself for photoshop yet, then I can’t recommend it enough.

Please feel free to contact me if you have a better way or your own top tip.

That is all.

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