Sketching, Shaping and Proofing Fonts

A typeface is conceptualised, designed and developed into fonts in many different stages. Every designer devices a workflow that best suits his approach. However the stages of evolution from a concept to a font, share some common approaches.

The video included below is a presentation I did at the BITS10 conference in Bangkok in November 2023. It looks at font making in three broad stages:

The first is the design stage. This is when we sketch the letters, mostly on paper, to visualise the idea we have been working on in our creative minds.

The second stage is the drawing stage. This is where we take our sketches into the computer screen and meticulously draw the outlines of all the required glyphs using a font creation tool; like GlyphsApp or FontLab. This is also where we work on spacing and kerning between letters. Most font tools also help us define the shaping rules to correctly render the text. Some simple rules are automated. We have to write out the others in order to complete the shaping. This is absolutely critical for typefaces designed for complex scripts used across South Asia and South East Asia.

The third stage is the proofing stage. Proofing is done for visual appearance as well as the shaping of letters and positioning of marks. Shaping is often a laborious task. Some complex scripts require shaping of letters across thousands of combinations.


Once shaping is added, some font tools offer ways to inspect the rules that are defined in the font and visually present them to check that the rules are properly applied.

However, we did not have tools to check the visual appearance of the character combinations that are required for a given script and language.

This is the gap I wanted to fill. I collected all the ad-hoc tools that I wrote over the years and built an app for proofing and debugging fonts. That free and open source app is called Hibizcus. It can be downloaded from the Mac App Store.

In addition to demonstrating Hibizcus, I also showcased, for the first time, another tool that I am researching into. This tool will address the needs of the first phase: sketching out design ideas.

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