Macromedia Fontographer 4.1

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With auto tracing, auto hinting, auto spacing, auto kerning and the  automatic optimisation of character shapes, Fontographer is the Rolls  Royce of font editing and creation programs.

Macromedia Fontographer 4.1

Around ten years ago the birth of DTP introduced thousands of users to the principles and benefits of good typography. Unfortunately at the time it was a very expensive and rudimentary business with individual weights of a typeface costing over 100 each and even then lacking crucial characters like fractions. Fontographer broke this mould by bringing font modification to the desktop. It enabled different weights to be created from a single master and for individual characters to be edited.

Fontographer also claimed to make it easy to create new typefaces from scratch. It certainly made it possible, as the subsequent rush of inexpensive Fontographer-produced fonts showed. However the work involved was still immense. Constructing each symbol in a character set by laboriously setting bezier curves, and then working out the ideal font metrics for spacing and kerning pairs soon disillusioned all but the professional type foundries.

Fontographer became caught in a pincer movement largely of its own making. The average user could not be expected to take a month off work to turn their handwriting into a font and now why should they when so many third-party fonts were suddenly available? Under the flood of cheap typefaces it helped unleash, the whole world of desktop font-editing and creation went into limbo. The latest version of Fontographer, for example, has been almost five years in the making. The good news is that it has definitely been worth the wait.

On first loading the program, little seems to have changed. Typefaces are still imported and loaded into their own Font Windows which show the full character set (including the new expanded Unicode). From here global transformations can be applied, for example to create a bold or italic version. It is even possible to automatically blend typefaces though unfortunately this is only successful between fonts of the same family.

Double clicking on any character in the Font Window opens it up into the Editing Window. Here, the toolset for editing and designing characters is a revelation. The basics of rectangles, circles and lines have been expanded to include stars, arcs and polygons. There is a pen tool for drawing freehand or for editing control points and a knife tool for cutting through existing lines. There is even an option for drawing with a calligraphic pen that can be set to be pressure sensitive if you have a digitizing tablet. The difference between individually setting bezier control points and the fluidity of freehand drawing is remarkable.

Once added, character elements can be rotated, flipped, scaled, skewed or given perspective either interactively or precisely. If you make a mistake there are up to a 100 levels of undo, so experimentation is encouraged. Essentially Macromedia has turned the Editing Window into a fully functional drawing package very similar to their own FreeHand product.

Designing characters is as simple and enjoyable as possible, but the work involved in creating a complete character set is always going to be a chore. Fontographer offers a number of ways to automate the process. Scanned bitmaps can be pasted into a template layer and automatically traced. Overlapping lines can be automatically removed and the Clean Up Paths command can ensure that necessary control points are positioned at the edges of letter shapes while any unnecessary ones are deleted.

In the past, more time would probably have been spent in ensuring you had the right metrics - the character spacing and kerning pairs necessary to produce a good-looking typeface - than in designing the font in the first place. Again Fontographer takes much of the pain out of this process. Professional users can take advantage of assisted metrics to set up equivalence classes so that changing the value on one typical character will affect all symbols in the same category.

For the desktop font designer, Macromedia has taken automation to its logical conclusion. Auto Spacing automatically works out sensible character widths while Auto Kerning takes pairs of characters and works out whether each combination should be tightened or loosened to produce the best looking results. By opening the Font Metrics Window, it is possible to immediately see the effects of any changes and to fine tune the settings for any individual character or kerning pair.

When your characters have been designed and the metrics set, it is a good idea to print out a test file. When you are happy with that, the typeface is finally ready to be generated. Again this is a simple process, for the user at least, of choosing to produce a TrueType or Postscript font for either the PC or Mac platforms. Fontographer's final trick is to automatically hint the created font to preserve the shape of small characters.

It is the final example of how Fontographer unobtrusively automates each of the processes that in the past made typeface creation such a chore. Fontographer is a breakthrough program that brings font-editing out of its limbo and onto the desktop. Of course most computer users will continue to be happy with the fonts provided by others but, for those who have been seriously bitten by the typographic bug, Fontographer delivers type-foundry power with desktop ease-of-use.



Ease Of Use


Value For Money




ratings out of 6

Save $$!

System Requirements: 386 or higher, 8Mb of RAM, 10Mb of disk space, CD-ROM, Windows 3.1 (via 32s extension), 95 or NT.

Tom Arah

April 1998

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