Creating a font in TypeTool

Teetorials are tips and tricks for adding those special touches to your designs. They're brought to you by our very own Threadless staff designers, Alex, Jillian & Speedy Joe. Check out Threadless designer Jillian's tutorial for creating your own font in TypeTool.

A while back I did a short post with behind the scenes shots of how the Threadless holiday typeface was made. I didn’t go into too much detail then, so I’m going to do that now!
I'm using TypeTool 3, which you can download here. There should be a free trial.

As a reference, here are some relevant terms used in talking about and making typefaces:

The actual typeface design and how you create it is up to you, but eventually it has to end up in vector format. I always design mine in Illustrator to skip the scan/live-trace/edit steps. For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll do a cleaner typeface (rather than hand-drawn) that I’ve already designed. It looks like this:

*Tip: I was taught to start with the letters A, B, M, N, O, S first when designing an entire alphabet as they generally cover every stroke/shape you’ll encounter when making the rest of the letters. That way you can copy/paste recurring lines and contours to maintain consistency and help speed up the process. Grids and guides help too.

Here is a short gif of how I made the Z. It’s one of the easier letters, and still looks like its traditional letterform… unlike C. And L. And N, etc. I made all of the letters using the pen tool.

Cool. Once you have all your letters designed you’ll want to get them ready to import into TypeTool (or any other similar program). I’m using TypeTool 3.

TypeTool reads vector points but not strokes and stroke weight, so you’ll want to outline the stroke and merge the resulting overlapping shapes so you have one complete shape. Here’s how, in two steps.

1. Select all of the points in your letter. Go to Object > Path > Outline stroke

It’s going to end up looking like this:

2. Merge these separate shapes so they form one complete shape by opening the Pathfinder window and selecting “Merge”.

Now it’ll look like this:

THEN: 3. Open TypeTool. When you make a new font, this is the grid that will appear. To edit a letter, double click on it in the grid and a workspace will open.

4. This is the trial and error part. I designed my typeface on a relatively large artboard, but it is still smaller than the workspace in TypeTool. When I import it--which is simply copying it from Illustrator, and then pasting it into the TypeTool workspace-- it looks like this (lolthat’sreallysmall)

To make it fit, you will need to scale it up quite a bit. I’ve determined that I need to scale each of my letters up 800% (this could vary for you).
Select the letter you want to scale up and duplicate it anywhere on the artboard.
Right-click (or option+click)>Transform>Scale

Enter the percentage you want to scale it up in the dialog box. Again, I had to try a few times to get to 800%.

5. Cut (or copy, but you don’t need the copy) the giant letter from the artboard and paste it into the TypeTool workspace for that letter.

The two lines on either side of the letter represent how much space will remain around it when you’re typing. I usually line up the vector points at the left with the first line, but leave a little space between the letter and the second line so the characters don’t touch when typing, as they shouldn’t.

Repeat these 5 steps for the entire character set.

If you want to get a feel for how the font is looking as a whole when you type, go to
Tools>Quick Test As. This will give you an idea of how your letters are tracked (spaced) out and how they look at different point sizes.

Once you’re done importing all of the letters, name it!
Go to File > Font Info and write what you want to call it in the “Family Name” field. Fill out any other info you want attached to it like copyright, designer name, website, etc.

Then, save it by going to File > Generate Font.
Install it like any other font by double clicking the .otf or .ttf file and hitting “install”.

**Edit: I should clarify that you can skip the scaling of each letter if they are designed large enough to be copy/pasted right into TypeTool. However, it's a good thing to remember as it will come up when doing hand-drawn type, which I will cover next time.

Watch this
jeffreyg profile pic Alumni

sweeeeeet! this is good stuff.


wow nice! i shall try it... soon...

TheInfamousBaka profile pic Alumni

This is awesome stuff. I've always wanted to try this but it looks like so much WORK.


Awesomeness! Thanks!

celandinestern profile pic Alumni

this is brilliant!!! I'm trying it out now, fingers crossed!!!

KC Slater

This is so cool! I'm gonna give it a try. Thanks, Jillian!

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