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Freeware for Creating Your Own Glyphs

written by: Tom Alexander•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 7/29/2010

If none of your glyphs are quite right for your project, perhaps you should consider making your own. Creating your own glyphs isn't as hard as you might think and there are a number of free software solutions that allow you to create your own characters and package them into a custom typeface.

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    Need a Custom Glyph or Font?

    Whether it's a technical manual, a fantasy adventure book or a diary of an ancient Egyptian, there are all sorts of publications that might require special symbols and characters. While you can create your characters in a graphics package and import them into your DTP software, sizing and placing all those images is a tedious process.

    A far better option is to have a customized typeface at your disposal, with all of the required glyphs available at the press of a button. But how does one go about getting a typeface that contains all the characters or glyphs you require? Hiring a professional typographer would be ideal, but is likely to cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Great if you can afford it, but if you're operating on a leaner budget, have a look at these glyph freeware solutions that allow you to create your own fonts, symbols, and glyphs.

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    fontstruct Perhaps the easiest option for DIY typography is Fonstruct, a web-based tool by FontShop. It uses a simple Flash-based interface and works on the principle of tiles and grids. You select the tile you want to use, place it on the grid and gradually build up the outlines of your characters.

    It's kind of a halfway house between pixel editing and vector graphics and it's very easy to use. While it allows for quick construction of glyphs, the limited number of elements means you can't create particularly complex glyphs. It's definitely worth a look, however, as a fun and accessible introduction to typeface design.


    • Easy to use
    • Allows easy font sharing with other users


    • Limited number of elements makes complex characters impossible


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    Type light 2.2

    Type light 2.2 If you prefer an application that you can download and install, Type light 2.2 is a cut down version of CR8 Software's Type Designer. While it's missing a few bells and whistles, Type light does have all the basic tools required for creating and editing Truetype and Opentype fonts. Previous knowledge of vector graphics is a definite advantage, as the program uses uses bezier curves to produce font outlines.

    It's worth noting that the software is Windows-only, so Mac and Linux users will have to look elsewhere. Also, the program has specific licensing conditions that limits commercial use, so check the terms of the EULA when you install.


    • Can create more complex glyphs
    • Installs on local machine – not web based


    • Windows only
    • Missing some features
    • License restrictions


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    fontforge The open-source typeface designer FontForge wears its Linux roots firmly on its sleeve. While it has a comprehensive feature list, it's not as accessible as the other options presented here. Indeed, even installing the program could be beyond some users, as it requires use of the command line and other fiddly processes.

    Once this hurdle is cleared, however, FontForge reveals a broad range of tools for the budding typeface designer. Again, it uses points and curves to define the outlines of your glyphs, but the level of control you have is a step up from Type light. The interface may not be to everyone's taste – it's certainly not slick and certain parts of the program use non-standard conventions that some people might find confusing – but there's a lot of power here. In some ways, it can be easier to use than Type light, simply because there are less built-in limitations. An added bonus is that it supports a wide range of font standards, including Postscript and SVG outlines.


    • Fully featured tool set
    • Cross-platform
    • Wide range of font standards supported


    • Complex installation
    • Non-standard interface
    • Buggy in places


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    Each tool has its merits and you may well find that using a combination of some or all of them is your best option. It's easy to envisage working out the basic characters in Fonstruct and then importing the typeface into Type light or FontForge for further editing. Since none of the programs cost any money, it's worth sampling what each of them have to offer and how they can fit into your work flow.

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