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Letter Making Tutorial

1. Introduction
2. Glyphs and Contours
3. Starting Tips
4. Upper Case Letters
5. Numbers
6. Punctuation
7. Lower Case Letters
8. Conclusion
Below are some general tips on how to manipulate some shapes into different letters. This is to help you avoid having to start each character from scratch when a lot of them can be made quicker by modifying some already completed characters.

This tutorial can only be helpful if the following assumptions are accurate: (1) you already have a working understanding of how to use a basic font making program (the tips below are based on my knowledge of Font Creator and Softy, though I currently use FontLab to make my newer fonts), (2) you already know how to modify the characters' spacing, the height of glyphs, etc., and (3) you know how to make basic shapes, add/remove points and connecting and separating shapes/contours. This tutorial does not address the 3 topics listed above, nor other technical topics like mapping, kerning and hinting. This tutorial is geared only towards understanding how basic shapes relate to one another in order to make the alphabet, and other characters, in a quicker, more uniform manner.
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Glyphs and Contours
Two key terms are "glyph" and "contour". As I myself use them, a "glyph" is the place in the font where a letter goes - such as exclamation point. The box in your font making program that has the exclamation point is a "glyph" (however, other people call the shapes within the "box" the actual glyph). Within that glyph, there are 2 "contours" the bottom dot and the longer bar above the dot. In my vernacular, a "contour" is any shape within a glyph, and contours make up the shapes you see in glyphs that make up characters. Note that an "O" has 2 contours - the outside circular shape, and the smaller circular shape inside the outer shape. Looks like one line, but it's really 2 contours.

Note that if you make an O or R or any other letter that when you test it you only see a big black dot (meaning no hole in it) - it is most likely because you have the inner contour going the wrong direction in relation to the outer contour. Simply flip the direction of the inner contour.
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Starting Tips
Here are some of the tips I have for making various letters more quickly:

Start with a "Base Glyph" from which you should first make A, R, O, H and T.

The Base Glyph is the tool I use for what some people have called the "Frankenstein Method" of font-making, but it's a good way to learn how to make simple fonts. The Base Glyph has an O with cross-hairs through it which can be used to make most other characters. The base glyph should resemble the style and look you want for the font. Below are two examples of the simplest forms of a base glyph and what we'll use to illustrate other letters below:


- extrapolating other letters from this Base Glyph allows for most other letters to have the same exact proportions, spacing and style - this will make all your letters completely consistent and uniform with each other. Also, since the Base Glyph will have spacing you set, this lets you have equal spacing on all letters made from the Base Glyph without needing to measure or double-check.

One note: with a number of the tips below, when I say "copy the contour" that means copy the shape on the contour WITHIN the glyph - otherwise, if you copy the glyph when you're suppose to only copy the contour, then when you paste what you copied into a partial glyph, your partial glyph will be deleted and replaced with the entire copied glyph - for example, with the semi-colon, you don't want the entire comma glyph - you only want the contour of the comma to paste because you don't want to lose the upper part of the semi-colon that is already there. In some cases, I will say "copy the glyph" - this can have ramifications also if you then copy the contour - so be sure to note whether I say "copy the (whole) glyph" or "copy the (partial) contour."
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Upper Case Letters
We'll start now with upper case letters (assuming you have a Base Glyph and/or several of the letters mentioned above to work with). Note: the items/letters below can be reversed depending on what letters you already have in your font and what you want to make.

To make a V, turn an A upside down and remove horizontal bar. This requires an A that has a pointed top (otherwise it will look too much like a U).


To make an A that has a point in the middle of the glyph, note that Softy and FCP automatically insert new points to add equal distance from the point it's coming from and going to:

Example - here's a line at the top of a letter with 2 points O----------O
If you add a point - it goes to the very middle: O-----O-----O
I mention this because knowing this can be very helpful in measuring things, such as where is the exact middle for purposes of making a peak for an A.

Another A can be made by taking the Base Glyph and removing the bottom horizontal bar and the middle vertical bar (or, looking at it another way, an upside down U with a horizontal line across the middle).

As already stated, flipping this kind of A vertically to make a V won't work well. The sides of a V need to have something of a steep diagonal to look right. Again, some programs will insert a new pojnt in the exact middle to help you find where to draw the diagonal sides into.

To make a P, take the R character and just remove the R's right leg. An R can be made by taking the Base Glyph and removing the middle vertical bar - then remove the bottom bar. The trick with R's is that the right hand leg angles in.


An R without an angled leg can look like this:

To make a Q, add a small cross-bar to the lower right corner of the O (or a large cross-bar - these tips shouldn't act to limit your style and imagination)

An H can be made by removing the upper and lower horizontal bars on the Base Glyph, then removing the middle vertical line.

To make a K, take the H and remove the inside points on the right side where the horizontal bar meets the right vertical bar. Then add a point on the outside line of the right , about in the middle of the line. Move this new point to the left and this will make a basic K. Adjust as needed. Here are some examples:

To make a T, remove from the Base Glyph everything but the top bar and the vertical line in the middle. I also have sometimes made a more "techno-looking" T by taking my L and flipping it vertically, and then flipping it horizontally. If you only flip the L vertically, it can look too much like a very tall "r".

To make an X, realize that the K is kind of "half an X". Move the middle points to merge into each other, causing the H to spilt into 2 contours. Save the glyph. Flip the glyph horizontally and "Copy" the angled contour on the left. Don't save the glyph and reset it like it was. Now delete the non-angled contour on the left side and past into the glyph the angled contour. Select the pasted-in contour on the left, then tell the program to make that contour go the other direction. The reason why is that since it's a flipped counterpart of the other contour, if you don't flip the direction, when you try to re-connect the 2 contours it will link incorrectly (inversely). So be sure to flip the clockwise/counterclockwise direction of the pasted glyph. Then re-connect the 2 halves and you have an X.

To make a Y, take the X and remove the bottom half. Then copy as a contour the lower half of the middle line from your T and paste that into the Y glyph. Connect the vertical bar to the upper contour.

To make a D, you can take your O and remove the rounded corners in the upper and lower parts of the left side (remove the rounding on both the inside and outside points of the corners).

To make a C, either (i) remove the right vertical bar of the O or (ii) take your new D, flip it horizontally, and remove the vertical line on the right side.

To make an E, remove from the Base Glyph the vertical middle line and the vertical line on the right side. To make an F, take the E and remove the bottom horizontal line.

To make an L, remove everything from the Base Glyph except the left vertical line and the bottom horizontal line. If not already done, you MAY want to make the elbow a hard angle (but the style of your font may be to leave it rounded).

To make a J, flip the L horizontally - add/remove roundness at the elbow as needed.


To make a U, take the O and remove the upper half. Then extend the two vertical sides of this "short U" upward to the height of the other letters.

To make one type of N, take the U, flip it vertically, and remove the roundness in the upper left corner. To make a more traditional N, take the H - remove 2 of the points of the middle bar. Then take the remaining points upwards or downwards, as applicable, to make a diagonal line between the left and right vertical bars of the H - this will be your N.

To make an S, take the E. Split the bottom rung (without the middle horizontal bar) from the upper half. Flip the bottom contour horizontally. Then flip the bottom contour's direction and re-connect to the upper contour. Smooth and round as needed and you have your S.

Another form of "S" looks like part of the PlayStation 2 logo (which can also be flipped horizontally for an alternate form of "Z").

To make a Z, take your un-smoothed/un-rounded S and flip it horizontally. That can be it right there. Or, since this often looks like a 2, you can remove the turns in it and put one diagonal bar between the bottom and top (similar to the traditional N exercise above). With this Z, you can make a different style S by flipping this traditional Z horizontally. If you do, you may want to smooth/round the elbows at the upper left and lower right corners.

To make an I, simply take your H and remove the right vertical bar and the middle bar (and then be sure to adjust the spacing of the glyph). Or another style is to take your T, separate the bottom half from the top - then save the glyph. Then flip the glyph vertically, and "Copy" the lower contour. Don't save the glyph, but rather put it back to how it was last saved. Delete the bottom contour. Paste in the new contour, flip its direction and re-connect to the top contour. That gives you the I with bars at the top and bottom. Another way is to take you Base Glyph and remove the left and right vertical bars and the middle horizontal bar.

To make a G - take you C and add a "hook" to the lower right side. Tweak as needed. You can use the middle horizontal bar of the E as a guide to what height the "hook" should be.

M's are more difficult - several M styles are as follows: (1) take your N that was made by turning your U upside down - from this N, add a vertical middle bar. But this can look cramped sometimes, so (2) take the same N and copy the contour. Paste the contour back in and move it so that the right line of the original contour is overlapped by the left line of the new contour - this is essentially putting 2 N's together to make an M. Finally (3) is working with the H. From the H, put a point in the middle of the upper line of the middle bar. Remove the side points on the top of the middle bar. Repeat in similar fashion for the bottom. You will have to move the middle points down some and adjust. Also, this may also appear "cramped" in some fonts, so you may want to elongate it some horizontally.

W's are easy - simply take whatever M you end up with and flip it vertically. This can usually apply to both upper and lower case W's.

B's are often tricky. You can take the Base Glyph, make hard angles at the upper and lower left corners, maybe increase the roundness of the upper and lower right corners, then "notch" the middle of the right side where the horizontal middle bar is. This is a basic B. Another method is to take your P as a starting point. Then from the O glyph, section out the lower right elbow and copy that "elbow" contour. Then paste the "elbow" contour into the P and connect the two contours. You may still need to notch the B. Also, instead of "notching" the right side to make a B, another way is to make the bottom loop of the B stick out further to the right than the upper loop of the B. Here are two examples:

Addressing the letter R again, another way to make the R (other than looking at it as a P with an extra, angled leg) is to start with your B and remove the bottom horizontal line. This works whether your B has the "notched" middle section or is the type where the lower loop sticks out further. Alternatively, you can make a B from either of these types of R by adding the bottom line (seeing as how you may have made the R early on). The idea, though, is that the B, R and P have a uniform style where feasible. So if your B has its lower loop protruding more, you may want your R to have a right leg that protrudes further too for a consistent style.

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Turning to numbers, to make an 8, take your B, and basically split it in left and right halves. Copy the right half and flip it into the right half of the glyph. Flip the new half's direction and reconnect - this is exactly the procedure used above in more detail to make the X.

To make a 1, simply use the simple I glyph (the one without bars at the top or bottom); or if you have a fancier I with top and bottom lines, take that I and remove the right HALF of the top bar, leaving the left half of the upper bar alone.

A 3 is a reversed E, which you can smooth or round some to your liking.

To make a simple 4, just take your H and remove the lower half only of the left vertical bar.

To make a 5, take your S and simply make the upper left corner a right angle. Take this 5, flip it vertically, and there's your 2.

Your zero can be your O - sometimes I add a cross-bar or a black dot to the middle of the zero to distinguish it from the O.

6 can be your G whit the "hook" extended out fully to meet the left side bar of the glyph. Take this 6 and flip it vertically, then flip it horizontally, and there's your 9.


A 7 is often as easy as taking your L and flipping it both vertically and horizontally. You may want to make the vertical part of the 7 slope diagonally from the upper right corner towards the left.

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Turning now to punctuation - to make a period, take your L and remove everything except the joint where the two lines meets - this lets you measure a period that is exactly as high as the width of the bottom bar used to make your letters. Remember to adjust the spacing inward.


A comma is a modified period. Add a new point or two on the bottom and stretch this point down and maybe to the right until it looks right to you.

To make an apostrophe, take the comma and move it up as high as the other capital letters. One tip is to use your own monitor as a ruler. Instead of measuring with grids or a piece of paper or something, to move the comma as high as it needs to go, follow this procedure: using Softy, for example, click on the T - scroll the screen down until the top line of the T is at the very top of your monitor. Then click on the comma glyph and move the comma all the way to the top of your screen - now you know it's the same height. You can also use the other sides of the screen, such as the right side to measure equal spacing between all the characters. Some font making programs may not lend themselves to using this method, so check it out on the softare you use.

To make a quotation mark, take the apostrophe, copy its contour and paste it in as a second contour. Move the second contour to the right until it looks correct - this now is 2 apostrophes in the same glyph - adjust the spacing.

To make a colon, copy the period glyph into it. Copy then the period contour within the glyph and paste it in as a second contour. Drag the new contour upwards until it looks right to you. To make a semi-colon, copy the colon glyph into it. Then delete the bottom contour (the period part, leaving the "upper period"). Then copy the comma contour (not the comma glyph, just the shape of the comma) and paste that into the semi colon glyph - you're done. Note that here, as with a number of the tips above, when I say "copy the contour" that means copy the shape on the contour WITHIN the glyph - otherwise, if you copy the glyph when you're suppose to only copy the contour, when you paste what you copied into a partial glyph, your partial glyph will be deleted and replaced with the entire copied glyph - here, you don't want the comma glyph - you only want the contour because you don't want to lose the upper part of the semi-colon that is already there.

To make an exclamation point, take the H, remove the right side and the middle bar. Then select the remaining line and shorten it by dragging the bottom edge of the selected contour upward. Then copy the contour of the period and paste it into the exclamation point. Adjust the space between the point and the line as needed and adjust the glyph spacing. If you have a simple I, you can just start with that instead of the H.

A question mark is made by taking your S, flip it horizontally and remove almost the entire bottom half (keep the middle horizontal section and just a touch of the vertical lower line on the left side). Insert in the period contour like you did for the exclamation point and adjust the space between contours as needed.

To make parenthesis, take your C and remove the right half of it - and adjust the glyph spacing. That's it. Copy it and paste it into the other parenthesis glyph and flip it horizontally.

To make brackets, take your D and remove two thirds of it starting from the right hand side - this leaves just the left vertical line and a little bit of line at the top and bottom to make the bracket. If you like, you can elongate the bracket vertically, equally at the top and bottom, to create a more "bracketed" look. Copy it and flip it to make the matching bracket.

To make a hyphen, take the E, flip it horizontally, remove everything except the middle horizontal bar. This is the hyphen, already placed up against the left side of the glyph for spacing purposes. You may want to then shorten the hyphen some so that it is not as long horizontally as the E - if you do shorten it some, adjust the right side spacing.

The equal sign is 2 hyphen contours spaced a little up and a little down from the horizontal middle of the glyph.

A plus sign is a hyphen with a vertical line cutting down the middle.

To add the vertical line, remember that some of the programs will automatically insert the new point exactly in the middle of the 2 surrounding points - this will help you measure the middle of the hyphen. I sometimes use a piece of paper with a pen mark to measure parts of a character on the screen itself - or to measure spacing on the actual screen. This works very well, but it can be time consuming; so where you can, you may want to use the "tricks" like point insertion and the sides of the screen to cut down on that time.

Many of my fonts don't include @ signs, ampersands, asterisks or number signs because they are not used as often and are more difficult to make - and because I'm lazy (though recently a majority of my newer fonts do have full character sets). If you want to make an @ sign, think of it as an O with an "a" in the middle - from there modify it until it looks right. I do make dollar signs, since all that is required is inserting a vertical line through the S. I do add the bottom under score ____ like that. I take the L and remove the left vertical line. Then I make the remaining horizontal bar on the bottom a little thinner by selecting the contour and dragging the top edge down some. Then I move the entire contour downward just below where the other characters bottom out.

I also make the forward and backward slashes - just take the H - remove all points but the two on the lower left corner and the two on the upper right corner - this is your forward slash. Copy the glyph and flip it horizontally for your backward slash.

Up until recently I didn't make internatinal characters because, for one thing, I don't use them myself and so I wasn't as familiar with them to do it correctly. As I've learned recenty, if you're going to do it correctly, there are A LOT of them. BUT... the good news is that it's not hard, just time consuming. Adding dots, accents or tildes (for example) to the letters you've already made is as straight forward as it gets - it just takes awhile. But if you hang in there, you can say you've made a complete font. Note also that a full charcter set will likely more than double the final file size for the font.
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Lower Case Letters
Finally, some lower case tips. Many of my fonts are too bulky or specialized to lend themselves to lower-case, but on occasion I do use them. Sometimes my upper and lower cases are the same height and width, but I use them to make "alternate characters" for certain letters - such as a "traditional N" in the upper case and an "upside down U" N in the lower case (this happens when I can't make up my mind which of 2 styles for a letter looks better).


Also, you can have different styles of lower case. For example, one style is to have a lower case that is shorter vertically then the upper case, but still uses all upper case format characters. This means that you have your upper case "E", and your lower case is just like it only not as high "E" - this is as opposed to the "e" that has the closed contour in its upper half instead of the 3 horizontal lines of the upper case "E".

The other style is to make a more "traditional" lower case letters where several letters will have truly different contours, instead of just being shorter.

Looking at the more "traditional" lower case, one thing to notice is that if you take your capital B and remove the top horizontal bar and the top half only of the right vertical bar, that leaves you with a lower case "b". Flip that horizontally, you have a "d". Flip the "d" vertically and drag the contours downward, you have a "q" - note that you need to drag it down so that the underpart of the middle horizontal bar touched the bottom base line, and that will make your lower vertical piece drop below the baseline for the "q" look. Flip this "q" horizontally and you have your "p".



Take the "q" and round out the bottom reaching vertical line and "hook" it leftward, and you have a "g". Take this "g", remove the left loop (leaving the entire vertical bar on the right side) and you have a "j". You may want to add a spaced dot to the "j", and you may need to move the "j" contour towards the left side of the glyph for spacing purposes (be sure to adjust the right side spacing then).

Using the "b", remove the bottom horizontal bar and you have a lower case "h".

Using the "p", if you remove the vertical bar that drops down and round the bottom left corner (and maybe the upper left corner), you have an "o". From the "o" you can make a "c", "u", "n", "m" and "w" similar to how I've described them above.


A lower case "l" is made by taking the upper case H and removing the middle horizontal bar and the right side vertical bar. Another "l" is to use your upper case I if it's a simple I. If it's an I with top and bottom bars, remove the left half of the upper horizontal bar (this is like a reverse number 1 described above).

You can take your capital Y and simply drag it down some to match the "p" spacing for a lower case "y" - but for "y", you may want a more traditional sloping bottom line. Or just take your lower case "g" and remove the top horizontal bar.

A lower case "r" is basically the "o" with the right vertical side and the lower horizontal bar removed. You can add a notch to the "r" at the top left, or otherwise modify it, but that will give you a basic "r".

A lower case "i" can be made by taking the upper case I and, if needed, removing the top and bottom bars. If you need to remove the top and bottom bars, you will have to move the contour to the left side of the glyph and adjust the right side spacing. Then shorten this lone vertical bar and add on top of it the period contour - this is your "i". Size and space the 2 contours of the "i" as needed (or just flip your exclaimation point vertically if it's already made and size accordingly).

The other lower case letters can often follow the same kind of procedures as above, just scaled differently against the font's upper case letters.

Two last notes:
(1) your lower or upper case "f", when done, can be flipped vertically to make one style of a lower case "t" - just move it up or down some if needed to fit right with the other letters.


Also, a lower case "f" can be made by taking the upper case F and rounding the upper left corner of it, where's it was previously a right angle; Another "t" is to take a single vertical line (like maybe your 1) and add a horizontal cross-bar to it (either in the middle, or towards the top end, or whatever - be flexible).

(2) if you make a lower case "e" that has a closed upper half (like in this "e"), you can flip the "e" vertically, then horizontally to have a basic "a" - though you may have to round or un-round some joints to fit your liking.

Another lower case "a" can be made by taking the "o" and adding a straight vertical line to the right side - or you can take the "d" and shorten the top vertical line on the right just enough to make an "a" without still looking like a "d".
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And that's about it. Of course, you can't apply these tips like "rules" where they always work in all instances. Quite the contrary. Fonts are more complicated than just flipping a shape here and there, and continuity of your font's unique style will cause a number of these tips to simply not work well. The idea is not to use this as a manual, but to call your attention to how a lot of the letters of the alphabet are closely related to one another. The more you think along these lines and look to identify these similarities between letters, the easier it will come to you. When you've practiced long enough with these ideas in mind, it will amaze you how you stop even having to think about it... and at how much faster letter making comes to you. So again, use this only to better understand the letters you'll be making.

I hope this tutorial is at least somewhat useful and that it provides some help in your efforts. If you have any feedback (like it's confusing or repetitive in places), just e-mail me and I'll try to modify this tutorial on an ongoing basis to reflect such feedback. Please remember, though, that this does not and will not address technical issues. If you have technical questions (like "how come I can't delete certain points" or "how do I make the font embeddable", for example), please refer to the technical documentation that came with your font making software (or visit their web-site for any possible support). If all else fails with these types of questions, you may want to ask it in a font forum.

Finally, here's is a link to Ray Larabie's font-making tutorial that is much more advanced than this and should prove very useful: Ray Larabie's Font Creation Tutorial

Thanks, and good luck font-making!

Iconian Fonts

Copyright 2007 Iconian Fonts. HTML Telmplate provided by http://www.quickness.uni.cc. All Rights Reserved.

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