Font savant?

It's tricky!
quick brown fox

A buddy of mine at work — to protect his identity, let’s just call him Jeff Henderson — recently planned a vacation around a wedding. And when we, his good-natured friends and coworkers, discovered it was to The Hamptons, we did just what you can imagine.

We teased him without mercy:

  • We talked to him in our Thurston Howell III voices. (“I say, good show with that work order, sport!”)
  • We Photoshopped his mug on a photo of a dude in a suit standing on the lawn in front of his mansion, holding a horse by the bridle. In fact, we Photoshopped a whole set of “vacation photos” of him doing beach yoga, playing a little tennis, lounging on a sports car and the like.
  • And when he was gone, we created a diorama of a Hamptons beach scene on his desk, using his Run-DMC dolls action figures as the headlining entertainment for a VIP Hamptons Rapping Spectacular event.
It's tricky!

Can you rock like this — in The Hamptons?

Ashley, a coworker, hand-lettered a concert “banner” on a fancy paper plate. And that’s when I noticed her unusual penmanship. It was … messed up. Yet it was entirely captivating. Descending tails on the lowercase letter P plunged to new depths. And the lowercase R, which by most standards has no leg either ascending or descending, had both!

This lettering needed to be a font.

So despite never having designed a font before — hell, I’ve barely designed the top of a cake — I set out to make it happen. The amiable Ashley lettered out the alphabet and numbers for me and used them all in that famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

A little 600-DPI scanning, a little cleanup in Photoshop, and I was ready to try to become a veritable font of knowledge on the technical side of lettering. I was unafraid. They have freeware to do anything, right?

Right?

There is indeed a freeware font editor for PCs. But I quickly discovered that it required installing an alternate operating system on my computer, to emulate (gulp) Linux. What the crap ? And, uh, no thanks.

Then I found a found a font editor called Type Light that’s fairly robust for editing existing fonts or drawing them from scratch, but not at importing images to then create a font with. D’oh.

But I had a hunch. I’m no graphics maven, but I knew that fonts were vector images rather than bit-mapped ones. (Non-tech people of, ahem, a certain age: This means graphics were created as in the arcade game Tempest rather than in the arcade game Donkey Kong.) Vector images are scalable, meaning you can blow them up to any size without seeing jaggies. I had a copy of the vector graphics program Inkscape, a great free alternative to Adobe Illustrator, installed on my machine for some project a while back. So I Googled “create fonts in Inkscape.”

type light

Type Light in action.

And, boom!, I found a great blog with a workaround that was just what I needed. Essentially, the strategy was to import my scanned characters one at a time, convert them to vectors, then assign them to keyboard letters. And a free online conversion website then turned that Inkscape file into a TrueType font file. I won’t get any more geeky here, since anyone who wants to do a deep dive can check out the page.

That workaround creates a monospaced font (like a typewriter, where even a skinny letter I takes as much space as an M. The extra white space didn’t look good). So it needed a smidge of tinkering, which is where I could finally fire up Type Light.

So there you have it, and now we proudly have offered a new font, named Dashley, to the world.

Ashley and I have agreed to release it to the public domain under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use. I’ve got a little more tweaking with punctuation and symbols, but we’ll post it soon. Go crazy with it.

So long as you’re not using it for the sign outside a Hamptons bed-and-breakfast, OK?

Dashley sample

Update: The font is now available for download. Find suggested uses and a link to the font here.

1 Comment

  • […] a writer who dabbles with art and sometimes works with designers at my job (and, it’s true, I did once create a font). Jenn’s an environmental scientist. But hell, pay attention to the fourth word of our […]

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