7 Min. Read
Choosing a font for your brand is important. By instantly giving your copy a certain look and feel, it impacts your marketing collateral and is a key touchpoint for your branded messages.
There are thousands of fonts to choose from when branding and designing creative content. But if you really want to stand out from the crowd, consider designing an original custom font.
In this video, we break down the font making process into 5 simple steps. No need to worry about taking notes — we’ve also documented the entire design process in the article below. This guide is beginner-friendly, so whether you’re a total DIY beginner trying to digitize your own handwriting, a client who’s looking to partner with a design professional for the font creation, or a graphic designer who’s always wanted to learn how to create your own font, you’re in the right place! Here are a few things you need to pay attention to if you want to create one font everyone will remember.
A 5-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Font
1. Outline a Brief
Like with any creative project, you need to answer some key questions before you jump in and start creating a new font.
- What is your font’s end-use? Is it for a specific project or campaign? Or is it part of a new branding strategy that’s meant for broad, long-term application across your entire company?
- What medium is it primarily meant for? Will it be mostly viewed digitally, on print materials, or both?
- What size do you want your font to work best at? Is it meant to be a paragraph font that’s very readable as small text, or do you want to create a display font that’s used for larger text like headers?
- Do you have any fonts you can reference for inspiration? Different fonts have many tiny details that help make them readable despite their uniqueness. By studying similar fonts used for other projects, or even old classics like Arial and Times New Roman, you can build more fonts without having to think of every single detail from scratch.
- What is the mood your font needs to convey? Is it playful and flirty? Bold and loud? Or is it modern and reserved?
Answering these questions before you even sketch out a single character will help influence the creative decisions you make next.
2. Visualize by Sketching
The next step involves putting pen to paper! (Or stylus to drawing tablet — whatever you prefer.) It’s time to start sketching your first font.
Even if you’re going to be working with a professional designer, these sketches, together with your brief, will serve as the jumping-off point for when they step in to take it to the next level.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to sketch out the whole alphabet. Remember, you’re just conceptualizing, so it can be exhausting and time consuming to draft all characters from A to Z every time you have a new idea.
Instead, use test characters and words to sketch key aspects of your font. These are words, phrases, or even single letters that serve as a good baseline for when you’re ready to design the whole character set. With test words (or “control” words), you’re basically testing out big letters, small letters, and even relationships between certain letters.
Words like Hamburger, Adhesion, and friendly are good places to start. This will allow you to work with capital H and lowercase n, o, and y, which have characteristics that will help define many other letters. You’ll be able to come up with standards for the round and straight parts of other letters. Also, working with a mix of capital and lowercase control characters will help you experiment with the proportions of your font. (Take a look at some other unique words and phrases that font designers use to test their fonts.)
Quick tip: have fun and don’t stress — if you don’t like the sketch, just set it aside and create another prototype with other characters and symbols. Feel free to experiment with totally different styles and ideas just so you can compare what you like with what you don’t like. When you find yourself getting stuck on one character, try to start out fresh to keep the ideas flowing.
3. Build the Font Digitally
Once you’re comfortable with the style and personality of your sketched “font,” you can start working digitally it with the right software.
This is the lengthiest part of the process, so be patient (or ask for help!). Apart from the painstaking attention to detail you need to build your own typeface, each software may have a different learning curve.
But whether you’re creating fonts on your own or with professional help, here are a few terms that all font creators should know.
- Glyph refers to each individual character within a font.
- Serif is the small decorative accent on the edges of glyphs, characterizing fonts like Times New Roman and Georgia. Fonts like Arial and Calibri are called sans serif fonts because they are literally without serifs.
- Baseline is the invisible line on which the font characters sit.
- Ascender line is the invisible line where vertical ascenders begin.
- Ascender height is the tallest point of “tall” lowercase letters like b, d, f, h, k, and l.
- Descender depth is the lowest point of special characters that “fall” under the baseline, like g, j, p, q, and y.
- Stem refers to the main vertical stroke in uppercase letters like F and T.
- Bowl is the closed round part of characters like lowercase b, d, and o.
- Bézier curve is a parametric formula that is used to create scalable, smooth curves.
- Ligature in typography refer to the stylistic bond between certain character pairs in certain fonts, such as in ﬁ, ﬂ, ﬀ, and ﬆ.
We know this is a lot, so we created this handy cheat sheet for you:
4. Refine Your Characters
The next step when creating your own fonts is to refine your character set. This is where you can start paying special attention to things like tracking and kerning. Tracking, also called letter spacing, refers to the average amount of space between characters, in a set of characters. Kerning, on the other hand, refers to the spacing between a particular pair of characters — you can set these manually.
You can test different weights, try designing italics, and more to see how your font will behave in various scenarios.
We recommend you choose your favorite letters and use them as the baseline “DNA” for the rest of your script font when revising it. That way, the core character of the typeface won’t change dramatically as you tweak and revise it.
5. Package Your Font
The last step of this long process is to package up your font and start using it! You’ll want to export it as a TTF or OTF file for most universal applications.
🤪 Blooper alert! In the video, we said TFF and not TTF.
TTF stands for TrueType Font, an older font file format, while OTF stands for OpenType Font, which is relatively newer with a few more bells and whistles. Both formats are accepted by most devices and operating systems. If you want your font to have more features like fancy ligatures and alternate glyphs, those are things that work best in the OTF format.
You can use it on your new website, your email newsletter, send it off to your designer to update your brand standards — or anything else you can think of!
If you need help conceptualizing your first-ever font design project, Design Pickle is here for you. While we don’t package and export font files, our team of Custom Illustrators can help turn rough sketches into clean vector glyphs, custom logo lettermarks and wordmarks, or even finished typography designs. Check out our plans or book a free demo today!