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FontForge for Comic Fonts: Variant Double Letters by eishiya FontForge for Comic Fonts: Variant Double Letters by eishiya

Click here for Part 2: Proximity Variants.



A lack of variation is a common critique of digital comic lettering, which is a shame since variation can be added to fonts! To help remedy this common issue, I decided to make a tutorial about one way of achieving letter variants in FontForge.

Eventually, I hope to make an appendix to this tutorial  that lists a bunch of substitution rules that achieve different kinds of variation.

There are other ways to achieve variation, but I haven't discovered how to use them in FontForge yet. If I do, I will make tutorials about them too!


FontForge is a free font creation/editing program, it is available for every major OS.
This tutorial assumes some familiarity with FontForge because it's about a fairly advanced font feature. If you want to learn the basics of FontForge, there are several tutorials online, including the official one.

Since FontForge supports importing fonts, you can even add variants to fonts you've downloaded! However, if you modify a font you didn't create, make sure you do not redistribute your modification unless the original font's licence allows it!


One thing I wanted to cover in the tutorial but opted not to is the serif I, which some letters use exclusively for the pronoun "I", with the sans serif I being used in all other contexts. Most comic fonts (especially free ones) will have one or the other, even though it's not hard to make both. For now, this part of the official FontForge tutorial should do. It's the same process as I use for my serif I variant, except serif I replaces one letter while the tutorial example replaces two. That tutorial covers glyph classes fairly well, so it would be silly to make a tutorial on the same subject.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-03-12
FontForge for Comic Fonts: Variant Double Letters by eishiya

A good tutorial, giving a helpful solution to a common trouble with creating fonts inspired by hand-writing. ( Suggested by artichokes and Featured by pica-ae )
:iconmrcooldd:
MrCoolDD Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Looks pretty interesting!  I think I might try this out when I start drawing digital comics!
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:iconlaughbutts:
LaughButts Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Goodness, you sure thought this through! 
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:icongillianivy:
GillianIvy Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Intriguing, congratulations on the DD.  I've been thinking of making fonts and this is very informative.  I particularly like handwritten text.  :)
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:iconasjjohnson:
AsjJohnson Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
congrats on the DD. ^_^
...I've thought about trying to make a font. Though I think I'd decided that if I feel like making a handwriting-like font, it would probably be easier just to learn to hand letter stuff properly than try to figure out how to make a pleasing font. :P I think it would take me a long time.
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:icontruthistruth:
TruthisTruth Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Congratulations on the Daily Deviation! :clap:
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you! It's my first one and I didn't expect it at all. I'm glad this tutorial might help people <3
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:icontruthistruth:
TruthisTruth Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome!
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:iconcrispylettuce:
CrispyLettuce Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Oh wow, I didn't even know you could do this with fonts!
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:iconmintflavoured:
MintFlavoured Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014
This is very helpful, thanks so much.
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:iconasfhy:
Asfhy Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Very insteresting, I was designing a font face some time ago and was wondering exactly how to make it work. Now I can get it, thanks :D
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:iconjimcampbell:
JimCampbell Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014
It's worth mentioning that almost all professionally-made dialogue fonts from Blambot and Comicraft will have different versions of the letterforms depending on whether you use upper or lower case. The OpenType versions (.otf) will usually have autoligatures that will swap out paired letters like LL or OO or EE so that two different versions of the character are used.

Blambot has a lot of fonts that are free for use in independent or small press comics:

www.blambot.com/fonts_dialogue…
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've noticed that, and mentioned it to the person who initially inspired me to make this. However, there are two problems with the approach those fonts take:
1. It's not automatic, which means the letterer has to take the time to do it every single time. The ligatures that replace double-letters are automatic, but they only work on double letters, and do nothing about non-double letters that are still close enough to look repetitive (e.g. "papa" should probably be composed of four distinct glyphs). This tutorial covers only double-letters, but replacing glyphs based on proximity is also possible, and I plan to make a tutorial about that next.
2. It only works for single-case fonts! I realize those are the majority in comics, but I believe that sentence case can be suitable for (some) comics too, and that there should be more mixed case dialogue fonts.
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:iconjimcampbell:
JimCampbell Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014
You make a fair point about it not being automatic, but a good letterer will be adjusting kerning, tracking, horizontal scale as the go along, putting in line breaks to make the text into the most attractive block possible… it's not THAT much extra work to change PAPA into PapA…

(And I *hate* sentence case lettering in comics…!)
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I agree that a good letterer will do those things, but I believe that a good font designer should seek to minimise the amount of work the letterer has to do. If saving time wasn't a consideration, we wouldn't need fonts at all, we'd just hand-letter everything!


If you don't mind indulging my curiosity, would you mind sharing why you hate sentence case lettering? I personally find all-caps more difficult to read most of the time and it feels really loud (grew up online, maybe that's why xP I'm used to all-caps being shouting). I find it suitable for stories that are heavy on action, but it just feels out of place to me in "quieter" stories.
Is it because of the visual clutter introduced by ascenders and descenders, and the resultant need for higher leading that makes dialogue take up more space than it would otherwise need to? Or is there something else to it?
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:iconworldsapartbiscuit:
WorldsApartBiscuit Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I've always fancied having a go at making my own fonts and when I do, I'd like some variation in the letters. I'm faving this to keep it handy for when the time comes. Thanks for making it! :D
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:iconluminousiceninja:
LuminousIceNinja Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Oh my God, you have no idea how extremely helpful this to me. I'm taking a Typography course and this will help me so much! Thank you for posting this!
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm glad! I'm surprised you'd be using FontForge if you're taking a course in typography xP
One caveat if you're going to add variants to a production/important font on a deadline: FontForge, at least the somewhat outdated version I have, has a tendency to crash when the GSUB tables get large. You can still work on it, but you can't preview it inside the program, which can end up wasting quite a bit of your time. Save often and be ready for tears ;D
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:iconartichokes:
artichokes Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is a really helpful tutorial! I didn't realise it was possible to add variation. Very useful.
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much for suggesting this as a DD! I'm glad you found it useful, and thanks to you, hopefully many others will find it useful too.

I'm already working on the second part, it should be up soon.
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:iconartichokes:
artichokes Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
No worries :D
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:iconyukiko-berrie:
Yukiko-berrie Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you for this! Really appreciate the time and effort you put into this tutorial, it's great for newcomers to comics like myself! :-)
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
If you're a newcomer, you probably shouldn't bother with crazy things like making a fancy font for yourself, there are much more important things to focus on. If you're going to make a font, stick to a simple one at first, since adding variants is quite time-consuming, and you can always add them later.
However, I think making a font for one's comic is a great way to ensure the lettering matches the art and tone of the story, so I hope this'll come in handy in the future!
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:iconyukiko-berrie:
Yukiko-berrie Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I will be sure to reference this in the future than. I'm sure it'll come in handy! :-)  I noticed your webcomic Black Dram - it's lovely by the way, I love the dark and gloomy feel of it! If it isn't too much trouble, I was wondering if you can tell me how you sketch your web-comics; do you storyboard first for each scene or do you just draw based on the script? I'm still trying to draw the first act out of my web-comic and keep getting caught on the making the scenes just right. 
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:iconeishiya:
eishiya Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I thumbnail each chapter before I draw it. Sometimes I have multiple chapters thumbnailed ahead. Thumbnails are tiny sketch versions, sort of like storyboards except they're laid out like comic pages, the main purpose is to determine the flow of each page and the pacing of the shots/scenes. If I am writing the comic by myself, I don't write the script until I'm thumbnailing, and do the two together. That way I know the script makes for good visuals. Scripting ahead of time is necessary when working with someone else (which was the case for Black Dram), but I never do it for my own projects.

That is not to say I jump into the thumbnails with no planning, though! I write outlines before I script/thumbnail, and use those as my guide. I like having the entire story outlined before I do anything more. I think this is a good practice to get into, it keeps your story from meandering as you wonder where to go next, and it helps you cut out anything unnecessary. A lot of really long comics would be so much better if they were shorter, not because length is inherently bad (it's not), but because their length is the result of a whole lot of useless stuff in the story.

Getting each scene just right is always the hard part xP You have to know when it's good enough, webcomics don't give you a lot of time to try things since you've got a schedule. It's probably not a problem for the first chapter before you've launched, but it will be once you've started posting (unless you thumbnail the entire comic ahead of time ;D but that might be unreasonable for long stories). Having a good outline can help a lot though, if you lay out the most important scenes and what has to happen.

I wrote a wall of text a while back about how I pace my comics, perhaps it can help you organize your thoughts. It's concerned with story pacing, but it ties into thumbnailing, since your thumbnails are the first step into conveying the pacing visually. It has a couple of tips in there for making effective pages too. I hope it helps <3

One last tip, more on the visuals themselves: Variety is the spice of life, and of comic pages. If you have panels on a page that look similar, or have identical sizes, the page will feel static and boring. Sometimes that's desirable, but when it's not, add variation! Vary your angles (remember, you can move the "camera" up and down too, not just side to side), vary your zoom levels (this one is commonly stated as "vary your head sizes" xP), have panels dealing with actions and reactions, but not always both for each action.
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:iconyukiko-berrie:
Yukiko-berrie Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you so much your insight and tips eishiya. I really appreciate it, I'll keep these in mind as I go forth and create!!
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