This jam is now over. It ran from 2021-05-20 11:00:00 to 2021-07-15 11:00:00. View 9 entries
I feel like fonts are a kinda black-box to most people—something to look up online or find already installed on your computer, but not really something to make. I wanna help change that, because it's easier than ever to get into font design, and as easy as ever to search for just the right font for and come up empty-handed. Unlike most other parts of your typical analog game, fonts are one of the few things that people not only don't often custom-make, but can't make. Or, feel like they can't.
So here's FontJam, a jam for making fonts! Doesn't matter whether it's your first or your hundredth, whether you tend to make digital games or analog (or something else entirely, like comics, poetry, photography, classic wooden puppets, whatever), but your entry (or entries) should be stuff you make during the jam. License and price them as you see fit (there's some suggestions for licenses below).
A quick note on 'ethnic' fonts: Don't submit these to the jam. I mean both generic 'tribal' and 'chop suey/wonton' fonts as well as more specific ones (e.g. an imitation Japanese calligraphy font made solely of English characters and named 'Rising Sun-Regular.ttf'). Unless, of course, you're actually of the relevant ethnicity, in which case do what you want.
If you've got questions then check out the discord!
Sources: Alegreya (jam title), Old Cupboard, Just for Fun, Old Stamper, Robort, LCD Mono, Tostada, Freelance Kamchatka, Stardate 81316, Drum N Bass, oozing, MicroStyle, Painting with Chocolate, PieceOfCake, Zoltank, VCR OSD Mono, Razor, Beholden, Slice. Always check a font's license before using it, to make sure it's eligible for your use!
Here's a bunch of free (or free trial versions of) font design apps (click to open/close):
These websites let you make fonts in your browser for free:
These are also free (or have limited free versions), but work on your computer and tend to be a big step up from the web apps:
One important thing: Birdfont's free version only lets you apply the SIL Open Font License (see below for more info). That said, other font apps may allow you to import the font you export from Birdfont and re-export with a new license.
Lastly there's the free trials of paid (often pretty expensive) desktop apps, which can have advanced functionality or more friendly user interfaces (depends on your preference, though).
FontLab has a mini version called TypeTool, but it doesn't have a free trial that I could find, and also doesn't work on the latest version of MacOS. There's also Fontself, a type design plugin for Illustrator and Photoshop.
Recommendations: If you don't have much experience with vector art tools then you might wanna try Fontstruct, Calligraphr, or any pixel font app for this jam. If you do have vector art experience then you could try any app (or do what I suggest above and draw the glyphs in whatever app you normally draw in, then import them into the font app). I've personally used Fontstruct, Birdfont, and Glyphs to make typefaces, so I can give some pointers on those (not that I'm an expert with any of them). While I haven't properly used BitFontMaker2, FontArk, Fontsy, or Calligraphr, they look easy (or at least easier) to get into.
If you're looking for font design apps, then check the next section. If you're looking for help with the basics, then look up the documentation for the app you're using—it'll usually explain how to use the app better than I could, and more specifically. If you're looking for pointers or advice, here's some stuff that might be useful (click to open/close):
For more specific terms for different parts of glyphs: Anatomy of type.
This might also be useful: a blog post that demos different typeface categories. Don't take it as gospel (in fact the monospaced demo is totally wrong), but do check out the examples of stuff like stress, contrast, and serif styles. Also, see that the last category's a catch-all 'display' category for basically anything that's not used for body text—these categories are absolutely not the be-all end-all of font design.
Some fonts only have letters in one case (usually uppercase)—if you choose this them you should copy the uppercase letters to the lowercase ones. Depending on the app you're using you can either do this by: directly copying or re-creating each letter; inserting them as components; or using OpenType code to substitute one case for another (though this can have minor, usually not very important side-effects in .pdf export). You can even make two versions of the same letter (e.g. 2 styles of each capital letter) and put one set in the uppercase and another in the lowercase).
Unless you're drawing an icon font, you'll also want to check how your glyphs look together, not just alone in the glyph editor. Some apps have a text tool/preview mode to let you test your font in-app, but if not then you'll have to export the file, test in e.g. a word processor, uninstall the font, and go back to the app to make changes.
This is a slightly more advanced thing, but basically, in order to even out how all your characters look, you should make round or pointed tops and bottoms slightly overshoot the boundaries—the baseline, x-height (for lowercase), and cap height (for uppercase) (tutorial). It's a not-too-hard way to make your font look more visually consistent (ironically by making it less mathematically consistent). Not all apps let you do this kinda fine adjustment, though (e.g. pixel font apps).
Some typefaces are also drawn with the ascenders (the upper parts of letters like lowercase b, k, or l) rising a little higher than the cap height.
If you're using a vector-drawing app:
You don't necessarily have to draw a whole font yourself. There's at least a few options for doing something smaller, or less work:
And you can always ask questions in the discord!
There's a lot more I'm not gonna get into here cause I feel like it's probably beyond the scope of this jam, but if you feel like it you could look up: optical adjustments (overshoot is one of these), font metrics, OpenType features, font file formats, and/or hinting. These are useful for (almost) all fonts, but not all apps let you work on them.
All that said, typeface design is pretty complicated and pretty niche. There's only so much I can explain here (and I'm still pretty much a beginner myself), but don't worry too much about the technical side if you're making your first font—just find an app that works for you. Besides that, I think my biggest piece if you're just starting out is: make something you could easily describe as one or more of these things: flashy, characterful, gimmicky, weird, clearly in a genre, dingbat, icon.
Here are some common licenses digital fonts are released under (click to open/close):
The SIL-OFL v1.1, or SIL OFL v1.1, or OFL v1.1, or OFL, or Open Font License... the OFL is a widely-used license that basically releases your work for free and prohibits anyone else from selling your font by itself or only bundled with other OFL fonts. That includes you too! However, you can sell OFL fonts if they're bundled with other, non-OFL stuff, or if they're embedded in another file.
Chances are, if you've published something then you've used an OFL font somewhere. Almost all Google Fonts, for instance, are licensed under the OFL (full list of Google Font attribution).
These licenses are basically a modular set—by adding a few letters to the license name, you add different features (e.g. CC BY 4.0, CC BY-NC 4.0, CC BY-SA-ND 4.0). The default license is:
You can apply any combination of these extra restrictions:
These are super-short summaries! Check the Creative Commons site for more info.
This isn't a license, but instead a way to put immediately put something you made in the public domain. You can find the details in the CC0 section of the Creative Commons site.
In general, if you're not clear about a license, look it up online or ask around! Font licensing sometimes has weird creases outside of simpler or clearer ones like CC or the OFL and it's better to be sure about the terms than worry about or ignore them.
With thanks to members of momatoes' discord for comments and suggestions while writing this page.
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