iFontMaker lets you draw a complete True Type Font with your FINGER! HISTORY OVER! I'm WINNING!
And there, History OVER. Draw your own True Type Font with your FINGER!
So, I downloaded an 8 dollar APP for my iPad called iFontMaker because it looked cool.
I quickly made a Marker/Handwriting style NeoGothic. It took me about fifteen minutes, sitting on the couch while my son watched cartoons to create something comparable to ComicSans.
Then, using Hiragino Mincho Pro as a template, I spent the next three hours hand drawing a complete Roman typeface:
You can download it and use it.
After the jump, I'll give a general assessment beyond IT IS COOL (though it is cool).
My son loves the app because it is far more interesting than the kid-focused alphabet apps I got for him (he's five). He is currently working on a "pirate alphabet" and it looks pretty good.
And I love the app because, among other things, it has been really instructive in terms of understanding how typefaces really work.
The mainscreen gives you the option of looking at any of the handful of typefaces that are on your iPad. You go through them character by character and you use them as a reference. You can trace them exactly, or you can freehand over them. You can also remove the typeface reference and just freehand. The screen displays as a grid with everything marked out including:
X Height (the height of the lower case X, which is used to measure the common tops of things like the hump on a lowercase h, or the top of the lowercase a)
The left and bottom baselines, which allow you to position your letter consistently in relation to all of the other letters
The capital height line
And the Ascender height line (where upright line of a b or an h should stop at) as well as the Descender depth (where the bottom of a g stops, or a j).
(These measurements can be adjusted, too, if you want to get AWESOME).
But with these parameters in place, and with a reference typeface displayed in gray under your white drawing lines, you are literally in a position to knowledgeably make any kind of typeface you want.
I loved this thing because I have a printing press in my basement (two, actually), and 80+ drawers of antique and vintage lead type. I am an amateur letterpress printer, and an amateur historian of typefaces and type design. But I need to stress AMATEUR. I love typefaces (enough to not call them "fonts" anymore, except when communicating with the outside world), but I don't have any serious training in design. So to get to design a typeface handson with a tool like this that, while clearly "prosumer" in nature, has a lot of the professional detailing and feel... well it is instructive.
Here is a nutshell insight:
When type was originally designed, it had to be cast in metal to be useful. That meant a mold had to be made, which also meant that a piece of metal had to be made to press the image into the material of the mold.
This piece of metal was called a PUNCH. It was a stick of iron, later steel, that was punched with a hammer into the surface of a flat piece of some softer metal (like brass). The brass MATRIX was then fitted over the end of a mold, and at the other end a typefounder would ladle in his hot concoction of lead/antimony/tin.
Here are some matrices I found at the excellent Typefoundry blog:
Here is a piece of finished type to give you a sense of what we are talking about:
In order to get the letter onto a punch, which will then get pressed into a matrix, that will then get fitted into a mold, which will then get filled with lead, which will then produce a single piece of movable type like the one above; someone had to design the letter and cut it onto the surface of the steel. They had to cut that letter into the steel at 1-to-1 scale. By hand.
Jewelers did this. We have almost no punches from before, like, 1700 or so (probably even after that), but all the way back into the 1500s people were cutting the tips of what were, effectively, square nails, into the elegant shapes of letters that could be read when inked and impressed on rough cotton paper.
Check out this Neapolitan type sample from 1492:
Now, check out this comparison of the lowercase a that English founder William Caslon cut back at the beginning of the 18th century alongside a recut version (still by hand) from the 19th century:
It's awe inspiring to see what steady hands and centuries of perfecting a hand craft can accomplish. They did this with tiny tiny metal jewelers tools, cutting the metal away bit by bit. Cutting each size individually: the 10pt, the 12pt, the 24pt, etc (though not calling them by the points system, BTW... another story).
When you sit down and draw a letter in iFontMaker with your fat finger, and you draw it on the scale of a few inches, you develop a deeper appreciation for, respect for, what people did with their hands, what the pleasure of craft and work is, what it means to create. It is a faint faint echo of that work, sad and tired and weak by comparison, but the feeling is there.
We used to make things, in this world. We should never forget it.