Up until I took a Learn Font Making course in 2017, font design was entirely nebulous to me. I enjoyed handlettering, although I wasn’t very good at it then, and thought it would be badass to make fonts out of handwriting. I did so much research and tried to figure out the process to make my own font, but there were so many gaps in knowledge and information available. I’d all but given up on the idea, until I found the course I took that basically set me on the path that I’ve been on for five years. Font design is what I do full time now!
Since that time, technology and software has come a long way, and it’s made font design entirely accessible to pretty much anyone who wants to do it! I never thought I’d see the day that the process could be super simplified for anyone wanting to make their first font, but then I learned about Calligraphr.
Creating Fonts Just Got Easier
Calligraphr is a browser-based app that turns your own handwriting into a functional font in mere minutes. I’m not even lying about that – from the time I signed up to check this out to the time that I downloaded the .otf file, it was only a span of a few minutes.
It’s free to use. Yes, for real. Of course, there is a paid option that has more features, but you can literally start creating right after you sign up and confirm your email address.
It’s worth noting that you could probably use this to make your own sans serif and serif fonts, as well, but it seems like this app is mostly centered on using your own handwriting first & foremost.
What Does Calligraphr Include?
Here’s the deal.
Calligraphr is free to use, but certain features are available only to paid accounts. You can create as many fonts as you like with free and paid accounts, but paid accounts have the ability to work on multiple fonts at once; free accounts can only work on one font at a time.
There are also limitations on the number of characters your font can have. Free accounts are allowed 75 characters. That’ll cover you for basics – uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation. Depending on what your font might be used for, you could include other symbols, such as less common punctuation marks, dingbats, and so on. You can choose what characters you’d like to include, or even the language. Clicking on the language for your own typeface will bring up the basic letters that you need to complete the font. For example, if you’re going to make an Arabic font, it’ll drop the Arabic letterforms in for you.
Paid accounts are allowed 480 characters. It’s a pretty large character set — or so you’d think — but a lot of professionally designed fonts (like what I offer) have far more glyphs included. It tends to spiral if you enjoy including a lot of extras and special characters like ligatures, alternates, and if you include language support with accented characters. I love including other characters in my fonts like swashes and various versions of letters. At any rate, 480 character spots will probably set you on the right path to a fairly robust font.
Free accounts do not allow for ligatures, nor do you have the option to adjust letter spacing for individual characters. You can, however, adjust the spacing for all characters, but you’re limited to all…or none.
Since Calligraphr is pretty much intended for handlettering, it’s smart to include the option for variations (alternates, stylistic sets) – free accounts allow for two variants per character; the pro accounts can have up to 15 variations.
Creating Your Own Font In a Snap
The process is simple. After you sign up, print the template. Draw your letters and symbols in the boxes. You can either scan the paper, or use your iPhone to take a picture of it. Upload it to Calligraphr.
This magical thing drops the letters into the appropriate boxes, you can make some adjustments, like where the character sits on the baseline and the size. You can adjust the size of individual letters, as well. Prior to “building” your font, you can adjust overall letter spacing, the font size (basically for display purposes in a preview) and you can also adjust word spacing (essentially the size of the space bar). You can edit individual glyphs, as well – the app gives you a few tools so that you can adjust your letters or clean them up a bit more.
Custom Font Files
When you click “Build Font,” the app generates two file types for you to download – .otf, and .ttf. The export options available don’t allow for other types, like webfonts. (But, let’s be honest, most people don’t need webfonts unless they’re a website developer.)
These files are totally normal files, all you need to do is double click to install on your computer. Doesn’t matter if you’re on a Mac or if you’re running Windows on your PC — it installs all the same, and you can access the font in any program that uses your system’s installed fonts.
How It Turned Out for Me
I mentioned the whole process took only a few minutes of time, and I’m not even joking about that. To be honest, I was completely surprised that it was as easy as it was. Calligraphr basically shields you from the complicated stuff that takes quite a bit of time to learn as far as the programming is concerned.
Depending on the font I’m working on, it can be a time consuming and long process adjusting all of the technical details within the font. With Calligraphr, it was a short, fast process, but that’s also because the option to make these adjustments simply doesn’t exist — either with the free account, or because the app doesn’t allow for a totally professional-grade, robust font. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you know what you’re working with.
So, check this out!
Here are is one of the sheets I printed (I wanted to try out the randomized variation option). I used my iPhone to take a fairly crummy picture, and it was uploaded right into the template. Easy peasy.
Here’s what it looks like after your letters are popped right into the boxes. They look a little pixelated, but when your font is generated into a downloadable file, the magical vectoring process happens so that your typography can be scaled to any size without the loss of quality.
I did test out some of the controls that were available to me – I only used the free version of Calligraphr so things like ligatures and being able to adjust kerning wasn’t available to me.
It would be silly for me to write all about this pretty cool thing without including an example of the font post-installation! This is the result of less than five minutes of work on my part from start to finish.
And yes, I’m aware that my actual handwriting is complete crap. No one would believe that I’m a handlettering artist.
How to Create Fonts Professionally – Calligraphr Limitations
My assessment? Calligraphr is fantastic if you want to create your own fonts for fun, or make a quick working font file, but it is by no means a substitute for professional software if you want to make a go of creating fonts professionally. The app offers you a way to create a basic font, but if you’re looking for a more powerful type of font creation, you need to turn to font creation software that the pros use.
I work with different software, depending on what stage of font creation I’m in. For all handlettering purposes, I use Procreate. After I’ve got my character set lettered, I transfer the lettering to Adobe Illustrator for vectoring and editing. Once I’ve got all of that set, I use Glyphs, which is professional font design software.
Glyphs offers a measure of control that every font design professional should have. There are other font programs that can be used (like Fontlab Studio) that offer the same type of control, but Glyphs is my personal preference.
I personally think that Calligraphr makes it easy to figure out if you’re actually interested in font design, and allows you to test the waters. If you’re new to handlettering and think you might want to dive into the world of digital resources by creating fonts, Calligraphr would give you a decent gauge on whether or not you want to continue practicing and honing your skills.
Be advised that professional software is more complex than Calligraphr. Calligraphr is a very stripped down type of thing, and all of the programming aspects are hidden from you and replaced with simple sliders or arrows to make an adjustment.
If you decide that it’s something you want to pursue, investing in professional software is crucial to creating powerful, feature-rich fonts. There is a pretty steep learning curve, but when you have a course that tells you everything you need to know about professional font creation, it makes it so much less daunting.
Enter the Learn Font Making course, where you can learn to create your own fonts professionally!
I will forever sing this course’s praises, because this is where I learned how to do what I do. Over the course of five years, I’ve got over 200 fonts created with almost as many in the works currently. (What the heck am I doing blogging right now, I’ve got so much work to do!!!)
Anyway, I’d also like to point out that the limitations with Calligraphr make it seem like a cursive or script font might be a smidge more difficult to make. In order to do this the right way, you would need a paid account so that you can adjust individual letter spacing to ensure that your exit stems connect properly with the next letters…but it doesn’t look like there’s any information available with regard to the kerning of individual letters with others. That feature alone will be crucial for a professional grade font. A handlettered font is great & all, but being able to dive into different styles easily does make a huge difference.
Can You Make Money From Font Design?
The short answer is yes. You can make money from font design. Full disclosure – the post associated with that link was written at the very end of 2019 / early 2020, and in the years since, my income has only increased with font design.
There are a lot of variables that should be considered. For example, the level of commitment you’re willing to have for things like social accounts, investing in ads, whether or not you want to have your own website or just use marketplaces to sell your fonts. Overall, though, yes, you can make money from fonts, but the amount is probably going to be based on how much time you’re willing to spend, and most importantly the caliber of font you’re trying to sell.
There are plenty of decent, well-made fonts out there that include only basics – upper and lowercase letters, numbers, basic punctuation. However, if you include language support (accented characters), you can command a higher price point. If you include extras – alternate glyphs, ligatures, swashes & flourishes – you can go even higher, if you wish.
While Calligraphr does allow for some alternates, and will allow you to have a nice number of characters in your font, it is not professional grade software, and it does not offer the measure of control that a professional font designer should have.
You can try to design fonts for sale with Calligraphr, but I would guarantee that you will hit a certain point with the app where you feel like you are incredibly limited with what you can do.
If you’re considering taking Teela’s Learn Font Making Course, you can try Glyphs out for free for 30 days, and experience the wonder of having full control programming your font. Since there is such a learning curve involved, here’s what I would recommend to keep your cost down as you decide how deeply you want to dive into this industry!
Sign up for Teela’s course. At the time of writing this article, Teela’s next opening is August 2022. Work on your handlettering. Watch the course in full. This is an investment into something new, different, & interesting.
Sidenote: I’ve had a few folks that I recommended Learn Font Making to make mention of the fact that they felt the course was costly. I have to disagree – I made back my investment quickly, including the investment in the full Glyphs software. If you have a gym membership that you pay for (investment in your health), or a Netflix account (investment in your entertainment), or you have a meal subscription like Hello Fresh (investment in your sanity if you work a lot, don’t have time to cook, or just suck at it), you should consider this an investment all the same. It’s an investment in education. People spend money all the time on things that they like to do, so if you like handlettering and you think it would be cool to make professional fonts and get paid for it, you should absolutely be signing up for this course. To this very day, I still say it was the single best investment I have ever made in myself & my creativity.
Sign up for a free trial with Adobe Creative Cloud. You can get 7 days free, which should be sufficient to familiarize yourself with Adobe Illustrator, and get your font cleaned up appropriately.
Sign up for the free trial of Glyphs. You can transfer your characters from Illustrator to Glyphs, and spend your free trial learning the programming aspect of fonts.
If you decided to spring for Creative Cloud, create your branded font graphics there! You could also use a more simple program, like Canva, but you would need a pro account to upload your own font to create your branded images that show off your new font creation. A Canva Pro account has a free 30 day trial.
Ok, the TL;DR usually comes first, but it seems so much more appropriate and chill than saying, “Conclusion” like a science project.
Calligraphr: Good for fun and experimenting with your own handwriting in font form.
Learn Font Making, and professional software like Illustrator and Glyphs: Good for a person who wants to do this professionally and earn some serious dough.
If you have questions about anything I’ve written here, or especially the Learn Font Making course, please drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you and tell you a little more about my experiences if you want to hear about them!