How to Make/Edit Fonts on the Mac

Fonts are something that until computers came along, we as civilian citizens never had much contact with. Unless you were a graphic designer or a printer, you probably wouldn’t even know what one was until you were able to choose them and print them yourself.

So we are all happy using them day to day, but how can you make your own? And more to the point, why would you want to?

In this article, you will learn how to create your own Truetype, OTF, etc. fonts on the Mac using free tools, including tips on the black art of font design.

Note: Beware of messing with your system fonts. If you save over them with a modified version you may screw up your user interface and have to re-install your OS, so tread carefully and don’t save anything over anything. By reading beyond this point, you agree that you are doing this with a stern warning to be careful.

On the Mac, there are a wealth of options for Font Design, probably because the Mac was the home of DTP and digital font design for a long while. The current industry standard is FontLab Studio who also sell the previous king of font creation software Fontographer.

Both of these programs are pricey, but luckily there is an open source and free alternative which is just as good called Font Forge. Yes, it looks a bit antiquated, but there’s a reason for that: it is a port, but it is a good solid program and will create and save just about any type of font you want to make.

Note: you will need to have X11 loaded to make this software work, but full instructions for that are included.

Like all art, the way in for beginners is to copy and cheat. You can make amazing and individual fonts by modifying existing faces in simple ways to make them do things they don’t normally do.

Note: before you do this, we should say that this is a rough guide to font modding, and if at any point you don’t feel you know what you are doing, back out gracefully and do nothing. Don’t just press buttons and hope for the best.

To mod an existing font, first load it into Font Forge with “File -> Open.”

To mod an existing font first load it into Font Forge.

Choose a font to mod. Navigate to “/Users/<username>/Library/Fonts” to find the fonts on your system. Once you have loaded the font, you are presented with the screen with all the letters. Double click on any of them to edit the form. If you can use vector graphics programs, then this will be easy for you, but read the documentation for tips on how to adapt the curves.

You are presented with the screen with all the letters.

Let’s do a global transform to narrow or condense a font. Choose “Select All” by pressing “Control + A” (yes, it should be Command-A usually on the Mac, but this is X11, so usual Mac keystrokes are out) or “Edit -> Select -> Select All.” You can now do global transforms.

Select “Elements -> Transformations -> Transform.” You will see you can edit a number of parameters globally.

You can edit a number of parameters globally.

Select “Scale” from the first drop-down and change the X figure to 50%. Click OK, and the font will condense itself by half.

Select Scale from the first drop-down.

Generate the font (taking care to rename it first):

Generate the font.

You will undoubtedly get some warning of errors:

You will undoubtedly get some warning of errors.

Review all the errors (it’s not important you know what they all mean at this point),

Review all the errors.

and go through them one by one by double-clicking on the red text, then clicking the fix button when you get to each letter:

Click the fix button when you get to each letter.

Go through all of them until you run out of errors. Now you can save the font and then load the font into your system by finding it in the Finder where you navigated before,


and double clicking on it to install it into Font Book. Obviously, having loaded a font and adapted it without any knowledge of font design, you may not get the result you were hoping for, but this is how you would do it. Take the time to read the Font Forge documentation in great detail and even study some books on font design to learn the terminology before you wade into this too deeply.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but those are the basics of font hacking. Tread carefully and be sure you rename the fonts before you save. And simply because you modify the file name of a font doesn’t change its name in Font Book which is part of the Font Info. You may before you decide to save the font go to “Element -> Font Info” and ensure you rename it there too.

To save the font go to Element -> Font Info.

Another easy way into font design, or getting a font to use your own handwriting in documents, is by using a simple online service.

Go here to My Script Font , download the template, fill in the blanks with your handwritten letters, scan it, upload it back to them and the font is automatically created.

Now that’s much easier than being good at font design!

Don’t try to be too elaborate. Start with fixed line width fonts and gradually work your way up to variable width fonts.

Concentrate on getting a font which looks neat and readable even at small sizes before you try to make anything more complicated. Make a font that works at all sizes, not just in a headline.

Learn from the best. Take apart your favourite fonts and see what makes them tick. How are the curves made, what elements do all the letters contain and what makes them readable or unreadable.

Good luck!

Have you ever made your own font for the Mac? What did you use and what tips would you give to beginners getting into font design? Let us know in the comments below.