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Tips on Creating Custom Fonts With Adobe Illustrator

by | Mar 14, 2013 | Articles, Illustrator, Tutorials, Typography | 3 comments

About Custom Fonts

If you have a knack for it, creating your own custom fonts can generate a lot of money. Even if you have no desire to create custom fonts (because a lot of work and craftsmanship goes into it), you may still come across a project or two where you need to create your own custom font or typeface for a logo or an identity. If this case, I would recommend Adobe Illustrator for the job. It is vector based, and is much easier to manipulate shapes, combine them, and work with them on a general basis.

It may take a long time to create a custom font, even in Adobe Illustrator. The first place you want to start is a sketchbook. Get a concept going before you start. Whip out the sketchbook and just start with ideas and concepts, such as “what if I created a typeface made completely of sliced lettering?” This may seem like an abstract concept, but even the simplest of ideas can turn into an amazing typeface.

With a general direction and idea under your belt, next you will want to open up illustrator. It is a good idea to set things up properly before we officially get started. You will want to go to View> Show Grid. The other couple of settings we will change is up to your personal preference. You can choose to snap your shapes to a point, and you can also have the snap to the grid itself. I recommend that, so that everything snaps in place and you don’t have to be so exact with your basic shapes. This will speed up the creation process for the easy letters, but you may want to turn this off for the more tedious letters in your custom fonts. You can turn them back off by simply going back to the area where you turned them on.

Custom Fonts-grid

You may also want to set up smart guides, which may make it much easier to work with objects and you can align them via sight. If you are a stickler for precision like I am, then you may want to use the Align Panel to align objects to the left, right, top or bottom, and you can even distribute them evenly with this panel. This makes creating custom fonts much easier.

Getting Started with Custom Fonts

I am going to create some basic letters just to give you an idea of how to get started. I know this might seem trivial, but one thing to keep in mind is to use the grid to your advantage. If I am created a circular shape such as with a lowercase “a”, “p”, “d”, etc., I create them using the main lines of the grid as my guides. In the example below, from left to right I created the outer circle. Then, while holding Alt/Option, I held down Shift and clicked and drug out the inner circle, stopping 2 blocks from the edge all the way around. Then, using the Pathfinder Panel, I clicked on Minus Front to subtract the inner circle from the outer one, forming the hole.


Next, since the overall stroke is 2 blocks wide, I will add a vertical stroke that snaps to 2 blocks wide and runs 2 grid blocks tall vertically. This is a good way to start, and we are just in the building stages. We can always go back later and make optical refinements.

Avoid the Temptation to Merge Shapes

I know it may seem hard at first, but this can save you a lot of time if you really stop and think about it. If you are like me, sometimes your desire to finalize things gets the best of you. this can come back to bite you in the end, because you end up having to remake the same shapes over and over again to form similar letters. It is okay to group them, by hitting Command/Ctrl+G, but don’t merge them with the Pathfinder Panel just yet. This will allow you to double-click on any group of shapes and copy a piece, and then paste it in another area. Reusing shapes will save you time.

Reuse Letters When Creating Your Custom Fonts

Some people don’t think of this, but p, b and d are essentially the same shape, just flipped around. Don’t remake these over again. Simply copy, paste and rotate or flip them to make the other letters. For an uppercase R, create the P first and then copy it and add the leg to it. a lowercase n could just be an n with a longer stem. thinking about and planning these shapes ahead of time can save you a lot of extra work and extra time.


A Trick to Dividing Shapes for Use in Custom Fonts

One thing you can do is take an existing shape and divide it in a matter of seconds. For example, if you wanted to put a rounded shape on the stem of the lowercase q, you could take a typical circle, and use the Pen Tool to draw a horizontal line across the middle of it.


With only the line selected, go to Object>Path> Divide Objects Below. This will take the line that you created and split the object below it by that line. Of course this is just an example, but you can do this with any shape that you want.




Getting the basic look on screen is one of the toughest parts of creating your own custom fonts and typefaces. Just remember that it isn’t going to look perfect at first, and you will have many revisions to come. In the q example above the tail swings way too far out. If you apply the same principles to the lowercase f like in the example below, you can see that these are not proportional or pleasing to the overall letterform. It will take some practice, along with trial and error and a lot of tweaking to get it just right. Just remember not to get too frustrated, and that it is all digital at this point, so you can always alter it.



You’ve seen how easy it is to create your own custom fonts in Adobe Illustrator. You can reuse shapes and combine them using the Pathfinder and Align Panels to make your life much easier. When you are finished with your custom fonts, you can import them into a professional font building program such as FontLab and export them as True Type or Open Type fonts.

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