Installing Fontforge in Snow Leopard

League Gothic Open Source font available from:

As you can see, I am finally killing the old typeforge website and updating it to the blog format which is simpler to maintain. One of the reasons is that I’ve recently acquired a MacBook Pro with Snow Leopard (Mac OSX 10.6.2) and I am trying to get back into Type Design…

Which brings us to this topic, installing Fontforge correctly on Snow Leopard. The old mac step-by-step on typeforge is very incomplete… although it’s still very simple to get fontforge running (just download and install), one of the tricky things I’ve ran into in the past is getting the libray dependencies to work correctly (specially the SVG and PNG to import images and vectors).

Before continue reading you might want to check this post:

Wait, library what?… that’s the usual question Mac owner students ask. These are necessary files that fontforge needs in order to handle background image import, vector import from illustrator, etc…

The thing is, when installing in Cygwin/Windows, the installer took care of it, but on the Mac, these libraries have to be installed manually. There goes the theory of Macintosh being simpler… So, if you have a Mac and you want to have Fontforge up-and-running smoothly, this is my attempt to shed some light into George Williams (very complete) install tutorial:

  1. Make sure you have the latest X11 and XCode installed – pick up your install DVDs and check the packages;
  2. Point your browser to Download and install it;
  3. Then browse Fontforge’s dependencies page: Choose the ones you need (I’ve actually installed more than I needed). But how? (Continue reading);
  4. Start X11. Xterm should start automatically (that white command line window).
  5. Type the following command for each library you need – “port search potrace” – (to search for potrace, for example). Caution: not all libraries have the same name as in the fontforge dependencies page… So, try the following – libpng, tiff, libungif, jpeg, libxml2, freetype, cairo and pango;
  6. If the search command returns the desired results, then, for each one, run the following command – “sudo port install potrace” – for Potrace for example. Repeat for each library package… freetype, pango and cairo took a while…
  7. And that’s it. Now run Fontforge from the applications menu, or type the command “fontforge” in the Xterm command line window. Alternatively you can customize the X11 Applications menu under “customize”.

Hope this works for you as it is working for me…

16 thoughts on “Installing Fontforge in Snow Leopard

  1. Celtic Tattoo

    I don’t suppose that you just may well have the ability to turn this post into a video post? I’ve a tough time reading on my computer along with a video will be a lot better for me.

  2. pedamado Post author

    Hey Celtic:
    Currently I don’t have the software to do so, but the process is rather simple. Don’t be afraid to try it (it won’t “break” your computer).
    Alternatively you can download a virtualization software like VMWare Player + Linux Apliance, or VirtualBox + Ubuntu Linux and run fontforge natively in Linux on your OS…

  3. Noah Buley

    Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. But imagine if you added some great graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and clips, this blog could certainly be one of the greatest in its niche. Fantastic blog!

  4. Pingback: Fontforge binaries… « Typeforge

  5. tris

    Pedamado, “noah” and “celtic” are automated spam scripts … So you know…

  6. Mike

    Cannot install FontForge because don’t have MacPorts. So, install MacPorts. Oh, cannot install MacPorts because installed Xcode is 10.5 and MacPorts insists on 10.4. So, no MacPorts, and consequently no FontForge. I am not a developer, I am a user. Many computer users are not developers. Why should users have to build install packages? That is the job of the developer.

  7. pedamado Post author

    Hi Mike!
    You can install directly from my binary package and run only with X11 / XQuartz:
    But, if you still want to compile the program in an easy way, you can also use Fink and Homebrew, or do it all by yourself from the terminal ;)

    On the other hand, maybe you should just use a proprietary, easy to install and use solution, like FontLab, or RoboFont.
    Hope this helps. Cheers,

  8. Walter

    Hi Pedamado, I’ve installed Fontforge and Potrace via Fink. (On a Mac with OS 10.6).
    Fontforge works fine, except it doesn’t seem to find Potrace. Any suggestions?
    Sorry to ask you these installation questions but it seems hard to find practical info understandable for artists/designers :)

  9. Gé van Gasteren

    The links Pedamado gives don’t work for installing FontForge in 10.6 and newer.
    Also, his advice to buy FontLab is, in my opinion, a non-answer. Firstly, FontForge can do things FontLab can’t (Indic fonts, e.g.) and secondly, everybody knows that FontLab is existing, so if they were able/ready to invest 650$ they would do so.

    I just can’t understand how projects like Firefox and LibreOffice can thrive, while FontForge is left hanging in the air. Those developing/maintaining it would want it to spread, wouldn’t they?

  10. pedamado Post author

    I don’t want to start a flame war, but… Are you sure Fontlab can’t do things Fontforge can, like complex scripts?… really?!… I encourage you to try it first…

    And why is advising to use a commercial package a non-answer? If you’d bothered to read some of my posts and my other blog you’d have found out that I am a big apologist of FLOSS especially in education. Besides, in all these years moving between Linux (Fedora & Ubuntu), Windows (Cygwin) and MacOSX (X11) I ALWAYS had issues with Fontforge and tried to overcome them (and share my findings). Long story short, my current take on this is that the money you’re investing in a commercial package should be “smaller” than the value of the time plus the effort you’re willing invest in using a more difficult, otherwise free tool. After all, there is no such thing as a free beer… — free software is always built at the expense of someone else!

    I am sorry to hear the binaries don’t work for you. This was my effort on trying to spread its use. Maybe you should take your own advice and try to build new binaries that work with your system settings and share them with the rest of us? If you do, I’ll be happy to post your links here too!


    P.S.: Here’ a hint… in the future, try googling before typing rubbish, and be sure to check out Dave Crossland’s website:

  11. Gé van Gasteren

    Sorry, I should have kept it more business-like.

    From FontLab’s website: “OpenType Layout tables required for complex scripts such as Arabic, Devanagari or Thai can be added with the free Microsoft VOLT application.” Which means that there’s no GUI for creating or modifying those scripts’ OpenType features.

    FontForge is not a particularly pleasant program to work with, especially for someone who has worked with Fontographer. Still, one gets used to it.
    But what I can never get used to is a program that takes a programming background just to get it installed. I’ve done no programming beyond a little scripting and am completely lost when I have to go building a software package. And there’s no instructions anywhere in sight what one should study to be able to do that; to me it’s a big labyrinth that I can’t be sure of ever entangling, so why start on it, I tell myself. Maybe there is a Fontforge users group somewhere, but I don’t know of it. The list I am subscribed to mainly discusses Python problems and seems to take the pitiable installation situation for granted. But I’m getting carried away again.

    What I meant by “non-answer” is that there are many font lovers, usually non-professionals, people willing to spend the countless hours necessary to get those OpenType substitutions and positionings right, living in the poorer countries where these scripts (Arabic/Farsi, all the Indic ones, Thai) are used. They simply have no choice but FontForge.
    Somehow, writing this is clearing my mind: Macs are for rich people, so they can use Fontlab; Linux is for poor people, so they can use Fontforge. Two kind of separate worlds which I seem to be straddling because I’m using older Mac models. (I’ll momentarily forget about TypeTool as a cheaper option for people with simple scripts, just to keep the picture clear :-)
    Conclusion: things will get easier if I clearly choose one of those two worlds. So I’m going to install Linux on my Mac, or on any computer within reach, and put Fontforge in there–I guess there are always up-to-date binaries for Linux.

    It was of course great that you posted that Fontforge build, and my report that it doesn’t work should have read more like this: “I have been using your build in the past, but now I’ve updated to Snow Leopard, it doesn’t seem to work anymore. Can you confirm that, or is there a way to fix it?”

    That “Design with Fontforge” page seems to be a great resource, thank you for pointing it out! The link to “a guide to installing on the Mac” doesn’t work, but I think I don’t need it anymore…

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