Category Archives: Technical

Compiling Fontforge 20120731 without Python

The new version of Fontforge is here. On the last couple of days I’ve been trying to compile and install it on my Mac OSX system, with very little success. Mainly because because MacPorts still doesn’t have it available and I lack the proper knowledge to do it in a clean way…

I though I had everything needed (from previous versions), but, as It turns out, the configure script kept freezing (searching for Freetype libraries) and, even after that, the make script crashed because of Python (?). I got something like this:

python.c:16039: warning: initialization makes integer from pointer without a cast
python.c:16042: warning: initialization from incompatible pointer type
python.c:16057: warning: initialization makes pointer from integer without a cast
python.c:16058: warning: initialization from incompatible pointer type
python.c:16067: warning: initialization from incompatible pointer type
make[1]: *** [python.lo] Error 1
make: *** [fontforge] Error 2

I took a little while, but, after reading the instructions and a little digging on Google, I found out this answer by Nicholas Spalinger regarding the Freetype Library timeout error during ./configure:

After a couple of trial-and-error runs (that included installing and uninstalling several versions of Python), I’ve decided to compile Fontforge without Python. In the end, the command I ended up using was:

./configure –with-freetype-src –without-python

I I know this is an easy way out, but I’ve reached the limits of my Unix capabilities… Fontforge is running smoothly for me (so far), and I hope this helps someone also…

Illustrated Typeface Anatomy Terminology

Typeface Anatomy poster detail

The illustrated Typeface Anatomy Terminology poster published here was submitted and published on the last edition of the Portuguese conference on Typography, held in Aveiro: (here’s the direct link to the poster:

It can be summarized as a comprehensive illustrated glossary of typeface anatomy terms in current use.

Created to serve as a learning resource to help students develop their type design skills progressively, it proposes a classification of the terms into six different categories: C1 Measurements (and Proportions), C2 Shapes; C3 Strokes; C4 Details; C5 Properties; C6 Terminals.

Although mainly in Portuguese (the aim of the original work was to present a comprehensive glossary in Portuguese), it provides an illustration and the English version of the terms in the poster (in order to help clarify). It will also include (in a future version) a short summary of each definition.

Some entries need to be removed, others added...

It’s part of a series of posters that are being developed and, as a result of the feedback already obtained, we’re further synthesizing this one – some entries are to be removed (like 62 and 63 above, the direction of shading), others still need to be added (like italic, oblique, condensed, expanded). We’re also expanding the language translations. We’ve identified a basic set of important French and Spanish references, and we’re currently translating it into these languages. But we need help in obtaining seminal references and translating the terms into German, Dutch and Italian.

III Encontro de Tipografia International Type Conference website2012 - Amado Silva - Anatomia Tipográfica - ENT2011

We expect to present and draft paper proposal of this terminology in the forthcoming Portuguese International Typography Conference – III Encontro de Tipografia – to be held in Porto, next October 2012:

Here’s a rough translation and slight upgrade of the poster’s dissertation into English. If you can or want to help, please send me an e-mail, or write a comment!


This paper presents a typeface anatomy terminology, aimed specifically to cover the current digital typeface production universe. It is still a work in progress, which involves the analysis, collection, and synthesis of the definitions found in current literature references. It aims to contribute to the definition, stabilization and to the update of the terms used today, trying to fulfil the need for a comprehensive student’s Typeface Design (TD) manual.


On the first hand, it aims to identify all the possible terms relating to the anatomy of digital type, so they can be understood and used by the different stakeholders in the current technological design and production environment. On the second hand, it aims to reduce the ambiguity of the existing terminology, which results from the legacy of the movable type technology. This terminology is part of an on-going project consisting of four anatomical glossaries: Typeface, Text Shape, Page Layout , and Book.

Methodology and preliminary analysis

Up until now, we’ve analysed a sample of 26 references in two languages (Portuguese and English) chosen for different criteria:

  • Historical relevance (Bringhurst, 2001; Lawson, Agner, 1990; Loxley, 2005; Mclean, 1996);
  • Technical explanations (Cheng, 2006; Fontshop, 2010; Santos, 2007; Sousa, 2002; Tracy, 1986);
  • Academic guidance (Ambrose, Harris, 2006; Craig, 2006; Earls, 2002; Kane, 2002; Kunz, 2002; Lupton, 2010; Pflughaupt, 2007; Willen, Strals, 2009);
  • [Portuguese] Language context (Cunha, 2009; Ferrand, Bicker, 2000; Heitlinger, 2010; Lessa, 2004; Meurer, 2009; Vilela, 1998)
  • Comprehensiveness (38pages, 2010; Naseem, 2011; Rosendorf, 2009).

Figure 1 Comparison of entries found in references

To date, we’ve identified a total of 710 term entries in the above-mentioned literature. The definitions and illustrations of the entries were checked in order to compare and synthesize a list of 90 unique terms (T). Representing two thirds of analysis (66.7%), the English references have an average number of terms (25.3) similar to the average number of terms in the Portuguese references (25.1). However, references with more than 25 unique entries are higher in English (33%) than in Portuguese (25%). Regarding the average frequency of each reference found in the references (N), we observed the predominance of English (75.9%) compared to the Portuguese (24.1%). As can be seen in Figure 1, some terms such as Taper (47), or Ink Trap (54), have no Portuguese version. We suspect this is the same in other languages, as digital type has evolved predominantly in English. Others, such as Aperture (15), or Stem (42) have different versions, or use, given the ambiguous relationship between the movable metal type and digital technologies. This terminology was first developed in both languages to avoid misunderstandings and to identify the gaps existing in specific languages. The English language was used as a template slate because current font production technology is mainly available in English, and because the most comprehensive references are more easily accessible (see the Conclusion and Future Work section).

For the more ambiguous anatomy parts (such as overshoot and overhang), this terminology proposes new terms, or the consolidation of the current digital ones (specially in the Portuguese language), based on literature review and technical translations. It is intended to contribute to the definition of simple, unique and accurate terms, easy to relate to the current font production technology and type design. Ultimately, this terminology aims to contribute to a terminology simple to understand and that can maintain its relationship with the history of typeface development.

Conclusion and Future Work

Despite being a work in progress, this analysis allowed us to identify some inaccuracies and add new entries to the terminology in Portuguese. This fact seems to confirm the absence of a widespread practice, or of an out-of-date education in Portugal. Although Type Designers and Teachers like Dino dos Santos, Ricardo dos Santos and Joana Correia da Silva are providing a solid base of education, good Portuguese education manuals are still lacking in our country. We owe much to the translations and to the neologisms incorporated into the current Design practice. On the one hand, this is not a bad thing by itself, much by the contrary – it helps us broaden our education horizons. But, on the other hand, it undervalues the old and existing terms used in the last decades of movable metal technology. And it potentially severs the links to our cultural heritage and national identity values. So it’s urgent to rescue and build a design practice lexicon.

Nevertheless, this work is still under development:

  • The illustrations will be complemented with their textual definitions in order to avoid misinterpretations. And enhanced with complementary examples to better illustrate the terminology;
  • More Portuguese references will have to be identified, especially from authors of historical importance as Joaquim dos Anjos, or Manuel Pedro;
  • Entries in languages such as Spanish and French will be added and cross-referenced as well as English ones. We have already identified a sample of important references in Spanish such as De Buen, Scaglione, Meseguer, Henestrosa and Sesma, and in French, such as Porchez and Munch. Further references will be identified and added. These are mandatory to include in this study as they are closer to our Portuguese roots and might share a common root or influence each other.
  • German and Dutch references are also mandatory to include in this glossary, but we will need the help from native speaker designers and researchers to identify references and authors like Unger, Spiekermann, Kupferschmid, Middendorp, Pohlen, Blokland and other of professional and academic relevance.

As many of the peer assessments have noticed, it is also necessary to cross reference important international education references as Haslam or Noordzij, check further technical references as Felici, Adobe, or Microsoft and FontLab.

Finally, it is necessary to validate the terms list with a community of national and international experts, such as ATypI and SoTA members, and international Type Designers. As a list, or a glossary of current Typeface Design practice, this work is expected to be under constant update and evaluation.


This Week in Type: It’s all about vid… Vimeo!

Dan Rhatigan's conference on Vimeo

A week after our successful Portuguese Typography conference, I’m determined to get back on this blog’s saddle. With this in mind, here’s another edition of This Week in Type—I’ll try to shorten this topic down to 5 links a week, organized on a given theme or topic. In order to get them out every week I’ll slim down the text to an almost “bookmark style” post.

First and foremost, after ATypI’s short videos on Vimeo, here’s Rhatigan’s conference on Web fonts and more: (post image). Hope we’ll be able to publish our own conference videos soon too (Petr van Blokland’s conference rocked!)

Detail from Web Ink's website

Talking about typography on the Web, here’s Thomas Phinney’s Typography’s Best Practices for the Web. Part 1: and Part 2:

Detail from Fontfeed's blog

Vocabulary of Type (via Fontfeed): Not about web, not even a “today technology” but a nice experimental video.

rtype on vimeo

One more visual inspiration reference—Rui Abreu’s latest experiment: Big fan of his work (but I’m a biased friend of him…)

As a final note, not a video link, but I’m sure it’ll produce a lot of videos online. The next Typo conference:

Europe’s most successful annual three-day design conference comes to London: TYPO. An A-list of influential speakers from the world of typography; information, graphic and digital design; brand experience; film; animation; publishing and education are confirmed for this inaugural edition. The theme for TYPO’s London debut is “Places”. The conference will take place from 20-22 October in Logan and Jeffery Halls at the University of London.

Fontforge binaries…

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Mario Moura. We started talking about the typography class he teaches at the Editorial Design master at the Fine Arts Faculty of Porto, and soon we were talking about font developing software.

I have this conversation from time to time with different people. It’s about the strategies and tools adopted in the different design learning contexts (this topic of discussion actually started a few years ago with Mario himself).  One thing led to another, and, at a given point, he reported students were having trouble finding the necessary files to install Fontforge in the Mac OSX. They still seem to find it difficult, although George Williams has dedicated a significant amount of effort into documenting all the necessary steps. I’ve also tried to simplify it before.

Even when they can understand the necessary steps, there’s always the need to download X11, or to have XCode and the necessary libraries on the system. Other issues include the need to have MacPorts download the gigabytes of ports and dependencies needed to build Fontforge from the source files…I know from my personal experience that this can be very frustrating.

So, if you need to use it in classes, or you can’t build it on your system, here’s quick-fix solution to it (you still need to have install permissions):

  1. Download and install XQuartz, an alternative open source X window system for the Mac OSX;
  2. Download and install the necessary dependencies;
  3. Download and install the latest Fontforge release (20110222).

That’s all there is to it! Now you only have to start XQuartz, then type “fontforge” into the terminal and start editing your fonts.

I’ve pre-compiled Fontforge and almost all the dependencies on OSX 10.6. Somehow I managed to build and install libjpeg and libtiff from source. I think they’ve been included into this build, but I couldn’t create the .dmgs for them with the port command. Nevertheless, everything should be working except the EPS import. As I have only one Mac OSX system, I can’t really test if everything is working as it should, so I’m making this available “as is”…

As a final note, I urge you to check all the necessary license agreements before using these builds. Here’s Fontforge’s license:

Copyright 2000,2001,2002,2003,2004,2005,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011 by George Williams. Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

The name of the author may not be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.


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…