Brick by brick: News about FontStruct

What makes a complete font?

When you open the FontStructor you are presented with that familiar row of character slots sorted alphabetically. If you’re like many FontStruct users, you build your FontStruction by following these slots in order — starting with the caps, then plodding along, drawing one character after another, through the lowercase, numerals, and basic punctuation until you finally reach that lively little tilde (~) that seems to wave like a victory flag: “You’re done!”

But are you done? Not if you want folks in Sweden to use your font. Or Denmark. Even Germany, France, or Spain will take a look at the fruit of your tireless labor and find it woefully incomplete. The countries of Eastern Europe are out of the question. Not to mention the rest of the world.

Above: On the left is my WPA Gothic, a FontStruction I was pretty proud of … until I saw what an uneducated slob it is! The font has about 200 glyphs but it’s still missing the characters necessary just to set a simple sentence in languages commonly used throughout the Western world. By contrast, the multilingual Modular Blackout Bold Condensed is capable of all these languages except the oft-neglected Vietnamese. (Language labels set in Renovare S2. Missing character boxes set in IconoMono.)

A 26-glyph, 52-glyph, or even 200-glyph FontStruction can be a useful exercise for prototyping and experimentation, but it is rarely considered a working font. So let’s look at what else your font needs to advance beyond a fun little piece of art to a truly useful tool.

Basic Latin

In the interest of simplicity this initial row in the editor is limited to only the bare minimum of letters and punctuation. Thus the title of the character group: “Basic Latin”. And while 100 or so glyphs seem like a lot — especially when you’re limping through the set of a particularly challenging design — this group of characters is really not enough to say more than a few things in English.

What’s missing? Accented characters (or diacriticals), of course. The bits that English-centric folk might consider superfluous appendages or “extra” characters are actually standard and necessary in other languages. In Spanish, the n and ñ are individual and distinct letters of the alphabet, each with an identity and pronunciation of their own. In French, a mouthful of sablé (cookie) is more desirable than a mouthful of sable (sand). In German, you can get by without an ß (eszett) by typing ‘ss’ but in most cases it’s linguistically incorrect. And none of this even touches non-Latin languages like Russian (which uses the Cyrillic writing system) and Greek.

So what makes a complete font? The answer isn’t so simple. In fact, an absolutely complete font probably doesn’t exist. Fonts that are bundled with operating systems have a massive arsenal of characters, covering most of the Western world, but even most of those don’t speak languages like Arabic, Hindi, or Chinese.

More Latin

But lets take a step back and assume you want your FontStruction to be usable in at least the most common languages that use the Latin script. Head on over to the character set menu and move beyond Basic Latin to More Latin. This set covers much of the Western world, from North and South America to Western Europe. Even Turkish is supported. Not counting the extra punctuation, fractions, and currency symbols at the end of the row, it’s 65 more glyphs to build. Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t despair — many of these characters are variations on letters you’ve already made. With a few exceptions, you can get by with a copying, pasting, and adding a diacritical mark. The “Copy to Latin Accents” command in Expert Mode expedites this process. If legibility and cultural sensitivity is important to you — and it should be! — take some time to learn how these marks are designed and placed. Microsoft’s Character Design Standards and the Diacritics Project are very helpful guides. Once you complete these characters your work is on par with the entry-level of most commercially available fonts.

Extended Latin A

If you want your font to get play in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe you’ll need to graduate to Extended Latin A. This range covers languages like Croatian, Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, and Slovak. Once you cap that last ‘z’ with a caron you will have completed a font with the same linguistic chops as the most premium commercial releases. Products with this extended language support are often stamped with a “Pro” label (see Adobe and FontFont’s definition) and are sought after by multinational corporations, publications, and any organization whose interests are global.


So you’ve got the letters necessary to speak all the languages you want to support. But you can’t string together meaningful sentences without punctuation. While there are myriad esoteric symbols for specialized fields like music, math, and science, let’s focus on the basic punctuation required for written texts in most Western languages. The obvious necessities are:

  • period (.) comma (,) semicolon (;) colon (:) and ellipsis (…)
  • question mark (?), and its inverted form, used in Spanish (¿)
  • exclamation marks (!¡)
  • straight quotes, single (') and double (") — though they really have no proper typographic function, computers have made them the default quote mark
  • proper “curly” quotes, single (‘’) and double (“”)
  • some languages, like French and Swiss German, quote with guillemets («» ‹›)
  • …which are not to be confused with the lesser- and greater-than symbols (< >)
  • dashes in their three most common lengths: hyphen (-), en (–), and em (—)
  • underscore (_)
  • currency symbols ($ ¢ € £)
  • and other numerical punctuation, the percentage sign (%) degree (°) and number sign/octothorp (#)
  • ordinal indicators are not commonly used in most languages, but (ªº) are expected in Latin-based languages like Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese
  • basic math symbols like plus (+) and equals (=) are necessary, while optional bits are the minus (−) division sign (÷) plus-minus (±) not equal to (≠) and multiplication sign (✕) — which is not the same as the letter ‘x’ as it should vertically align with numerals
  • asterisk (*) bullet (•) and middle dot (·) a smaller, less conspicuous bullet
  • at sign (@)
  • ampersand (&)
  • parentheses (()) brackets ([]) slashes (\/) and pipe (|)
  • registered (®) copyright (©) and trademark (™) signs

What punctuation could be considered optional?

  • curly brackets {} are not required for most uses, but they are indispensable for most programmers and can often come in handy when an alternative bracket is needed
  • the section sign (§) pilcrow (¶) and daggers (†‡) are rarely used in modern typography, but can serve as decorative paragraph separators or footnote indicators
  • single and double primes (ʹʺ) are used for units — like minutes and seconds, or feet and inches — and should have their own specific design, but most users end up employing the more accessible straight quotes
  • currencies like the Japanese yen (¥) and Indian rupee (₨ or ₹) are less common in the West where the dollar, euro, and British pound reign, but they are important in their respective regions
  • directional and decorative symbols like arrows (→) manicules (☞) checkmarks (✓) and stars (★) are not necessary for written text, but can certainly make a font more useful
  • most users don’t expect a full set of numerator and denominator figures for making arbitrary fractions but these thirds (⅓⅔) and fourths (¼½¾) are often included

Are we there yet?

So what is a complete font? If FontStructing is simply a relaxing hobby, then the answer to that question is entirely up to you, the designer. But if you intend your font to live a life outside of the FontStructor, it is ultimately up to the user. And their definition of “complete” is based on a combination of their particular needs and expectations derived from other professional fonts. No matter how inventive or appealing the design of your alphabet may be, if your font is missing what your user needs, they will likely move on to a more well-equipped option.

We hope this introduction familiarizes you with the characters and symbols that are commonly neglected, so your hard work won’t be.

Stephen is a writer and typographer living in Oakland and Berlin. After six years at FontShop San Francisco as a creative director, he now publishes Fonts In UseTypographica, andThe Mid-Century Modernist, and consults with various organizations on type selection.


FontShop confirms support for FontStruct in 2013

Thank you FontShop

Thanks FontShop

Happy new year everyone! Some great news to begin the new year is confirmation of the continuing sponsorshop of FontStruct by FontShop, the original independent font retailer. This means that server costs, and the ongoing support and development of new features on FontStruct are already guaranteed right through 2013.

FontShop launched FontStruct in 2008 and their generous funding of this free design service demonstrates their special relationship with the global community of designers and typographers. With over 600.000 genuine registrations and a similar number of FontStructions in the database (about 23.000 are publicly shared) FontStruct has established itself as a unique resource for modular, grid-based type. We’re particularly pleased to see it being used in schools, universities and art colleges around the world as an introductory teaching tool. FontStructions are also in common use in all kinds of design projects around the world.

Thanks to all FontStructors for sharing your creative energy, and helping to build the incredible typographic assemblage we see growing each day in our gallery. And thanks to FontShop, we can look forward to more wondrous creations in 2013.

Web Font bug fixed

Many FontStruct users have expressed a wish to try and use FontStructions as “web fonts” (typefaces used to display part of a specific website). The most convenient way to do this for FontStructions is to use a free online tool such as Font Squirrel to prepare the fonts in the appropriate formats. Unfortunately, until recently, this conversion process was not working.

Now, thanks to repeated prodding by FontStruct users and the kind help of the guys at Font Squirrel, we have identified and fixed a significant bug in the FontStruct font generator the “Font Mortar”. FontStructions should now work with the free-to-use “@font-face generator” from Font Squirrel to produce working web fonts. Their generator is an extremely well thought-out and useful tool which I would highly recommend.

Ideas for the next Competition?

The last competition was so incredible, I’d like to launch the next one soon. If you’d like to suggest a concept or theme for a FontStruct competition please let us know in the comments to this post.

Thanks and Happy FontStructing!




New Bricks. Kites, Shards, Fins and more!

Fin bricks

We activated 40 new bricks today. First up are eight gorgeous and gothic “Fin” bricks (above) as suggested by truth14ful. truth14ful also requested the four new “Kite” bricks …

Kite bricks

… the 8 new “Shard” bricks …

Shard bricks

… and 4 “Propeller” bricks.

Propeller bricks

Thanks for such a wonderful group of suggestions truth14ful! These are all simple and beautiful geometric shapes which logically complement the existing brick set. I don’t think any of them could be created with the current compositing or stacking options.

“House” Bricks

The so-called “house” bricks could be made as composite bricks, but it’s convenient not to have to do that. djnippa and others have been clamouring for house-shaped bricks for ages. Sorry its taken so long!

House bricks

Extra Corners

Extra corner bricks

Finally will.i.ૐ suggested these small corner bricks, and logic demands them!

All of the new bricks shown here were requested in the suggestions thread on the unofficial user forums. Thanks again to demonics for taking the initiative there.

Changing the brick palette (All Bricks and My Bricks)

Despite the growing number of bricks, we decided to keep the brick palette more or less as it is for now. It’s simple and does the job. But we have added a new option to resize the palette horizontally. This may help users who have a very large number of bricks in the ”My Bricks” window to get an overview.

Resize Brick Palette

Happy FontStructing!

Stencil Competition Results

Stencil Competition Results

The Stencil competition was a resounding success. We saw a record number of entries (70!), a great diversity and originality of approach, and overall an extremely high standard of FontStructing.

I was a bit unsure about the “Stencil” theme when we chose it for this competition. I thought people might find it hard to produce something fresh with so many great stencil designs on FontStruct already. How wrong I was to underestimate the creative energy of the FontStruct community. Well done everyone!

The Winners

Down to business. There was one standout winner which appeared in each judge’s top three, and was also chosen by the community as the “FontStructor’s Favorite”: “db Smoothie” by beate. db Smoothie is an unusual, but highly usable and technically-perfect stencil-FontStruction. Ray Larabie wrote:

db Smoothie bolsters the stencil cuts by lopping tops and bottoms strategically. But it does it in a way that accentuates the differences between letters. That’s something that a lot of other entries missed. You can minimize without making letters look uniform and overly modular.

dm Smoothie Sample

In fact beate could have won several times over. Ray also enthused over “db Karton” (seen in the image at the head of this post):

db Karton avoids the usual stencil cliches and goes with a counter-less style. I love how the C & G avoid the commonplace “Pac Man” deco pastiche. The squared sharps allow a tight fit, which makes it really useful as a poster or headline font.

So well done beate!

The second winner is Thorin by Frodo7. Ray was smitten by its subtle qualities:

Thorin was my favorite entry. There are a lot of soft stencils around that would fit with a classic military theme, but Thorin has a plausible, contemporary military style. The optimal cuts and low-res polygonal flavor evoke an eerie digital camouflage voice.

Congratulations Frodo7!

The third winner is the brilliantly named and executed Crazy Fredericka by four, a fun, legible  and eminently usable form of insanity. High five four!

Crazy Fredericka Sample

Winners will be contacted soon about their prizes.

If you entered and didn’t win, please don’t be sad. You were all amazing. And of course if you can’t wait for the next competition to win a poster,  you can still order it.

Special Mentions and Thanks

In the course of the competition we were delighted to welcome back funk_king and geneus1 to public FontStructing. Their spectacular returns for the Stencilcomp  are one more good reason to hold competitions more often.

We’ve also recently seen the welcome return of jmarquez and, assuming I haven’t been fooled by some nifty photoshopping, congratulations on the amazing knifework for the competition sample!

Finally thank you to will.i.ૐ for his truly incredible innovations most recently in this competition, his willingness to share and unsung, behind-the-scenes volunteer work on FontStruct.

The Judges

Protective hats off to our guest judge Ray Larabie, and honorary staff judge Stephen Coles who gave us a lot of their valuable time for free. As you can imagine it takes to long time to have a conscientious look at 70 FontStructions.

Ray Larabie is a Canadian font designer who has, for the past 15 years, created over 500 font families. He continues to create new fonts in his new home in Nagoya, Japan. More info

Stephen Coles is an honorary FontStruct staff member, writer, typographer. Editor of Fonts In Use, Typographica, and The Mid-Century Modernist. He lives in Oakland & Berlin.

Rob Meek designs, develops and runs FontStruct.

And finally

Watch this space. We’ve got some new bricks coming soon.
In the meantime. Happy FontStructing!



Stencil Competition

Stencil Competition

It’s been quite a while since FontStructors have had the chance to battle for fun, honour and prizes in an official competition. Now, the wait is over.

The brief for this latest competition is to design a FontStruction for stenciling. All entries to this competition should be some form of stencil FontStruction published on or before October 12th 13th 2012 and tagged with “Stencilcomp“.

There’s quite a diverse collection of wonderful stencil designs in the FontStruct gallery already, both categorized and tagged, and FontShop also has a huge collection of stencils fonts to admire. But, perhaps a better place to look for original inspiration would be in your life and in the world around you. We hope you will be gripped by the pragmatic and purposeful spirit of the stenciling tradition.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with stenciling you can find lots of great resources online – introductions and tutorials, both basic and detailed. One important idea is that of islands and bridges. For a reusable stencil there can be no islands without bridges! Here are some examples including a Helvetica “O” with its isolated island, some stencil letters with bridges (in yellow), and an apocalyptic approach – no islands!

Bridges and Islands

Every entry to this competition should be accompanied by an uploaded sample. You certainly don’t have to, but we would strongly recommend making and applying an actual stencil from your work.

Here are a few examples of great stencil designs from the FontStruct’s archive. Below that come the detailed competition rules which you should read before entering.

Stencil FontStruction Examples

Competition time period

September 21st – October 12th 2012

Competition rules

1. You must be a registered FontStruct user.

2. Your submission(s) must be posted and made “public” between September 20th – October 12th 13th 2012. Although you are encouraged to share your submission(s) at any time between these dates, your FontStruction submission(s) must be public (marked “share with everyone”) no later then October 12th 13th at 11pm PST. Additionally, your submission(s) must remain public until October 26th in order to give the judges enough time to review all qualifying entries.

3. Your submission(s) must be tagged with a “StencilComp” tag. (For fairness, during the competition time period, September 21st to October 26th, no FontStruction with the “StencilComp” tag will be awarded a Top Pick or be available for a Featured FontStruction pick.)

4. Your submission(s) must be downloadable. If your FontStruction cannot be downloaded, the submission will be disqualified.

5. Your submission must be a newly published FontStruction. Simply adding the “StencilComp” tag to an already published font is not allowed.

6. For each submission, you must post at least one sample image in the comments of the FontStruction.

7. No letters in each submission can be MORE THAN 48 bricks high.

8. FontStruct cloning is permitted but the judges will be looking for original work.

9. You may enter up to three FontStructions to the competition.

10. This is a friendly competition. Cheering, favoriting and fun banter is encouraged but cruel and uncivil behavior will not be tolerated.

11. No rules regarding licensing. You may choose any Creative Commons license you like for your FontStruction.

Judging and announcing the winners

All qualifying FontStructions will by judged by the FontStruct staff and guest judges, between the October 13th 14th and October 20th. Three prizewinners will be chosen. One of these will be the FontStructors’ Favorite. Winners will be announced in a FontStruct Blog post on October 26th.


All winners will receive a signed and numbered copy of the FontStruct poster.

In addition, all winners will have their winning FontStructions posted as Featured FontStructions for two weeks after the winners are announced.

FontStructors’ Favorite

The valid entry with the greatest number of legitimate favorites at 11pm PST on October 12th 13th will be one of the three prizewinners.

Spread the Word

Tell your friends. The button floating above every FontStruction is a really quick and easy way to point your friends and followers to your work. Maybe you can drum up some more  favorite s for your entry in that way, or entice some novice FontStructors into the game.


If you have questions just add them as comments to this post.

Let’s get FontStructing!

The FontStruct Poster is now available

100 FontStruct posters are now on sale at Etsy. The price is 10€ plus postage for those whose work appears on the poster, and a madly reasonable 20€ plus postage for everyone else. All proceeds will go towards paying for the printing and admin costs. Any surplus will go towards the further development of FontStruct. You’ll find some preview images in this post. Click on them for larger versions.

FontStruct Poster Dot

Continue reading…

Introducing Expert Mode

New FontStructor with Expert Mode button

Dear FontStructors,
We quietly launched a new version of the FontStructor editor last week. So what’s new?

Expert Mode

We thought long and hard about the best way to add new features to the FontStructor editor without cluttering up the interface. Experienced users wish to create complex and sophisticated designs with FontStruct, but the platform has also always been about simplicity, ease-of-use and a non-technical approach to type design. How can we keep the interface simple and intuitive, whilst supporting those who want to push the boundaries of grid-based, modular design even further?

Continue reading…

FontStructions featured in Slanted Magazine

Cover of Slanted Magazine #15 – Experimental

We’re very pleased that a number of FontStructions are featured in the latest edition of Slanted – #15 “Experimental”. Continue reading…

New FontStructor Beta

There’s a new beta version of the FontStructor available for testing.
We’d love you to take it for a spin and please let us know if you find any issues with it.

If you want to edit a specific FontStruction in the beta version, go to the FontStructor and load the FontStruction as usual. Once it has loaded, go to the beta URL above.

Apart from a few minor interface tweaks, there are some new features. Continue reading…

Illustration Competition: Winners

The judges have deliberated and now it’s time to announce the results in the FontStruct “Illustration” competition for illustrative, modular typefaces.

It was especially hard work judging this time. Not only was there a record number of entries, but without the underlying coherence of an alphabet, the fonts often did not reveal their qualities at first glance. The judges needed to examine the entire character set, and look at the font at different sizes. Samples were also even more important than usual. The diversity of approaches to the brief taken by designers made it difficult to find common judging criteria, and about fourteen different entries were mentioned in the judges notes. Amazingly, despite this, three clear winners did emerge. Before we get to them, let’s review some of the other entries mentioned by the judges. Continue reading…