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Getting the most out of RoboFont

Type designers are lucky to have a variety of extremely-capable tools for creating new fonts. My favorite of these is the font editor RoboFont, along with its ecosystem.

I covered some of the reasons I like RoboFont in my earlier post, Getting Started in Type. This post actually started as a section of that article, but I have since realized that I would like to add more extensions and more details. If you haven’t already read that article, there are lots of helpful tips there, so consider giving it a look, too!

First things first 🔗

Like most powerful software, RoboFont has a lot of functionality, and you will save time by doing a bit of reading before diving in. It is extremely useful to get familiar with the RoboFont Docs (even if you just skim parts of it at first). If you are new to RoboFont or just wondering what it’s all about, start with the RoboFont Introduction.

As a new user, you will probably want to define the default character set for new fonts. Here’s how. Glyph Browser, an extension mentioned below, further extends this part of the process.

A really handy feature of RoboFont (especially for early-stage drawing & exploration) is the Test Install, which allows you to quickly install the font you are working on, then immediately use it in other apps to test it out, make proofs, etc.

Extensions are a big part of the RoboFont experience. Most RoboFont extensions can be found at https://robofontmechanic.com/.

My favorite RoboFont extensions 🔗

There are a number of RoboFont extensions that I find extremely useful:

A few very good extensions are complex software in their own right, and these must be purhcased separately. This allows the developers to provide support and to maintain these products, and because these are pretty critical pieces of my workflow, I find that to be a very good deal.

You can get more-detailed documentation about RoboFont extensions at robofont.com/documentation/extensions/.

Additional macOS apps that are espcially useful with RoboFont 🔗

VS Code is an excellent code editor, file explorer, Git client, and terminal, all built into one elegant package. I nearly always have a project open in a VS Code workspace while I’m working in RoboFont. This is entirely optional, but if you’re doing a mix of scripting, font building, and Git versioning, it is so handy to one place to many all these technical bits.

Paste gives you access to your Clipboard History, which is helpful in many situations (email, code, interface design, etc etc), but also handy in RoboFont. You can copy a couple of contours, then (if you remember the order you copied things in) paste them as needed. Hard to explain, but very handy.

Divvy allows you to easily set the sizing of windows without dragging things around manually. This is helpful in lots of scenarios beyond type design, but especially nice in a multi-window app like RoboFont. Set up some global shortcuts to make this even quicker! There are other "window manager" apps for Mac, but this one offers my preferred balance of simplicity and power.

Dark Mode in RoboFont 🔗

Sometimes, it’s nice to work in the evening without blasting your eyes with a ton of bright light. Luckily, RoboFont settings allow you to get a pretty serviceable dark mode in two steps:

  1. You can use this script as a “Start Up Script” (see script for instructions) to automatically set a light/dark mode each time you start RoboFont, based on your macOS preferences. If you change the macOS preference and want to update light/dark mode, you can also run the script without restarting RoboFont.
  2. If you also want a dark mode for the Glyph View (if you want dark mode, you will want this too), you can also install the Theme Editor extension, then use my “Dark Connor” theme or make your own.

Two drawing tips 🔗

So much can be (and is) written about drawing type, but here are two things that aren’t as obvious:

  1. Most of the time, it is helpful to work with the Glyph View and the Space Center side-by-side. Use Divvy (mentioned above) to set up 50% of your screen with a glyph, and the other 50% with the Space Center, then adjust the glyph while keeping an eye on the glyph in the context of spacing strings, at different scales, and/or more! I didn’t do this for a long time, but then I picked up the tip from James Edmonson (OHno Type Co) on Instagram, and it changed my life.
  2. Get familiar with using the Transform (T) tool, along with the modifier keys. This can be very unintuitive at fist, but becomes pretty powerful over time. I will try to make a video or say more about this at some point, because it can be easy to miss but seriously helpful.

Ask for help! 🔗

If you get stuck on a problem, chances are, someone will be happy to help you out. Sometimes, just the act of clearly writing out your problem will help you solve it on your own! This applies to basically all aspects of computers and software, but is particularly true in learning & using RoboFont and its associated tools.

Generally, if you run into an unexpected issue, open the Output Window (Python > Output Window, or Option+Command+o) and check for error messages.

Happy RoboFonting. 🔗

There is a lot more that could be said about RoboFont, but hopefully this post is able to help you learn a few useful things you didn’t already know. Enjoy!