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FontLab Studio 5 Review: PAGE April 2006

The following text is a translation of the German review that appeared in PAGE magazine, issue 04.06, April 2006, page 88. Used with permission.

FontLab Studio 5 for Mac tested

The wish for a current 5.0 version of the popular font editor has now cam true for the Mac users. Beginners will particularly appreciate the greatly improved structure of the menus and dialog boxes, and the cleaned-up terminology. While the user interface of earlier versions of the software often required profound expertise, the new version is clearly more intuitive; the choice of words became more consistent, and therefore easier to understand. The structural improvements in the Preferences and Font Info dialogs are particularly valuable.

The application also shows progress regarding compatibility: the support for Unicode 4.1 (was 3.2 before) together with new encodings allows the creation of fonts for global writing systems. The macros use the current (2.4) version of the Python scripting language and are completely integrated, so that the annoying separate installation step is omitted. Windows users will be pleased to be finally able to open fonts created in the Mac version of FontLab Studio.

Support for so-called pixelfonts is new: one can open BDF font files and then simply create the corresponding rectangular block outlines using the “Trace Pixels” feature. The Trace feature, missed badly by some users of the older Fontographer software, is also integrated, so that scanned templates can be converted into paths. The quality can be adjusted in detail in the Preferences but it requires some playing with the sliders until a half-way useful result comes out.

More things were borrowed from Fontographer, which becomes evident when working with the new user interface: in the main window, all modified glyphs of an unsaved font are marked with a black bar, and in the Glyph window the triangular tangent points remind of the software classic. Those who prefer FontLab’s own path representation, distinguishing straight and curve sections can choose this appearance by enabling Preferences / Glyph Window / Appearance / Node shape shows point and connection type.

Altogether, there are many more display options available in this version. The user can not only compose custom toolbars and menus; he or she can change color settings for backgrounds and many other elements, create completely new workspaces, save them and re-use them at any time.

The new functionality of the revised Glyph and Metrics windows brings great relief: it is now possible to edit other characters in context. When refining the glyph design, the user can create groups of character with similar form characteristics, the Shape Groups. The entire group can be displayed behind or next to the currently edited glyph, and the user can jump to the other glyphs directly through double-clicking. The two freely selectable Neighbors work similarly, and can be attached to the left and to the right of each specific glyph by drag-and-drop from the Font window.

Quite a few improvements that are visible in the Metrics window are the result of Fontlab Ltd. collaborating with type designer Luc(as) de Groot. One can instantly notice the multi-line text preview, while the surrounding toolbars and tables can be smartly arranged or hidden if needed. The user can insert “n” to enforce a line break, and many additional functions are available through Control- and Alt-clicks.

Metric and kerning classes offer the next great improvement in the work process: the user creates groups of characters with similar left or right sides. Then, any change to the sidebearings or the kerning values can be quickly applied to the remaining characters in a class. FontLab Studio 5 can even build classes automatically, though it is probably only useful with accented letters.

The result: More stable performance, a more logical menu structure as well as numerous new useful functions such as the Trace tool, the Shape Groups as well as the Metrics and Kerning Classes constitute a noticeable advancement of FontLab Studio. If you get FontLab Studio 5, you won’t regret it. Altogether, it is a successful upgrade.

Although FontLab Studio 5 is more stable than its predecessor FontLab 4.6, it is still not free of bugs even in the updated 5.0.1 version. But the problems remain within acceptable boundaries, and in most cases, simple workarounds are available. We should point out to the forum that lists well-known problems and appropriate solutions:

Oliver Linke
(translated from German by Adam Twardoch)