From Stone to Spaceship
Collaborative Font Design

Setting up

What do I need?

If you're running Windows or Mac OS X, we strongly recommend that you go through the steps below in order to install a virtual machine. The short explanation is that FontForge and other software packages have a convoluted installation process under Win and Mac systems. This way, you can spend less time setting up your system and more time doing actual stuff!

If you're running a GNU/Linux system, that's super! You can either do the virtual machine setup for the quickest method, or install the necessary software packages yourself. See the Preparing an existing GNU/Linux system section below.

Download and setup Virtualbox

In order to avoid the problems of many people having different software versions, we suggest that workshop participants run a virtual machine in order to have a ready system to work on (more on virtual machines below).

First, download and install Virtualbox.

Run your new system

The purpose of our virtual machine (VM) setup is to have everyone running a free GNU/Linux operating system. The great thing with virtual machines is that you don't need to make large changes to your system in order to get GNU/Linux to run on your computer. Simply put, you get a computer inside your computer, which you can run without touching your current operating system. It's the least complex way we came up with to be sure that everyone has a stable system running during a workshop.

We've prepared a custom version of the Linux Mint 13 distribution loaded with software for font design. Even if you're not participating in our workshop, you might want to give it a try!

  • Download the virtual machine file (3.1 GB)

Once it's done, open up Virtualbox and import the VM using the File > Import Appliance option. Now you can start your new computer-in-a-computer!

Getting familiar with it

Once inside your new VM, a black screen should appear for some seconds, and then you'll get a Login prompt. You can log-in with the following details:

  • User: stone
  • Pass: spaceship

This is also the password to use if the system asks you for administrator permissions.

You'll find many useful software packages ready for use. Most of them are readily available in the Start menu. Here's some of them:

Solving problems with your VM

  • Graphics are too slow! Try raising the amount of video memory in your virtual machine settings.

Preparing your GNU/Linux system

Running a free operating system makes your life easier! You just need to install the necessary software packages, as well as a few tweaks and add-ons. The software we'll be using most of the time is Inkscape and Fontforge. On Debian and Ubuntu based systems, you just need to type this into a terminal:

sudo apt-get install inkscape fontforge

On other distributions, the package names should probably be inkscape and fontforge as well.

Adding the Inkscape Typography extension

Felipe Sanches and Dave Crossland are working on a great Inkscape extension that allows you to create and edit glyphs right inside Inkscape. This is especially handy if you already know your way around a vector editor and don't need/want to learn yet another interface. So thanks to this extension, we can draw our glyphs in Inkscape instead of FontForge.

All is taken care of with these lines in your terminal:

cd ~/.config/inkscape/extensions
mv inktypography/* .

Installing a nicer Fontforge theme

FontForge ships with a rather bland interface (see here for why), but we can change that. Eckhard M. J├Ąger came up with a great theme that we can quickly apply to FontForge. In a terminal, type the following:

mkdir -p ~/.FontForge/themes
cd ~/.FontForge/themes

Now open FontForge and, inside the Generic section of the Preferences menu, set the Resource file to the file you just downloaded (fontforge-theme-area42). You need to check the Show hidden files in the file chooser dialog in order to be able to see the .FontForge directory.