When I was maybe ten or twelve years old, my dad lived in an Italian-American neighborhood of St. Louis called The Hill. I deeply love this area. I feel very emotionally connected to this place. There’s great bakeries, grocery stores, delis, and sandwich shops. The best, really. Around the corner from my dad’s house was a place called Milo’s. Sometimes we’d go there for (St. Louis-style) pizza and play bocce out back. The logo was some kind of cursive style. I think it was the first time I gave any real attention to a logo’s lettering.
My dad had a computer, the first computer I remember using at home. Maybe it was running Windows 98. My computer life at this stage was: Solitaire, Pinball, and Microsoft WordArt. (Upon writing this, I discovered that Scott Forstall created WordArt when he was at Microsoft.)
I’d pick a fun font, distort it in 3D, choose some colors. And do nothing with it. But it was fun. One of the fonts installed with Word was Brush Script, which looked exactly like the Milo’s logo. “Oh,” I realized. This is how people can make logos: fonts.
I became obsessed with downloading fonts, just to type out words and see what they looked like. I went to an Old Internet™ website called Famous Fonts a lot. I’d get a font that looked like The Price Is Right. Almost all the early fonts I got were ones derived from logos. And many of them were from Ray Larabie, who often released them freely.
When I got into The Sims, I wanted to make my own loading screens. Hm… what’s the font for The Sims logo? A stretched Decotura. Oh, some fonts cost money? I don’t have any money. I’m a child. I was so young, I didn’t know how to pronounce the font Trebuchet correctly because I hadn't learned about medieval siege engines in school yet.
A few years later, I was customizing the way my computer looked and making icons for fun. Then, I made icons for money. As I made money, I bought fonts. I bought them for no other reason than to play with them. (I don’t often get to use fonts. I sometimes find it hard to call myself a “graphic designer.” I don’t make flyers, posters, marketing material, or packages. I make icons, and icons very rarely need text.)
As time went on, I learned the names of fonts, the foundries that made them, and the designers behind them. Friends started coming to me to identify fonts. I don’t always know, but sometimes I surprise myself.
One day, I had an epiphany— fonts are just icons you can type out. That is a (very) simplified way of saying: each modern font is a collection of vector outlines. I draw vector outlines every day! That means I can make fonts, too.
Except fonts are much more complicated than that. Fonts are not just collections of vector outlines. At the very least, there’s also letterspacing and kerning. While lettering and type design share many things, they are absolutely not the same.
Okay… but I can start small. During my time at Square, I sketched out vector letterforms based on the Doctor Who (2010) logo. All capital letters. I also drew all the letters I could find in TRON: Legacy. (There are a few missing in the end credits.) Again, all capital letters. I had no idea how to make these into fonts without—what seemed like—very heavy-duty font software.
In 2017, I found the solution to all my problems, an Illustrator plugin called Fontself. I’d set guides for the baseline, cap height, descender, etcetera. Select all, drag and drop, and— it spits out a working font. In 2016, I shipped Isomorphic, then Pandorica. I released them under the brand name Crown.
Each time I made a new font, I tried to do something that took a little more effort than before. Spectre, a font derived from the Star Wars Rebels logo style, needed a lot of ligatures.
Sacul was really two fonts with different writing systems: Aurebesh and Latin. Still only uppercase, though. I wrote about creating a “more balanced” Aurebesh font.
Then I started on a new font with a lowercase set, based on the logo for Tokyo Disneyland. I’ve never seen anyone make a font based on this logo, so why not me?
Indeed, while some logos are just letters typed out using a font, when making a logo from scratch, designers can exploit the relationships between a specific combination of letters to create something visually interesting that would otherwise be difficult for an entire font. Such is the case with this logo.
I grew frustrated as I learned that fonts are necessarily made of lies. This letter needs to extend a little past the baseline. This one should float a little above it. This character should have this attribute, but this other one should not.
As an icon designer, I define rules to keep a set consistent. But with type, consistency is found overall, rather than individually. I used to think kerning happens after you draw a font. Draw A through Z, then kern. But the truth is that kerning and drawing happen at the same time. When certain combinations don’t look right, it’s not kerning’s fault, it’s that maybe one or both letters are wrong.
I called in a professional, Jonathan Hoefler, asking for feedback. If nothing else, just to console me. I knew what his answers would be, but I needed him to tell me.
Jonathan was kind enough to annotate my alphabet, noting everything that was “wrong.” And he told me I probably want to start using a proper font tool like RoboFont. I went back and attempted to fix these things. I didn’t fix everything, perhaps because I was too stubborn. I got RoboFont, then released Urayasu.
After one summer of drawing fonts, I suddenly stopped.
Maybe it was the frustration involved. Maybe it was the expense. Or the time required. Or the prospect of turning a hobby into money. (Did it have to?)
One of my other hobbies is curating my music library and making my own album art. In the process of doing this for Star Wars, I was looking for a good Star Wars logo font. While many exist, I didn’t love any of them. So in 2019, I started drawing my own. Naturally, I began with S, T, A, R, and W. Then the rest of the alphabet, but never made a working font file. I only made a few GIFs for Twitter.
In 2020, I became aware of a person known on the Internet as AurekFonts (known as Ender in the real world) who posted a tweet saying Sacul was his favorite Aurebesh font. As Ender’s hobby is making and cataloguing all the fonts for Star Wars alphabets (including Aurebesh), that meant a lot!
Half a year later, he quoted my months-old thread of Star Wars GIFs saying:
Sometimes I daydream about this font.
He later expressed interest in helping out.
A year passed by. Ender posted what a Junior Sabacc might look like (why?!), adapting motifs from Junior Hanafuda into a hexagon-shaped Sabacc deck. He reminded me of Shahrouz, who I once described as having “an uncanny ability to look at something someone else made and keep executing on it without any further direction.” Ender is like that, too.
So I asked him:
Hey do you still want to do the Star Wars font?
We hashed out a basic plan (for what was then called Parsec), I sent over my Illustrator file, and the next day, Ender started asking all the right questions.
For about a year, we’d both spend hours equivalent of a full-time job on it. It was thorough, intense, meticulous, and—at times—obsessive work. It was important to us to make a definitive version of this. It should be great out of the box, but it should also have a lot of switches and levers to give you enough flexibility to replicate all the quirky versions of official logos over the years.
We studied sample after sample, from film posters to action figure boxes. DVD box sets and role-playing games. What we discovered was that almost every time this style of title was needed, the letters would be purpose-drawn for that logo.
And that made sense, but we were determined to find “rules” for those choices, separating them into different styles to represent those eras. OpenType has a lot of great features, but the most versatile is stylistic sets, where you can define up to 20
* different styles for individual glyphs. While some fonts will have up to 5 or 6 stylistic sets to change a single character each, we would use up all 20 slots, where each would likely change several glyphs.
* As it turns out, you can have up to 100 stylistic sets, a fact that nearly destroyed us, but since Adobe apps only support the first 20, we sensibly stopped there.
We just also had to remember that stylistic sets are not mutually exclusive. You can select multiple. Even all of them. We needed to decide what the desired behavior should be, how to construct those rules, and make all the glyphs necessary.
It’s hard to describe how complex this font is, and how fast it became that complex. We redefined the stylistic sets over and over. Redesigned the glyphs over and over. At one point, I am certain that I had redrawn every letter from the original alphabet I sent Ender at the start.
And then I very stupidly thought: what if we had Greek or Cyrillic? Often times the response from either of us when we suggested something so bombad was, “not until this other thing is finished.” It was a way to ensure we were eating our vegetables before we had dessert.
You see, I had started drawing icons for this font. (Who could have known I would do this?!) A couple droids and helmets. Where do you draw the line on those? When are they finished? In the past, I’ve described this like deciding who gets to go to your wedding. If this person is invited, then so too must this person. If you have Yoda, you need Grogu. If you have Storm Troopers, you need CloneTroopers. If you have Darth Vader, you need Kylo Ren. But that also means you need Darth Maul and General Grievous and— you see the problem? (For me, the line was drawn after about 400 icons. Yes, I know. Please leave me alone.)
Womprat (yep, that’s the name we chose) has Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Katakana scripts, which support over 100 languages. While I drew the characters necessary for Hebrew, due to the writing direction of that language, we made the difficult decision to leave it out (for now).
I remember Ender getting antsy about shipping Womprat. Maybe part of me never wanted to stop working on it; there was always something more we could probably add. But is that how to make fonts? Add everything until you can’t anymore? I can’t have my cake and eat it too.
The truth is that Womprat was finished. We tied up loose ends and launched it on April 28, 2023 (with “only” 3960 glyphs). Finally, I could now make the album art.
I don’t know how often I’ll make fonts in the future, but whenever I make more, I want to do it with Ender. There’s probably a dozen that we have already talked about making. I just have to work up the courage to embark on another typographic adventure.