Ben’s Fonts – The Long and Winding Road

Way back in the 1990’s, I had Fontographer and Freehand, and created several fonts in various draft stages, a handful of which were nearly complete.

But these were backed up on 3.5in floppies, or (maybe) on a Syquest cartridge, or old iomega Zip disks, because “optical drives” (later called CD-R/RW drives) were so very pricey.

This also wasn’t my “real job” (though for a while it was part of it) and I didn’t get much support work-wise or personal-wise, from my folks. So I could only work on them in my spare time. A project for a friend produced a font based on Kabel Ultra that might still be out there somewhere, for all I know. But that was about the only thing that got released. (No excitement from my folks, either.)

Through a long comedy of errors, in which I didn’t personally have enough backup disks, and others that were backed up were destroyed (media life gave out, the drives died, water damage ruines some backups) — I have not run into backups of those old Fontographer source files. (I’m still hopeful I’ll find them in some usable form on some backup, but I’ll have to get more creative about it, with old, no longer supported media and drives.)

Ah, but I also had Freehand drawings: Freehand 3, 5, 10, 11 or MX, up through the last-ever supported version. Usually, it was only the .fh* files, though depending on a project, there might be .eps or .tiff or other formats exported.

My own copies of Freehand started as university student discounts, for which you had to be currently enrolled. This meant that at some later point, I had to buy the program at full price, because it refused to upgrade. Fine, I had Freehand on Mac originally, then later on Windows.

And then a couple of computers died. One was taken out spectacularly when my cat jumped on the desk…and knocked a full, large glass of iced tea into the laptop…which died a horrible death then and there.

This meant my only working copies of Freehand were gone. — And because Adobe had killed the old Macromedia website domain name by then, and had dropped support, I couldn’t re-install and get a working version up and going. (I intend to see if I can bypass that somehow, with old, old Mac versions. But that probably is a lost cause.)

This meant I have a ton of old vector outline drawings that are useless. — Adobe Illustrator would do only a partial import, and sometimes not at all — on a file format that was by then also owned by them. Wow. Impressive. Not.

Along the way, they also stopped supporting Fontographer, and for a while, only the big, pricey competitor, FontLab Studio, was available. I couldn’t afford it then.

For a very long while, I was very, very (VERY) unhappy about this. I had a huge amount of good work that I couldn’t show and couldn’t import and reuse, because the file formats were no longer supported. This was years worth of work, essentially my entire professional and personal career. I was not a happy camper. At all.

But then FontLab bought Fontographer and resurrected it, along with FontLab Studio. Oh, that was really good. Maybe. I went over-budget and bought Fontographer, then a few months later, went over-budget again and bought FontLab Studio.

And then everything went kablooey, in my finances and personal and professional life. The economy crashed, my finances with it, and my grandmother’s health was really failing by then, a long, drawn out slide towards the end. For several years, the only “work” I was doing was unpaid volunteer work, and also unpaid, full-time primary caregiver for my grandmother. Things were pretty dismal. At the end of it, I’d lost nearly everything.

I had to pick up the pieces and start over somehow, though. I had to make a living too. I was living month-to-month on minimal income. (I still am.)

Font production was one thing that turned out to be promising and maybe workable. I had Fontographer and FontLab Studio. I’d have to start from scratch, but I could do that. I remembered much of what I’d done on those old fonts, all those years ago. (By now, it was the 2010’s.)

It is not encouraging to start redoing all the work you know you’d done twenty years ago, completely from scratch, when you know that somewhere, on some diskette or other media you haven’t run across again, or that you don’t have a drive for, you have old, but now reusable source files, with all that work already done and ready to go. Somewhere. But I wasn’t finding the files.

So I started with redrawing old stuff and of course, to make myself feel a little better, to try to get excited again, I began new drafts, new ideas.

There was some progress there, but it was slow. I was trying to do other things (fiction writing, getting my life and my home and my finances back in some kind of order) and well, I was a mess, and so was my house, reflecting that, and…for a very long time, I couldn’t see any progress happening. It kept getting eaten up by things, or I’d stagnate from depression.

Well, I kept at it. But I wasn’t concentrating on the fonts. That turned out to be a mistake. I was also falling further and further behind in my life, and had to reassess several times, and also had to pay from remaining savings to stay afloat.

After yet another very down period, I reassessed again. What I was doing just wasn’t going anywhere fast enough, and I was desperate for some way to improve things. If my fiction writing still wasn’t proceeding fast enough to gain income…that meant font production was my best answer, at least for now.

I began doing that, devoting more time to it. I also saw I had to step up work on my house…without enough budget to do that. Very discouraging, still.

But font work began gaining speed and momentum. It began to be exciting again. I could see progress. Still not fast enough to make a difference, maybe, but it was better than nothing, and better than before. So OK, let’s keep at this.

Meanwhile, I had, for a while, bought Adobe Illustrator. But the interface was very, very weird, even though (or because) I was an old hand at Freehand. I would go along and Illustrator would do something completely strange, or I’d have so much trouble with it that it wasn’t worth it. I had CS3 and CS4. … And then Adobe went to their Creative Suite subscription model, monthly subscription to use the program. Don’t pay for even one month, and the program, and thus all your files, become unusable. The fees started at $19 per month and went up to $29, $39, or more, per month, depending on what suite options you had. Uh, no, I could not afford to do that, to pay monthly or to pay yearly for $240 or 150% or 200% or more of that, the cost of the program new, or the cost of an upgrade before. So I swore off Adobe’s products completely. Can’t afford ’em. (I’m not the only one. Just look at the reviews of Illustrator on Amazon: 1 star reviews from over 20 former users and new users. People are looking for competing programs that don’t cost too much and that work well.)

So…I was very, very frustrated still, with very limited ways to get artwork in and out of Fontographer, and no usable scalable vector outline drawing program. (I’d tried Inkscape several times, but it refused to work on either a Mac or Windows for me.)

Just recently, Inkscape has come out with Inkscape 0.91, which I *can* use, at least partially. Now that I can get it to work at all, I’ve begun trying to learn it. This might (at last) give me a workable vector drawing program. (I haven’t yet figured out where and how to control snap-to and the grid spacing, something very, very basic. But I’ll find it, or find that it doesn’t work, still.)

And then — Omigosh! I can (partially) import/export SVG to EPS, and due to another program on my Mac that likes (partially) some old Freehand format (.fh10 and up?) — I can now import at least some of my old artwork (drawing files) into Fontographer and into Inkscape. Oh, hot diggity! Excellent! — Hmm, but both Inkscape and Fontographer are buggy about this. For example, if I output EPS from Fontographer, especially for a sample of “All Glyphs” in the font, to have a backup and printable art from the font drafts…that EPS from Fontographer…is buggy and refuses to preview or open in absolutely anything I have, including the Mac’s own Preview and Finder views.

Also, I’ve discovered that Fontographer insists it wants individual characters on a single line, or else it scales the whole drawing. Oh, ugh. It omits some things too.

But it’s usable, sort of. I can get *some* of the old vector drawings I have into Fontographer, which saves me somewhat from starting completely from scratch. Oh, if only I had those old .fog Fontographer source files!

But between the work I’ve been doing on font production, and newly discovering I can import and export some things, both for Inkscape and Fontographer… I am suddenly a lot more able to do something, and do it faster, than before. If I can overcome a few more things, to ease the import/export process, I’ll be even more productive.

I have some things nearing readiness, but it will still be a while before they’re ready for submission, before they can be considered for publication (and sales) and (ahem) income I really need.

But now I have real progress! This is terrific news!

Hmm, I see that due to the scaling and importing, I’ll still have to redraw some things, but at least I’ll have what I did before to go from. Maybe-maybe I can convince it to scale so I can adjust the old art more easily, so I can avoid some redrawing. But even if I do have to redraw, I now have more to go on than memory alone.

I just spent about 2.5 hours importing some old artwork, a drawing for a font idea, nearly 52 letters, and putting those into place in Fontographer. But I see those will have to be rescaled and adjusted, or redrawn, because there’s something slightly off in the scaling factor. OK, so even if I have to draw from scratch, I still have my old artwork, usable vector outlines, to go on.

It only took freakin’ 22 years, from 1993 to 2015, to get that old drawing into the start of a Fontographer font file.

If that isn’t dogged determination, stubborn patience, and a lot of crud along the way, I don’t know what is.

I have a fair number of other source drawings I can also import and use, again, even if I have to redraw because of scaling or other issues. I still have those to go on. They date from about 1993 to 2010, originally in Freehand, a few from Illustrator, by importing EPS or exporting SVG or AI files to EPS.

Fontographer and FontLab Studio will not import SVG in their current versions. Only EPS. They’ll import bitmap files from TIFF or PNG to trace. I really hope they’ll be upgraded to import/export SVG and web fonts.

But… This is a big deal. I can now open and use at least *some* of my old drawings from part of my professional career, over 22 years and since.

I would be exceedingly happy, excited, overjoyed, if I could import, open, save, and export everything from my old Freehand files, versions 3, 5, 10, 11, MX, up through the final version.

If I could open and use those, import them in my programs, and save/export to other usable file formats — I would be unbelievably grateful, relieved, and…ohhh yeah. — I would love it if Inkscape or some program could do that! Absolutely, I’d love it.

Hmm, I’m not sure how much I have from before the 1990’s still, but I started out back in 1984, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

I still need to see if I can reuse whatever I still might have on old media, if it’s readable at all. — I was surprised, you can still get a floppy drive that claims to work on a modern Mac or Windows PC. Not sure about old iomega Zip disks. Old Syquest cartridges? I’m not sure I have those, and pretty sure I don’t have the drive, which died and would need to be replaced.

But dang it, I can now use more of my old files than I could before. This is a real improvement.

I’m getting closer to having fonts ready to submit for consideration for publication and sales.

More on that when I’m further along and have more progress, or a submission ready.

But hurray! Overall, I’ve just had a win that was 22 years in the making! Imagine being able to use a file from 22 years ago, to finally get to make a font from a drawing I made back then.

That’s really something! Maybe you have to be there to understand. But I’m pleased. Still a lot of work to do to get it done, but — It’s really something! Yippee! Hurray!

Oh, I’d be so happy if I could get Freehand files to open/import and save/export into other, modern formats. So, so happy if I could do that. How happy, you ask? Heheheh, you have no idea!