FontLab Studio 5 full review
With unique features like native TrueType support and single-window Multiple Master editing, FontLab’s Studio 5.0.2 is the most capable font-editing tool available today, easily outpacing both the current Fontographer and the old FontStudio (formerly published by Letraset).
This program has been, over time, a great favourite of font manufacturers, font designers, and graphic designers who need to customise fonts for clients.
New features in FontLab Studio 5 (called FontLab in previous releases) include editing tools for metrics and kerning, in-context glyph design, improved Unicode and Multiple Master support, new printing/proofing features, and dozens of other interface enhancements and function refinements, including the ability to preserve your workspace settings across font editing sessions.
One of Studio’s glories is improved Multiple Master support, which simplifies the production of large multi-weight families. Whereas in Fontographer, each weight is contained in a separate file with up to three separate windows, in Studio 5 a multiple-weight family can be a single file that you can view in a single window. The new release also improves automatic generation of accented characters, a useful feature for those who work with foreign languages.
Because of its efficient anti-aliasing capabilities, you can use Studio’s novel multi-line Metrics window to show comparatively small lines of text on screen. The anti-aliasing lets you view much smaller characters on screen than you ever could before, without visible pixel artifacts. Essentially, it makes your 150dpi screen look more like a 300dpi or even 600dpi screen. No font editor could ever do anything like this before.
A related new feature is called in-context editing. The basic idea is that when you are editing a glyph, shape-related glyphs appear in the background, making it easier to keep related shapes in sync. This is an intriguing and original feature, but we would have been happier if Studio had offered deeper support for traditional foundry-style metrics fitting instead.
Studio 5 also offers improved integration with the Python programming language that’s built-in to Mac OS X, enabling infinite custom programming and scripting capabilities. Studio 5 even has a built-in Python editing window.
It also includes the Python-based RoboFab toolkit (www.robofab.com), which lets you limitlessly manipulate fonts in Studio, and will even let you store font data in a non-proprietary and extensible format. (Though RoboFab lets you extend, automate, and customise Studio 5 to the limits of your imagination, you will need to be a fairly adept programmer to get much out of it.)
Studio’s extensive OpenType format support lets you build fonts using all the rich capabilities of this new, complex format: huge character sets, infinite ligatures, additional languages, and sophisticated contextual variant support.
While Fontographer users will appreciate that Studio now properly displays tangent points, they might be disappointed by the weak print and proof features, cumbersome handling of scanned images, and Studio’s mediocre zoom factor of 1,600 per cent (we would like to see 6,400 per cent).
However, for print proofing, Studio has good integration with Adobe InDesign and the two together make a very satisfactory, though expensive, proofing solution.
Studio 5 is the only commercially available font editor that edits TrueType directly (all others convert a font to PostScript when you edit it, then reconvert it to TrueType when you generate it – resulting in substantial quality losses). Without Studio 5, there’s no way to create high-quality TrueType fonts unless you have access to proprietary font-editing software. Most of the font foundries that built font-editing software in the past have now abandoned that practice for Studio 5.
Not easy to learn
To mine Studio 5’s riches, you will have to study the manual and probably also participate in forums where users share problems and tips. Excellent free support is available through email. We also appreciate FontLab’s legendary responsiveness: a reported bug will sometimes be fixed within a day.
Unlike Fontographer, which is a comparatively simple program, Studio will occasionally give you an unpleasant surprise. For example, we performed a simple append operation in a Multiple Master font that resulted in the insertion of extra points, thus ruining the outline. The documentation provided with Studio is good, but it does not cover this issue, which we had to resolve through tech support.
One thing is clear: save frequently, and save multiple versions. More than once, we performed hours of work, only to have to go back to a previous version of the file because a problem was not immediately apparent. While there is extensive undo function in FontLab, it contains some perversely crude elements. And some actions, such as the Append operation, are not undoable. If an append goes wrong you may not realise that something bad has happened until hours later.
Despite that, we keep coming back to Studio because it lets you do things you could only dream of with earlier generations of font editors. We didn’t like the interface of Studio 5’s predecessors: FontLab 3 and 4, but Studio 5’s usability is now good enough for you to be comfortable doing most of your font work with it.