When was the last time you wrote something by hand? Not just a hurried Post-It note, but something substantial like a letter or geography essay? We’d guess that it’s quite a while – maybe even so long that, when you do pick up a pen, you’re about as dextrous as the ape from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Well, fret not: there’s a straightforward way of getting that personal, handwritten feel without leaving the warm embrace of your keyboard. The brilliant Calligraphr online tool allows you to create a TTF or OTF font of your handwriting in a matter of hours – not a close approximation of your penmanship cack-handedly written with a mouse, but the real deal.
And the software’s not purely for rabid font fans, or glyph geeks – with a bit of time and A LOT of fiddling, anyone can preserve their spidery squiggles for posterity.
However, there are a couple of small downsides. Although it’s perfectly possible to create a working font via the free tier of Calligraphr, it’ll be full of strange, doctor’s note-style gaps. To get rid of these, there’s a one-off payment of $8, or £6.09 at the time of writing. It’s an option I went for, considering it a small price to pay for Calligraphr’s excellent software.
Also keep in mind that this project isn’t for the faint-hearted – it involves a lot of patience while editing the glyphs (or characters). But, by the end of the process, you’ll have a font that’s unique. You’ll be able to install it on your system and use it in Word documents, presentations, spreadsheets and, if you’re feeling brave, even your CV.
To begin, head to calligraphr.com and click “Get started free” to create a free user account.
Once you’re through the front door, it’s time to create a template and print it off. This is a grid in which you’ll write your letters, numbers and symbols before scanning them in.
Navigate to the Templates tab and select the characters you want to include in your font from the left-hand menu. The choice is extensive – there’s even an option to construct a Telugu sheet – but keep in mind that the free version is limited to 75 glyphs.
I opted for a standard selection of letters and numbers, with a few common symbols thrown in for good measure.
After that, download your template as a PNG or PDF file and print it out. To make things easier, you can make the grid cells larger, add helplines and have a faint outline of each glyph as a guide (“Characters as background”).
Now comes the crucial, nerve-wracking bit: filling in the grid. Using a black thick-nibbed pen (we’d recommend a felt tip, marker or, if you’re feeling particularly fancy, a calligraphy pen), write each of the characters into their labelled boxes. Channel your primary school self and try not to go over the lines.
Once upon a time, you would have had to laboriously scan in your template, but this is the future so you can now simply take a picture of it using your smartphone. You can, of course, “keep it old school” and use your scanner for the best results – just make sure that you always include the QR code and the four reference points.
Click on the My Fonts tab, select Upload Template and choose the photos/scans, before making yourself a cup of tea while Calligraphr processes the template.
And, voila, there are your characters in all their glory. Try not to get too emotional – there’s still plenty of work to be done.
As you can see from the “@”, “;” and “5” cells above, there’s a lot of grime around the edges that must be cleaned up. To start the hose-down, click on a glyph and select Edit Character. A small edit box will then pop up, in which you can erase grubby marks or even improve your letter using the pen tool.
Repeat the process for every character – we told you it was time-consuming. However, all the work you do now will pay off in the long run and give you a crisp, squeaky-clean font.
Now it’s time to make sure that all of the characters are on the same baseline and not floating around willy-nilly. In the My Fonts tab, click on the three vertical dots dropdown menu and select Adjust Baseline. This will give you a Generation Game-esque conveyor belt of your glyphs, where you can pull them all down onto the same line and adjust their size.
Again, repeat the process for every character.
You can now finally return to the My Fonts tab and click Build Font to examine a preview of your hard work. If you’re delighted with what you see, skip straight to Step 11. If there are still vast gaps between the letters and words, stick with me and have your debit card at the ready.
Click on a glyph and you’ll notice that there’s a greyed-out Adjust Spacing option. This tool is the difference between your font looking realistic and absurd, something that Calligraphr recognises by sticking it behind an $8 one-off fee. We’d thoroughly recommend taking the plunge and shelling out.
Once you’re paid up, click on the option and adjust the spacing around the character. That said, it’s always best to select Use Default as this will avoid letters overlapping each other.
Once you’ve repeated this for every character, generate another preview via Build Font and marvel at what a difference your space tweaking has made.
However, if you’re still not satisfied, there are further (free) size and spacing controls in My Fonts | Edit font details. This is also where you can rename your handiwork – I went for the imaginative ‘Max’s Handwriting’.
It’s been a long road, but you should now have a convincing representation of your own handwriting. After building the font, download either the TTF (TrueType) or OTF (OpenType) file to your device. In this case, there’s not a massive difference between the two types (OTF really comes into its own when you add bells and whistles such as ligatures).
To install your font, drag it into the Font Book, if you’re using a Mac, or right-click on the file and select Install if you’re on Windows. Simple.
With your Calligraphr handwriting font now safely in place, you can use it for a huge range of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and design tasks – even writing informative, yet engaging, software tutorials…
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