Typography tools on Linux
I’m a strong advocate of open-source solutions and I’ve been using Linux as my main OS for several years. But I must admit finding great graphic tools on Linux can be difficult, and they often lack useful features some commercial software have. Still, I think that the tool will never be as important as the way you use it, and that typography and graphic arts were born long before Mac OS and Adobe tools. Mastering tools to make them do what you’re thinking of is the real point. I could go on length on the subject, but this is not the point here. Let’s just say that I’m a happy Linux user and that the tools available for the OS will take you far if you take the time to explore them.
Click on the screenshots to display them full size.
Gnome Specimen is a small, convenient font-viewer that lets you compare your installed fonts, which can be helpful for quickly picking the perfect typeface. Type your sample text in the relevant field, choose a size then pick fonts from the list in the left panel, and add it to the list of the main panel.
This application is a great help when you have many fonts installed. I mean, so many fonts that you graphic applications take hours to launch because they have to load them all. And having 1862 files in your
.fonts directory is definitely not a convenient solution.
Fonty Python lets you create groups of symlinks in your
.fonts directory that point to fonts stored anywhere on your PC. This means three things:
- You can store and organise your fonts the way you like it, in usable directories and subdirectories.
- You can create useful and reusable “pogs”, i.e. groups of symlinks. For example, I created a pog named Type ornaments with some 12 ornament fonts.
- You only load the fonts you need: you can easily install and uninstall the pogs as you need it. Fonty Python adds and removes the symlinks from your
Fonty Python can also be used as a font preview and compare application, just like Gnome Specimen, but Specimen’s interface is simpler and more convenient so having both on your desktop is a good idea.
FontForge is an ugly, full-featured application for font creation, a perfect example of good open-source software. It features everything you need to create a complete font for any alphabet, with hinting, kerning and ligature options. Who cares about eye-candy? Nothing should distract you when you’re working on such a serious thing as a font.
What a sexy name. Gbdfed is a bitmap (i.e. pixel style) font editor, so that’s not the application you’ll use to digitalize your fabulous hand-writing but it can be very useful to design tiny but legible fonts, or fonts used in non-antialiased environments (such as a command prompt). Gbdfed can import many common font formats, including OTF and TTF and export as BDF and PSF2 Linux console fonts.
Inkscape is a great vector-based graphic editor featuring a powerful engine to vectorize bitmap image files. So you can easily scan you sketches, import them and convert them in Inkscape, then use the resulting SVG in FontForge,
Scribus is a powerful InDesign-style layout editor with good font-setting options. It’s quite straightforward and easy to use. Scribus’ real issue is its lack of compatibility with commercial file formats, but you can export your Scribus file to PDF.
All these applications are available in the repositories, so you can install them using Synaptic or with these simple command lines (adapt for your Linux distrib):
sudo apt-get install gnome-specimen
sudo apt-get install fontypython
sudo apt-get install fontforge
sudo apt-get install gbdfed
sudo apt-get install inkscape
sudo apt-get install scribus
If you know other great tools for typography on Linux, please feel free to let me know in the comments. There I only mentioned the tools I have installed and tried, and this list is certainly not exhaustive.