It’s not always easy to admit, but I was around when Apple introduced fonts to the world with the Mac in 1984 and a year or so later, the LaserWriter printer. Unfortunately, fonts were few and far between (or, excessively expensive from Adobe), so many of us Mac users, including yours truly, made our own. That’s right. Mac users with the Fontographer app could create and edit their own fonts to use on a LaserWriter (which came, if memory serves me appropriately, with Courier, Times Roman, Helvetica, Symbol, and Palatino; not exactly a great selection).
For anyone who wants to create and edit their own fonts, Fontographer in the 21st century is alive and well, runs on both Mac and Windows, but is anything but free. So, if you’re a Mac user on a budget but also have a desire to figure out how to create and edit fonts, there’s BirdFont, a donationware app that isn’t exactly Fontographer, but gets the job done.
Most of the basic font editing tools you’ll need are in BirdFont, including an option to create graphic and vector-based fonts.
What you won’t find in BirdFont is built-in help on how to use the variety of tools, though there is a tutorial which will walk you through the basic options. There are many, including tips on how to draw with a grid, drawing glyphs over background images, converting images to vector-based fonts, font kerning, and more.
In the end you’ll end up with a greater appreciation for how fonts are designed, created, and published (including the work it takes even for a single, customized font), and not have spent as much money as you would with Fontographer (which, in all fairness, is the granddaddy of font editors for Mac users), and it might give you an appreciation for how the world of fonts on Macs and PC has developed and improved over the years.