11. Working with Bitmap Fonts

11.1. Opening & Importing Bitmap strikes

FontForge is primarily an outline font editor, but it does have some facility for editing bitmap (and greymap, or anti-aliased) fonts. A useful term here is a “strike”; a strike is one particular size of a bitmap font. When FontForge displays a font, that font will contain at most one outline but potentially many bitmap (or greymap) strikes (for several different pixel sizes).

You might wonder if it is really necessary to provide bitmaps along with outlines given the high quality results of modern rasterizers, and for Latin (Greek, Cyrillic) fonts it may not be, but for CJK fonts at small pixel sizes a human eye can still make a better choice than even the best rasterizer. Back in the 1980s when Apple first adopted PostScript fonts they felt it was essential to have bitmaps to go with the outline – so much so that it was not even possible to use a PostScript font without also providing at least one bitmap with it. Even today, when using a Type1 font on a mac there must be a bitmap font to point to it.

Of course Type1 fonts are a bit old-fashioned now, but the sfnt file format (the format used for both OpenType and TrueType fonts) supports embedded bitmap strikes along with the outline version of the font. These strikes will be used in preference to rasterizing the outline in any pixel sizes for which they are present.

If you have an sfnt with both an outline font and bitmap strikes you can open it directly with the File->Open command and FontForge will load all the bits and pieces.

You can also open a bitmap only font directly with the File->Open command, however if you have multiple strikes of the same underlying font in separate files, you will probably want to open only the first (or only the outline version) with Open, and use File->Import to merge the other strikes into one FontForge font.

Suppose you have Ambrosia.pfb (an outline font), Ambrosia-12.bdf, and Ambrosia-24.bdf (two bitmap strikes, one 12 pixels high, one 24), and you want them all in one font. First use File->Open to open Ambrosia.pfb, then File->Import and select both of the bitmap strikes (hold down the shift key).

On the other hand, if you have only two bitmaps: Ambrosia-12.bdf, and Ambrosia-24.bdf, then use File->Open to open either strike, and use File->Import and import the other.

You may have noticed that Import has a checkbox labeled [] As Background. If you check this, then your bitmap font will not be loaded as a font itself, but will be loaded into the background of the outline font whence you can Element->Autotrace it to provide an outline font from a bitmap. Be warned: This produces fairly bad results unless you have a large (100+ pixel) font to trace.

11.2. Creating Bitmap strikes


If you want to add a bitmap strike with a given pixel size to a font then use Element->Bitmap Strikes Available. Simply add the pixel size you are interested in to the list at the bottom of the screen.

If you are more comfortable dealing in point sizes, be aware that those depend on screen resolution. This dialog shows you the conversion between point and pixel sizes for two standard resolutions. The resolutions differ depending on what windowing system you use.

You may add more than one pixel size, of course. You may also remove pixel sizes if you no longer want them.

Normally when you create a new strike it will be rasterized from the outline font – if there is no outline font then FontForge will attempt to scale the biggest strike available to the new size (in most cases this will be fairly ugly, but it may be better than nothing.

There is also a checkbox [*] Create Rasterized Strikes (Not empty ones) at the bottom of the dialog. If you turn this off, then the rasterization process described above will not happen, and any new strikes will be created containing no glyphs (you can add glyphs later, of course).

11.3. Bitmap Properties

In the old days of bdf and pcf fonts on X11 each font had a set of properties attached to it. It is not clear to me whether these properties are still useful as X11 moves to OpenType Bitmaps. They may be. At any rate FontForge will store them both in BDF fonts and in OpenType Bitmap fonts. Each strike may have its own set of properties. FontForge will generate them automatically when you create a strike (and will retain them when it reads in a font that has them). You may override the current values with the Element-Bdf Info dialog.

11.4. Creating a new bitmap only font

If you want to create a new font with no outlines, only bitmap strikes, you would use File->New to create a new font, and then Element->Bitmap Strikes Available to add some (empty) strikes to it. As soon as you add a strike to a new font, the font will become a bitmap only font.

Apple has a bitmap only version of the sfnt file format, and X11 does too. Of course the two formats are slightly different. Windows has no support for a bitmap only sfnt format.

11.5. Bitmaps in the Font View

The View menu of the Font View (and the Metrics View) contains a list of all bitmap strikes in the font. You may select which one will be displayed in the Font View. You may also change the magnification at which a strike is displayed with View->Bitmap Magnification… (it can be hard to see the details of an 8 pixel font on a high resolution screen, so you might want to display it at 3 times its actual size).

Many commands in the Font View will apply to all strikes (and the outline) in the font. For instance Edit->Copy will copy the outline glyph and all bitmap glyphs. Sometimes you only want to affect one strike, if so then deselect Edit->Copy From->All Fonts.

The Element->Build commands will build accented bitmap glyphs just as it builds accented outline glyphs.

If the Font View is displaying a bitmap strike and you double click on a character, then FontForge will bring up a bitmap editing window displaying that character in the current strike (rather than opening an outline editing window). If the character does not have a matching glyph in the current strike FontForge will create one by rasterizing the outline version of the font.

11.6. Editing Bitmaps


The bitmap editing window should be fairly self explanatory. The window is a simple bitmap editor. With the pencil tool, clicking on a pixel will make it change. The line tool will draw a straight line between the start and end points.

You can see the outline glyph in the background of the bitmap.

You can regenerate the bitmap (by rasterizing the outline) by pressing the [Recalculate Bitmaps] button.

Editing an anti-aliased greymap has the added complexity that you need to select a color (actually a level of greyness) to be applied with the pencil. There will be an additional palette with all possible greys for this.

11.7. Sparse Bitmap Strikes

Sometimes you don’t need a complete set of bitmap glyphs in a strike. Perhaps the rasterizer does a good job for all glyphs except one. Then you can create an empty strike (with Element->Bitmap Strikes Available unchecking the [*] Create Rasterized Strikes checkbox) and then select the one glyph you care about and say Element->Regenerate Bitmap Glyphs.

Alternately you could create a fully rasterized strike and then select the glyphs you don’t need and say Element->Remove Bitmap Glyphs.