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On this blog, it always feels risky to talk about technology because there's a chance we'll doom ourselves to irrelevance. But doesn't risk make things fun?

The latest tech thingy we're showcasing is called Calligraphr. It's a website that allows you to transform your real handwriting into a fully-functional computer font. And because handwriting is (indirectly but still) a part of our business, we were damn curious to know how it'd turn out. 

Short answer: it turns out well!

 

The longer answer is the rest of this post. We'll walk through the whole hand-to-font process, start to finish, so that you can see how it's done for yourself. (Just be careful... you might also be witnessing how robots start forging our signatures.)

 

Step 1: Start at Calligraphr.com

Complete the 15-second sign-up process. Same as always. Click the link in their email to confirm your account.

You're wondering: (when) does money get involved? Good question. You can use Calligraphr for free, but a couple extra features are blocked, and any font you create is capped at 75 glyphs.

If you're doing the math, you're noticing that the basic (English) alphabet is 52 glyphs even without digits, punctuation, accented characters, and the other things you forget you write with. You have enough space to start using Calligraphr for free, but there is a noticeable ceiling before you have to pay.

Still, there are two reasons we felt good about paying for it:

(1) They know you're not going to use it forever—and they charge accordingly. You can pay $8 for 1-month access or $24 for 6-month access. We're happy to give them less money—so much that we're featuring them here without even talking to them first.

(2) It's eight bucks. Eight bucks and you get everything we're about to show you. As we mentioned elsewhere, we've all spent dumber money than that

 

Step 2. Start the App (or Read the Tutorial, Even Though You're Already Reading This One)

Once you confirm your account, you'll be given these options:

While frankly we'd rather you stay on this page, their tutorials are pretty good too. Only seemed fair to mention it since we've sniped a couple of their images.

 

3. Create a Template

In short: your "template" is the complete set of glyphs that will be included in your font. In Calligraphr, the purpose of the Template screen is to let you pick what you're including in the font you're making. (But don't worry—you can spend as little as 10 seconds if you're impatient or detail-shy.)

Obviously, too, the contents of your template determine which things you're going to need to write out by hand.

You'll notice (on the left) that Calligraphr has put together common glyph sets to save us some trouble. Assuming you're sticking to the free version (or at least making a simple font first), you'll probably want to pick one of the "Minimal" sets listed under Basics. Later, you can explore the deeper and miscellaneous glyph sets to round out your perfect font template.

One last note here: Calligraphr's sets are NOT locked or exclusive. When you're building your template, you can add and subtract whatever glyphs you want, from wherever. The sets just keep an otherwise-huge pile of glyphs organized and speedy. 

 

Step 4: Print Off Your Templates (the Right Way)

Now it's time to actually put pen to paper and write out all of the glyphs in your template. But, if not painfully obvious already, you will need to be able to print stuff at this juncture—and we'll tell you the right way to do it.

 

 

We say "the right way" because, while Calligraphr's printing options are actually smart and useful, the right choices aren't obvious at first. So here's a quick breakdown of what you're seeing above:

File name and format. Up to you.
Size of template cells. Here's where your style of handwriting matters. The "template cells" are the boxes in which you'll be writing each glyph. If you fiddle with the slider, you'll notice there are 7 stops—so we'll refer to Sizes 1 through 7. 
Size 1 is for truly small handwriting—like, narrow rulings seem big to you.
Size 3 is for handwriting "on the small side," but not extremely.
Size 5 is for handwriting "on the large side," but not extremely.
Size 7 is for unusually large handwriting. (We bet the kid-writing example used this.)
Draw helplines? We recommend this box be CHECKED. For one thing, people usually have lines to write on anyway. But mostly, you want to have some way of keeping everything lined up—and if you can't see the baseline, your letters may bob up and down in the scan (fixable afterwards, but it's more work). 
Characters as background? We recommend this box be UNCHECKED. If you check it, each box's glyph is "watermarked" inside the box—and aside from confusing us in our journey, we didn't trust the printed glyphs not to interfere with the scan.

 

Step 5: While You're Printing Templates, Print a Couple Extras

You're not going to get it right by hand on the first try. Well, actually, you could get it right on the first try—we don't want to dim your shine—but you probably shouldn't even if you could. It'll look cleaner and more confident after a practice run.

 

Here's the best stuff made for writing by hand.
(Or practicing your "natural font skills.")

 

It's surprisingly weird-feeling to write characters and punctuation one by one, alone in their boxes. For one thing, you get some kindergarten déjà vu. For another thing, we always write in chunks (words, sentences, and so on) and don't think much about letters. 

In the middle of the process, you might doubt it'll still look like your handwriting once it's assembled—but our money says you'll be pleasantly surprised.

 

Step 6: Hand-Fill Your Template Page(s)

This step mostly explains itself when you have the printed page(s) in front of you. The only advice we'll add here: if possible, you should use a soft-tipped pen or marker, no matter how fine or broad, so that the ink is dark and fully legible.

With a ballpoint or other extra-fine pen, there's a hazard that your lines will be too light and thin, and that the scan won't fully grab them. The compromise: use your normal pen(cil) to fill out the template, then come back and trace over your letters with more ink.

 

Step 7: Scan Your Handwriting into Calligraphr

The first task here is getting images of the pages you've just completed. If you have a scanner, that's your best bet—after all, that's the exact purpose of a scanner. Look at you, so prepared and professional.

But if you're like the rest of us, you don't have a scanner. You have a smartphone. Fortunately, smartphone cameras can do powerful stuff now, so long as you feed them the photographic essentials. When you're taking pics of your letters:

  • Provide good and plentiful light. Photos taken in the dark are low-contrast and blurrier (because the camera's shutter has to slow down to get enough light) and those are both problems for capturing glyphs clearly. The ideal is indirect natural sunlight—full and bright, but not glaring. Indoor lights can work too... just fiddle with it. 
  • Make sure your shot is level. If you take tilted photos, you're going to get distorted subjects. Conveniently, the iPhone now has a handy Camera leveling feature: when you're standing over a shot, you can see two small "+" marks in the middle of your screen, and you'll know a shot is level when they line up together. 

Now you've got your scans (or equivalent smartphone photos) — time to upload them to Calligraphr! 

The upload process itself is pretty quick: just tell Calligraphr whether to auto-clean your template (usually "yes") and, once you've popped in your images, it'll load up all of your letters individually. 

At this point, you can get as deep in the details as you want—and we'll say more about those details in a minute. But for now, let's finish our first font!

 

Step 8: Export, Install, Start Typing Your Handwriting

Assuming all your glyphs are accounted for, without major issues, go ahead and export. Your export options are .TTF and .OTF — we'd recommend OTF since it's the more robust format (and is needed for extra features like automatic ligatures), though for free users there should be no difference between the two.

Once you've downloaded your font's TTF or OTF file, just double-click and it should install itself very quickly. 

And you're done! Most applications with font options should have your handwriting selectable, by whatever name you gave the font. If you don't see your font available after you've installed it, just restart your computer (or the specific application you're using) and it should show up after that. 

 

I want more. What else can I do?

Calligraphr's sample fonts were created, no doubt, by people who took this tool's capabilities and ran with them. You can do the 15-minute version (as we've covered here) just for kicks, and for free—but if you're willing to pony up eight whole dollars, you can do way more with Calligraphr. 

 

 

Here's the other stuff you can do, ordered from "just checking my work" to "I want to conquer the font world"—

  • Inspect and adjust your characters more carefully. You can always tweak the character scans in your font if something is wobbly. 
  • Add characters to your existing font. If you started with a Basic set, you can always go back and add non-essential characters to fill it out more like a real font.
  • Create variants of your existing font. Everyone else has a Bold option... why shouldn't you?
  • Randomize your existing font. This is where things start getting tricky. Obviously, your handwriting is consistent but never perfectly so—and your Calligraphr font can approximate this. By uploading a separate handwritten template into the same font, you can give Calligraphr another variant for each glyph, and it'll use those variants to "mix up" how your typed handwriting appears. You can repeat this several times over if you wish.   
  • Add ligatures to your font. When we print by hand, things run together sometimes—and these natural ligatures are noticeably absent when a computer smashes together our handwritten letters. But this doesn't happen everywhere in handwriting—only in certain combinations of letters. Calligraphr's ligatures feature lets you fill out a template specifically for combinations of glyphs... once scanned into Calligraphr, your font can automatically use those ligatures to look more natural.     
  • Make more fonts! The font anyone can make here is their own everyday handwriting. After that, your imagination is the only limit... start over and make something totally different!

 

Every Code&Quill is like its own adventure:
You enjoy as you go, but you'll want another when you're done. 
Start your own virtuous cycle here!

 

If you make your own font, feel free to show us how it turned out! Just tag us wherever you post it on social media, or leave a link in the comments, or send us an email (hello@codeandquill.com). 

 


If you're in the market for a notebook, head on over to our store!
If you want more than one, check out our discounted notebook bundles!
If you just wanna say hi or look at pictures, come see us on Facebook or Instagram. 

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Most people think the world is moving away from handwriting, but it isn't.
 

 

Sure—handwriting is slower and messier.  
True—you can't really format by hand, and you certainly can't edit.
And yes—it's nice to imagine your life's notes perfectly manicured in the cloud. 

But on National Handwriting Day, we're making a stand for pen and paper. There's merit to handwriting that no app, word processor, or program can touch.

So today, here are five ways we all write by hand, and why they're all useful and irreplaceable . . . even if you don't have pretty handwriting.    

 

Careful Handwriting

In short, this is how you write for important people. This is the way you write a note asking (for instance) for money or favors.

This is what you use when you're writing a letter to the King of England like "bye George, we got it." If your words will be starting a war, please print neatly. 

And if you win the war, continue printing neatly for your Constitution; people are going to be looking at it for a long, long time.  

 

 

 

Thus, the first special value of handwriting: historically speaking, handwritten documents are much more interesting than their printed counterparts. That seems true whether you're examining world history or your own history.

 

 

Normal Handwriting

This is how you write under normal conditions — neither rushed nor deliberate. This is how you might take notes in class or write in a journal.

You know what's satisfying about normal handwriting? Normal handwriting fills pages. That's how you get to the end of an idea: just writing it out and NOT stopping to edit.

No matter how you write, full pages ALWAYS look better than empty ones. =] 

 

 

Especially when full, you see that a page full of your writing can only look like you. A thousand other people could write out an identical passage and you could pick out your own in no time.

 

What is this, school? #codeandquillcreative#nationalhandwritingday#dnd5e#dnd

A post shared by Chlobot (@chloehirahara) on

 

More to the point: give a thousand people a complex problem and tell them to work it out in a notebook. The solutions will vary endlessly—showing that how you write says a lot about how you think. 

How do you "think on paper"? See whether you'd like our classic dot-and-line layout—or whether the Monolith's new dual-line layout might suit you better.

 

Click here and here to see how other Code&Quill users think on paper.
Click here (or below) to pick out the best Code&Quill notebook for your own thinking.

 

Chicken Scratch

Quick! Grab a pen! Write down this phone number before it's lost!

You know that feeling? That's what comes before chicken scratch. 

Or whenever you're jotting down a three-item list.
Or working out some quick mental math.
Or giving yourself a reminder for later. 

The cruel irony of chicken scratch is that the most urgent information is likely to be written this way, yet it's the handwriting that's most difficult to read.

 

 

It's possible, for example, that many people with messy handwriting are left-handed people in a right-handed world. Either way, a person's chicken scratch is the purest stream-of-consciousness you'll see — sometimes it reads like nonsense later, but that shorthand is someone's brain hurrying to make a point as efficiently as it can.

 

Cursive

Cursive is class — in part because it's a dying skill. Not many lament its passing anymore—for one thing, it's not easier to read. For another, it's rarely as pretty in practice as it is in theory. 

 

 

Cursive is like the Isla de Muerta of handwriting: you only know how to get there if you've already been. You have to practice (and care) a lot. But how sweet it is when someone knows their way around a calligraphy nib, right?
 


We just like using fountain pens, really. Can't hold a candle to that!  

Special & Doodling 

Some people doodle. Some write bubble letters. Some draw arrows or diagrams.

 

Whatever your talent, it's the cherry on top of your handwriting—so let it be there with your notes, or presiding over them. 

Don't forget, too, that some notes are worth sharing. Maybe the ones you write and draw and doodle in your notebook are just for you—but send one to someone else now and again.

 

 

If it's a personal touch with your pen, it's a personal touch with your words, too.

(One final note... the better the tools, the better the creative. Arm yourself with the best tools to bring your ideas into the world. Check out the Code&Quill notebooks now.)

 

code&quill

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Times New Roman, sized at 12 points and double-spaced. One-inch margins on all sides.

When teachers and college professors required a format like that, they were teaching you some of the basics of typography—but not well, and not for the sake of good type.

They had their reasons. Uniform standards are easier; everyone can refer to them. A common formatting style means students can count finished assignments in pages instead of words, which is simpler. And it's probably not fair to expect young students—who are still learning to write—to present their documents like professionals.

But the “standard formats” we use most in school are unavoidably ugly. They're functional prints of work, but they don't look good. Once we've left school, this becomes a problem overnight. As students, we get virtually no practice using smart typography to present our work well for readers.

So when you do have an original document to design, you might be running short on ideas and practice. This week, we’ve got four suggestions for making your documents sharper—including some pointers on how this works on a typical computer.

 

Start Looking at New Fonts

Your first task is to use something other than the fonts everyone knows. Put simply, there’s no way to use an ordinary, uninteresting font without seeming ordinary and uninteresting.

 

Want an extraordinary vessel for extraordinary ideas? Click below to find yours.

 

That (probably) means no more Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial for you. No more Tahoma, no more Calibri, no more Georgia. Your computer probably came with lots of fonts, but most of them aren’t good. Even if you identify the few gems among those system fonts (and you should), you’re going to need outside options.

One good place to start is Google Fonts. As they’re free to access, they’re expectably average—but starting here will give you the opportunity to see a large and completely different set of fonts from your own system fonts.

 

As you browse, you can narrow your selections by properties like category (serif, sans serif, etc.), slant, and weight. Then, once you’ve made a few selections, you can make direct comparisons and, in many cases, download the fonts to your computer.

Be sure to check the license and terms of use for each font you download; while most private uses should be fine, you should always double-check what you’re allowed to do with a font, especially before publishing or sharing a document. (This is true for all fonts, not just Google fonts. Check the terms.)

There are plenty of places you can find free fonts, but you get what you pay for—and when you pay nothing, be glad to find anything of value. Eventually, to get serious about your font game, you will have to spend actual money. Prices range pretty widely; some fonts or collections cost $5 while others cost hundreds. As always, it’s a personal choice of fit and affordability—and as always, shop responsibly.

 

Brush Up on the Rules

Like grammar and style, typography is subjective. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few rules.

Writers lose credibility when they use words incorrectly (hence, grammar Nazis). But by the same logic, they can lose credibility (or clarity, or attention) with each typographic mistake.

Typographer and author Matthew Butterick covers the basics quite well in Typography in Ten Minutes and a follow-up Summary of Key Rules. We recommend you read them both; they’re succinct.

Wherever you review, you may notice that the rules break into roughly three categories:

Some are to-the-point mandates; for example, you use only one space between sentences, and that’s that. Don't expect to bend these without looking stubborn (to the people who notice).

Other rules are guidelines of taste and style; for example, don’t go crazy with font selection, exclamation points, or formatting options like bold and italic. 

The remaining rules are technical reminders, like remembering to use hyphens and dashes correctly; while unexciting, these rules can refresh your technical vocabulary and make your writing more precise. (It really is true, for example, that em dashes—these longer, interrupting ones—are underused in most people’s writing, and simply because people don’t know how to type them on their keyboards.)

 

Practice the Basics

At some point, you have to get to work with your new type toys.

Let’s suppose you open a blank document in Microsoft Word, then type out your text—but without changing any of the standard formatting. It will probably look pretty bland.

Some people would slap a title on it, hit Print, and call it a day. But not you. You can spare three minutes to finish it like a professional. It just needs to look good, and it needs to be easy to read. What can we do?

We've made a few quick suggested changes:

  1. We changed the typeface from Helvetica to Equity, leaving the size at 12pt.
  2. We widened the page margins to 1.75 inches on the left and right, narrowing each line of text. 
  3. We gave each line a bit more height—to be specific, each line is 17pt high. 
  4. We've also justified the text, being sure to eliminate lines with single words (widows and orphans). 

Looks better, right? Here's a little more info on how to do it:

— You can change font and justification in the usual places.
— For page margins, check the Layout banner or Page Setup.
— To adjust line spacing, you'll need to find Paragraph settings, which can be accessed from the drop-down menu via Format >> Paragraph. Then, choose "Exact" line spacing and set a specific number; just remember that it won't automatically adjust if you change the font size for text in those lines.  

 

Keep Your Eyes Open

When you realize how much of the world has type on it, you realize how important typography is to our understanding of information.

You also understand more clearly the silent appeal of good typography and how it influences perception—of the writing and words themselves, but also of the person or entity responsible for them.

Since the world is full of type, the world is full of examples you can assess. You’ll find your own themes, but probably you’ll notice what common sense already taught you...

Don’t overuse anything, and definitely don’t use anything trite or cliché.

Design things to say what you want them to say.

Stand out but don’t be too strange.

Perhaps most importantly: it’s worth it to spend some time on polish. Not only does it enhance the work you’ve already done, but it can mean the difference between being noticed or not. That, in turn, can mean the difference between success and failure.

 

If you're in the market for a notebook, head on over to our store!
If you want more than one, check out our discounted notebook bundles!
If you just wanna say hi or look at pictures, come see us on Facebook or Instagram. 

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