glyph

glyph is a Windows program which allows you to choose a font and enter some text, and then it will produce parameter data that can be used with Ultra Fractal (UF). You can use this as a means of importing text into UF.

why glyph is useful

glyph actually extracts the curve data from the font and creates parameters using it. Images created with glyph-imported components can be rendered at any size without jagged edges. You can also apply transformations to imported text and retain razor-sharp edges, because at every step your image is rendered with the mathematical outline of the text, not a bitmap. You can even tweak the outline itself. This takes much less space than importing an image using UF’s image importing.

Being able to include text directly within a fractal image means text does not have to be layered on in another program. When you render a large image, your text is automatically included and you do not have to re-do your text compositing step. You can do your compositing directly within Ultra Fractal. It allows you to use tools you are familiar with to manipulate your text shapes. And text as an artistic element can be very powerful.

glyph positions text correctly, even using kerning information. glyph does not use hinting, because glyph has no way of knowing what the final resolution of your image will be. If you are planning on using very small text, you may find glyph’s placement of character features to be less readable than if you added the text with a separate graphics program.

donations

Software takes time to write, and even more time to test, distribute, test again, and write documentation for. The TrueType renderer formula in glyph is my own work, as is the converter program. If you find glyph useful, please send a contribution. The suggested amount is $10, although any amount will be accepted. Send your donations to Damien Jones, PO Box 607831, Orlando FL 32860-7831, USA.

installation

Unzip glyph.zip to produce glyph.exe. Place it in any convenient folder and double-click on it to run it. (You can even place it directly on your desktop.) Make sure you’ve updated your formulas from within Ultra Fractal as the glyph rendering formula is stored in the public database.

system requirements

  • Windows XP or later1
  • Some TrueType or OpenType fonts installed (glyph only works with these fonts)2
  • Ultra Fractal or something roughly compatible with it (or the program isn’t very useful)

basic usage

  1. Open glyph.exe.
  2. Click Choose… to choose your font, style, and color. glyph will remember your selections. The size you choose does not matter.
  3. Enter the text you wish to convert.
  4. Click Convert.
  5. The converted parameter data appears in the box. Click Copy to copy it to the clipboard.
  6. Open Ultra Fractal (or switch to it if it’s already open).
  7. Choose the Layers tab of the Fractal Properties tool window.
  8. Right-click any existing layer and choose Paste.

glyph will always prepare a layer, rather than a complete fractal; this makes it easy to merge the results with an image you’re working on. The layers prepared by glyph will have a transparent background and (unless you change it) white letters. You can change individual letters on the imported layer by switching to the Mapping tab of the Layer Properties tool window, selecting the appropriate letter, and changing the solid color. To change the color of all the letters at once, it may be easier to set the color in the font selection dialog within glyph and re-import the text.

font copyright issues

There are many free fonts available on the internet, but there are also many commercial fonts. Not every font is free for you to share.

glyph can only convert a font that is installed on your computer, but once the characters are converted, they can be rendered by anyone who has the glyph rendering formula (which is available from the UF formula database). That means you should be especially careful about sharing parameters for commercial fonts, as doing so may be a violation of copyright. Check the license for your commercial fonts to be certain. Many of them allow you to use the font for your own creations but don’t allow you to redistribute the font data itself.

This is not a debate over whether fonts should be copyrightable or not. This is just a reminder that some copyright laws may apply to you if you use glyph to convert commercial fonts and give the results to someone else.3

tricks & pitfalls

  • glyph works because it uses an Ultra Fractal formula which can render shapes made up of small curve segments. The glyph program is just a converter that reads font curve data and writes out the coordinates of all those curve segments for you (and positions the characters for you as well). However, this means that the curves have to be in the same class that glyph understands. TrueType and OpenType fonts are composed of quadratic curves, which are easy and fast to compute. PostScript fonts are composed of cubic curves, which are more compact, but much more difficult to compute. glyph can only use quadratic curves, so if you try to use a font containing cubic curves, it will return an error. (This will only happen if you choose a PostScript font, which for most people is simply not an option.)
  • Some fonts with very elaborate characters—typically calligraphy fonts—have more control points within a single character than glyph’s rendering formula can handle. (At the moment, the limit is 399 control points; I have only one font in my collection that needs more than that, at about 600 points per capital letter.) If you attempt to use such a font, glyph will give you a warning on each character that is too complex.
  • glyph has a limit of 128K on the generated parameters. If you try to convert too many characters, the resulting parameters will be truncated and Ultra Fractal will not let you paste the layer. Exactly how many characters are too many depends on the font used; very complex characters require more space to describe, so fewer can be used. If you run into this limit, break the text into smaller pieces and convert each piece separately.
  • If you want to edit a character’s shape, check the Show Handles box for that character’s transform. Handles are automatically disabled for disk renders and previews.
  • glyph is meant for rendering small amounts of text, not for essays. The more text you add to an image, the more slowly it will render. This is especially true for very complex fonts.
  • glyph does not currently handle Unicode. I do plan on changing this soon.

wouldn’t it be nice if…?

People always have suggestions on how to improve software. Several people have suggested that glyph should be able to import curves from Illustrator or EPS files. This would be nice, but that would mean dealing with cubic curves, which I am not ready to do just yet (it’s not easy and it requires some work to make it fast enough to use, so I need to wait until I have enough time to work on it).

Other than that, if you have a suggestion for glyph, I’d like to hear about it.

1 Technically Windows 2000 and Windows NT will also work, but Windows 95 and 98 will not. If you are using a version of Windows this old, you should be ashamed of yourself; it’s not safe to connect these to the internet.

2 Windows fonts come in many formats. glyph works by extracting curve data from the fonts, so you can only use fonts for which curve data is present in a readable form. That means OpenType or TrueType fonts.

3 I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. For proper legal advice, consult a legitimate attorney.

Photo Credits: image: Damien Jones; software: Ultra Fractal 5, glyph