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                          REVIEW: TYPESMITH 2.5a
  Maxwell Daymon                                         mdaymon@rmii.com
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[Readers who do not have WB3.X AmigaGuide could see unusual formatting
characters which may not translate well for earlier versions of AmigaGuide.
- Jason]

TypeSmith 2.5a

Soft-Logik Publishing

Whether you do desktop publishing, electronic pre-press, video, or any other application that benefits from the use of type, there may come a time when you need to create, convert, or manipulate fonts. TypeSmith may be the answer to your needs. It is designed specifically to handle various outline font formats, but it also manipulates (to a lesser degree) bitmap fonts and it works as a font format conversion utility.

Installation

TypeSmith comes on a single 3½" double density diskette. The files are compressed and installation is handled by Commodore's Installer utility. The installation allows full control over where TypeSmith will live and what extras are installed. The last step in the installation process displays the "readme.first" file, but assumes that the installation disk is in drive DF0:. If you install from a different drive, the computer will ask for a disk in drive DF0: or, if a disk is already in the drive, attempt to get the file "readme.first" from it. The error is non-critical, but it really shouldn't have made it through testing. I do not understand why TypeSmith wants a logical assignment (TypeSmith:) to be put in the User-Startup. This assignment is not needed when PROGDIR: is available on OS 2.0+ and TypeSmith is an OS 2.0+ program. TypeSmith should use PROGDIR: unless the user wants to use TypeSmith: for some reason. If your list of assignments is starting to look like a zoo, you'll have another animal to look after.

As a program

The TypeSmith executable weighs in at just under half a megabyte. To use the software, you need at least 512K of chip RAM and 1.5MB of fast RAM, but I recommend more of both. TypeSmith is essentially a structured drawing program which can handle as many as 255 drawings at once in each project you have open. In all its glory, TypeSmith tends to use a good deal of chip RAM. Unless you have a 2MB Agnus or run TypeSmith in a fractional zoom mode, you will probably encounter low chip memory conditions while multi-tasking with other chip memory intensive programs. Chip RAM usage is minimized, but not eliminated, when running TypeSmith with a graphics card. If you have a graphics card and/or 2 megabytes of chip RAM, you're not likely to notice. Using TypeSmith on a machine with 512K of Chip RAM and no graphics card is a tight fit, but it is certainly possible. In a multi-tasking system, straight memory requirements don't mean much so I made a sample table of memory consumption for various tasks. TypeSmith has a beautiful, font-sensitive interface. It's obvious that the programmers closely followed the Amiga User Interface Style Guidelines. Most of its windows are resizable. The program automatically adapts to the aspect ratio of the selected screenmode, so opening TypeSmith on an oddly-sized screen (like 1280x400) won't make the letterforms appear squished, stretched, or otherwise distorted. The OS standard ASL file requester is sized according to the current screen and font, so you rarely need to worry about moving or adjusting it. The program interface is stunning on a high resolution 1280x1024 screen with a 24 pixel high proportional font (like Times) as the interface font. Fonts are loaded based on a user-editable pattern which can be set independently for each file type. Ineligible files (those that don't match the current pattern) are hidden for convenience. For instance, importing a Compugraphic Intellifont will use the pattern (#?.type|#?.lib) so you won't have to wade through unrelated files to get what you are looking for even if you keep all your font files in the same directory. The Amiga clipboard is also supported so you can easily share TypeSmith data with another OS clipboard compliant structured drawing tool or a program like Soft-Logik's PageStream 3. Professional Page and Professional Draw (Gold Disk) users will be exposed to a remarkable concept: a floating toolbox! You can put the toolbox wherever you think appropriate, and you can have it come up on the right or left side by default. Another useful feature is a fuel gauge for operations which have the potential to take a long time. The graphic and percentage-based display reports how much of a given task the program has accomplished and takes away the uncertainty of whether the program has locked up or is just doing a lot of thinking. Enough cannot be said for keeping the user apprised of program activity. There is also a status bar, at the bottom (or top) of the screen, which displays coordinates, scale, and status. If you have AmigaOS 3.x, the status bar will display a description of whatever your pointer happens to be positioned over at any given time. It even explains the drag bar and close gadget. Under OS 2.x, this status bar will only report actual TypeSmith operations, such as the particular guide line you are dragging around, but only a select few functions are reported under this operating system. Users with AmigaOS 3.x are treated to a context-sensitive on-line help facility. OS 2.x users still get on-line help, but without the context sensitivity. TypeSmith also allows you to open multiple copies of the program, but warns you if the program is already running. Other programmers would be wise to look at TypeSmith when designing the graphic user interface to a program. This is certainly how a program should be done!

As a font designer

TypeSmith comes equipped with a powerful set of drawing tools including an ARexx interface which allows drawing control through ARexx commands. Real-time manipulation of the letterforms is acceptable on an ECS machine with a 25MHz 68030, and exceptional on an ECS machine with a 33MHz 68040. Like a full scale drawing program, there are a number of ways to constrain the drawing and manipulation functions. If you hold down [SHIFT], ellipsis and rectangles will be constrained to circles and squares. Holding down the [ALT] key while adjusting a bézier curve power/angle point will cause the opposite power/angle point to be mirrored. Holding down [SHIFT] after you select a point and before you drag will constrain movement vertically or horizontally, whichever direction the mouse moves first. One surprising catch is that the initial line segment must be just that: a line. If you want a completely curved shape, you have to add a second point on top of the initial point to create the curve. This makes a "non-existent" line, but still satisfies the requirement. The ellipse tool does it automatically. This requirement can make some functions appear unstable or erratic, but if you realize that the initial "point" with a curve from each end is actually two points, the behavior makes sense. No structured drawing editor would be complete without the ability to use bitmap templates of some sort. TypeSmith will import Amiga, Soft-Logik, and Adobe ABF bitmap fonts, and IFF ILBM images as templates and it will export the above mentioned bitmap font formats. Bitmap fonts can be used as templates for designing outline fonts. To do this, you must create a new outline project and load a bitmap font. Although it is possible, it is not recommended by Soft-Logik or myself, to Autotrace a bitmap font to get a start on the outline version. The results are poor (if not completely unusable) with most bitmap fonts. There simply isn't enough information for the trace algorithm to create a usable outline version. Once the bitmap font has loaded, TypeSmith will display a gray "shadow" of the font in the workspace. You can use this form to draw a rough sketch of the letter and then turn off the template display to finish the outline font in detail, or you can leave it up as a guide throughout the operation. A 60 pixel high Amiga bitmap font is the smallest I tried that would yield even a usable trace result, but even then it's only a modest start. The intended purpose of the Autotrace feature is to create outline versions of IFF ILBM bitmaps. For example, you might scan a high resolution image of a particular letter and Autotrace will create a fairly faithful outline version of the graphic. This is very memory intensive. If you are low on memory, only one letterform should be imported at a time, then cleared before going on to the next letter. A great deal of resources would be required to hold a 150-600 DPI scan for each letter in the whole character set. You can use TypeSmith to create bitmap fonts from outline fonts. One reason for doing this is to make attractive screen fonts for programs in which text speed is important. Another reason to use this is to get type into a program that does not directly support outline font formats. Some desktop publishing software (such as Professional Page) allows you to use bitmap screen fonts to speed up font display considerably, at the cost of display quality. TypeSmith is not a replacement for a dedicated bitmap font editor. It does not allow control of all the functions possible with Amiga bitmap fonts. TypeSmith is a powerful tool which can generate and refine a bitmap font, but precise control of the Amiga bitmap font data such as kerning and spacing information still requires a font editor that directly addresses such needs.

Making international font design easier: Character Compositions

TypeSmith supports a feature called Character Compositions which makes creating and maintaining international character sets simple. With Character Compositions you can define the base letters and accent marks, and give TypeSmith instructions on how to combine these for the various accented characters. Any change to one of the components will change ALL of the compositions. For instance, if you change the lower case 'a' in the main character set, all the accented character composed versions reflect that change. There are a couple caveats when dealing with character compositions: Fonts designed without the feature must be reconstructed, and character compositions are lost if saved in a format that doesn't support the feature. TypeSmith can also import IFF DR2D drawings. You can design the letterforms in your favorite IFF DR2D-supporting drawing program and simply use TypeSmith to import and put together the drawings as a font. You cannot, however, import extremely complex DR2D files - TypeSmith will inform you that there are too many paths. Remember, you are dealing with a single letterform, not complicated line art.

As a font format conversion utility

TypeSmith works as an effective font conversion utility, but not without some difficulty. The process is by no means seamless. TypeSmith will import Compugraphic Intellifont, TrueType, IFF RFF, PostScript Type 1, PostScript Type 1 Hybrid, PostScript Type 3, Adobe metric and PostScript metric, IFF ILBM templates and Amiga bitmap, Soft-Logik bitmap, and Adobe ABF bitmap fonts formats. It will export Compugraphic Intellifont, TrueType, IFF RFF, PFB PostScript Type 1, AFM font metric, PostScript Type 3, and IFF DR2D. It will also export IFF ILBM, Amiga bitmap, Soft-Logik bitmap, and Adobe ABF bitmap fonts. First, not all font formats use the same curve definitions. Compugraphic Intellifonts and TrueType fonts do not use the bézier curves of TypeSmith and the PostScript Type 1 font formats. Alien curves must be converted to a format TypeSmith understands. In the process, information is lost. When loading and saving Compugraphic Intellifonts or TrueType fonts, you are likely to lose quality and/or gain unwanted complexity. Loading a Compugraphic Intellifont and resaving it yielded a font that was much dirtier, especially at lower resolutions (12 to 48 pixels) when used in programs. Loading and saving a Compugraphic Intellifont or TrueType font in its native format is devastating because of the conversion difficulties. If TypeSmith could handle B-splines and any other curve definitions, this wouldn't be a problem unless you specifically wanted to convert the font to another format. As it is, editing and resaving fonts that do not conform to the bézier font definition results in loss of quality. If you are planning to use TypeSmith to convert a disk of TrueType fonts to PostScript, my first suggestion would be to look for PostScript versions of those fonts. However, converting PostScript or Soft-Logik fonts to another formats works fairly well for non-professional use (e.g. a small newsletter). If you are a professional, avoid anything except PostScript, Soft-Logik, and RFF font formats. Another problem that stems from conversion is the loss of specialized information like character compositions and kerning information. TypeSmith will not load or save the kerning information of Compugraphic Intellifonts (called kerning segments) or character compositions, so external means of such information must be maintained. Character Compositions are fused together as a complete character when you output to a format that does not support such compositions. You should always keep a copy of fonts in the highest feature format possible (Soft-Logik recommends IFF RFF). The Amiga Compugraphic Intellifont engine (OS 2.1 - 3.1) doesn't seem to like anonymous fonts. I could not get the Amiga to use an exported Compugraphic Intellifont without giving it some sort of ID, but without having an assigned number it could conflict with other fonts. Importing and re-exporting CS Times (PageStream 3) yielded a font that had poor-quality and a size of almost a quarter megabyte. TypeSmith's ARexx interface allows complete automation of the program as well as allowing other programs to use TypeSmith transparently with automated macros. TypeSmith comes with a marco to batch convert whole font directories while you work on other projects or sleep. Another included macro that I found very useful was an ARexx shell that allows you to enter ARexx commands directly into a Shell interface to watch the results on the screen. If you can't draw but you are mathematically and spatially aware, you can design fonts with commands in a fashion similar to the language LOGO. The manual is beyond excellent. It is full of all kinds of information about font design, history, where to officially register your fonts, and of course usage of the program. The 144 page manual (created with PageStream 2.2) coupled with the complete on-line help system, both indexed and recommended reading are a surprising and refreshing change from what I'm used to seeing, even from high-end Macintosh and PC products. If all manuals and on-line help systems were this good, there wouldn't be a #? for Dummies series of books.

Utilities

TypeSmith is billed as being able to convert Gold Disk's Professional Draw clips into IFF DR2D drawings. After loading the Convert utility and selecting a source file and destination directory it reported that the file was not a ProDraw clip file. I attempted to simply point it at the directory with the clips, but it found none. Running the Convert program from the shell gave the same results, but would not release the shell window even after exiting. Quitting from the Workbench interface resulted in a 0100000F recoverable alert under OS 3.1. OS 2.1 sometimes added the fatal failures 8700000E followed by 80000008 bringing the whole machine down. To insure that I was throwing real ProDraw clips at it, I tried using PageStream3. PageStream3 successfully recognized and converted every single ProDraw clip file I tried to run through Convert. Most of the resulting IFF DR2D files imported into TypeSmith without a problem. The rest had to be simplified or parts had to be deleted to function properly. Font Downloader worked fine. I sent fonts to my printer and they were used when I sent a file that called upon them.

Some gripes

· I turned off the "White Background" to speed up the display as recommended in the manual. Eventually, many specs of pixel garbage appeared in the type window. Resizing, covering, and moving the window did nothing. Scaling the font (to redraw the contents) only caused the letterform to draw UNDER the pixel garbage. · As another speed up, I tried to force the program into the Picasso's "chunky" mode. The colors went completely wrong and the window redrew every time I clicked the mouse in the window. I cannot place any blame without more information, but it wasn't convenient whichever program is at fault. · Status bar is not notified of objects in inactive windows. Can make context-sensitive help appear to be "broken". Simply insure that the window containing the function you want help with is active. · Starting a new outline followed by new bitmap causes problem. The bitmap is not editable. You MUST import the bitmap or create it from an existing outline. I would like to see more bitmap font control in TypeSmith.

Conclusions

TypeSmith is not the perfect solution for everyone, but (with the exception of "Convert") is a beautiful, stable, functional program. True professionals should consider the Compugraphic Intellifont and TrueType import functions as "good starting points" for designing a bézier curve version of the font. The results from just importing and using the point reduction feature aren't good enough for truly professional use. Professionals tend to hang around the PostScript font format anyhow. While found in professional environments, TrueType is not the font format of choice in the field. TypeSmith is a boon to Professional Page and Professional Draw users. It makes fonts that otherwise cause Gold Disk's Font Manager to choke into usable files. Of all the fonts that caused Font Manager to crash or resulted in incorrect or scrambled conversions, loading and resaving them with TypeSmith resulted in a completely usable file. Font Manager will keep the PostScript version available for high end output on PostScript devices, so there is no concern about the slight loss in quality from converting a Type 1 to a Compugraphic Intellifont format. It will also directly convert the fonts for you, but does not copy a downloadable PostScript version to the Gold Disk fonts directory (easily solved with an ARexx macro, however). I was able to convert nearly all of the fonts I tried from my collection of thousands. A few were too complicated (each letter was an entire drawing of a scene!) but for the most part everything imported without difficulty. I could not test all the fonts or I would not have finished this review before 1998, but the fonts I did try had good to excellent results! If you work with fonts, TypeSmith is an essential utility and is one of few high quality products that actually deserves to be called professional.