Dan Bailey, Fontosaurus Text
Dan Bailey is the force behind Fontosaurus Text, “the most productive font foundry on the Web.” Dan was kind enough to sit down with ATPM Contributing Editor Christopher Turner this month for an interview.
• • •
ATPM: Dan, how did you get involved with creating fonts?
DB: You know, I’ve been asked this in an interview before (by the crew over at the on-hiatus True Type Resource), and I gave them the best answer I could at the time.
I was thinking about my old computers the other day, and I realized that my earliest experience with font design actually happened with an ancient (the first) Compaq Portable, designing bitmaps with a crummy editing program I can’t even remember the name of, all under the watchful eye of MS-DOS 2.1. The strange part is, I probably hadn’t thought about that program since the late 1980s. Old school, though.
Anyway, several things transpired in 1996 to bring it all together. I discovered Chank Diesel’s Web site full o’ fonts, plus bought an early issue of MacAddict that had a huge section on making your own fonts, and coincidentally had a conversation with my Platoon Leader (Lt. Aric Nissen) while at Army Reserves duty about font design (he was/is a professional graphic designer).
At the time, I had a PowerBook 520c. I ganked a copy of Fontographer off the Net somewhere to see if this might be a worthwhile pursuit. I discovered I enjoyed font design, and decided I wanted to do it right. So I dropped a large chunk of change on a fully decked-out computer system in the fall of 1997, and even went so far as to buy a legit copy of Fontographer.
ATPM: What tools do you use when creating fonts?
DB: The primary workhorse is my Power Mac 8600/300. 160 MB of RAM. Had to replace the original hard drive, which started to die this spring, so there’s a 9 GB and a 1 GB drive in it. Threw in a USB card and an ATI Rage 128 card. Add to that a Wacom graphics tablet, an old Apple Color OneScanner, and a Kensington optical mouse, and there you have it.
On the software front, I use Adobe’s Illustrator 8; Photoshop 5.5; Streamline 4.0; and, of course, Macromedia Fontographer 4.1.5.
All this is subject to change, of course. I just ordered a new iBook and have been contemplating dusting off my programming skills to write a new font design program from scratch—OS X native, of course. We’ll see, though…my free time is already a pretty valuable commodity.
ATPM: What do you look to for inspiration when developing a new font?
DB: Man, I look everywhere. Uhop Deluxe/Uhop Lite was inspired by two different things: (1) the IHOP sign, and (2) the old Dodge Neon lettering. Inspiration has come from movie posters, album covers, Rolling Stone magazine. My God, that magazine is a treasure-trove of font inspirations. I look at the work of other designers, to see what they’re doing. While I do have a lot of grunge fonts, myself, I’m not a particularly huge fan of them. I’ve started to take a strong liking to art deco and “techno” fonts, and I think you’ll see a lot of that reflected in some upcoming stuff.
ATPM: How long, on average, does it take you to produce a font?
DB: There’s no real solid answer to that. Nonzero, my most recent, was done on my Windows NT machine at the office in Illustrator, to kill time. That portion of the work took maybe an hour or so. After FTPing it to my home machine, and driving home to meet it here, it took about another hour to get it into Fontographer and spaced/kerned. Top that off with another 15 minutes to zip up the various files, upload them to fontosaurus.com and then update the database. Writing those little descriptions is actually the hardest part sometimes!
By contrast, Turbine Sans, my newest Deluxe font, was something I had been working on since 1998. Solely in Fontographer, I literally worked on that font at least twice a week for three years.
ATPM: Do you enjoy working with a particular style of font over another?
DB: Yeah. Lately, I’ve been fixated on Art Deco and “Techno” fonts. I like the challenge of a font that has a simple geometry to it, because it makes it a real challenge to produce certain letters. That, and you get some really groovy results. Citing the Uhop Deluxe/Uhop Lite example again, I didn’t think too far ahead when I started building it, which is why some of the letters—“S,” for example—are a little funky. To compensate for that, I resorted to something that used to be done with typefaces prior to the 1960s—varying the baseline on the numbers. Basically what this means is that the bottom edges of the numbers don’t all line up when you type them out. So instead of letting the quirk with the “S” ruin the font, I decided that it would be really cool to integrate it by “tricking out” other parts of the font.
ATPM: How did you come up with the name for your foundry?
DB: I was hanging out with my friends Dave and Kristin (now married to each other and coming up on their first anniversary!) at a bar one night while in college. We’re playing darts and getting pretty snookered. Somewhere along the line I said in a godawful mix of Spanish and English, “Man, yo soy el Fontosaurus.”
ATPM: Is Fontosaurus Text your only means of income?
DB: Lord no! If that were the case, I’d be living in a cardboard box. Since I went to the donationware format last October, I’ve made maybe $200. About $25 a month. Nothing incredible.
My primary source of income is as a Web Producer for a company that deals in insurance. What this means is that I do a combination of coding, designing, and project management. The paycheck’s pretty amazing for a guy who’s degree is in Creative Writing, so I’m not complaining.
ATPM: How did you get started with the $2 font?
DB: Well, I had originally gone with a setup where I was bundling 8-10 fonts together and then selling that bundle for $40 via Digital River. Digital River never bothered to send me the monthly sales reports they promised me, and I never saw my fonts used anywhere, so I assumed that I hadn’t made any sales and that Digital River had done none of the promo stuff they’d promised, so I realized that that methodology wasn’t going to work. Who wants to spend $40 on a series of fonts that they’ve never seen before from a designer whose work was unproven, right?
Anyway, after I moved to Philly, Fontosaurus sat fallow for a while, collecting dust. Last year, I decided it was time to brush off the dust, get things going again, and learn ASP while I was at it. I was also getting to the point of needing a new car, so I set up a contest: donate $2 and you’re entered to win the old car when I buy the new one.
Well, things didn’t work out as planned and the Honda was literally about to “pull a Bluesmobile” on me. I kept expecting it to collapse the moment I climbed out of it, at the end of a high-speed pursuit. So I went to Nissan, somehow managed to get financing on a new XTerra, and traded the ol’ Honda (a.k.a. “The Challenger,” due to its white color and impending explosion/disaster) as part of the deal.
So the $2 donationware thing has survived and I’m trying to figure out where to go with it now. I was considering a “help me pay off my damned student loans” contest, where I’d give away a one-time $500 scholarship to an art student. We’ll see.
ATPM: Have you seen a great response with offering the majority of your fonts for $2?
DB: I get a lot of fan mail. As for a great response…well, the donationware thing doesn’t seem to work too well. Maybe, maybe 0.001% of the people who have visited Fontosaurus Text have actually donated the two bucks. Kind of a downer. This was part of the reason I decided to start putting out my Deluxe Fonts.
ATPM: We understand that you have now started a new promotion, the Fontosaurus Text Font of the Month Club. Tell us about that.
DB: Actually, it’s a blatant rip-off of Chank Diesel’s Font Of The Month setup. His is much more expensive at US $100 per year. Mine’s US $40/year. For that $40, you get a font delivered to you via e-mail every month for an entire year. This works out to $3.33/month, or a little more than the cost of a standard donation. The cool thing is, that font is totally unavailable to anyone outside the club for at least six months, but more likely for an entire year. The fonts are also much more fully-developed than the standard donationware fonts, and will include all the standard keyboard characters, plus most, if not all of the character set.
Speaking of such things, I’m running a little late on delivering this month’s. Oops.
ATPM: Dan, could you give our readers an overview of your font pricing structures/promotions?
DB: Sure, I’d be happy to.
Basic Fonts are a free download, and I only recommend a $2 donation (via PayPal, or snail-mail). These fonts typically have a few symbols, the full letterset, and numbers.
Deluxe Fonts run anywhere from $10 on up and include the entire character set. These must be paid for to get ahold of them.
Font-of-the-Month costs $40 for a one-year subscription. You get a font mailed to you each month, with a full (or nearly full) character set, and usually with two or more faces. This boils down to the aforementioned $3.33 a month.
ATPM: Why Mac?
DB: Oh man, why Mac? Why not? Well, let’s see…because I started off as an Apple II fanatic, burned out on Windows/DOS, and wanted simplicity. Because the interface is easy on the eyes. Because the hardware kicks butt. Because it’s a Mac. I love the things. Rabidly.
ATPM: Why Windows?
DB: Comic relief, man. Comic relief. (Oh, and testing to see if the lemmings can use the site I’ve built.)
ATPM: Obsess much?
DB: Nah. Not really. I tend to lean toward a “Type B” personality. So I don’t obsess too much. Sometimes, this is bad—particularly in font design. I’ve learned to obsess there, because one bad detail can destroy an entire font. Sounds weird, but it’s true. One letter, or even part of one letter can throw off the entire feel of a font. So I guess the proper answer is, “Yeah, sometimes.”
ATPM: Dan, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us for a chat. Best wishes for continued success with Fontosaurus Text.
DB: Hey, no problem. Thanks for having me. :-)
• • •
You can check out all of Dan’s primo fonts at his Web site, Fontosaurus Text. And send in those two dollars!
Also in This Series
- Heather Sitarzewski, Graphic Designer · September 2010
- John Hart, ModYourMac.com · August 2005
- Jonathan Gales, MobileTracker.net · May 2003
- Frank Vercruesse (author of Application Switcher Menu) · January 2002
- Daniel Knight, Low End Mac · September 2001
- Dan Bailey, Fontosaurus Text · June 2001
- Gerry Beggs, Gerry’s ICQ · July 2000
- Chuck Fox, FreeMac · October 1999
- Oliver Joppich, iCab Company · March 1999
- Aladdin Systems, Inc. · September 1997
- Complete Archive