Background

A large shortage exists in the quantity and variety of Arabic typefaces, which is partly due to the complexity of Arabic letters compared to the more widespread Latin alphabet. Rather than being composed of individual, unconnected letters, Arabic letters are always connected, each letter taking on a different shape, depending on its position in the word. Furthermore, Arabic letters can also be vertically "stacked", and stretched horizontally, depending on style and available space. This complexity presents challenges when creating Arabic fonts, which simply do not exist for Latin systems.

Fortunately, developments such as the OpenType font format have greatly simplified the creation of advanced typographic systems, and lowered the level of technological expertise needed to create Arabic fonts. With the increasing availability of these tools, the community for this topic is increasing, and with it, the variety and quality of printed and digital fonts. Pioneers like Nadine Chahine, the creative genius behind fonts such as Neue Helvetica Arabic, Palatino and Palatino Sans Arabic, Jann, and Badiya, lead the newest generation of talented graphic designers improving the availability of non-Latin fonts.

Motivation and Tools

A fascination with design and typography led me to try creating my own font. I was determined to incorporate aspects of my own handwriting into the style of the font, and I thought it would be an unique asset to have a usable font face which reflected aspects of myself, reproducible in a digital medium.

I created each glyph and its required variants in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, then used FontStudio and Microsoft Volt to compile the font, create a variety of ligatures and special characters, and allow it to display in the natural order when typing. LaTex word processing was used in the final steps of the project to create a sample text styled with the font.

Early rendering to check for consistency in weight and flow between common letters.

Inspiration

I drew inspiration from Kristyan Sarkis’ 2011 font Thuraya, which is heavily influenced by the Diwani style of calligraphy. What I found particularly impressive about the creation of Thuraya was the extended set of several hundred ligatures، and an accurate replication of the logistically challenging slanted baseline. Both of these features allowed Thuraya to reflect the genuine appearance of Diwani in a modern, digital interpretation. For my own font, I chose to preserve certain aspects of the Thuraya font, while discarding others. I valued the flow and varying weight of characters, but chose a more traditional route by incorporating descenders and using a simpler, horizontal baseline.

Stylistically, I believed the font needed to reflect and follow existing calligraphic traditions, which dictate necessary proportions and the layout of letters and words. In addition, the glyphs needed to have a distinct flow, where the reader could immediately feel the path, stroke, and thickness of the pen when reading words.

Towards this goal, I decided on several features that would create a distinct flow and handwritten presence. I chose to incorporate circular terminals at the end of the stroke in some glyphs, to create the impression of a slight excess of ink before the pen is lifted from the paper. I found this full and smooth look a pleasant stylistic addition to the overall feel of the font.

Unfortunately these choices, combined with the nature of the curved Arabic glyphs left only a minimal amount of exchangeability when designing each glyph. This significantly extended the amount of time needed to create each glyph and its variant forms, a reality I expected based on the reading the experiences of other Arabic font designers.

Full character set, with ligatures, special characters, and two font weights. Sample text is Genesis 1:1-5 from the Smith & Van Dyke Arabic Bible, chosen to display accenting used in formal documents.