Creating a pixel font in Glyphs Mini

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24 February 2017 Published on 20 February 2017

A pixel font is such a fun and easy way to get started in Glyphs Mini. Plus, all your friends will want to use it!

Start a new font

First, open Glyphs Mini and select File > New (Cmd-N), to create a new font document. Next, go to File > Font Info and name your font. We’ll call ours ‘Pixelfont’, because I just woke up and can’t think of anything better. Then, at the bottom of the window, you’ll find the options for Grid Spacing. The Grid Spacing value defines how coordinates get rounded. The default value is 1, which stands for 1 unit, a thousandth of the font size. E.g. if your font size is 12pt, then 1 unit will be 0.012pt. For pixel fonts, we want all tools and all modifications to always snap to the grid, so we set higher values. This ensures that pixels in your font are automatically on the correct position. Usually, best results are achieved if the grid step value is the same as the size of the pixel. So, e.g., if you have a pixel that is 50 units wide, the grid step should be 50 as well, so we set our Grid Spacing to 50/1:

The pixel component

To make it extra easy for you to create a pixel font, there’s the Pixel tool in Glyphs Mini. Click and hold the Pencil tool to access the Pixel tool (keyboard shortcut X). But wait! Using the Pixel tool without a pixel glyph in your font will trigger a warning dialog that will also give you the option to generate a pixel glyph right away with an Add button.

Note: in some app versions, there is a bug, and you may need to press Shift-B to switch from the Pencil tool to the Pixel tool and Shift-X to switch back again.

Pushing the Add button will add a glyph called pixel (the Pixel tool needs this) with a square the size of your grid step, and set it to not export because it shouldn’t appear as a glyph in the finished font.

If you want to draw the pixel yourself, start with a good old square. Activate the Rectangle tool (F), and drag a square. The pixel square should be on the so-called origin point, the intersection of the left sidebearing and the baseline:

When you are drawing the rectangle, you will notice right away that the path will stick to the grid. That’s great!

Drawing pixels

Now that we’re ready, let’s start drawing! Open a glyph you like the best by double clicking it in the Font view. To draw pixels, simply click and drag on the canvas. Glyphs Mini places the pixel glyph as a component in the glyph you’re drawing in. That way, you can be sure that the pixels are all the same.

To delete pixel components that have already been placed, click on an existing pixel, and start dragging. Now, have fun building your glyphs!

Selecting components

Selecting a component is easy. Simply click on it with the Select tool (V). Then you can move it around with the cursor keys or your mouse.

But if you want to replicate a set of pixels, e.g., a stem or an arch, you will have to select multiple pixels. There are two ways to achieve that. Firstly, you can Shift-click multiple components after each other. This is useful for non-contiguous selections, i.e., pixels that are not next to each other. Secondly, you can hold down your Option key and drag-select a range of pixels with a rectangular selection:

Hint: When drag-selecting your pixel components, what counts is whether the origin point is captured in the selection rectangle. So, think of selecting the bottom left corner of your pixels when you drag-select.


The default glyph width is 600 units. But, well, that does not look so nice:

To start with the spacing, you can make sure all your glyphs have the same left and right sidebearings. Here’s how: First select all glyphs in Font view by pressing Cmd-A. Then, enter the values in the bottom left window. The values for your left and right sidebearing should be multiples of your grid spacing, in our case, we simply set them to 50.

Now, it is easy to make individual changes in the grey info box. But make sure you only enter values that fit our pixel grid, in other words, it must be a multiple of our grid step.

If you want to know more about spacing, read our tutorial on Spacing.

Looks much better now, don't you think?

Pixel variants

Of course, you can play around a little with your pixel. For instance, you don’t have to make a square, you might as well use a circle. To do that, you can change the shape of your existing pixel. Because the pixel tool places the pixel as component in your glyph as you draw, all pixels will change when editing the original pixel glyph shape. You’ll notice that, when drawing a circle, it will be built to something like this:

This is because the Subdivision, the second value of the Grid Spacing, is set to 1. The Subdivision divides the grid step, so snapping happens on the grid subdivisions, not directly on the grid. If you set this value to 25, for example, your circles will look like this:

Set the Subdivision value to something that makes sense for your pixel design. For full flexibility, set it to the same value as your Grid Spacing. Feel free to experiment with your grid and pixel shape.

Export and test your font

If you have complex pixels, i.e. anything but the simple square at the beginning, you have to make sure that hinting is turned off when exporting. So, when you export your file (Cmd-E), uncheck the Autohint option. Why? Hinting optimizes your glyphs for low screen resolutions, which only works with simple, boring shapes. (Read more in our tutorial about PostScript Autohinting.)

If you want to test your font, do not install it in apps like FontBook or FontExplorer. Why? Read all about it in our tutorial on eliminating font cache problems. Do you have some Adobe apps installed? If you export your fonts into the so-called Adobe Fonts folder, they are immediately activated in Adobe apps. No restarting, no cache-emptying and no re-loading required. Activate the Export Destination checkmark, click on the Path and in the save dialog that appears, navigate to: Macintosh HD/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts/. If the Fonts folder does not exist, just hit Cmd-Shift-N and create folder called Fonts (with a capital F).

For more info on that, read our tutorial on testing your fonts in Adobe apps.

In Glyphs Mini, you can also choose to export your font as a webfont. To do so, check the Webfont (WOFF) option when exporting. This way, you can display your font in a web page using HTML. Sounds interesting? Read on in our tutorial on creating a webfont.

Applying filters

If you want to experiment a little with your font, you can try some of the built-in filters. Again, make sure you have an appropriate Subdivision value, or some filters might give you an unsatisfying result. For example, if you apply the filter Round Corners to your pixel square, you’ll get this:

Here we used the filter Offset Curve without the Make Stroke option to make our pixels bolder:

So, have fun with your pixels!

Update 2020-01-07: corrected some typos, changed the old Pixel Tool shortcut, replaced Adobe Creative Suite with Adobe apps. Added note about the Pixel tool shortcut.
Update 2020-03-11: changed ‘Font-Explorer’ for ‘FontExplorer’.
Update 2022-07-28: updated title, related articles, minor formatting.