Write On!

Preserve your handwriting style with your own personal font

by Bethany Broadwell on November 1, 2007 - 9:25am

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 6

One day I fully expect to be a writer who awakens without the ability to write.

Sure, that happens to plenty of creative types when their artistic muse takes a temporary leave. In my case, however, I still could have the ideas for writing and the words to express them, but I may be lacking the physical strength and dexterity to grip a pen and push it across paper.

As someone with spinal muscular atrophy type 2 (SMA2), I take my diminishing capabilities in stride. I certainly have moments when I feel frustrated about my depletion, but generally I believe that my mind can solve problems and surmount challenges where my muscles prove too meager.

For example, years ago, when I could no longer hold a telephone receiver, I began using a headset telephone. Likewise, as holding and manipulating books has become more of a strain, I’ve sought out reading material in alternative formats such as e-books. Lately, when eating, I’ve noticed that rotating my hand and lifting a fork to my mouth takes extra effort.

Even if I need to ask for assistance, I’m accepting of help to perform specific, necessary tasks.

But I have slightly different feelings about my eventual inability to write. I may be able to ask someone to write for me, but the most loyal of scribes won’t be able to write exactly like me. My handwriting is a distinctive part of my identity. It isn’t particularly neat or elegant or memorable, but it’s mine — an aspect of me that I can recall painstakingly learning letter-by-letter when I was a 4-year-old.

Ed Jackson, of Huntsville, Ala., is a handwriting analyst who says penmanship can reveal details about our characters such as emotional moods and physical well-being. Highly trained analysts, says Jackson, can determine such things as whether people are organized, fearful, optimistic, outgoing, secretive, sensitive, analytical, responsive or controlled.

Broadwell Samples 1
Broadwell provided these actual print and cursive samples of her handwriting to each of the six font services.

“Each handwriting is different. Some may appear to be similar at first glance but most people can easily find differences between any two writings,” Jackson explains. “This is apparent even in grade school, where teachers can easily tell which paper belongs to which child even when the page has no name on it.”

The evolution of my writing

During my schooling, as soon as I mastered the alphabet in print style, I learned to write in cursive. My teachers made sure I had plenty of practice, requiring me to write letters, words and sentences, then rewarding my careful pen strokes with a smiley face or sticker when my work was admirable.

What does my scrawl say about me? It’s saying less and less. I have mostly turned to typing, so my handwriting isn’t as prevalent for evaluation as it used to be. With the use of my mouse and an on-screen keyboard, I can tap out pages of text at approximately a 15-word-per-minute rate; it isn’t speedy, but it’s steady. To form the same words in writing takes comparatively more exertion on my part.

I sit upright by balancing all of my upper body weight on my right elbow, which rests on a padded section of my wheelchair’s tray. This positioning limits my ability to move my arm for writing. When I factor in my droopy wrist and slow-to-react fingers, the process is tedious. If I’m aligned in just the right way and I have a lightweight, fine-point felt-tip such as my personal favorite, Le Pen, then I can produce legible writing. Envisioning myself having this limited ability for another year is realistic, but I question if I’ll have it for another decade.

After going through this routine one day and struggling to write down a few lines, I considered how helpful it would be if I could somehow generate my own handwriting with my computer. The idea led me to searching the Web using keywords like “handwriting font” and “custom handwriting font.” What I found is that several companies have the ability to create custom handwriting fonts. Discovering the service that could most closely recreate my strokes became my quest.

The review process

The companies each have specific selling points, and choosing the best one requires weighing such factors as price, production time, customer support and, of course, output quality.

Each service required me to complete a template where I wrote every uppercase and lowercase letter, as well as the numbers 0-9 and punctuation marks. In a few cases, I had to write additional words and sentences. I tried to write as naturally as possible while I completed the forms, but I couldn’t help feeling self-conscious with every swoop and straight line I jotted. My effort definitely was far from letter-perfect, but I still felt accomplished making my mark for posterity.

Broadwell Samples 2

Upon completion, I either scanned and e-mailed my templates or returned them via the postal service. Within two to three weeks, the companies had returned their products.

I went into this endeavor with low expectations. Relying on a machine for such a personal act hardly seems promising. I was surprised to be most satisfied with the results.

Since characters vary slightly each time a person writes, many of the computer-generated versions of my handwriting have a more orderly look than my actual handwriting. When I type using the fonts, each letter turns out the same regardless of how many times I produce it.

They may not have all of my quirks, but the letters are clearly my own. Ultimately, knowing I’ll be able to string them together even if I’m physically unable to write suits me to a T.

Review of six custom font services
(Prices may change, so please verify prior to purchase.)

Web site: www.fontifier.com
Pricing: $9
Service: Fontifier is the most reasonably priced custom font service I evaluated. It’s primarily geared to create fonts with print letters, not cursive. Fontifier offers a do-it-yourself means of creating a font for people who have scanners. The service’s preview feature allows people to see the resulting design prior to making a purchase. I rewrote my Fontifier template twice and then tweaked some individual letters with a graphic-editing program before I was satisfied with the template I scanned and uploaded. The font I produced certainly looks like my writing, but the spacing between my characters appears uneven. Fontifier’s technical support said this issue may have been the result of a speck or dot on the template distorting the result. I typically write in cursive, so the print writing isn’t my preferred style. Nevertheless, in about an hour, I had the “Bethany Fontifier” font ready for typing. The service is fast and affordable.

FontShop HandFont
Web site: www.fontshop.com
Pricing: $179
Service: With FontShop’s service, I created the “Bethany Hand” font. In this case, my letters had a slightly more graceful appearance than I can actually make them, so they’re pleasing to my eye. While the output is probably not the closest match to my penmanship, it’s still a close likeness to my writing. Some of the letter linkages are slightly disconnected, making them look a bit unnatural. Still, I almost wish my handwriting could be this neat and artful. Allow approximately 2-4 weeks for font delivery.

FontGod Standard Handwriting Font in Cursive Handwriting
Web site: www.fontgod.com
Pricing: $99.95
Service: Graham Jupp, in Australia, is the sole operator of FontGod. Even though thousands of miles separated us, he assured me that he deals with clients worldwide on a daily basis. Jupp offers a range of font services, including the creation of fonts from existing writing samples, for customers unable to complete a template. The “Bethany Broadwell Cursive” font he designed for me is remarkably similar to my writing. The personal attention he devoted to me really showed in the quality of his work. It was evident that he wanted to deliver a font that would please me, and he did. The linkages between letters are smooth. Production time is typically about 7-10 business days.

vLetter Pro
Web site: www.vletter.com
Pricing: $149.95
Service: The vLetter Pro service produced the “BBfont” for me. When I downloaded the product, it actually installed a program to my computer that facilitates the smooth display of my font. I can type text in my word processing program, hit the handwriting button that vLetter provides and the writing is instantly converted into a remarkable duplication of my penmanship. A signature button that writes out my name with one click also is included in the Pro package. Learning to use all of the vLetter features involves some technical savvy, but the service’s capabilities are impressive. Normal processing takes about 2 to 3 weeks once vLetter receives the template through U.S. mail.

WalterWare Handwriting Fonts
Web site: www.WalterWare.com
Pricing: $99
Service: WalterWare required me to complete the most extensive template, which I was able to scan and return via e-mail. The form I supplied gave the developer multiple examples of each of my letters. Not only did WalterWare produce the “Broadwell Bethany” font, but this service also included a program for installation that randomizes slight variations on my letters. I had a tricky time following the installation directions for this tool, because they required me to acquaint myself with using the Microsoft Word macro feature. It was worth taking the time to learn, however, because the output is a divine match of my own cursive writing. For an additional fee, WalterWare will create an animated graphic of a signature. Turnaround time is typically 1-2 weeks from the time the template is received.

Chank: Custom Font Services
Web site: www.chank.com
Pricing: $199
Service: The designer known as Chank refers to himself as an “alphabetician.” His work has been displayed in a typography exhibit at the Copper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. He also has produced fonts for major corporate clients, including Ocean Spray and Target. Chank’s preference is to create print fonts. The one he designed for me is called “QueenB.” Cursive fonts cost $399. On his Web site he keeps a large selection of his work available for the public to purchase and download. My print letters came out looking like a stylish version of my own script. While I don’t usually print, this font looks like a professional artist took a magic wand to my ordinary scrawl. Standard production time is usually 2-3 weeks once the form is received.

As far as choosing a “winner,” I feel a little reluctant because they each have advantages. With Fontifier, you can’t beat the price. With FontGod, the customer service was fantastic and it’s really easy to use — no complications. As for matching my penmanship, I think it’s a tie between vLetter and WalterWare. If I must choose a winner, I’d probably give the nod to WalterWare; though it’s more complicated, it’s such a good match, plus the price is reasonable.

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