Feature (or plugin) request: Ability to draw on the background image/layer

I mentioned this idea to @mekkablue at the Typographics conference last year, but I’m not sure he would remember. I was thinking about it again lately. Here’s the idea:

Basically, add a pencil or brush tool that could be used with the mouse or (ideally) a graphics tablet to do freehand sketching or notations on the background image/layer.

This would be pixel based, not Béziers. Sometimes it’s easier to sketch something out by hand than to work out how to do it directly with paths, especially when, like me, it comes more naturally, especially for tricky shapes. Being able to do this on the background layer would enable one to see it in context of the current outline and neighboring glyphs. The drawing tool could be very simple–just black and a few line weights plus some way to erase and undo.

Currently, such sketching has to be done on paper and scanned in or in an app like Photoshop. Both of these work, but exist outside of the Glyphs context. Being able to do this kind of thing inside Glyphs seems like it would be really handy.

What do you think, sirs?


And just to head this off, the current pencil tool is great for drawing Bézier paths freehand, but less than ideal for sketching, doodling, and notating, which is what this idea is about. For instance, it does too much interpretation of the shape I’m drawing, in an attempt to simplify.

Astropad, right? I do remember and we have been discussing it internally. It is a little tricky with the file structure Glyphs employs currently.


I noticed that the background images are read-only scripting-wise. I suppose that’s related.

Technically it is possible. Use an image and draw into that and store the image next to the .glyphs file as any other background image. That could even be done by a custom plugin.

As a workaround for the time being, what about a script that creates images for all (selected) glyphs in a subfolder next to the .glyphs file. But I don’t know how to make those images available on your Astropad/iPad. If you like, we can screenshare some time soon?

Hmm. The Astropad works just like a Cintiq. It lets you work on your Mac screen from the iPad and the Apple Pencil. So there’s no need to make the images available to Astropad/iPad.

I’ve been playing around with this setup using the existing Pencil tool. It kind of works if I make the nodes and other UI elements invisible. A bit wonky, though. The line wobbles around as you draw.

It also occurs to me that I could get part way there by taking a screen shot of the glyph I’m working on in Glyphs, draw on it in a graphics app (on the Mac or iPad), save it, then go back to Glyphs and put that image into the background. I basically would like to be able to do this all within Glyphs, without the intermediate steps.

Without using the image part of a glyph layer within Glyphs, perhaps as a workaround, for now (assuming you don’t need the background layer for other things):

Switch to the background layer (Command-B or menu Paths > Edit Background) and then do your drawing there. It would still be drawing with vectors. The main outlines would be in grey, but still visible (as long as View > Show Background [Shift-Command-B] is on). Then, switch back with Command-B, again.

You could also fake the drawing with pixels by installing and using @GeorgSeifert’s Pixel Tool; though with that you need to change the grid size and define a pixel glyph, so that could be a hassle since you may not want to work in that grid size all the time. And it would still be vectors (well, components of the pixel glyph).

That kind of works, as I mentioned above. The pixel thing is not because I want to see pixels, just not to be constrained by the limitations of drawing freehand with Béziers. Conceptually it’d be like having a sheet of paper under the foreground layer for sketching and doodling and making notations. It could even be vector-based if the effect was the same (like the pencil or brush tool in ye olde Flash).

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I think something like Skitch might fit the bill, short of something that works inside Glyphs. With it, I can take a screen snap of the current glyph, sketch on it, and then put the modified screen snap directly into Glyphs by dragging. The drawing tool in Skitch is a bit clumsy. If you try to draw near an existing stroke, it’s liable to think you want to move it rather than draw a different stroke, for instance. But I think it might be 80% of what I want.

For what it’s worth, the fact that I can’t do this in Glyphs (or other font editors over the years) has had the effect that I continue to get better at working directly with Béziers. It doesn’t feel the same, and I miss that feeling, but it has become noticeably more natural to me over the years to design with Béziers without tight sketches. So, maybe what I’m asking for is a crutch I don’t really need that much.

Please take this suggestion as just an idea, a pipe dream. It may not be as useful as I imagine, although it does seem like it could be.

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