Glyphs is a pure-tcl library for digging into TrueType font-files.

Glyphs is able to extract the vectorial paths of each glyph - points, lines, curves.

Image glyphBeta


  • glyphs 1.2.7 [L1 ] (28-Sep-2022)
    • No API changes. Use an updated and more accurate logic for selecting detailed info from the NAME table.
  • glyphs 1.2.6 [L2 ] (9-Feb-2020)
    • No API changes. Use an updated and more accurate math library for Bezier curves.
  • glyphs 1.2 [L3 ] (2-Jul-2018)
    • Added support for OpenTypeCollections (*.ttc)
    • Added support for CFF font-files (Postscript outlines) (*.otf)
    • nameinfo method is now deprecated ; use the new method
      • WARNING: nameinfo returns a triplet {id idstring value} ;
      • returns just the value.
  • glyphs 1.1.2 [L4 ] (9-May-2018)
    • bug-fix: on error during the initial parsing of a tff, file-handle is not closed (FIXED)
    • fixed some properties names (Ascender Descender LineGap ...); they become 'camelCase' (ascender descender lineGap ...) . Old names are still supported although deprecated
  • glyphs 1.1.1 [L5 ]
    • bug-fix: wrong SVG countours for glyphs having no control-points on-the-curve (FIXED)
    • bug-fix: wrong glyph selection for "notdef" glyphes or empty glyphes (like "space") (FIXED)
  • glyphs 1.1 [L6 ]
    • added methods for getting glyph's advancewidth, leftsidebearing, chars
    • added methods for kerning
    • updated test-suite
  • glyphs 1.0.1 [L7 ]
    • FIX for TclTk 8.6.1 BUG (Itcl incompatibility). Changes now works with TclTk 8.6.1 as well with previous versions.
  • glyphs 1.0 [L8 ] (BUG)
  • glyphs 0.9 [L9 ] (OLD)

See also glyphs-demo

Opening and closing

This is a first quick trip; just open a .ttf, look inside and close

> package require Glyphs
> set fObj [Glyphs::new "arial.ttf"]
> set ng [$fObj get numGlyphs]
> puts "found $ng glyphs"
> $fObj destroy

Inspecting font file's properties

Reopen the .ttf file

> set fObj [Glyphs::new "arial.ttf"]

we already know how to get the number-of-glyphs

> set res1 [$fObj get numGlyphs]

and we can also get the overall-bounding box, or where the descender-line is placed

> set res2 [$fObj get bbox]
-1361 -665 4096 2060
>set res3 [$fObj get descender]

but there're a lot of properties and the better way to know which properties are set is:

> set props [$fObj get]
fontPath numGlyphs bbox unitsPerEm fontRevision ascender descender .....

Other font properties can be retrieved from the internal 'name' table:

> foreach {id name} [$fObj nameinfo] {
>    lassign [$fObj nameinfo $id] id name value
>    puts "$id - $name\n$value\n"
> }
1 - Font Family name

2 - Font Subfamily name

3 - Unique font identifier
Monotype:Arial Regular:Version 3.00 (Microsoft)

4 - Full font name

Working with OpenType Collections

An OpenTypeCollection (*.ttc) contains more than one font. If you dont' specify any, the first font is selected

> set mfObj [Glyphs::new "AmericanTypewriter.ttc"]
> set ng [$mfObj get numGlyphs]
> puts "found $ng glyphs"

You can also get the list of included fonts

> foreach subFont [$mfObj get subFonts] {
>    puts $subFont"
> }

If you want to work with a specific subFont, then specify its index ( 0..n ) when opening the fontfile

> $mfObj close
> set mfObj [Glyphs::new "AmericanTypewriter.ttc" 3]
>  ...

Locating a single glyph

The quickest way to locate a single glyph is through its glyph-index. We know that "arial.ttf" has 1674 glyphs, therefore we can get all glyphs from 0 to 1674.

Now let's take the 144th glyph

>set g144 [$fObj glyph 144]

As with fObj's properties, we can get some specific glyph's property:

>$g144 get index 
>$g144 get bbox
1 0 1936 1466

In order to list all the available properties

> $g144 get
index bbox points instructions pathLengths paths ...

Forget about the "instructions" property it's a binary string that "Glyphs" is not currently able to decode. (Probably it will removed in the next revision.)

The most important properties are points and paths

Let's take a glyph simpler than 144

>set g103 [$fObj glyph 103]
>set L [$g103 get points]
{99 714 1 99 1079 0 ...} {299 711 1 299 446 0 ...} {516 1556 1 516 1761 1 ...} {889 1556 1 ...}

Result looks like a list of 4 lists (4 contours).

Each contour is made of a sequence of triples: x y flag.

Flag "1" means that point (x,y) is on-curve, Flag "0" means point (x,y) is the control point of a Quadratic Bezier curve.

But, how to translate these "points" in a parametric curve?

>set L [$g103 get paths]
{{M 99 714} {Q 99 1079 295.0 1285.5} ...} 
{{M 299 711} {Q 299 446 441.5 293.5} ... }
{{M 516 1556} {L 516 1761} ... }
{{M 889 1556} {L 889 1761} ...}

Result is a list of (4) contours.

Each contour is made of a sequence of simple abstract commands:

  • M x y -- set (x,y) as the current point
  • L x y -- draw a line from current point to (x,y). (x,y) then becomes the current point
  • Q x1 y1 x2 y2 -- draw a quadratic bezier from current point, to (x1,y1) (control point) and to (x2,y2) (end-point). (x2,y2) then becomes the current point.
  • C x1 y1 x2 y2 x3 y3 -- draw a cubic bezier from current point, to (x1,y1) (control point), (x2,y2) (control point) and to (x3,y3) (end-point). (x3,y3) then becomes the current point

It's your app's responsability to translate these 'abstract commands' in real drawing commands. A very simple implementation for the standard canvas-widget could be the following:

proc Paths2Canvas { cvs paths } {
    foreach path $paths {
         # first command should be M (MOVETO)
        foreach pCmd $path {
            set points [lassign $pCmd cmd]
            switch -- $cmd {
                M {
                L {
                        $cvs create line $lastX $lastY {*}$points
                Q {
                    $cvs create line $lastX $lastY {*}$points -smooth true
                C { ;# CUBICTO
                    $cvs create line $lastX $lastY {*}$points -smooth raw
                default { error "unrecognized path command \"$cmd\"" }            
            set lastX [lindex $points end-1]
            set lastY [lindex $points end]            

A better implementation should take care to join consecutive segments in a single polyline .... Look at glyphs-demo code for a more complete example.

Converting a glyph in a polyline, tangents, normals and more ..

The "onUniformDistance" method is the last, more powerful method acting on a glyph.

We can 'split' the whole glyphs in a series of 2D points equally spaced.

> $g103 onUniformDistance 100.0 "at"

returns N (long) lists (one list for each glyph's countour) made of x y pairs; each (x,y) is a point on the glyph, and all these points are equally spaced (with some arrangements for dealing with the curves extremities ...)

We can also get the tangent or normal *versors* for these points.

> $g103 onUniformDistance 100.0 "tangent_at"
> $g103 onUniformDistance 100.0 "normal_at"

and finally we can get the tangent or normal *vectors* (i.e., a segment starting from point "at" having the tangent/normal direction).

> $g103 onUniformDistance 100.0 "vtangent_at"
> $g103 onUniformDistance 100.0 "vnormal_at"

We suggest to do some experiment with the glyphs-demo app.

Getting more glyph metrics

Getting the AdvanceWidth, LeftSideBearing, chars (list of all characters (unicode) sharing a glyph)

> $g103 get advanceWidth
> $g103 get leftSideBearing
> $g103 get chars

The above commands are equivalent to:

> $fObj gget 103 advanceWidth
> $fObj gget 103 leftSideBearing
> $fObj gget 103 chars

Getting the horizontal kerning value for the "A" "V" letters

> $fObj getKerning [$fObj unicode2glyphIndex "A"] [$fObj unicode2glyphIndex "V"] "H"

There's not much more to do with a single-glyph. Since it's a dynamic object, you can free space when it's no more useful,

>$g103 destroy

but, you are not required to do it. In fact, when the 'font-file' is destroyed

>$fObj destroy 

all space used for its allocated glyphs is freed.

More on accessing glyphs

We've seen the standard way to access a glyph by-index. The major part of TrueType Fonts holds a table for converting a "character" (unicode) to index.

>$fObj unicode2glyphIndex "A"
>$fObj unicode2glyphIndex "ß"    ; # unicode char \u03B2 (greek letter "Beta")
>$fObj unicode2glyphIndex \u03B2 ; # unicode char \u03B2 (greek letter "Beta")
>$fObj numcode2glyphIndex 946    ; # it's always the greek letter "Beta" !

For your convenience, you can access a glyph, with two new methods

>$fObj glyphByUnicode  "ß"  ; # glyph by Unicode
>$fObj glyphByCharCode 946  ; # glyph by CharCode

Comments and Suggestions

ABU Glyphs requires more documentation. Within the package some documentation and a full test-suite are included.