I would like to call the attention of Language Log readers to an extraordinary article by Nikhil Sonnad:
"The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font " (Quartz, 12/18/15)
I knew that Nikhil was writing this article, because I helped him with the part about the historical development of the script over a month ago. After that I didn't hear anything from him until yesterday when he sent me notice that the article had just been published. Now that I've had a chance to read Nikhil's article, I must say that it a unique and amazing accomplishment.
Most people seem to think that designing a Chinese font is not particularly difficult. Just figure out what you want the basic strokes* to look like, then combine them as required and, presto digito! you effortlessly can produce 7,000 or 13,000 or 80,000 characters as you wish.
Sorry, folks, that's not the way it works. Because the proportions and sizes of the strokes change depending upon their placement, each character has to be designed individually from the ground up. This explains why there are so few Chinese fonts compared to the mind-boggling array of fonts that are available for alphabetical scripts. By going to the people who actually do the tedious work of drawing each character, Nikhil demonstrates (with ample, effective illustrations) how new Chinese fonts are created.
The sharp disparity between the complexity of Chinese fonts compared to Western fonts is brought out in this sentence from the article:
An experienced designer, working alone, can in under six months create a new font that covers dozens of Western languages. For a single Chinese font it takes a team of several designers at least two years.
I consider Nikhil's article to be an awesome achievement. So far as I am aware, there is no other comparable journalistic presentation of what is involved in the creation of a Chinese font from beginning to end. Not only is it thorough and detailed in its coverage of the technical and graphical aspects of the design and production of Chinese fonts, it is also learned in its comparison with similar tasks in the creation of Western fonts. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in typography.
*As to how many basic strokes there are, most people would say that there are somewhere between 6 and 8, usually no more than 10 — it all depends on how you count them — though some people even claim that there are as many as 30 different strokes, but most of those beyond 10 are merely variants of the few main types. It is often claimed that the character yǒng 永 includes all / most of the basic strokes / elements of Chinese characters, but even here contention reigns, since standard authorities claim that it only has five strokes.
[Partially quoting myself from "Stroke order inputting " (10/30/11)]