Freefont, TrueType and patterns with The Gimp




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TranslationInfo:[Author + translation history. mailto: or http://homepage]

Original in fr André Pascual

fr to en Scott Rutherford


Originally an draughtsman, and now a teacher for manufacturing technology, specifically CAD.
Design and desktop publishing, principally in 3D, is one of his passions.


The tutorials "Pseudo 3D" and "Effects of fire" caused me to receive many emails, for the large part because of the difficulty of the proposed exercises. In fact, it was only a matter of difficulty for beginners. The experienced Linux user is not stopped by a missing font or pattern: he would soon install the fonts, or find a suitable path for saving, that wasn't the case with my correspondents. Everybody has been a beginner, and who still isn't in some area of Linux? So this article is aimed at the beginner, although even the purists won't be offended by the methods described.





Mandrake 8.0 and The Gimp 1.2.1 served as the reference packages for this article. If using different versions, directory structure, indexes or drop down menus may be different from those stated in this text. Should this be the case, adaptation to the specific configuration will be required.
When discussing printed characters, I shall use the terms fonts and styles completely interchangeably. Fill patterns shall be referred to as either patterns or motifs. Instead of referring to XFree86, the official name, I shall say simply X.
Similarly when referring to the Midnight Commander, which allows the management of files without in depth knowledge of the base functions of Linux and their plethora of options, I shall say MC. Users of Norton Commander and Xtree Gold under DOS, or WinCommander under Windows will find themselves on familiar territory. Right up to the function buttons which have the same allocations in MC as in WinCommander! Remember to be pragmatic. It is without doubt better to do something functional and clumsy than something sophisticated and non-functional.

Installation of Freefont and Sharefont

The script-fu's from Gimp use by default fonts that the different distributions may not install automatically. These fonts come in two packages: Freefont and Sharefont. The former is free, and the later is distributed under the shareware licence, but both are very interesting. Without a doubt they make a great difference to the presentation abilities of X.

[Figure 1]
Figure 1.

These two packages are available in .tgz archives thanks to Christoph Lameter at the following address:
Several sites on the internet (e.g, ibiblio was formerly known as metalab or sunsite), and you can sometimes get them on the CD's found on the covers on magazines. Linux Magazine France number 9 provides them in a directory of it's accompanying CD, called /Gimp/fonts.
Taking this as an example, the fonts can be installed as follows:

If this option is not on the menu, exit MC (F10), the cursor still pointing at the window containing the copied files. If you then take the trouble to add the following line to .bashrc:
mc () MC=`/usr/bin/mc -P "$@"`; [ -n "$MC" ] && cd "$MC"; unset MC ;
you will find yourself in the selected directory. If not, go there using
cd /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts
and then decompress directly using:
tar xvfz *.tgz

This leaves you with two new directories, one called: freefont and the other called: sharefont. The .tgz archives can now be deleted.
Freefont contains 79 fonts, nearly all usable, and Sharefont contains 22.

[Figure 2]
Figure 2.

Each directory also includes a special file called fonts.dir, which describes the characteristics of each font to X. This means that you don't need to run mkfontdir to generate this file.
The fonts will be loaded by X the next time it is launched, but only if you first tell it that it needs to use them. In older distributions you had to add the following lines to /etc/X11/XF86Config, in the section labelled "Files":
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/freefont"
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/sharefont"
However in Mandrake 8.0 a font server is used. To add the fonts to the font server path using the chkfontpath utility:

chkfontpath --add /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/freefont/
chkfontpath --add /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/sharefont/
Restart the font server:

/etc/rc.d/init.d/xfs restart

If you are in graphical mode, and not in console mode, the instructions above are still valid if entered into a terminal (rxvt, kvt, wmterm...). However the fonts will not be available immediately; they will not be loaded without restarting X, or entering the following commands into the still open terminal:
xset fp+ /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/freefont
xset fp rehash
xset fp+ /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/sharefont
Xset fp rehash


In order to check that the fonts have been loaded run

xlsfonts | egrep 'sharefont|freefont'
or launch xfontsel, or simply the KDE font manager.
The fonts are now usable by all (well not really) X applications.
The fonts can be gathered into a table, like in this article, by using Gimp with the following commands:
xtns> Script-Fu> Utils> Font Map.
Important: it's a merciless tool. One error when entering the name of a font and you will be sent back to start again. The best way round this is to work with the KDE font manager open at the same time as the Gimp. That way you can see the name of the font in the manager at the same time as seeing it in the sample field. Figure 3 shows several of these fonts, which are useful for creating whimsical logos or reference letters.

[Figure 3]
Figure 3.

Using True Type

These newly installed fonts are interesting, but maybe you have a Windows partition on the hard drive, with it's legions of beautifully crafted True Type fonts? If you don't have windows then you can as well download True Type fonts from various sites on the net such as,,, ... It's possible to use them.
The latest Linux distributions, and those still to come, naturally envisage their use. It is not the same in older distributions, like Mandrake 5.3
That said, a least a solution exists. It comes in the form of a server called Xfstt (a simple executable file of a round 130 Kb after compilation) available at the following address (among others):

The archive you want is called Xfstt-0.9.10.tgz (or the latest version) and is around 80Kb. The version numbers show that the program is still under development, but it functions without any major problems.
Before compiling, it is necessary to prepare the terrain by creating a directory to receive the True Type fonts, such as /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ (mkdir /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ or F7 in MC). Then, copy the required fonts into this directory, or create a symbolic link (F9 in MC, followed by File then Symlink) pointing towards the Fonts directory under Windows. In my setup, /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ contains the link winfonts which points towards /mnt/Win98/windows/fonts, where /mnt/Win98 is the mount point of my windows partition.
The compilation of the program can now begin; to do this change to the directory created by decompressing the archive (/tmp/xfstt0910) and execute the following commands: make xfstt && make install
When the compilation has finished, the executable binary xfstt will be installed in /usr/X11R6/bin. It remains now to tell the server xfstt which fonts it will be using. Execute the command:
xfstt --sync --dir /usr/share/fonts/truetype
This will have the effect of creating two description files in /usr/share/fonts/truetype called ttinfo.dir and ttname.dir.
The server is launched by using the command: xfstt --dir /usr/share/fonts/truetype &.
However on execution, it will appear that nothing has happened: these fonts are only available to X, not in text mode, and if you are in X then it will be necessary to tell X to load them. This can be achieved by entering the following command:
xset +fp unix/:7100
Afterwards verify with "xlsfonts | grep ttf-" or xfontsel or the KDE font manager that the TrueType fonts are available; they should be usable by all (well nearly) applications that run under X. StarOffice5 allows their use in StarDraw, StarImpress, StarCalc, but strangely not in StarWriter, perhaps there is an option to activate it, but if so I couldn't find it. In any case, they are usable in the Gimp as you can see in figure 4. There is as well a freefont plugin for Gimp. If you have this plugin installed then you have yet another method to use TrueType fonts in Gimp. Unlinke the xfstt server the freefont plugin makes of course the fonts not generally available to all applications.

[Figure 4]
Figure 4.

The program documentation states that it is possible to add to XF86Config, in the Files section the following line: FontPath "unix/:7100"; this however has never worked for me; it also talks about launching xfstt before starting X, then carrying out the other commands in a terminal, but at risk of forgetting them. The simplest approach is to automate things by writing 2 small scripts, one to launch the server and the other to close it. Don't forget to make the scripts executable (in MC, F9 then File and Chmod), and then save them in /usr/local/bin for example. The activation script could be called something like ttf, and the deactivation one dttf. The first contains the following lines:
xfstt --sync --dir /usr/share/fonts/truetype
xfstt &
xfstt +fp unix/:7100

And the second contains simply:

xset -fp unix/:7100

This is the solution I use: it works.

Creating Patterns

The patterns (images) are nothing more than image bitmap files in the .pat format specific (but not actually copyrighted) to the Gimp, which are used to fill a surface with the aid of the "paint pot" tool. They are saved in the directory /usr/share/gimp/1.2/patterns/. Any further patterns created can be saved in this place, which will give all other users access, or in your home directory at ~/.gimp/patterns, in which case only you will be able to use these fonts.

Suppose that we wanted to use the image in figure 5 to "paper" the background of an image.

[Figure 5]
Figure 5.

We could do it manually be coping and pasting but that is a bit longwinded and not very precise: the patterns will be moved to the nearest pixel! It is better to let the Gimp do it, and it will if the file to be repeated is of the right format, i.e. a .pat file.
If this is not the case, you can remidy it as follows:

Quit the Gimp, since the new pattern will be available on restarting, and re-launch it.
In the tool box, click on File>Dialogs>Patterns. The Patterns Selection box appears and shows samples of all the available patterns; if you click on a sample, that one will be enlarged temporarily. Also, clicking on a sample selects the current pattern.
Find the pattern Tuxdor, near the end of the list, as the patterns are listed alphabetically and select it for use.
Create a new workspace with File>New>Width 288 Height 286 (space for 4 patterns)
double click on Fill with a colour or pattern (the paint pot) and select Pattern Fill.
Click anywhere on the empty image and it will be filled by the golden Tuxdor:

[Figure 6]
Figure 6.

However the filling is not very aesthetically pleasing: the "seams" between the patterns are visible. This comes from the pattern itself, which wasn't created to enable tiling like this. Lets change that. Reopen the original figure 5. Right click on the image then
>Filters> Map> Make Seamless, we get a new image.

[Figure 7]
Figure 7.

Save this in the same place as Tux2.pat, with the identifier TuxTile. Quit the Gimp, re-launch, and make a new image of 432x392 pixels. Fill this new image with the TuxTile pattern. Now we have a new image without seams, but looking a little military (of course that has it's place depending on the destination of the pattern). However the quality of the image is much better than the previous one.

[Figure 8]
Figure 8.

All the same one could want a softer image, more melded. In order to make an adequate pattern:

[Figure 9]
Figure 9.

[Figure 10]
Figure 10.

Provisional Conclusion

The final image shows what you can do with these charcter fonts, and the patterns other than those that come with the Gimp. The text was created using the Script-Fu logo; for sure it took some work to get it to look like that, but the same thing could be achieved by anybody. It is sufficient to explore the numerous possibilities the software offers, and to amuse yourself with them.