MD_MAX72xx LED Matrix Arduino Library  3.2.2
Library to control connected MAX72XX devices as a pixel array
Create and Modify Fonts

Font Storage Format

One default font is defined as part of the library in PROGMEM memory. Alternative fonts can be specified to the library. The font builder utilities provide a convenient way to modify existing or develop alternative fonts.

Version 2: Fonts allows for up to 65535 characters in the font table:

  • byte 0 - the character 'F'
  • byte 1 - the version for the file format (2)
  • byte 2 - high byte of the code of the first character in the table
  • byte 3 - low byte of the code of first character in the table
  • byte 4 - high byte of the code of the last character in the table
  • byte 5 - low byte of the code of last character in the table
  • byte 6 - the height of the character in pixels
  • byte 7 - the number of bytes that form this character (could be zero)
  • byte 8..n - each byte is a column of the character to be formed, starting with the leftmost column of the character. The least significant bit of the byte is the bottom pixel position of the character matrix (row 7).

Version 1: Fonts are stored as a series of contiguous bytes in the following format:

  • byte 0 - the character 'F'
  • byte 1 - the version for the file format (1)
  • byte 2 - the first ASCII character in the table
  • byte 3 - the last ASCII character in the table
  • byte 4 - the height of the character in pixels
  • byte 5 - the number of bytes that form this character (could be zero)
  • byte 6..n - each byte is a column of the character to be formed, starting with the leftmost column of the character. The least significant bit of the byte is the bottom pixel position of the character matrix (row 7).

Version 0: If the 'F' is omitted then the font definition is considered a version 0 font (prior to MD_MAX72xx version 3.0.0) and the defaults are set to min ASCII 0, max ASCII 255, height 8. In this case byte 5 of the Version 1 font is the first byte in the file.

To find a character in the font table, the library looks at the first byte (size), skips 'size'+1 bytes to the next character size byte and repeat until the last or target character is reached.

The compile-time switch USE_INDEX_FONT enables indexing of the font table for faster access, at the expense of increased RAM usage. If indexing is enabled, a single lookup is required to access the character data, rather than the sequential search described above.

The support for fonts (methods and data) may be completely disabled if not required through the compile-time switch USE_LOCAL_FONT. This will also disable user defined fonts.


The txt2font Utility

The txt2font utility is a command line application that converts a text definition of the font into a data file in the right format for MD_MAX72xx to use.

This utility is as an Win32 executable. Users with other Operating Systems will need to compile a version to work with their OS, using the source code supplied.

The application is invoked from the command line and only the root name of the file is given as a command line parameter (eg "txt2font fred"). The application will look for and input file with a '.txt' extension (fred.txt) and produce an output file with a '.h' extension (fred.h).

The txt2font file format is line based. Lines starting with a '.' are directives for the application, all other lines are data for the current character definition. An example of the beginning of a font definition file is shown below.

  .NAME sys_var_single
  .HEIGHT 1
  .WIDTH 0
  .CHAR 0
  .NOTE  'Empty Cell'
  .CHAR 1
  .NOTE  'Sad Smiley'
   @@@
  @@@@@
  @ @ @
  @@@@@
  @@ @@
  @   @
   @@@
  .CHAR 2
  .NOTE  'Happy Smiley'

The directives have the following meaning:

  • .NAME defines the name for the font and is used in naming the font table variable. The name can appear anywhere in the file. If omitted, a default name is used.
  • .HEIGHT defines the height for the font. Single height fonts are '1' and double height fonts are '2'. If double height fonts are specified then the range of ASCII character values is restricted to 0..127 as the top and bottom halves of the font are stored offset by 128 positions. If omitted, the application assumes single height font.
  • .WIDTH specifies the width of the font for all the characters defined between this WIDTH and the next WIDTH definition. 0 means variable width; any other number defines the fixed width. WIDTH may be changed within the file - for example to define a fixed size space (no pixels!) character in a variable width font.
  • .CHAR ends the definition of the current character and starts the definition for the specified ASCII value. Valid parameters are [0..255] for single height, and [0..127] for double height. If a character code is omitted in the font definition file it is assumed to be empty.
  • .NOTE is an option note that will be added as a comment for the entry in the font data table.

Any lines not starting with a '.' are data lines for the current character. The font characters are drawn using a non-space character (eg, '*' or '@') wherever a LED needs to be 'on'. The application scans from the top down, so any lines missing at the bottom of the character definition are assumed to be blank. However, blank lines at the top need to be shown. Any extra rows are ignored will cause program errors.

A number of font definition files are supplied as examples.


The FontBuilder Excel/VBA application

FontBuilder is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with VBA macros to manage a GUI interface for defining and managing font characters. FontBuilder supports both single and double height fonts. The first tab in the FontBuilder spreadsheet has instructions for use.

As FontBuilder requires using Microsoft Office products, it does not work environments where these are not available.


Third Party Font Builders

A few MD_MAX72XX/MD_Parola users have designed and implemented their own font builders as alternatives to the 'official' releases: