FontLab plans for new OpenType 1.8 variable fonts

Moments ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, representatives from Google, Microsoft, Apple and Adobe unveiled version 1.8 of the OpenType specification, featuring a surprise in the form of variable fonts (a.k.a. OpenType Variations). This is an extension and updating of the 1990s GX Variations technology invented by Apple, and a functional superset of Adobe’s Multiple Master technology.

Links which should all be live shortly if they are not already:

The variable fonts enabled by this technology will offer more freedom to type designers and font users, and smaller file sizes for packaging font families. Type designers can enable one or more axes of variation, such as weight, width, or optical size. These can be done with true typographic finesse—we’re not talking artificial stretching and automatic algorithms.

FontLab has already recently begun work on integrating support for variable OpenType fonts in FontLab VI. Indeed, sharp-eyed users of the most recent FontLab VI Public Preview builds may note that they already contain a “Variations” panel, which already features some of the key flexibilities allowed by variable fonts but not in, say, Multiple Master: masters at any point in the design space, and potentially many more design axes. FontLab VI will ship with some degree of OpenType Variations support, and we will continue work on OpenType Variations afterwards, both for FontLab VI and other products.

Variations panel prototype from FontLab VI (build 6101)

Variations panel prototype from FontLab VI (build 6101)

Long-time type industry watchers might be aware that FontLab was the first font editor to offer designers a full visual environment for working with Adobe’s Multiple Master technology. I did my own Master’s thesis in this area, and FontLab’s Adam Twardoch has been suggesting for several years, to anyone who would listen, how it wouldn’t be hard to add GX Variations to OpenType.

So needless to say, the FontLab team is very excited to see the unveiling of this new technology, and is fully supportive of this announcement. I have already written an article for Communication Arts magazine about OpenType Variations and what it means for designers, and next week I will be talking about it at the WebVisions conference in Chicago. You can already see the seeds in our latest FontLab VI Public Preview, and there is more to come!

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Thomas Phinney

Thomas Phinney is President of FontLab. Previously he worked at Extensis (web fonts and font management tools) and Adobe (as product manager for global fonts and typography). Thomas is also a type designer, teacher, writer, and consultant on fonts and typography. He has been consulted by Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, Oxford University Press, a “big three” US auto maker, the US Treasury Department, and PBS “History Detectives,” among others. He teaches type design with Crafting Type and has been a repeat guest lecturer for MA Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Since 2004 he has been a board member of ATypI, the international typography association. His typeface Hypatia Sans is an Adobe Original with over 3000 glyphs per font.

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