For more than 20 years, designers have been working with Type1 fonts that only allowed a limited amount of characters to exist in one font (namely, 256 — most of which could be selected in one key stroke). However, the technical demands on typography in a global context have increased. International standardization (Unicode) and the desire to improve quality and convenience across different platforms (Windows, Mac and Linux) has brought about a major change in font technology: the development of the OpenType format. Unlike its predecessor, OpenType allows thousands of glyphs — Latin characters with and without accents, Greek and/or Arabic, sets of figures, arrows and symbols or elaborate swashes — to be integrated into a single font.
As a consequence, not all characters can be reached in one key stroke of the keyboard and a method is needed for the user to control the choice of letter variant or type of figure. This intelligence is integrated into the OpenType font and is called glyph substitution — a technology that is now supported by all professional design and layout programs and an increasing number of programs in the office environment. Glyph substitution enables the application of particular characters, numbers or symbols, depending on the features the user chooses. Exactly which features are available vary from font to font and depending on the design of the typeface, there may be alternate versions for ‘a’ while another typeface offers more than one ‘g’.
- Join Ilene Strizver for the DesignCast OpenType Demystified, available OnDemand.
As a graphic designer as well as a type designer, my insight into both worlds has led me to conclude that type designers are comfortable with the potential and practical use of OpenType features while many graphic designers are still hesitant to use them. There is a lot of agreement on this from my colleagues in both camps, so I thought I’d give a few helpful examples here of what one can expect from many of today’s OpenType fonts.
For starters, access to the activation and deactivation of features is not organized consistently in the dominant graphic design programs (yes, all of them from Adobe — there seems to be a lack of competition). To reach them sometimes requires unbearable travel through various sub menus, making it cumbersome for users to get acquainted with using them. The level of support is also not consistent, causing insecurity over whether to purchase a typeface license with a desired feature that is not supported across the board. In InDesign CS2 through CS5 for example, Stylistic Alternates are not supported while they are in Illustrator and Photoshop. The reverse is true for Stylistic Sets 1-20 which are supported by ID but not by PS or Ai.
More Type Resources for Graphic Designers