Chapter 7. OpenType: The New Frontier in Font Technology

BACK IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY when PostScript fonts battled it out with TrueType fonts in what the trade press dubbed "font wars," managing fonts was a thorn in the side of every graphic designer. With PostScript fonts you had to keep track of the two parts of your font: a screen font, which contained the information about the font's spacing characteristics and kerning pairs, and a printer or outline font, which contained the data about each character shape. It was this second part that was downloaded to your PostScript printer so it could print the characters. TrueType fonts were simpler in that there was only one part to them, but too often caused problems when printing to a PostScript imagesetter.


A short-lived solution to the shortcomings of Type 1 Postscript fonts was the Multiple master, which allowed the user to generate different weights and widths of the typeface from a small number of master outlines. But Multiple masters didn't catch on, mainly because they were expensive and confusing. Names like MyriadMM 215LT didn't exactly roll off the tongue. Multiple masters were discontinued in 2001, though they still pop up in font menus.


OpenType fonts are based on Unicodean international, cross-platform standard that assigns numbers to the characters in a font. Before Unicode, the recognized standard was ASCII, which has a character set of 256 characters. The problem is that Macintosh and Windows use different encoding schemes. While they agree on the first 128 characters, the next 128 numbers are specific to each platform. This means that finding the characters you need requires different key combinations on the different platforms. Unicode enables a character set of up to 65,000enough characters to include Roman, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets all in the same fontfantastic unless you're the poor type designer who has to design them all!

The key words here are "up to." In reality, no font comes close to having 65,000 characters, but many have several thousand. Just being an OpenType font is no guarantee of an expanded character set: The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Figure 7.1. The OpenType menu. Features not supported in the current font appear in square brackets, such as [Swash].

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Today, on the Mac, Type 1 PostScript fonts continue to abound, and on the Windows platform, there are still plenty of TrueType fonts. However both formats are being superseded by OpenType fonts (Adobe released its whole type library in the OpenType format in 2003). OpenType is a cross-platform standard developed by Adobe and Microsoft. There are no compatibility headaches going from Mac to Windows, or visa versa, and there's only one file to manage. What makes OpenType fonts so compelling, though, is their massively expanded character set. With room for so many more characters, OpenType fonts include the full range of Latin characters used in the Western world. Others add a full range of accented characters to support central and eastern European languages, such as Turkish and Polish. Some OpenType Pro fonts also contain Cyrillic and Greek characters. In addition to making multilingual typography easier, OpenType fonts give us all kinds of typographic delicacies that we formerly had to switch to an "Expert Set" in order to access. Let's take a look at what we've got: