TYPO Talks: OpenType Variable Font State of the Union

The 2017 OpenType Variable Font State of the Union Postcard Summary

OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF) were the hot topic of the annual TYPO conference held earlier this month. If you have any interest in OTVF watch Dan Rhatigan’s progress report. Dan is the new Senior Manager of Adobe Type and had the whole OTVF thing land on his head when joining Adobe less than a year ago.

Given the short notice I think he does a great job of explaining where things are:

  • The OpenType Variation Font spec is already OpenType 1.8.1 and about to be upped again. I think there will be many more revisions before real products ship.
  • I get the sense there are more issues to be fixed on the CFF2 (Compact Font Format 2) OpenType PostScript side rather than the TrueType side, and this applies to both file format and rasterizers. This makes sense as TrueType GX has around since 1993 and never went away despite being completely ignored, even by Apple. Say what you will but TrueType GX is a mature technology, that’s why it lives on in OTVF.
  • Auto-hinting on the CFF2 OpenType PostScript side has to be completely rebuilt to work. No surprise here either and I’ll bet this cannot be delivered by Adobe this year. If simple Roman glyph overalpping outlines are challenging, wait until font teams really start optimizing CJK font data.
  • Dan says there has to be a better UI than the old variation font slider. I agree. QuickDraw GX developers passionatly discussed this back in 1995: Apple had created a wonderful advanced typography feature set with no idea how it should look and work for users. Coming up with a great UI is crucial for selling OTVF outside of the font developer niche it now occupies.

You might think Apple has it easy because they created TrueType GX and seem to be already using parts of it for system font instances. The Hiragino Japanese system font however is not easy: it is a composite of OpenType TrueType San Francisco and OpenType PostScript Hiragino with the New Osaka kana glyphs somewhere in-between.

Optimizing anything OpenType PostScript CFF2 means waiting until the Adobe core font team has finished their work. That will not happen this year.

If you were holding your breath for Apple to announce OpenType Variation Font support at WWDC this year, you can start breathing again.