Introducing OpenType Font Variations

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cześć and hello from the ATypI conference in Warsaw! Together with Microsoft, Apple and Adobe, we’re happy to announce the launch of variable fonts as part of OpenType 1.8, the newest version of the font standard. With variable fonts, your device can display text in myriads of weights, widths, or other stylistic variations from a single font file with less space and bandwidth.
 OpenType variable fonts support OpenType Layout variation.
To prevent that the $ sign becomes a black blob,
the stroke disappears at a certain weight.

At Google, we started tinkering with variable fonts about two years ago. We were fascinated by the typographic opportunities, and we got really excited when we realized that variable fonts would also help to save space and bandwidth. We proposed reviving Apple’s TrueType GX variations in OpenType, and started experimenting with it in our tools. The folks at Microsoft then started a four-way collaboration between Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Google, together with experts from type foundries and tool makers. Microsoft did the spec work; Apple brought their existing technology and expertise; Adobe updated their CFF format into CFF2; and we brought the tools and testing we’d been developing.  After months of intense polishing, the specification is now finished.

On the Google end, we did a lot of work to build, edit and display variable fonts:
As always, all our font tools are free and open source for everyone to use and contribute.

Now that the spec is public, we can finish the work by merging the changes upstream so that our code will soon flow into products. We’ll also update Noto to support variations (for many writing systems, the sources are already there — the rest will follow). Much more work lies ahead, for example, implementing variations in Google Fonts. Together with other browser makers, we’re already working on a proposal to extend CSS fonts with variations. Once everyone agrees on the format, we’ll support it in Google Chrome. And there are many other challenges ahead, like incorporating font variations into other Google products—so it will be a busy time for us!  We are incredibly excited that an amazing technology from 23 years ago is coming back to life again today. Huge thanks to our friends at Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft for a great collaboration!

To learn more, read Introducing OpenType Variable Fonts, or talk to us at the FontTools group.

By Behdad Esfahbod and Sascha Brawer, Fonts and Text Rendering, Google Internationalization