Graphical overview over OpenType Features.

OpenType Features: enhancing fonts for typographic excellence

OpenType Features (OT Features) are a set of advanced typographic capabilities that are built into the OpenType font format. These features allow designers to create more sophisticated and refined text layouts, by providing access to a range of typographic tools and effects that are not available in traditional font formats.

With the “frac” feature, proper fractions are automatically created.

has the expert knowledge needed to enhance fonts with OpenType Features that are just the right solution to your problem. Wether extending an existing typeface family or designing a new typeface from scratch – we’ll include the OpenType Features you need.

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How do OpenType Features work?

OpenType Features are accessed either through design software, such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, or through CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) rules for the implementation of Webfonts on websites. OpenType Features can be applied to text in a number of different ways. For example, designers can use OpenType Features to automatically substitute specific character combinations, such as “fi” or “ff”, with a single ligature character that is designed to improve the readability and aesthetic of the text. They can also use contextual alternates to change the shape of certain characters based on the context in which they are used, such as automatically using a different form of the letter “a” when it appears at the end of a word.

In addition to these basic features, many OpenType fonts also include a range of alternate characters and glyphs, which can be accessed through stylistic sets. These allow designers to choose from a range of design options for each character, allowing for greater customization and creativity in their text layouts.

The most basic OpenType Feature, “liga” substitutes certain letter combinations for typographically preferable alternatives.

From a typographic viewpoint, OpenType Features can greatly improve digital typesetting: In the early days of digital text processing, fonts stored only a basic set of characters of a typeface, causing software to generate their own versions of special characters, such as subscript and superscript numbers. OpenType Features allow for the inclusion and replacement of this kind of special characters, improving digital typesetting and even surpassing the quality of traditional hand-setting.

Overall, OpenType Features provide designers with a powerful set of tools for creating sophisticated and refined text layouts. They are an essential part of modern typography, especially when they are combined with Variable Fonts.

OpenType Features: examples of features

While the scope of OpenType Features supported by a font is on the typeface designer’s hands, there are a number of commonly included OpenType Features that cover the most important typographic aspects:

Depending on the context, it may be desirable to use lining (“lnum”) or old-style figures (“onum”).

  • Kerning: This is the adjustment of the space between certain pairs of characters to improve the visual appearance of text.
  • Ligatures: These are special character combinations that are designed to appear more visually pleasing than the individual characters would on their own. For example, the “fi” or “fl” combination in certain typefaces.
  • Contextual ligatures/alternates: It allows to specify alternates for certain letter pairs or contexts.
  • Stylistic alternates: This feature allows a user to select alternative forms of certain characters, such as different styles of numerals.
  • Stylistic sets: This feature provides alternate forms of characters, with different design to give a different look to the text.
  • Small caps: These are capital letters that are smaller than standard capital letters, used to indicate emphasis or to create a more formal look.
  • Lining/Oldstyle/Tabular numerals: This allow to switch between Lining, Oldstyle, and Tabular figures (number design).
  • Fractions: It enables to use more pleasing and harmonious fractions.
  • Swashes: These are decorative forms of letters, typically used at the beginning or end of words.
  • Superscripts and subscripts: These allow to display numbers and symbols above or below the main text, such as for footnotes or mathematical equations.

This list is by far not comprehensive. OpenType Features can attend to all kinds of tasks, making them a great gain also for Custom or Corporate Typefaces and branding purposes: insertion of logos, help with typographically correct typesetting, and much more.

The role of OpenType Features in Script Support

OpenType Features play an important role in supporting different scripts, let alone in multi-script fonts. Scripts are the written forms of different languages, and they can have unique typographic requirements that are not found in other scripts. The OpenType format includes support for many different scripts and their unique typographic requirements through the use of Unicode character encoding and features such as:

  • Script-specific features: These features are designed to support the specific typographic needs of a particular script. For example, the Arabic script requires special forms of letters for use at the beginning, middle, and end of words, and the OpenType format includes features to support these forms.
  • Language-specific features: Some languages have special typographic requirements that are not specific to the script itself. For example, the Khmer script, which is used for the Khmer language, requires a special feature for handling the use of spaces between words.
  • Contextual alternates: This feature allows the font to automatically select different forms of characters based on their position within a word. This is critical for for the rendering of text in certain scripts.
  • Lookup tables: These are used to store information about specific character combinations and how they should be rendered. This is particularly useful for scripts such as Indic scripts or Thai where the positioning and shape of the characters are affected by the surrounding characters.

In summary, OpenType Features are critical for providing advanced typographic support for different scripts, such as ligatures, kerning, alternates, contextual alternates, and other typographic adjustments that are needed for different scripts, making the text more legible, aesthetically pleasing and fitting for the specific script.

We’ll provide you with the OpenType Features you need.

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Besides typeface design and technical font production, we also offer typographic and technical consulting. During online or on-site workshops, we share our expert knowledge with design colleagues.

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