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Font Remix Tools (RMX) and Multiple Master Fonts in type design »

A little while back, Tim Ahrens asked me if I’d write a testimonial for his Font Remix Tools (“RMX Tools”), a set of plug-ins for FontLab Studio 5. I was more than happy to share my thoughts:

“The Font Remix Tools are an essential toolkit for anyone who wants to develop sophisticated typefaces with much greater efficiency. I can’t imagine willingly working without them. Type designers owe it to themselves and their sanity to check out RMX Tools.” — Thomas Phinney, Senior Fonts Product Manager at Extensis, designer of Hypatia Sans Pro for Adobe

(FontLab Studio is the primary type design application used by the overwhelming majority of professional type designers. FontForge and DTL FontTools (including FontMaster) are its fellow high-end alternatives, while TypeTool and Fontographer are the primary low to mid-range options.)

Tim has a interesting/useful demo version for free download, while the full version starts at €179 for one computer.

I think of the Remix Tools as having two sets of functions. First are several very useful things that work with just about any typeface:

But the real power of RMX comes when you start with a font file that has a Multiple Master weight axis. Yeah, I know MM fonts are pretty nearly dead as a deliverable format for end users. Apple’s support for MMs is flaky enough that Extensis tech support has suggested Suitcase should warn people they won’t work reliably, and Windows has no reasonable native support (an ATM install can be hacked on Vista and probably Windows 7 to make them work well, or you can do manual registry entries for every single font).

Yet Multiple Master fonts are still very useful as a font development tool, even if what gets delivered is a bunch of separate fonts. Although Adobe hasn’t shipped a new MM font since the 90s, virtually all their internally developed type families use MM technology, and many other typeface designers use it as well. If you start with a font that has master outlines for two different weights, RMX can incredibly easily:

Most of these functions still seem like magic when I see them working. Most of it works insanely well almost all the time. Of course it still needs to be checked by humans, and there can be problems on occasion, but dang….

What about Superpolator?

Aside from the Font Remix Tools, another insanely powerful option for working with font development using the power of MM space is Superpolator from Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland, a.k.a. LettError. It has always looked great, but back when I was doing a lot of type design, my main box for doing so was Windows based, and Superpolator is a Mac-only tool, so I never really gave it a fair try. It’s available from €250.

More on MM fonts:

Lifting the veil »

The press releases aren’t out yet, but at work we just came out with a Windows version of the Suitcase Fusion 2 font manager. The web site is live tonight and you can buy it or download it and try it for free for 30 days. All-new Windows version jumps two versions to finally get feature parity with its Mac counterpart. This is one of the big projects I’ve focused on in the last few months at work. Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately… more soon.

Microsoft Office 2010 adds OpenType goodness »

The Office 2010 technical preview is due out in July, and one can sign up to test with it. However, copies of Office 2010 have apparently already leaked, and some enterprising souls have posted screen shots of the new support for OpenType typographic features for western fonts.
This is a “technical preview” only, so it is quite possible there will be some changes of features, functionality or user interface prior to release. However, it should be pretty close to the final version overall (except in performance and bugs).
That being said, you may be wondering exactly what is supported. Here’s what the UI posting shows:

None of this stuff is on by default (not even standard ligatures), but then again, neither is kerning. Sigh. So, it’s not perfect, but a huge advance over the status quo. Having this stuff in Word will finally bring some more elements of good typography to the masses….

Thomas Phinney joins Extensis »

I can finally talk about this, now that it’s been announced in this press release. Last week I started my new job at Extensis as Senior Product Manager for Font Solutions.

For those who don’t know Extensis, they are the leading vendor of font management applications, whose product line includes Suitcase Fusion and the Universal Type Server, as well as the broader asset management application Portfolio. Extensis is a division of parent Japanese company, Celartem, which also owns LizardTech.

Folks who know me well professionally may recall that I have a long-standing interest in, and passion for, font management. For example:

On paper I started part time at Extensis on April 1st, though in fact I’ve been ramping up a little more slowly because of two things:

  1. I’m in Seattle, and they’re in Portland.
  2. I just had jaw surgery last Monday, the 30th, so I am still recovering from that.

The first problem will be resolved by me and my family moving to Portland. We’re renting a lovely house and move in on May 1st.

The second issue will be solved by gradual healing. Although I could already talk passably well later the same day of the surgery, it’s a bit uncomfortable. Plus to talk on the phone, I have to either take off my ice pack or wedge part of the phone under it in some awkward way…. (Actually, since I wrote this a few days ago, I have gone off the ice packs as well as prescription painkillers. Tomorrow marks a week since the surgery. Things are still uncomfortable, but I’m doing okay.)

Anyway, I am very excited about this new opportunity. Portland is a great city in a great area (we already love the Pacific Northwest), the people at Extensis have been quite fabulous so far, and the work itself is fun and offers new areas to grow in.

Ordering the Glyph Panel »

I seem to be getting addicted to surveys! Now that I’ve reported the results of the last one, I have some quick UI questions about apps and OSes here.

In Adobe InDesign, there’s a Glyph Panel that allows you to view all the glyphs in a font, and insert ay glyph into your text. Prior to InDesign CS3, the glyphs were displayed in the same physical order they happen to be stored in the font (GID/CID order). In InDesign CS3 and later, the default is to display them in Unicode order, though one can optionally change to Unicode order. Either way, one can also filter to display only specific Unicode ranges such as Latin Extended B or Cyrillic.

Operating systems and font management applications sometimes have similar functionality. I’m doing a brief survey about what you’d like to see.

Thanks! I’ll be happy to report the survey results when I’m done, as usual.

Video: OpenType, cross-app text, Flash, etc. »

Worst Presentation EVAR

I almost didn’t blog about this, because it was probably the most messed-up presentation I’ve done in the last many years. I was trying to do a PDF-based presentation interleaved with a demo in InDesign, but my keyboard stopped working completely when I was in full-screen mode in Acrobat… meaning I also had no way to get out of Acrobat to do the demo! So I had to reboot, re-order my presentation on the fly, and improvise talking through from memory some stuff I had intended to do with accompanying slides, while waiting for my computer to complete the reboot and then for InDesign to launch (which last took 3x as long because I had rebooted while it was running). I also had a cold, so I am clearing my throat every 30 seconds. On top of that, the guy doing the presentation in the next room was REALLY LOUD and somehow his presentation included loud heavy metal music…. Which you can’t hear it on the recording, but I and the audience could hear it very clearly, and it was seriously distracting. Aaargh!

All of which threw me off my pace a bit, even if I seem to be handling it with aplomb on the recording. So even after I’m out of the part where my computer is totally hosed, I’m not at my best.

That being said there’s still some decent stuff in several spots of this AdobeTV recording from Adobe MAX, November 2008. See below for key bits to watch:

World-Ready Composer in Adobe CS4 »

This is a guide to options and tools for laying out global text in the CS4 versions of InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. None of them are obvious or documented in the regular versions of the application, but there are a dizzying variety of options: templates; scripts; InDesign plug-ins; and special “ME” versions of applications. Prices range from free to more expensive than the base version of the application. This will help you figure out which might be right for your needs, and even provide some basic tools to help you get started, if your needs are not too extensive.

Why would you even need something special for global text layout? For most basic left-to-right languages, if the fonts you are using have all the right glyphs, the regular version of the Adobe application will do an adequate job out of the box. However, many left-to-right languages of south and south-east Asia (such as Thai, Lao and the Indic languages) require additional language-specific processing to get the right glyph output given the incoming character stream. Many Indic languages assemble multiple characters into a single visual “cluster” (sort of like a syllable), using complicated shaping rules. Some languages, notably Thai and Lao, do not even have spaces between words, and therefore need special dictionaries just to get correct line breaking. Then there are right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, which require further capabilities. (Note that InDesign added Thai layout functionality in its regular composition engine back in CS3, although with some limitations.)

Standards such as Unicode only provide a framework around which such additional processes must be built—they don’t provide the code. Winsoft has long offered special “ME” versions of Adobe applications (with full support for Arabic and Hebrew, though not the Indic or other Asian languages), but none of this functionality was in the standard versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite applications before CS4.

One cool thing Adobe did in the Creative Suite 4 product cycle was to work on global text support across several products, including InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. The CS4 versions of these apps have an alternate composition engine, the World-Ready Composer, which enables support for “complex script” languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Thai, and the Indic languages. One of the goals of this move was to unify file formats and code between western, CJK, and ME versions of the applications. But unless you have an ME version of an application, the World-Ready Composer isn’t directly accessible in the CS4 applications as shipped.

Why not? Well, the World-Ready Composer was not fully tested and debugged, and hyphenation dictionaries and spell checkers aren’t available for the extra languages. Therefore, the World-Ready Composer is neither documented nor officially supported by Adobe in CS4, and no user interface was provided for the added features in the apps (like selecting the composer, or choosing right-to-left text). Although many people assume this work will be finished in CS5, the last time I checked Adobe was making no promises as to when these capabilities will be finished and formally released.

Native CS4 Capabilities

Now, the capabilities above might seem not very useful, but there are several handy things one can do with the CS4 versions of these applications, right off the bat:

Options for More Support

There are many ways to get more access to the World-Ready Composer than you get out of the box with the CS4 applications. Further details on each are in the sections below. In order of increasing functionality, they are:

FontShop has a nice explanation of the various right-to-left features and related functionality in InDesign ME; it was written for CS3, but is equally applicable to CS4.

Also, if you want to use the World-Ready Composer for Indic languages, Thai, Lao, or others not mentioned previously, be aware that none of these solutions (not even the ME versions, to date) offer spell checking or dictionaries. However, there are some third-party solutions, notably MetaDesign’s SpellPlus for spell-checking some of the Indic languages (currently only for InDesign CS2 and CS3, $149).

Languages (Writing Systems)

Which languages are enabled by the World-Ready Composer? Currently, there are two tiers. First, these writing systems have been implemented, but not fully tested:

These additional writing systems have been at least partially implemented, but not tested:

Because it’s only the UI that is missing in regular InDesign CS4, documents created using special plug-ins, scripts, or templates should be fine to open and print from InDesign CS4 (as much as they are with the plug-ins, anyway). It’s just that the UI for changing things is lacking—editing is possible, for sure, but control over right-to-left directionality vs left-to-right may be troublesome, and access to tweak additional options (like numbering styles) is lacking.

Limitations of CS4 Apps Not Using ME Versions

These limitations apply to anything one does with the templates, scripts and plug-ins.

Issues affecting all CS4 applications:

InDesign-specific issues:

Templates for ID, Ai & PS

Unfortunately, Photoshop CS4 doesn’t expose the World-Ready Composer to scripting or plug-ins, and Illustrator CS4 exposes the APIs to plug-ins (only), but nobody has made anything for Illustrator yet. But these two applications do open documents from their ME counterparts, which makes it possible to get the World-Ready Composer and/or RTL text active by opening existing documents with appropriately-formatted text blocks and using copy-paste to transfer the text to new documents. You can also copy-paste text between Illustrator and Photoshop and it retains the World-Ready composer and paragraph direction formatting from one to the other.

Where would you find a document to get at such text? Here are some template documents to get you started, for all three major Adobe applications (see below for the template license terms: by downloading these templates you are agreeing to the terms below):

Note the styles used in the InDesign document. If opening the template gives a missing plug-in warning, just dismiss it.

The templates are a nice option for InDesign folks who don’t want to mess with scripts, and the only option short of an ME application for people needing this functionality in Illustrator or Photoshop.

InDesign Scripts & Scripting

Here are some simple scripts, which you may download under the license terms below (don’t download unless you read and agree to the terms). These scripts can help anybody access both the World-ready Composer and basic right-to-left text features for a few sentences or paragraphs. Anybody can use InDesign scripts that are already written, and it is not hard to make minor edits as well. These scripts, by Peter Kahrel, with some minor additions and edits from me, are written in JavaScript, and should work on both Mac and Windows versions of InDesign CS4. Any errors or glitches were probably introduced by me, however. :(

All the scripts in the set start with the “r2l” name so they will sort together.

Note: The scripts linked above are ready to be installed. If you were taking a script which wasn’t already a separate file, you would copy the script into a plain text file, and save it giving it an appropriate extension: .applescript, or .jsx for JavaScript or .vbs for Visual Basic/VBScript. AppleScript and VBScript are for Mac and Windows, respectively, while JavaScript is cross-platform.

Follow these simple rules for how/where to install InDesign scripts:

If you want to install scripts for all users on the computer, put them here:

If you want to install scripts only for a single user, put them here:

If you want to edit these scripts or write your own, you’ll benefit from some reference material:

End-User License for Scripts & Templates

The scripts and templates (“Software”) provided above are licensed to you under a BSD-style open source license, as described below.

Copyright 2008, 2009, Peter Kahrel & Thomas Phinney.
All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

This Software is provided “as is” and any express or implied warranties, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose are disclaimed. In no event shall Thomas Phinney or Peter Kahrel be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, or consequential damages (including, but not limited to, procurement of substitute goods or services; loss of use, data, or profits; or business interruption) however caused and on any theory of liability, whether in contract, strict liability, or tort (including negligence or otherwise) arising in any way out of the use of this Software, even if advised of the possibility of such damage.

InDesign Plug-ins Available

As discussed on, some third parties have already taken advantage of the scripting and plug-in access, and released plug-ins which give a UI for the World-Ready Composer in InDesign:

There are several notable differences between current versions of World Tools and idRTL. Broadly, World Tools has more functionality, and idRTL has a more convenient interface. As both products are in active development, one might expect improvements and new features to be added to each, but some further differences are:

Broadly speaking, the plug-ins offer a significant degree of functionality in InDesign CS4. If you are doing entire documents in right-to-left or complex scripts, and you don’t need the additional features and bug fixes of InDesign CS4 ME, then the plug-ins may be your best choice. If a document was created using a plug-in, opening it without the plug-in may yield a warning, but the document should be fine.

Bugs & Comments

I am not offering technical support for the scripts and templates, nor for Adobe products. However, I may fix bugs in the scripts and templates, and I welcome discussion of them in comments to this post. Note that Adobe does not officially support the World-Ready Composer in CS4, so I am taking bug reports and problems on the composer itself as comments to a separate post, to make sure Adobe engineers have a place to go to see such reports in one place.


If your needs are basic, the free templates and scripts provided here might do the trick, even for Photoshop and Illustrator. If your concern is strictly InDesign, the idRTL plug-and WorldTools plug-ins offer a bunch more functionality at bargain prices. For folks doing serious work in Arabic or Hebrew, including Photoshop and Illustrator, the ME versions of Adobe applications are the way to go, particularly if you need the built-in dictionaries.

Special thanks to: Peter Kahrel, Harbs, Steven Bryant, and Diane Burns for blazing the way in how to tackle these problems, and reviewing this article. Extra-special thanks to all the engineers at Adobe who did the hard work that made this possible, and shared their expertise with me when I worked at Adobe, including Joe, Margie, Eric, Zak and Niti. Finally, I’d like to thank the good folks at WinSoft who created the foundations this is all built on: I don’t know any of you so well, but without you this wouldn’t be here.

Revision history:

Bugs in World-Ready Composer »

If you have bug reports on the underlying World-Ready Composer capabilities in Adobe Creative Suite 4 applications, log them as comments on this post, and I’ll make sure they get seen by the right people.

If you have feedback on scripts, templates, plug-ins, or my big article on the World-Ready Composer, please make comments to that post instead.