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Awesome: Fiona Ross receives 2014 SOTA Typography Award »

I was standing at the side of the room at TypeCon 2014 in DC for the SoTA Typography award, given to one person each year for contributions to the field of type design. Honestly, I was trying to decide whether to bag out early and get some dinner, or wait and hear the speeches. I was sure the award recipient would be somebody deserving, but that leaves a lot of room. Victor Gaultney of SIL, who specialize in fonts for global language support, was standing next to me. We chatted and agreed that we had no idea who was going to get the award this year.

Fiona Ross receiving SoTA Typography award

Fiona Ross receiving SoTA Typography award. Photo © 2014 Laurence Penney, all rights reserved, used with his kind permission.

When the award presentation began, in the first few moments it became apparent to us from the preamble who was getting the award. I couldn’t help myself. “They’re giving it to Fiona!” I burst out, turning to Victor. We looked at each other, did a spontaneous fist bump, and shouted “YES!” in unison, doubtless disturbing the nearby attendees (sorry about that, folks).

I simply couldn’t imagine a more appropriate recipient for the award, and certainly nobody as deserving whose early career was so long unsung in public. Needless to say, I stayed through to the very end of the speeches and ceremony.

While it is not precisely true to say my younger daughter is named after Ms. Ross, neither is her first name being Fiona completely coincidental. Fiona Ross is an amazing person in both her professional achievements and as a human being, so sharing a name with her hardly seemed like a bad thing. Ms Ross has made immense contributions to global type design: in her work heading up Linotype’s non-​Latin type design team; as an educator at the University of Reading for their MA Typeface Design program; and creating and overseeing commissioned type designs at Tiro Typeworks (with John Hudson, Ross Mills and Tim Holloway, among others) for clients such as Adobe, Microsoft, and Harvard University.

Typefaces designed personally by Fiona (such as the Linotype Bengali) or by her team remain among the most widely used typefaces in the relevant parts of the world, their equivalents of Times and Helvetica.

I had the occasion to hire Tiro, and hence Fiona, when Adobe needed Arabic, Hebrew and Thai typefaces. The team did splendid work on all three, as well as developing a quote on a set of Indic typefaces, some of which would eventually be commissioned by Adobe, years later. Fiona was polite and gentle early on when I made a criticism showing my complete and utter ignorance of the norms of Thai type design, about which I can only say… I was young and foolish.

That is another theme in her career: Fiona Ross has also been unfailingly helpful and absurdly humble. She does not like to be called an “expert” on non-​Latin type design, preferring the term “specialist.” But as must undoubtedly be clear by now, if she is not an expert, then there must be no experts, as she is in the top tier of the most knowledgeable people in the world in this area. This willingness to share her knowledge and erudition has magnified her impact on the world and on the field of type design. No better award candidate could be imagined.


AFDKO 2.5 released »

Adobe has just released a new version of the Font Development Kit for OpenType (AFDKO). This is an important milestone for font developers.

Why care?

Even if you don’t use it yourself, the AFDKO code is licensed at no cost to developers of other font tools such as FontLab and DTL FontMaster. It forms the basis of the OpenType generation and OpenType features support in those tools. So very often new functionality in the AFDKO is a preview of new functionality in these other tools, and hence indirectly of capabilities of both Adobe and other vendors’ fonts. It’s reasonable to suspect that features in the AFDKO will preview new features in future versions of FontLab Studio (maybe 6.0?) and DTL FontMaster (look at the DataMaster tool in particular).

So, with the new FDK, and one hopes in future versions of FontLab Studio and DTL FontMaster, users are able to build fonts which support complex scripts (Arabic, Indic, etc.), without using Microsoft’s VOLT as a separate process. All (yes all) OpenType GSUB and GPOS lookup types are supported. There’s support for Unicode Variation Sequences, especially useful for Japanese and ideographic languages. Plus one can give “friendly” names to stylistic sets, although this last will also need to be supported by applications, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that. Plus there are various bug fixes and lesser features.

What is the AFDKO, exactly?

The AFDKO is a set of command-​line (yes, really) font development tools available for Mac, Windows and Unix. They cover compiling, proofing, testing and some editing of OpenType fonts. Compiling a font requires a basic TrueType, Type 1 or OpenType font as input; what the AFDKO does is add OpenType layout features to an existing font (as in, you still need a font editor).

I’m particularly fond of the “CompareFamily” tool, which is unusual in that it not only does tests on individual fonts, but looks at how information and key values are coodinated across a family. This is very useful for checking things such as style linking, or making sure your trademark statement is identical in all members of the family.

Because this stuff is command-​line driven, it may not be for the average user. Besides which, many folks may prefer to use functionality which is integrated with their font editing environment. But for those who need reliability and a controlled, repeatable build process, the FDK is a nice option to have.


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.

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