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The Lesson of Color Fonts for Variable Fonts »

Today’s announcement of variable fonts in OpenType 1.8 represents a renaissance of the functionality of multiple master and GX Variations capabilities in mainstream fonts. With the announcement made jointly by Microsoft, Google, Adobe and Apple, it also marks a surprising and new level of multi-company cooperation in font standards, at a level I for one have never seen in my nearly two decades in fonts.

The need for increased cooperation has been brought home in the past couple of years with the lurching and dispersed movement towards color fonts. The idea with color fonts is that there are uses for being able to spec multiple specific colors in the glyphs of a font, whether for colorful emoji or multi-color letters. For color fonts, there were four different approaches that all deployed and are now in OpenType. Microsoft invented one, Apple another, Google a third, and Adobe plus Mozilla a fourth. One can debate the merits of each approach, but clearly developing them in isolation and putting four competing approaches into the OpenType spec has not helped the adoption of any or all of them. (Apple originally said their approach was only intended for internal use and did not submit it for OpenType standardization, but changed their mind and submitted it at the last minute for OpenType 1.8, so the spec just went from three to four color fonts approaches.)

In the end, although developing separately allowed for the secrecy and control, it did not yield an ideal long-term outcome. Sure, each vendor can make fonts that work in isolation in their environment, but it should come as no surprise that users and font creators have been slow to embrace these color font solutions that worked with only  platform and limited browsers.It seems clear that the decision-makers and reps of the companies involved were at least somewhat chastened by this outcome. I believe this lesson helped inspire increased cooperation on variable fonts.

 

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