TypoTechnica 2005 Report

Written by Ben Kiel on March 3, 2005

TypoTechnica 2005, held February 17–19 at the historic St. Bride Printing Library in London, was two days of sessions, around 130 attendees, two great parties, product announcements, licensing issues, OpenType, programming, FontLab, and Unicode. The event, hosted by Linotype, ran very smoothly. The schedule allowed for plenty of breaks and overruns, and there were always snacks and room to socialize. The conference was split into three tracks, so it was impossible to take everything in and often hard to make session choices. Agonizing over whether to go to “The Charms and Challenges of OpenType Feature Authoring” or “RoboFab Applications” is a mark of a true hard-core type dork. Here is what I saw and felt worth noting.

Day 1

Matthew Carter Carter opened the conference with some remarks on why he makes new typefaces. His first example was Mantinia, a face that came about partly because complex ligatures were newly possible in Type 1 fonts. Designed as a speculative typeface, Carter was unsure of who would be interested. “Thank god for Rolling Stone,” was the answer. As he showed how the designers at Rolling Stone used the all the possibilities of the ligatures in the face — going so far as to create some of their own — he added, “It’s nice when designers get it.” On the topic of ligatures, he warned the crowd to “brace yourselves for some terrible ligatures ahead” when talking about the new opportunities that OpenType affords with extended character sets. Images of the typeface for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota followed. The idea for the set of “snap-on” serifs and other features came from his work on Linotype’s Devanagari typefaces. Finally, speaking on his work for newspapers and magazines, Carter commented that “type gets most interesting when time is involved”. He explained that while the template of a page design is worked over and over, the typesetting, once the template is designed, is not. Type for newspapers and magazines has to set well without requiring any massaging or it isn’t a good face for publication work. He wrapped up his talk with a mention of Vincent, the typeface for Newsweek. It once had a headline face, but during Princess Diana’s funeral (I believe it was this, my notes don’t show) it didn’t work well enough at the story’s extremely large sizes. So he produced what he called the “disaster face” for Newsweek and several of his other clients to use large. He added that “disaster face” may be a misnomer, as they are also used for events such as the Red Sox winning the series.

Quark and Unicode Quark demonstrated the new Unicode and OpenType features in its upcoming release of QuarkXPress. It is the first major re-write of the text engine in Quark since version 3.x. Now using Unicode internally, Quark will be able to import Unicode text, convert other text input to Unicode, and take better advantage of OpenType fonts. Quark 7 will be able to address the full character set in an OpenType font, rather than the first 256 characters as it does now. To support these new major features, Quark has added what it calls ‘font fallback’: if a document contains a script that your font doesn’t have, the application will look for a font that does from a list of preferred fonts. However, the user is given no feedback on what, if anything, was changed or any sort of highlighting to show where it was changed. The user also cannot change the preferred fonts list. However, font fallback can be turned off. OpenType features are applied as styling, and can be included in style sheets. Xpress will support both OpenType substitution and positioning. In addition, Quark has added new Xpress tags for OpenType that allow imported tagged text to already be styled with OpenType features. The other major change that Unicode and OpenType gave the program is character level language tracking, instead of paragraph level as it is now (presumably only in QuarkXPress Passport). The kern pair editor also gained from OpenType, now it will do both horizontal kerning and vertical kerning. In a change sure to make those who use the kern pair editor, it now highlights all changed kern pairs in bold.

Quark emphasized that this was a demonstration of software that did not yet have its feature set fixed and what was shown was only the Unicode and OpenType features of QuarkXPress 7, more was to come. It was also repeated that XPress 7 was only the first of a phase of improvements. Now that the text engine was rewritten, more improvements were to come in later versions. However, this upcoming version will not do hanging punctuation, Optical Kerning, complex shaping (though this would possibly be in the East Asian release), or polytonic greek. QuarkXpress 7 is due for release sometime in 2005.

RoboFab Sessions Erik van Blokland and Tal Leming provided a description of RoboFab, how to use it, and how they use it in three hour-long sessions. The sessions started with a full room, but as the day wore on the crowd started to diminish, though not by much. RoboFab started at TypoTechnica 2003 when Erik, Tal, and Just van Rossum decided to combine their efforts in making FontLab easier to control with Python. Erik and Tal showed the crowd example scripts and walked everyone through the different parts of RoboFab. They explained how the UFO font format that RoboFab gives FontLab is not an end-user font format, but a storage format for type designs that is future proof. It is an open standard that will allow designers not to loose time and money by having all their design data locked to one application that could go out of date (FontStudio, Fontographer anyone?). They also showed how RoboFab builds an intuitive Python interface on top of FontLab’s Python interface to allow a lot of drudgery to be automated. Tal: “If I have to do something the second time, I write a script’. It was also revealed that the upcoming FontLab Studio 5 will provide an even more stable platform for RoboFab and allow hinting to be exported to the UFO font file format. RoboFab 1.1 is out now and I’ll post a review on Typographica in a few days.

Customer Data on the Fly I only caught the end of Clive Bruton’s presentation about a system that enables a foundry to embed font files with customer data. His application allows a user to examine each font on his computer for the licensee, the license type, a link to the foundry which sold the font, and a way to check if the font has been tampered with. The goal of his system is to give type users a better tool for determining their fonts’ origins and confirm that they are clean and legal.

Party That night Linotype threw a wonderful party at the Anexo Bar. Tapas, beer, and wine were all provided. Though there was a DJ — I didn’t see any dancing.

Day 2

House Industries Rich Roat gave an overview of House’s purchase of the Photo-Lettering collection and their plans for it. Using the LetterSetter application developed by Erik van Blokland (who, yes, was everywhere it seemed) customers will be able to purchase a PDF of words set in Photo-Lettering fonts. House is going to use OpenType features, such as those in the new Ed Interlock to make the customer’s words “custom” as possible. Ken Barber is researching the history of Photo-Lettering and spearheading the project. Erik and Christian Schwartz are also involved. House Industries set up a separate company, called Photo Lettering, INC (PLINC). The site should go live in about a year with a small set of the 10,000 Photo-Lettering fonts that are in the archive.

RoboFab Apps Erik van Blokland demonstrated the Superpolator (Super-imposed Interpolation). Simply put, it is an application that allows for a more flexible way of dealing with multiple masters, though it isn’t as interface friendly as FontLab’s way. The power of the Superpolator is that it allows an infinite number of axis and an infinite number of masters. You can have odd numbers of masters (intermediate masters) and even glyph specific masters. You can interpolate multiple times, maintaining as much precision as possible by not rounding point coordinates until the end. The system can also clean up an interpolated glyph and re-insert it into the system as another intermediate master, creating a feedback loop allowing for even finer control. Right now, the Superpolator is a code-base resting on top of RoboFab and requires a bit of programming — about as much as it takes to use RoboFab — to use it. Erik has developed a Cocoa application to manage the masters and superpolation, though right now it doesn’t provide any visual feedback.

Tal Leming’s MetricsMachine is a Cocoa application for powerful group based kerning. It lets the user to quickly run through a list of spacing or kerning pairs and edit them only using one hand. It allows for kerning group exceptions, such as when an accented glyph hits another glyph but it doesn’t when unaccented. When done kerning, the user can spit out sample kerning text to a PDF for printing and proofing. MetricsMachine was designed to do one thing and do it quickly and well without any extras. The program is always improving because it’s what Tal uses daily in his work.

Panel Discussion The panel discussion revolved around how type designers and foundries could ensure that their OpenType fonts would be compatible with software vendors’s text engines. Several options were discussed, from a ‘reference font’ that would allow software developers to test their products to ensure that they were displaying the reference font correctly, to each software developer allowing access to their text engines for testing, much like what can be done with Uniscribe from Microsoft, to software vendors publishing in a central place which OpenType features their products support. It was agreed that there was a need for something to be done, as the number of OpenType-aware applications is only going up, but a general agreement on the best method wasn’t reached. As a start, both David Lemon and Paul Nelson said that they would see what Adobe and Microsoft could do in terms of releasing more information to type designers and foundries. Gavin Drake from Quark said that if any font foundries wanted to send test fonts and cases to them they would be glad to test their text engine against them.

Announcement Linotype created a new award for the advancement of type technology called, simply enough, the Linotype Font Technology Award. The first went to David Lemon for his advocation and support of OpenType. He was quite surprised at the award, which was both a trophy of sorts and a framed piece of calligraphy by Hermann Zapf that had 1mm high capitols (Bruno Steinert said that Hermann put them there to prove that he still had that level of control).

Ben Kiel is a typeface designer and educator. He co-owns the independent foundry XYZ Type with Jesse Ragan. Previously he was a typeface designer at House Industries. He teaches at Washington University in Saint Louis and the Type@Cooper program in New York City.

One Comment

  1. nick shinn says:

    The thing that interests me most about OpenType is the contextual alternates feature, and I was not disappointed at Typotechnica.

    Christopher Slye’s talk was very informative and useful, and I was quite astounded by Adam Twardoch’s presentation on how he programmed the contextual substitutions in Zapfino Extra Pro.

    I was impressed by how an aesthetic sensibility of calligraphy and typography could inform the way that glyph classes and substitution sequences are configured.

    Once again, as with August Rosenberger (punchcutter of Optima and Palatino), Hermann Zapf is fortunate to have had some inspired “technical” assistance from Adam Twardoch in realizing Zapfino Extra Pro. Same thing for Ken Barber’s work on Ed Benguiat’s Ed Interloc.

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