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Implementing attachable shapes in OpenType

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Angus R Shamal's picture
Joined: 7 Aug 2010 - 1:25pm
Implementing attachable shapes in OpenType

Hello everyone,

First time poster here, hopefully you can help me with something.

I've recently opened an older Typeface I designed back in 2004 (ARS Robust) in order to take another swing in implementing a feature that is essential to the character of the Typeface, before I officially release it.

The design integrates two types of attachable shapes (serifs) that in combination with the letter forms can create custom ligatures or aesthetic modifications to the letters or spacing at will, chosen by the user/designer. The system i came up with so far is placing each form in different places with different key combination.
I'm not sure this is a very user-friendly system, do you? I'm trying to solve this maybe with OpenType coding or something like that.

I've attached a pic of the font/feature so you can see what I mean.

The issue is applying a single shape or several at a time to a character either at the top left or bottom right or both.. whatever, where ever you want it... AUTOMATICLY. Is something like this possible with OpenType?

Obviously the possibilities and combination will be virtually endless if I to make ALL the ligatures in font itself (think of the endless combination you can generate from 4 digits).

Anyone has any suggestion on how to tackle this?

Best, Angus

ps. (Sorry for the long post)

Claus Eggers Sørensen's picture
Joined: 17 Jan 2007 - 5:49am

You can do a series of stylistic alternates, but I don't think you can have them linked to a keyboard shortcut without creating such shortcuts (to the stylistic alternates) in for instance InDesign.

Thomas Phinney's picture
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am

What about having the font smart enough to use the alternates automatically?

This is going to be tough to do without separate glyphs. There are a lot of permutations for doing it with alternates. If a letter has four positions you could attach something to, and the options for each position are nothing, or a short thing or a long thing, that's 3^4 or 81 variants for those letters. Ouch.


Theunis de Jong's picture
Joined: 22 Apr 2008 - 5:06pm

Is it not feasible to create only connector blocks (1 above, 1 below, both above and below), and have OpenType insert the correct one between any combination of characters?

Angus R Shamal's picture
Joined: 7 Aug 2010 - 1:25pm

Thanks for your input guys!

Claus; I suppose Stylistic Sets would have to be used in some form, but if you mean that they'll contain all the possible combinations that will result in hundreds (if not more) of characters. Or did you mean something else? please correct me.

Thomas; Indeed some alternates and ligatures (are) will be made separately - the ones that don't involve the attachable blocks mostly. However, as you say, making all the ligature/alternate possibilities separately is exactly what I definitely want to avoid. And yet I somehow believe there's a way...

Theunis; That's more or less what I'm trying to figure out. As for now, those are in fact 2 types of separate "connector blocks" as you call them (6 in total) - two (short & long) for top, two for bottom and two middle ones for the small caps. All with 0 cell width, and considering the designer leaves the automatic spacing to the font (and not the software), can be applied to the character at courser position with the help of (awkward) key-shortcuts (see picture).

Unless someone sees a different solution, I realize more and more that applying them with key-shortcuts is the way to go, but I still think it's a bit of a tedious system.

I recall Mathew Charter designed a font system a while ago for the Walker Art Center, which used a similar feature with attachable serif shapes to a basic Sans font. How do you suppose he solved that?


I'm not a coder and I wish to make this feature a bit more intuitive and user friendly somehow without sacrificing existing (important) characters. If only the OpenType format could meet me half way on this.

Perhaps, for example, making the key-shortcuts more intuitive and easy to remember with the help of OpenType?