Adding several alternative glyphs per character, simple access and programming

1985's picture

I am making an display font for a studio to use in-house on a very short run of signs.
The font is a basic sans serif with a decorative inline.
It will be caps, numbers and basic punctuation only.

However, there will be several alternatives to most of the characters in the alphabet, 4 /K/s for example, 6 /B/s, only 1 /O/, and so on. In fact there won't really be a definitive version of each character, only different iterations. The overall shape of each character will remain the same and the variation between them only affects the inline element - changes to the blackness of each glyph will be negligible so I am going to use the same side bearings and kerning throughout.

The question is how and where to place all the alternates in a font. I want them to be as accessible to the studio as possible but without going overboard with the solution as the use of the font will be so limited. A neat enough work around is all that is needed for this problem I think. The studio suggested accessing the glyphs via the glyph palette in InDesign so they are not concerned about typing as such, rather selecting alternatives to fashion words in favourable combinations. I think this is fine for the extent of the font's use, still, I'd like this process to be as neat for them as possible.

Any thoughts? Simple and neat solutions for a graphic designer acting in his best capacity as a type designer to aid workflow in-house.
Many thanks.

oldnick's picture

Ideally, you could build a font with alternates immediately following the basic forms, and that's the way they would display in the Glyph Palette. Unfortunately, neither FontLab nor InDesign lives in that ideal world. Ideally, in Index mode FontLab would allow you to select a range of characters--your regular characters and alternates--then sort by name, so that B would be followed by Ba.t1, B.alt2 and so on, but...FontLab doesn't allow selective sorting: it's all or nothing. Plus, even if FontLab accommodated you, ID (at least CS3) doesn't allow you to select Glyph Index as a viewing mode in the palette, so you're screwed coming and going.

So, your best bet is to select the Latin 1252 codepage, then put your alternates, in alphabetical order, in the "unused" glyph slots, probably quote base single, florin, quote base double, ellipsis, and so on. At least, then, the alternate glyphs would appear in alphabetical order for easier selection.

agisaak's picture

You must be using a different version of CS3 than me. InDesign CS3 will sort the glyph palette by either unicode or glyph index.


1985's picture

Thanks chaps.

Nick, I was looking around in the codepage menu - FreeFont places all the characters with diacritics etc. next to each other - this might cover the number of alternatives for each character, and maybe make them type-able at the other end. I might play around with this rather than the Latin 1252. I guess either way it comes out in the same order in the glyph palette.

Coming to type design from a graphic design and aesthetic background I feel quite out of my depth with this kind of thing. Feel free to put me back on a path to righteousness.

Bahman Eslami's picture

There is a solution but it needs a little programming (Or you might use "microsoft VOLT" which doesn't need programming). There is a feature in opentype called "stylistic alternatives", if you add it to your font ,you'll get something more convenient in glyph window of illustrator (or Indesign), there is a good example of this feature in "zapfino Lt" font which each glyph has many alternates, In illustaror if you choose any letter, in the glyph window you'll get alternate glyphs, of course you should enable the "stylistic alternatives" button in the opentype panel.

and something unrelated to the subject! Why insert image doesn't work with Firefox or opera? Every time I have to upload image on other servers. I think you have to do something for mac users. Or there is a workaround?

Nick Shinn's picture

I would put the alternates in separate Stylistic Sets, and instruct your client to set their headings six times, stacked, and apply a different Stylistic Set to each line.

Immediately, they would get to compare six different looks (you could group alternates in each Set to harmonize).

Then they could manually select, copy and paste individual characters from line to line, till they get the optimal setting.

1985's picture

Thanks again, bahman and Nick. I knew this was possible to explore the glyphs in this manner in Adobe suite (that is probably sufficient for the client) but how to program this at the FontLab end? Any advice? Thank you.

Nick Shinn's picture

The advantage the Stylistic Sets method has over six separate fonts is that it's possible to include kerning for all the alternates with one another.

However, if it's just for display work, the client could manually kern or use "optical" kerning.

So why not just make six fonts?
It's actually easier for the end user, because the Stylistic Sets feature is buried several layers down in the GUI, whereas font selection is up front.

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