Increased expectations & OT font glyph sets

I was planning on making my next post about contextual alternates and features in OpenType. Instead, I’m writing today because I’m really tired, and want to say that one complaint I’ve heard from some font developers is largely true.

Some typeface designers have been saying in the last year or two, in posts on Typophile and elsewhere, that there’s one main problem with making fonts that have tons of typographic features and extended language support. It’s a whole bunch more work to make such fonts. They don’t think they can charge enough extra to make it worth the extra work. Plus, they end up spending more time on fewer designs, and the proportion of their type design time that’s spent creatively is going down. But it’s a general trend, and some feel they don’t have much choice but to go along with it.

Note: if you don’t already know about OpenType, read one or more of the following.

So, I’ve been sitting here the last week working hard on my upcoming typeface, Hypatia Sans™ Pro Most of what I’ve been doing is the thrilling, death-defying task of assembling accented characters using composites and mark attachment in FontLab Studio 5. Somewhere along the way, I got a bit worn out, and I am wanting to express my commiseration with my fellow type designers and offer a few thoughts about the challenges we face in this “brave new world”….

First, it really is a lot more work, and if you do these mega-fonts, you’ll do fewer typeface designs. And the extra work is insidious in how it can creep up on you. I started work on this typeface, and I thought, well of course I’m going to do central/eastern European accented letters. They’re easy, right? Most of them are, but they take time. Then there’s our additional extended Latin character set, which isn’t that much more, and my old acquaintance Roy keeps on begging for Esperanto support – just a few more accented letters. And then we’ve started adding Vietnamese to some of our typefaces, too – initially due to a request from SAP for Acrobat. I might as well do that, it’s just more accented Latin. I’m curious to try my hand at Greek and Cyrillic, too. But we’ve recently been convinced that if one does Greek one might as well do polytonic GrekAnd it all adds up. Then I’m doing real designed small caps for them all, adding another multiplier to the total work.

I have, at this moment, 1895 glyphs per font. I will easily break 2000 before I’m done, and that’s before we duplicate all the small caps for obscure reasons I’ll get into some other time. Somewhere around now my brain explodes, leaving a real mess on the dining room table where I do most of the work on my laptop.

At a more prosaic level, the added language coverage is easily going to take two or three times as long as doing a more basic language set (like our “Standard” OT set, which is mostly the old MacRoman plus WinANSI).

The typographic goodies aren’t quite as bad by themselves, but many of them also multiply by the language coverage. Sure, the oldstyle numbers only have to be done once. But one can do small caps for all those languages. Sigh.

Although it is also true that Adobe has scaled back its font development team over the years, these mega-fonts really take their toll on the number of new typefaces one can put out. So a lot of type foundries and especially individual designers are out there asking themselves what they want to do. Of those who are getting really into OpenType, many are spending more time on typographic features instead of language support, because it is more “fun” and also because it is something they can more easily sell to their existing customer base.

Speaking of selling, I feel lucky that I don’t have any tough decisions about pricing these days. Adobe has already set our prices for OpenType fonts, in a relatively simple model. At the single font level, we charge $26 for a Type 1 font, $30 for an OpenType with “Standard” language support, and $35 for an OpenType “Pro” font which has more extensive language support. Some of our competitors are doing some version of “value-based” pricing where the price scales directly according to the amount of stuff in each font. Some individual OpenType fonts are going for $60, $75, or even $100 each based on this model. Although we’re choosing to keep things simpler (and often cheaper) than that, it’s not an unreasonable approach.

For language support, one might hope to recoup the costs through increaesd sales. At least in the long run, having more language support should sell more copies of the fonts into other countries or for people who need multi-lingual publishing. But in the short run, neither we nor most of the small type foundries are getting good distribution into various far-flung countries. And within your existing markets, only a small minority of your customers need support for more languages within the same single font. So what percentage of your customers are willing to pay more for extra language support? It’s hard to decide how much to up the price (if at all). Overall, added language support is not going to pay off very quickly.

One solution is to continue to pull apart your typeface and sell separate fonts by language coverage, even though you are perfectly capable of putting them in one font (and in fact it’s easier to put them all in one font). Indeed, one major type foundry has told me they are doing exactly this as they move to OpenType. I cringe at this thought, both from an ivory-tower-engineering-simplicity point of view, and just thinking about what’s best and easiest for end users. But this approach does let the people who need the different language support pay for it, without charging those who don’t need it. I guess my thought is that the best global solution is to sell one font that has all the language support you’ve got for that typeface design, and charge just a little more for it. The downside of course is that customers who don’t need it are still paying for it. I guess there is no pefect solution.

On the typographic front, it’s a similar story. On the plus side, basic typographic features such as simple ligatures, small caps and oldstyle figures only add, say, 20% to the amount of work to design a typeface. On the downside, advanced typographic features can get completely out of hand. A typeface like Bickham Script Pro can have as many as 20-30 different glyphs for each lowercase character. It’s an insane amount of work. Our own simple pricing model means that Bickham Script Pro gets the same price as any other “Pro” font, even though it was easily 5-10x as much work as most of them.

Will the market pay a price that was based more directly on the amount of work that went into it? I don’t know. For our competitors experimenting with value-based pricing, I wish them luck with it.

So, yes, there are perhaps fewer typefaces, and they’re more work, and it’s hard to figure out how to price them. But now that I’ve taken a break for a while to write this diatribe, I remember again the two things that motivated me to do something like this:

First, the typographic freedom. I kept on coming up with wacky ideas about things I wanted to put into the typeface, typographically speaking. Thanks to OpenType, there was a logical way to include these goodies in the typeface, making my creativity easily accessible in a way it never could have been before.

Second, we really are living in a more globalized era. Whether it’s designers in our domestic markets needing to support more languages for their globally-operating customers, or our fonts seeing global distribution via online sales, our typefaces will be used in ways and places that we wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago. I look forward to some day visiting far-away countries whose languages aren’t supported by WinANSI and MacRoman, and seeing my type in use there.

Now I need to go fix some tildes in my polytonic Greek.

21 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    Nice article. Thanks. I wouldbe interested to see how much youwould write if you were _not_tired. :-)Rob

  2. Mike says:

    Interesting insight into the new era of typography. I suppose there will need to be a new pricing structure to support the longevity of fonts and the new amount of work involved. Additionally, I am certain it will further the divide between display text from its more formal brethren.

  3. Mark says:

    Very good article, Tom.I hear the same thing from designers who don’t want to draw 1k characters for a font, but feel they are exptected to.And from customers I hear things like, “don’t all of our OpenType fonts include, like, 6,500 characters or something?” (this is a direct quote from someone I talked with today).I’d be interested to see if/how much extra characters in a font drive sales. Is there a number of characters at which point nobody cares anymore? Do customers even care about spending more money for more glyphs?We should make some graphs.

  4. John Hudson says:

    Adding new scripts, e.g. Cyrillic and Greek, to a design is very time consuming, but I classify extending diacritic sets for a single script as fun. Maybe I need to get out more, but I like the relatively easy putting together of composite glyphs and seeing how my letters and accent marks combine. I actually do this to break up the more difficult aspects of design work, so if I’m e.g. having trouble with the form of an italic x I’ll go make some roman diacritics for half an hour. And if Adam Twardoch ever finishes writing my composite-control Python script, this sort of thing will be even easier and faster.PS. That’s no tilde, Tom; that’s a perispomeni!

  5. Thomas Phinney says:

    Mark: some very good questions about return on investment there. I rather suspect the answers may vary depending on the typeface, though. Your comment about customer expectations is right on the nose, as well. I was thinking of doing a post about that, myself.John: Wow, you and I so often agree, but here we are so different. I put off building most of my accented characters until quite late, because I find it the worst sort of drudgery. Sure, doing Greek and Cyrillic extensions is more work, but it’s also more creative. Right now we’re starting to plan future extensions to some existing Adobe type families, and I’m volunteering to do some Greek and Cyrillic work. But I’m not going near the ones that are just getting Latin extensions….Regards,T

  6. Nick Shinn says:

    What is wrong with merely including monotonic Greek characters?From a commercial point of view, I would have thought that there is a small market for Polytonic Greek fonts, limited to purist publishers of classical literature. When other older literature is reprinted, or quoted, don’t editors “translate” it into monotonic?Surely the contemporary commercial market for Greek fonts has no need for Polytonics?***The fun part of doing accented characters is, to me, nuancing them by testing them in actual text. It’s easy to grab text off the internet and try out one’s prototype font. The adjustments are not that difficult, mainly moving and sizing of accents, not re-drawing. It’s a buzz to see a completely different language spring to life in one’s typeface, and to be able to quickly fine-tune a font so that it looks perfectly at home in such “strange” places.So, I may yet take a crack at Homer…***Nice blog, T!

  7. Thomas Phinney says:

    Nick:I’m sure you’re right about older literature (at least, non-Classical older literature). And I am also thinking that polytonic Greek may be a lot less relevant for really modern-looking display faces. But for text faces and some display faces, it’s worth keeping in mind that a remarkable percentage of people who need to set Greek are doing classical Greek, mostly as students in Universities. Many of them may only need to do the odd word/phrase/sentence, but they still need it to be polytonic. So it’s more than just a few publishers.Still, it’s a good example of creeping featurism. Where do we draw the line? I think we’re leaning towards including polytonic Greek in most of our new typefaces that support Greek at all. But it is a bunch more work, and I’m certainly not saying everybody should do it.Cheers,T

  8. Nick Shinn says:

    >mostly as students in UniversitiesMy understanding is that in Greece the mass media has abandoned polytonic, and it is absent from the education system (except for classical studies). On the internet, monotonic has become the norm, due to a lack of encoding prior to unicode, and now perhaps also due to a lack of screen resolution to clearly see many of the complex accents.I agree, there is no doubt a large potential user-base of university students around the world, but this strikes me as pirate territory, not a commercial market.For indie foundries, there may be a market amongst educational text publishers, and amongst publishers who have become accustomed to full-featured fonts such as Minion Pro, people who prefer to invest in mega OTPro fonts, whether or not they have any immediate need for a particular language support. Tool guys gotta have ’em all.To conclude, I don’t think there is enough of a retail market for Greek and Cyrillic fonts to financially justify the efforts of independent developers such as myself. However, there is an upside to creeping featurism: with the stimulus to Greek and Cyrillic typography being provided presently by Microsoft (its ClearType “C-” fonts) and Adobe, and their relatively conservative forays into these alphabets, there is an opportunity for others to design some seriously innovative faces, and that’s a whole nother incentive.

  9. Thomas Phinney says:

    Nick,In mainstream use, as I understand it Greece went away from the polytonic in the early 1980s.I was talking about scholarly/university use by people studying classics (including some doing so in their own native language with just a few Greek phrases). I figure that the number of these folks worldwide is significant, probably in the same order of magnitude as the number of university students in Greece itself.For general Greek and Cyrillic, I can easily imagine that it may not look financially worthwhile for smaller indie type foundries. But it might be fun to do one or two anyway. :)Cheers,T

  10. David Lemon says:

    Clarification for Nick:A couple of years ago Adobe shifted its policy around Greek; now we add polytonic coverage to any design which gets Greek, and which can be expected to be used for extended text.The reason for this shift isn’t the presence of goodness knows how many hundred thousand Helenists. (Academics are not a great font market!) Rather, it’s that your going-in assumption is incorrect: When texts originally published before 1975 (the year the Greek governement made monotonic “official”) are reprinted, publishers strongly prefer *not* to translate them into monotonic. And not coincidentally, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in polytonic among Greek writers, many of whom never really agreed with the decree in the first place.

  11. Gerry Leonidas says:

    This is really not the place to have this discussion, but in short: Nick is wrong and David is right. Monotonic is used in high-visibility areas such as advertising and newspaper publishing (neither a market for retail fonts) but polytonic has always been in use: all publishers regularly produce editions in polytonic, for literature, poetry, academic and texts, and — let’s not forget — any text originally published prior to 1982. Nick next time you’re in Greece, just drop in any bookshop.

  12. Nick Shinn says:

    Thanks David, I like the idea of providing a lifeline to/from the past, and of supporting dissident artists!My immediate problem relates to the tonos.I’m designing a revival of an 1860 “modern” (didone) roman face, and the Greek characters are all new. The idea of making it monotonic, with a vertical tonos (relating to the vertical stress of the genre) is very appealing. The progressive sentiment of the face (no OSF; excising the pen-written ductus; high-tech precision finish) seems to be in line with the radical nature of the monotonic reform.However, there are two problems which I have to resolve.Firstly, if, as you indicate, there is some usefulness in polytonic, should I include the necessary characters? Because I’m not including old-style figures. If I do decide on polytonic, what about the angle of the tonos? It has been stated by various authorities that an angled tonos is required in polytonic — and yet I have observed that Microsoft (Tahoma), Apple (Lucida Grande) and Adobe (Minion, Myriad, etc.) do not follow the Unicode standard of making the tonos equivalent to the acute.While I haven’t examined the polytonic characters of Tahoma and Lucida Grande (both have a vertical tonos in the monotonic), I have studied Adobe’s polytonic fonts, and noted that there is a bit of “cheating” going on, in that the tonos, while still angled, slightly, is not equivalent with the acute.So I’m thinking, if Adobe can get away with a non-acute, almost vertical tonos in their polytonic fonts, perhaps I can do a polytonic with a vertical tonos?BTW, the (what I assume to be Rbt. Slimbach’s) polytonic accents in Minion, Myriad, and Warnock are beautifully done — a fully acute tonos would have been nowhere near as good.And secondly, I have to figure out what all the characters and accents required are, and what the unicode numbers are, which is not that obvious from within FontLab, which is the present extent of my working environment.

  13. Michael says:

    Hi,Concerning Greek coverage: They’re badly needed for math typesetting, too. Is there hope that Greek letters will be added to Kepler? ;-)Michael

  14. We have the general plan to do a more-expanded version of Kepler some day, but you shouldn’t hold your breath – it hasn’t been scheduled yet.Cheers,T

  15. Michael says:

    Hello Thomas,I’ve asked this Adobe Support before, but unfortunately didn’t get an answer (nobody knew):With the free AR7 some fonts come for free, in particular the four base shapes of MinionPro.a) Are users allowed to create pdf using these fonts (subsetting enabled)b) Are users allowed to convert these fonts to pfb? (using cfftot1 from This is needed for, e.g., the LaTeX community whose tools cannot read otf directly (yet)). Of course, the pfb are not redistributed, they are just needed for ps/pdf generation.c) If the answer to b) is yes, doesn the same apply to purcheased .otf fonts, too?d) If one bought the MinionPro Opticals bundle before the Medium cut was available (or if one buys the educational bundle that still doesn’t include it), is it possible to upgrade for free?Best,Michael

  16. Michael:I had to install Adobe Reader (instead of the full Acrobat) to get the EULA (end user license agreement). Never do this at home, btw – installing and uninstalling Reader has messed up my full Acrobat installation, which I now need to go fix. :(Anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that the answers to (a) and (b) are “no” in the Adobe Reader license, but I’m not a lawyer – I’ll reproduce the relevant bits below and you can judge for yourself.For fonts you license separately from Adobe, it seems the answer is “yes,” but again I’m not a lawyer. You should check the EULA and the FAQ, which can be found here:“1. Definitions. “Software” means (a) all of the contents of the files, disk(s), CD-ROM(s) or other media with which this Agreement is provided, including but not limited to (i) Adobe or third party computer information or software; (ii) related explanatory written materials or files (“Documentation”); and (iii) fonts; and…””2.5 No Modification. You may customize or extend the functionality of the installer for the Software as specifically allowed by instructions found at or (e.g., installation of additional plug-in and help files). You may not otherwise alter or modify the Software or create a new installer for the Software. The Software is licensed and distributed by Adobe for viewing, distributing and sharing PDF files. You are not authorized to integrate or use the Software with any other software, plug-in or enhancement which uses or relies upon the Software when converting or transforming PDF files into other file formats (e.g., a PDF file into a TIFF, JPEG, or SVG file). You are not authorized to integrate or use the Software with any (a) plug-in software not developed in accordance with the Adobe Integration Key License Agreement or (b) other software or enhancement to programmatically interface with the Software for the purpose of (i) saving data locally (on the same Computer), except when allowed through the use of Document Feature(s) that have been activated using enabling technology from Adobe, (ii) creating a file that contains data (e.g., an XML or comments file), or (iii) saving modifications to a PDF file.”

  17. Michael Zedler says:

    Thomas,thanks for you quick reply (even though I had hoped for a different response). If you see any chance that us non-lawyers just don’t get the point of the EULA, can you forward it to the relevant department, please?Silly question from an engineer: If the user mustn’t create pdf using the fonts distributed with AR7, why are they bundled???Can you have a look at item (d) of my last posting, too, please? Are there plans to update the font bundle for education?MinionPro is very well suited for math-oriented scientific texts; here the Medium(Capt) cut is the font of choice for first level indices, because the ‘normal’ Caption cut is too thin (e.g., “a sub gamma” with gamma at 70%).Best regards,MichaelPS: If only Adobe had asked some math guys about GaramondPremrPro… Now one just cannot use it, see :-/ Just a few additional variants of italic letters (in particular the f and delta)… BTW, there are kerning errors in the non-opticals italic shapes: quotesingl/quotedbl with “A” and its other class mates give kerning pair values >2000 🙂

  18. Sorry I missed the last question in my first pass.I can’t really comment on update plans for the “Type Classics for Learning” package, sorry.For the “can I get a free upgrade” to the newer Minion Pro Opticals package, you should try contacting Adobe customer service.Regarding font licensing for fonts included with Adobe Reader: I believe the idea behind the inclusion of those fonts was so that people who have the full version of Acrobat (which does support authoring of PDFs) can make use of the fonts but not embed them, and expect people with up-to-date versions of Adobe Reader to still see the PDFs as intended.For Garamond Premier italics, I don’t see the same results that you do with regards to kerning, nor do I see such values in the fonts. I used InDesign CS2 and Word 2003 for Windows (with kerning turned on in Word, as it’s off by default). The kerning values seemed quite plausible.Regards,T

  19. Michael Zedler says:

    Thomas,for the Garamond Premier kerning problem, please have a look at,Michael

  20. D’oh! I see. I was looking at “curly quotes” and the typographic apostrophe and you were using the typewriter-style quotes, which of course are hard to get in many applications, which “helpfully” substitute the typographically correct quotes for your particular language. You can get around this with the glyph palette in InDesign, though.Anyway, you’re quite right, it’s a bug. It hasn’t been often reported, because almost any application smart enough to use kerning is also going to use typographically correct quotes. But when I went to report it, I discovered that it had already been reported, and even fixed in our source code for the family. I expect some sort of minor bug fix release for Garamond Premier some time this year will address this.Thanks for your persistence in explaining the problem! :)T

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Thomas Phinney

Adobe type alumnus (1997–2008), now VP at FontLab, also helped create WebINK at Extensis. Lives in Portland (OR), enjoys board games, movies, and loves spicy food.

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