Thirty years of Japanese font development at Adobe (Part I)

The Japanese version of this article is posted on the Creative Station blog.


In 1989, the first PostScript Japanese printer with software to interpret and execute the PostScript page description language developed by Adobe was released. The Japanese fonts included in the printer were in the OCF (Original Composite Font) format, which was Adobe’s own proprietary font file format based on the Type 1 font format — adopted as a de facto standard in the field of digital typography in the West — and its composite font configuration, to support a very large glyph set containing the thousands of ideographic characters (and glyphs) needed for Japanese. Prior to the release of the first PostScript Japanese printer, in 1987, Adobe and Morisawa made an agreement about licensing of fonts and font making technologies. Morisawa’s Japanese fonts were embedded in the first PostScript Japanese printer.

After a variety of PostScript Japanese printers and imagesetters were released by printer OEMs, Japanese digital type foundries started to release various Japanese fonts in the 1990s. Promoted also by the introduction of application software such as Adobe Illustrator and Aldus’ (later Adobe’s) PageMaker, Desktop Publishing (DTP) began to spread in the graphic arts industry in Japan. Also, Adobe released a Japanese version of ATM (Adobe Type Manager). It was used to display Type 1 and Japanese OCF fonts on the screens of personal computers.

However, there were some issues that needed to be addressed to accelerate the dissemination of DTP in Japan. First, it was necessary to make a wider variety of typefaces available. Unlike proprietary publishing systems, it was necessary for a marketplace of digital fonts to be formed, so that it would be possible for users to freely select and use fonts developed and sold by multiple digital type foundries. Fortunately, several key Japanese digital type foundries, including Morisawa, had started to recognize the opportunities that DTP could bring, as well as the inevitability of the formation of a marketplace of digital fonts.

Deciding which glyph sets Japanese fonts should support was the second issue. Initially, Adobe’s Japanese fonts supported a glyph set composed of standard Level 1 and Level 2 characters defined by the Japanese character set standard JIS X 0208, additional glyphs supported by operating systems, and glyphs needed by PostScript printer manufacturers. However, this set did not include many glyph variations of ideographic characters and symbols needed by the Japanese publishing industry. In order to promote DTP technology within the professional publishing industry in Japan, it was necessary to adapt the glyph set of our Japanese fonts by adding more ideographic glyph variations and symbols.

The first thing that Adobe did to solve these issues was to develop a completely new composite font file format named “CIDFont”, which was meant to be used for CJK (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) fonts that needed to handle a large glyph set. Adobe published the specification of the CIDFont format in the early 1990s. This made it easier for digital type foundries other than Adobe to develop and market PostScript Japanese fonts which could be used on PostScript printers or on PCs with Adobe Type Manager (ATM). Furthermore, Adobe made great efforts to disseminate the use of CIDFonts, bundling them in its own application software products.

The second measure was to clearly define an expanded Japanese glyph set composed of glyphs that had been regarded as “gaiji” glyphs (meaning characters that are outside conventional character set standards), based on suggestions and proposals by Japanese digital type foundries. Adobe defined the Adobe-Japan1-4 Character Collection, and published its specification in early 2000.

Since then, Adobe has maintained and expanded the Adobe-Japan1 glyph set. At present, the largest glyph set designed for Japanese fonts is the Adobe-Japan1-6 Character Collection. Up until today, thousands of fonts have been created by Japanese digital type foundries, referencing the Adobe-Japan1-6 Character Collection and its subsets, and those fonts have been used by graphic designers and creative professionals requiring high-quality fonts in the Japanese graphic arts industry.

Adobe began to develop fonts with the Japanese glyph set that covered the glyph sets of major operating systems, while remaining independent from any single operating system. This allowed Adobe Acrobat and Portable Document Format (PDF) to be used to exchange electronic documents between multiple operating systems, by substituting fonts without any embedded fonts in the PDF file.

In 1992, Adobe started to develop Adobe’s original Japanese typefaces by forming an expert group in Tokyo led by Masahiko Kozuka (Director, Japanese Typography) who had been involved in type design at Mainichi Newspaper, and also directed type design efforts at Morisawa. A new software tool for designing Japanese typefaces was developed for the group. The new group also needed to develop a series of rationalized processes for designing, testing and building Japanese fonts. One of the biggest challenges was how to design a large set of glyphs needed by a Japanese font efficiently. We solved it by combining a method of composing multiple stroke elements, and a method of interpolating multiple master designs of stroke elements and glyph shapes. We succeeded in making a new process of designing ideographic glyphs that was more efficient, and we could also rationalize the processes of designing Japanese fonts.

Kozuka Mincho Regular and Kozuka Gothic Medium

Kozuka Mincho Regular and Kozuka Gothic Medium

Adobe released its first pair of Adobe Originals Japanese typeface families, Kozuka Mincho in 1997 followed by Kozuka Gothic in 2001. Kozuka Mincho, designed by Masahiko Kozuka, has glyphs designed relatively larger with strokes composed of many straight lines; the typeface design is practical and useful for everyday document production. The design can be characterized by its clarity, brightness, and modern feel. Kozuka Gothic’s design has a consistent stylistic link with Kozuka Mincho’s design, and it is a gothic (sans serif) design with similar characteristics as those of Kozuka Mincho.

With the development of the two original Japanese typeface families, Adobe could strengthen its position as the leader of DTP in Japan. This allowed Adobe to test text processing software components to be embedded in Adobe’s application products more efficiently. Furthermore, it gave Adobe the ability to maintain and develop its own Japanese glyph sets containing glyphs needed in Japan.

Adobe and Microsoft made an agreement about the new OpenType font format, and co-developed its specifications. Adobe proceeded with the transition to the new format, and converted its Western and Japanese typefaces into OpenType fonts. This transition proceeded in parallel with the support of Unicode by major operating systems, and this helped improving the functionality of digital fonts in the international environment.

The third issue we needed to tackle was that very few applications supported traditional Japanese typesetting rules. Localized software for typesetting and page layout, which had been originally designed for the American market without good expertise about typesetting in Japanese, usually could not handle Japanese typesetting correctly. Publishers in Japan needed page layout software that could be used to make well-formed body text composition, advertisement, and commercial printed matter. Adobe chose to solve this issue by developing a Japanese version of InDesign. As the Japanese text composition functionality of InDesign was improved dramatically, the use of InDesign began to grow in the professional publishing and printing community in Japan — more slowly than we had expected, but steadily. In this way, the obstacles in disseminating DTP in Japan were gradually eliminated.

InDesign’s Japanese version includes the Composite Font tool, with which components of a Japanese font could be rearranged and replaced with other separate fonts. For example, this enabled the user to combine a Japanese font with a small subset font containing only Japanese hiragana and katakana syllabic characters (it is said that on average 70% of Japanese text are Japanese syllabic hiragana and katakana characters) and this would be effective in changing the stylistic appearance of a Japanese font. The font rearrangement of the Composite Font tool also works for Latin glyphs in a Japanese font. Long before the Composite Font tool was developed, Adobe had developed Adobe Type Composer (ATC) with a similar function to that of the Composite Font tool, and also developed the Kamono Kana typeface families, which were expected to effectively demonstrate the function of ATC.

In 2003, Adobe released the Ryo Text, Ryo Display, and Ryo Gothic typeface families, all designed by Ryoko Nishizuka. Today, she is Chief Type Designer of Adobe’s Type Team in Japan. Unlike Kozuka Mincho and Kozuka Gothic, in which a stylistically modern tendency had been pursued with their relatively larger average character bounding box size, Ryo Text, Ryo Display, and Ryo Gothic — especially their kana characters — had more traditional and conservative characteristics. In 2007, we developed the Ryo Text PlusN, Ryo Display PlusN and Ryo Gothic PlusN typeface families, which were produced by adding ideographic glyphs from the Kozuka Mincho fonts.

The OpenType font format, whose file format is based on that of TrueType, allows a font to contain both types of glyph procedures: CFF, which is semantically compatible with the charstring operators of Type 1 font format, and TrueType. OpenType format also provides a wider variety of advanced typographic capabilities, such as many kinds of glyph substitution allowing the selection of a single glyph from among multiple glyph shape variations, automatic conversion of a series of glyphs into a pre-composed ligature glyph, and switching of metrics information of each glyph to an alternative one. Operating systems and application software started to support OpenType fonts in the early 2000s, when Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Mac OS X were released, and it became possible for OpenType fonts to be used in various computer environments, with continual improvements made up to the present day.

Ryoko Nishizuka later designed Kazuraki, a typeface based on the handwriting style of 12th century Japanese writing master Fujiwara-no Teika. It is an unusual typeface, because it was designed as a fully-proportional Japanese typeface containing glyphs, each of which had its own escapement width, unlike ordinary traditional Japanese typefaces containing mainly fixed-width Japanese and ideographic glyphs. Kazuraki’s design was Nishizuka’s own interpretation of the unique style of Fujiwara-no Teika, embodied into a modern typeface design that could be used for printing and designing web pages; it was characterized by its decisive simplification of stroke shapes, and the free and energetic glyph formation. Kazuraki is an important accomplishment of Nishizuka’s tackling the difficult task of reinterpreting the writing style of Fujiwara-no Teika. Kazuraki was selected as one of the winning designs at Type Directors Club (TDC) in 2010. Kazuraki’s glyph coverage has since been expanded, and the latest version is named “Kazuraki SP2N”.

Kazuraki by Ryoko Nishizuka

Kazuraki, by Ryoko Nishizuka

The Annex S of the international standard for the Universal Coded Character Set (UCS), ISO/IEC 10646, defines the scope of the ideographic glyph variations. Each coded character can have variations, which are used in practice to display or print the coded character to which a unique character code is assigned.

Even if there are multiple glyphs that can represent one coded character, whichever glyph is used, it is regarded as the same single character. Therefore, it is impossible to distinguish and specify any one of the glyphs from each other only by using the character code assigned to the character. Still, there are a wide variety of cases where such distinction and specification of particular glyphs become necessary. For instance, it is possible that people’s names or place names have special glyph shapes, with which many people familiarize themselves, about which many people are particular, or which are needed for the purpose of publishing and advertisement. Or in academic publishing, books might require glyphs used in historic manuscripts, books, and documents. Publishing has traditionally called for a wide variety of glyphs and glyph variations.

As the standard method to distinguish such glyph variations by using only standard character codes, Ideographic Variation Sequence (IVS) has been developed and standardized in the ISO/IEC 10646 standard. It uses a sequence of two standard character codes: an ideographic base character code, and a variation selector to specify a glyph variation, which is also a standard character code.

Most of Adobe’s Japanese fonts have been developed by referencing the Adobe-Japan1 Character Collection, which is a glyph set. It includes glyphs that cannot be specified with any standard character codes. At the end of 2007, we registered the Adobe-Japan1 Character Collection as one of the Unicode Technical Standard #37 Unicode Ideographic Variation Database (IVD) collections defined by the Unicode Consortium, conforming to the ISO/IEC 10646 standard. When using a Japanese font containing the Format 14 ‘cmap’ subtable supporting the IVSes defined in the IVD collection, you can use IVSes to specify glyph variations. With this solution, it is possible to distinguish and specify particular glyphs by using only plain text in today’s Japanese font use environment.

The Unicode standard (also known as ISO/IEC 10646) is widely used today. It includes CJK Compatibility Ideographs, characters the consortium has added to the standard to keep good compatibility with existing domestic character encoding standards. Because character codes are assigned to CJK Compatibility Ideographs, which include some characters whose glyph shapes are similar to, and might be unified with, existing CJK Unified Ideographs, using the character codes assigned to CJK Compatibility Ideographs allows the glyph shape differences to be distinguished. However, as it is possible that the Unicode normalization prevents the representation of glyph shape differences intended to be distinguished by CJK Compatibility Ideographs, this has long been discussed as a problem in the normalization process. The Unicode normalization is a procedure to make it easy to do text information processing such as such as word search and collation.

For example, although the glyph variation of the CJK Unified Ideograph “免” (U+514D) is defined to be a CJK Compatibility Ideograph “免” (U+FA32), if this CJK Compatibility Ideograph is normalized it will be converted into the Unified CJK Ideograph “免” (U+514D). To solve this problem, some additional Standardized Variation Sequences (SVSes) were defined separately from CJK Compatibility Ideographs, in Unicode 6.3. These SVSes are also supported by the Format 14 ‘cmap’ subtable in an OpenType Japanese font. A Japanese font typically requires from 57 to nearly 100 SVSes. As the Jinmeiyō kanji character set for people’s names defined by the Ministry of Justice includes 57 SVSes, at least 57 SVSes are required for a Japanese font. With the introduction of SVSes, it is possible to specify and represent the variant glyph shape of the CJK Compatibility Ideograph (U+FA32) by placing the U+FE00 VS immediately after the CJK Unified character code U+514D.

CJK Unified Ideograph “免” (U+514D)

CJK Unified Ideograph “免” (U+514D)


Part II of this article.

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Taro Yamamoto

Taro Yamamoto

Senior Manager of Font Development for Adobe Type Japan