The OpenType specification started out at Microsoft in 1993 – nineteen years ago. Microsoft didn’t work on it alone, though – Adobe was also part of the project, and it still is. Microsoft has now made some enhancements to the specification, and collaborated with Google and Apple, along with Adobe.
With OpenType Font Variations added to the OpenType 1.8 spec, these industry leaders seek to reduce the file sizes for fonts, while increasing the flexibility for the number of variations they can deliver.
Instead of having fixed weights and different bold, italics, etc. variations – the new spec provides designers and developers “with a broad palette of typographic features without having to manage hundreds of font files.” As Microsoft describes it, variable fonts are about doing more with less.
Perhaps this connects to a more broader goal of bringing the next billion people to the internet – where connectivity is sparse and slow with expensive data.
The new spec allows a single font file to hold more than your typical configurations: you can now dynamically generate smooth curves of weights and styles. In simple terms, you can have a bold font – or a semi-bold, or perhaps a semi-semi-bold. These variations do not take up more space, which means smaller font files.
John Hudson – co-founder of Tiro Typeworks – has attempted to explain the details of the new spec on his Medium blog. The full OpenType 1.8 spec can also be found here – including the new Font Variations.
Microsoft is also working on support for OpenType Font Variations in the upcoming Windows 10 Redstone 2 update. A somewhat limited functionality already exists in the Anniversary Update released 2 months ago.
The new spec was launched at ATpyl 16 last week in Warsaw. The full video of the event and presentation is below!