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OpenType intelligently handles advanced typography - ligatures, alternate character forms, small caps, and more.

OpenType Layout: advanced typography

OpenType is the new way to add typographic sophistication to your documents. (No, we don’t mean 3-D and drop-shadows!) OpenType fonts break free of the old 256-character limit, and add a host of new character shapes and combinations, limited only by the imagination of the type designer!

The new features, known as OpenType Layout OpenType Layout features, include:

  • Ligatures Ligatures
  • Small Caps Small Caps
  • Swashes & Alternates Swashes, Alternates, Old Style Figures and more

OpenType advanced typographic features

Similarly to OpenType’s multiple language support, with old-fashioned applications and fonts it was possible to add some of these characters to your documents if you used supplemental “Expert Set” fonts. However, using such fonts carried a serious penalty: since ligatures were encoded as alphabetic characters (for example, an ‘ffl’ ligature would be encoded as the letter ‘M’), using them actually “broke” the text. All operations dependent on faithful character coding would cease to work properly. This included such basic tasks as text searching and spell-checking, serious hindrances to one’s work.

With OpenType, applications such as Adobe InDesign allow you to turn on and off certain options such as standard or discretionary ligatures, small caps or old style figures. Even with ligatures, the underlying text remains “plain text”, so spell-checking, hyphenation, searching and copy-pasting all still work. When you change a font to one that does not support certain features, these are seamlessly deactivated. Some OpenType fonts contain so-called contextual features that only work in certain portions of text – e.g. special swash or alternate glyph forms automatically appear only at the beginning or at the end of the word. Smart, huh? In addition, since all alternate glyphs, swashes and ligatures are placed in one font, kerning these glyphs with regular characters is possible – this was not the case for classic “Expert Set” fonts.

Using advanced OpenType typographic features is easy. You don’t need to study special user manuals or consult character maps to find out complementary glyphs spread among several fonts. Exploring the typographic wealth of OpenType fonts is a pleasure rather than an acrobatic workout!

Please also refer to our International section for more information regarding OpenType fonts with advanced typography.