When OpenType 1.8.0 was released at ATypI last year, Peter Constable and Rob McKaughan at Microsoft said they would be soliciting proposals for new registered axes. With the recent publication of OpenType 1.8.2, now they are
In working with variation fonts, anyone can make any axis they like, so what is a “registered” axis, and why do they matter? The latest version’s new “Design-Variation Axis Tag Registry” page explains:
By providing registered tags with well-defined semantics and associated numeric scales for variation, this provides some degree of interoperability between different fonts from different vendors, or between fonts and applications.
Microsoft welcomes nominations for new design-variation axis tag registration.
Registration of an axis tag can be useful for two key purposes. One is to foster conventionality and familiarity for a kind of design variation. ... Another key purpose for registration of axis tags is to facilitate interoperability between different fonts or between fonts and applications.
And, how will new proposals be evaluated?
The merits for adding a variation axis tag to the registry is primarily determined in relation to these two key purposes: What is the likelihood that an axis of design variation will be implemented in fonts from multiple vendors and found to be useful to designers; and what is the likelihood that applications will implement mechanisms that make use of an interoperable understanding of the axis.
It is recommended that the party proposing the new registration seek input from and get consensus among multiple font and software vendors regarding the definition of the proposed axis and its merits.
Last week week, Type Network published 3 long-form essays on Variable Fonts by David Berlow, which provide context to David’s vision of variable fonts. This follows the soup-to-nuts implementation of that vision in Amstelvar - the first demonstration of this systematic approach to variations for text typography.
This week, David has published an explanation of the system of interrelated axes that Amstelvar has begun to demonstrate, as a proposal for this system to become a set of registered axes:
This guide was prepared in July 2017 for presentation to the public, the specification owners, and the OpenType Variations working group. Our goal is to record what we have learned about variable fonts and have put into practice, which we believe will be generally useful to the specification, and to propose a new, systematic approach to registering and using axes.
This proposal does not seek to classify the designs of typefaces parametrically, only what the values of the parameters are. Furthermore, it is offered as a beginning, suggesting the need for—but not containing—suggestions for many important attributes of non-Latin fonts.
The registration of the axes here is also intended to be used as part of a system including the registration of what function an axis performs for programs and/or users along the existing path from script selection to the rendered glyph in a document, aka the Mantra. Documentation of that part of the system, including the registration of what function an axis provides, is still in development and will follow soon.
I’ve heard from him that the foundries already part of Type Network will be considering how to upgrade their fonts into this system, and I’m eager for popular libre fonts to do so too.
In first reviewing this system, it seems like a great approach, providing something akin to “primary colors” for typographers to “paint” with.