|Parametric TrueType Fonts|
Type designers might be excused for being wary of imaginative computer programmers who learn a bit about type design. For several such computer people have decided that defining a separate bitmap or outline for each character is a shallow means of representing fonts digitally. They have declared that fonts can not only be classified by the weight of their strokes, the serif style, the x-height and other proportions, but they have added the big step of enabling fonts to be regenerated from lists of such parameters. For legal purposes these "synthetic" fonts are sometimes described with language such as "compatible with...", but the motivation is clear: these fonts are claiming near-equal status as originals...
The fine typographer hopes that readers (at least discerning ones) will reject computer-generated fonts, just as the discerning listener derides electronic music, synthesized renditions of favourite pieces above all.
What about TrueType?
ElseWare: FontWorks, InfiniFont and PANOSE 2.0FontWorks is a parametric font generation system. Using major extensions to the PANOSE concept [the system devised by ElseWare for stylistic font classification and matching] it enabled the re-creation of outline fonts from their parametric descriptions. These sets of parameters were convenently small, so you could afford to have the complete set of 150 fonts installed. When the user selected an ElseWare font in a document, a "synthetic" TrueType font was generated and kept in memory. The first request would take a few seconds to complete, but after that the system was as efficient as standard TrueType. FontWorks ran on Windows 3.1x only.
Although not available any more to the public as FontWorks, the same "InfiniFont" technology for font synthesis is now part of Hewlett-Packard's PCL6 printer language (and may soon become important to Web font specification).
FontWorks was ultimately of limited interest to the typographer as it gave no control of the parameters to the user: the focus was on font compression. It's interesting to note how close compression and parametrization (i.e. understanding the principles) of type are.
Ares FontChameleonFontChameleon (created by the same team that brought us FontMonger and Letraset FontStudio) was an extremely powerful font manipulation program. Its power resulted from taking direct control of outline editing away from the user. Using a new way of representing fonts, where each character was defined as a set of "difference descriptors" from a generic outline, Ares created close approximations of 150 well-known fonts. These all shipped with Version 1.0 - which cost around $300. Using on-screen slider controls, you could adjust the weight, width, x-height, slant and tracking of these fonts, as well as blending one font into another!
In general, all characters of all fonts were defined in terms of repositionings of the same set of control points (though letters such as 'a' and 'g' had more than one point-set for obvious reasons). Exploiting stylistic consistency within a font, these repositionings could be parametrized so that each font was expressible as a 2K parameter set - compared with 40K to 60K for standard font formats. So this new power could save 95% of your fonts' disk space too.
A simple use of FontChameleon's blend feature would be to interpolate between Helvetica Regular and Helvetica Bold. With my second try on the program, I tried a more crazy use: interpolating between Garamond and Futura. Wow! All the grunge fonts you'll ever need, and then some! (Ernie Brock, one of its developers, told me how ideal TrueType was for much of the blending. You could use its interpolated on-curve points to vary a corner from sharp to curved: just bring two consecutive off-curve points together, and... we have a corner point.)
The first version could not handle true italic fonts (the stylistic variations are difficult to unify parametrically), but this was solved in Version 1.5. This also added more stylistic variations: you could independently control the heights of ascenders, descenders, capitals and numerals. The program came with fewer fonts (perhaps they rightly started to worry about copyright infringements), but the price was reduced to $55 - in Mac and Windows versions.
John Spragens of InfoWorld reviewed FontChameleon 1.5 in April 1995: Font generator FontChameleon makes custom fonts easy work - "FontChameleon didn't make me a master typographer, but it did allow me to create a reasonably attractive, custom face with an ease no other program can match. Opinion: Buy it!"
More Parametric Font referencesLiveType
An amazing working system for parametric control over type redesign, by Ariel Shamir and Ari Rappoport of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The website has some excellent animations showing LiveType in action. Also described is ParamTT, a program that automatically extracts the "features" that are controlled parametrically by LiveType.
METAFONT online documents
Metafont, Metamathematics, and Metaphysics
Generation of Roman Printed Fonts
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