Colour fonts what are they? A Designers Guide to color typefaces
Colour fonts are steadily getting a foothold in the graphic design market, but many designers are not exactly sure what they are, and how they can use them or even create them.
I’m going to attempt to cut through the bullcrap and in the words of Donald Chump, sorry Trump explain “What the hell is going on?”
What are colour fonts?
First, let’s recap on what a traditional vector font is, pull up a chair and give me your ear for a moment.
A traditional vector font is made up of just black shapes or vectors. Each character (or glyph) that makes up a font is just a mathematic equation or a collection of geometric primitives (Shape, line and point) that can be scaled to any size without losing any quality or accuracy. Its all done with number and maths.
A simple metaphor would be the swan. It moves gracefully across the water, but what you don’t see it’s frantically paddling beneath the surface—Numbers and maths, Numbers and maths.
Traditional vector fonts do not contain colour information or bitmap images. They do not contain any form of transparency, only a solid black vector.
Now just to clarify, you can change the black solid colour to any other solid colour—but it’s still just a solid single colour.
If you wanted lots of colours, or transparency or any other special effects you had to employ the service of a graphic designer. But then that would be a series of images, not a typeface that you could easily re-use.
Acceptable in the 80s
Its pretty much been that way since the 1980’s when the first digital typefaces were created.
The first Macintosh didn’t even have a colour display—and the mouse resembled a house brick—just shows you how quickly things advance.
That’s not to say full-colour fonts didn’t exist, they did, but mainly in games, tv and movies. They were not really a thing for mainstream graphic design.
In a nutshell
Colour fonts now allow designers and casual users to use full colour, including full transparency and bitmap images.
The new OpenType-SVG font is born
This new font format is now called OpenType-SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). OpenType-SVG fonts come in two flavours
Colour Vector fonts
Colour Bitmap fonts (don’t ask why this is SVG)
OpenType-SVG Colour Vector fonts
The colour Vector fonts act just like the traditional vector font (except you now have full colour). You can scale it to any size without loss of quality (as it does not contain bitmaps only vectors).
OpenType-SVG Colour Bitmap fonts
The OpenType-SVG Colour Bitmap fonts cannot be scaled to any size without loss of quality. The typeface will look pixelated if you scale it beyond its original size as it is made up of bitmaps. It can, however, contain almost any graphical effect you can think of—and that is the gamechanger right there. Lots of lovely detail and mess!
If that sounds complicated, it’s really not— it’s just hard to explain.
What applications support colour fonts?
Photoshop and Illustrator. The latest versions of those apps support full-colour fonts—in macOS and the latest Microsoft operating system.
InDesign has unofficial support but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. So the list so far is;
Adobe Photoshop – Full support since CC 2017
Adobe Illustrator – Full support since CC 2018
InDesign – Unofficial experimental support since CC 2018
QuarkXPress – Full Support since QX 2018
Pixelmator – Partial support since 3.7 (colour bitmap fonts work)
Affinity Designer – No support yet
Affinity Photo – No support yet
Native mac apps – Full support
Are colour fonts the future?
Wow, now that is a loaded question, and to be honest I don’t know—nobody knows.
With that said, the big players like Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, Adobe and Google have agreed on an industry standard. Colour fonts stand a fighting chance—and a bloody good chance at that.
Getting them to agree on the OpenType-SVG standard back in 2016 was a major achievement, something akin to herding cats. We all know how Microsoft loves to do their own thing.
What do designers make of it all?
Designers are also divided, half are forward thinkers, early adopters and experimentalists but the other half are type purists. Purists will only adhere to the traditional rules.
Type purists say they are a flash in the pan. I’m sure they flinch every time a new colour font is released. Like a death from a thousand paper cuts!
Experimentalists are loving colour fonts. They are getting excited about the possibilities full-colour typeface brings. For them, it’s another weapon for their design toolbox.
I think the two factions can easily co-exist in the same space. And I will end this section by quoting Arthur C. Clarke
“Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1. It’s completely impossible. 2. It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. 3. I said it was a good idea all along.”
What software can create colour fonts?
The quickest way to start creating colour fonts is by using a programe called Fontself Maker. It comes in two extensions one for Photoshop and one for Illustrator. It’s very easy to use for designers since you already know Photoshop and Illustrator inside out.
The latest version of Glyphs app now also supports full-colour fonts. This is a more involved and complicated process but it’s Glyphs app—and it’s awesome.
FontLab VI also supports colour fonts, I’ve not used it myself as I don’t like the application. I have to admit that the FontLab UI does look sweet. It was always a complicated beast but looks amazing now—need to try it.
Where can I buy colour fonts?
Any colour font tutorials?
Yeah, and lots of them are springing up. Here are 3 to get you started;
How to Create a Color Font With Adobe Illustrator and Fontself Maker
Design a colour font with Illustrator & Fontself (in one afternoon)
How To Create a Color Font in Photoshop Using Fontself
Colour Opentype-SVG font examples
That’s your lot, I hope you now have a better understanding of what a colour font is. If you have any questions feel free to comment below.