What are Colour fonts? Are the next big thing in graphic design. They bring multiple Colour, shades, textures and transparency to type. They include vector shapes, bitmap images or even both into font files. Colour Fonts or OpenType-SVG.

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.

A traditional vector font show in Glyphs App, it's just vector points.

A traditional vector font show in Glyphs App, it’s just vector points.

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.

1984 Apple computer launches the macintosh

1984 Apple computer launches the Macintosh, and the digital typeface revolution kicks up a notch—fonts for the masses is just around the corner.

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

The three types of fonts, traditional vector, colour vector and bitmap

The three types of fonts, traditional vector, colour vector and bitmap

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

OpenType-SVG is born

2016 The big players support OpenType-SVG font format—yeah!

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?

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator support colour fonts.

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator 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.

My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

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?

It's just SOOOO EASY: just drag & drop any letter, icon or symbol to the Fontself Maker panel, and BOOOM, you've just created a font.

It’s just SOOOO EASY: just drag & drop any letter, icon or symbol to the Fontself Maker panel, and BOOOM, you’ve just created a font.

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?

Creative Market

YouWorkForThem

thehungryjpeg

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

Fierce OpenType-SVG Brush font by Simon Stratford

Fierce OpenType-SVG Brush font by Simon Stratford

Avallon OpenType-SVG font by Sam Parrett

Avallon OpenType-SVG font by Sam Parrett

Take Charge OpenType-SVG Brush Font by Greg Nicholls

Take Charge OpenType-SVG Brush Font by Greg Nicholls

Hello Monday OpenType-SVG is a handmade brush script font. It has a rough handwriting style with expressive brush marks.

Hello Monday OpenType-SVG is a handmade brush script font. It has a rough handwriting style with expressive brush marks.

Stranger Times OpenType-SVG Font by Greg Nicholls

Stranger Times OpenType-SVG Font by Greg Nicholls

Pure Heart OpenType-SVG-Brush Font by Greg Nicholls

Pure Heart OpenType-SVG-Brush Font by Greg Nicholls

Opulent Font SVG by Sam Parrett

Opulent Font SVG by Sam Parrett

Crude OpenType-Svg by maghrib

Crude OpenType-Svg by maghrib

Charlie Watercolour Display Font by Alexandra Snowdon

Charlie Watercolour Display Font by Alexandra Snowdon

Buckwheat Opentype-SVG Font by Tom Chalky

Buckwheat Opentype-SVG Font by Tom Chalky

Bouqet Flower Watercolor OpenType-SVG by bloomxxv

Bouqet Flower Watercolor OpenType-SVG by bloomxxv

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.

Kick on

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