On type & fonts

Italics by way of a Stylistic Set feature

22 July 2017

On Twitter, Christopher Bergmann asked:
Also interesting and unusual: In Rialto dF, italics are additionally included as a stylistic set in the roman font (and vice versa).
— twitter.com/isoglosse/status/884495205466075138
I read on @castfoundry’s site that @KLTF did the OpenType programming for Rialto. What was the reasoning for the solution described below?
— twitter.com/isoglosse/status/884675385283280896
The answer is implicit in the introduction to Litteratra – 'like with early italic types, Litteratra's italic lowercase are accompanied by roman uppercase. This suggested to include italics in the regular font.'

A design decision rather than a technical decision

The above quote indicates that, while the question is about a technical decision, the answer actually is about a design decision: Both roman lowercase and italic lowercase share the same set of roman uppercase, smallcaps, numerals, and punctuation marks. The technical decision was a mere consequence of this. Why make a separate italic font when, given the entire glyph set, only some lowercase letters differ? Why not include the few italic lowercase in the roman font right away? Or, put differently, why not include both roman and italic letters in a single regular font? OpenType defined an Italics (ital) feature after all. (This feature, too, can be found in Litteratra and Rialto.)[1] The Italics feature was never supported in layout applications – it was meant for CJK fonts rather than for Latin fonts as I later learned – yet Stylistic Sets (ss01–ss20) started to get supported in InDesign around the time when Litteratra was made.

Entering Rialto

When Giovanni de Faccio and I had a chance to meet, in 2004, we discussed turning Rialto, a bunch of PostScript Type1 fonts, into full-featured OpenType fonts. I immmediately noticed that Litteratra and Rialto are similar, structurally, in that Rialto too combines italic lowercase with roman uppercase, smallcaps, numerals, and punctuation marks. The design decision was the same. The same technical solution could be applied. The Litteratra OpenType fonts served as blueprint for the Rialto OpenType fonts.

Separate italic fonts

Making separate italic fonts was more of an afterthought. Designers and typographers either were not aware of OpenType features at all or found them a hassle to use. InDesign was the only application which supported 'typographic' OpenType features in a way worth mentioning – OpenType fonts like Litteratra and Rialto were pretty much InDesign-only fonts. Of course they would work in other applications too. But to make use of all their bells and whistles, there was no way around InDesign. To access italics in applications like XPress or Word, separate fonts were needed. So I extended my font generator such that it would export separate roman and italic fonts. (It seemed just logical to reverse the according feature's behavior in the italic fonts, replacing italic lowercase by roman lowercase.) Please mind that all this relates to the years around 2004. Things have changed now. A bit.

[1] I do not know if the fonts shipped by @castfoundry are the same that I have made some years ago. All that I say here relates to the latter ones.

All texts & images, unless noted otherwise:
Copyright © Karsten Luecke
All rights reserved.
All product and company names mentioned may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.