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TYPOGRAPHIC TECHNOLOGY AND HANDWRITING:

UNICODE, OPENTYPE AND THE INNOVATIONS IN


PROGRAMMING SOURCES OF SIMULATION OF HUMAN
WRITING

S. Fetter, E .L. da Cunha Lima, G. da Cunha Lima


sandro@dzainrs.com.br; ednacunhalima@gmail.com; gecunhalima@globo.com

This paper proposes a survey of the main technological innovations in typographic


programming since the beginning of the 21st century, focusing on their relationship
with human handwriting and on their simulation ability. For that, it seeks to survey
the developments made possible by the new type standard code, Unicode, and by the
new typographic programming technology, OpenType. In the end, we seek to list
their functional and language benefits in building and customizing digital sources of
handwriting simulation.

Key-words: Type Design. Typographic Technology. OpenType. Unicode. Handwriting.

Acknowledgements: This paper was developed for the MBA in Design of the Escola Superior de
Desenho Industrial – ESDI / UERJ – Rio de Janeiro/Brazil

Introduction
Since the beginning, human writing has always established a close relationship with tech-
nology, either through the writing instrument or the substrate, as well as other factors.
As years went by and typographic technologies developed, manuscript fonts, imi-
tating and simulating various writing styles came up in a more intense and varied way,
borrowing thus the expression “written by the hand”. At the turn of the XXI century,
technological innovations like the expansion of the characters map, from scarce 256 to
more than 90 thousand different glyphs, the development of computer system for print-
ed page editing and the modern language of typographic programming Open Type, have
been enabling a greater rescue of writing personality, simulating human handwriting
more efficiently in several languages.

Typographic Technology at the turn of the millennium


At the beginning of the 90’s, the technological revolution that ended up in the release of
the Macintosh in 1984, as well as the development of a friendlier platform in the typo-
graphic production software encouraged many designers to get into this field, which
was previously restricted to highly specialized professionals.
New technologies have brought a feeling of freedom and given the graphic design
world easy access to explore an apparently limitless specialty: digital typography. After
an initial decade of experimentation and innovation, typographic production technology
has become more specialized and complex, requiring knowledge of programming and
linguistics.

The Unicode
The American Standard Code for Information Exchange (ASCII) was created in the
mid 60’s and it is the first digital code used in a large scale. It was initially based on a
code of seven bits of binary information, enabling only 128 positions as follows: 33
control codes, an empty space and 94 positions for text characters; enough to fit only
the basic set of the English language. The computer became popular and the need to use
accents and other kinds of characters became a problem. To meet this demand, the ISO
8859 standard has been created as en extension of the ASCII code in 1980. Based on an
eight-bit code, it includes characters with accents, grouping the language variables in
tables of up to 256 positions, where approximately 230 are for characters. This scarce
lot would meet only the basic needs of the languages in Eastern Europe and America
(BRINGHURST, 2005).
Unicode was developed by the Unicode Consortium between 1988 and 1991
(Unicode Standard, 2009). Through the use of 2 bytes to represent each character, it
moved on to 16 bits in its coding, increasing the positions map to 216 = 65,536 characters.
Therefore, it enables the representation of almost all languages written in the world and
goes beyond the limitations of traditional characters tables.
Its table encodes characters in their abstract form and leaves questions about ren-
dering (size, shape, font or style) to another software, such as a browser or text/page edi-
tor. With so many linguistic particularities in the global languages, it soon became clear
that 65 thousand characters would not be enough. In the protocol update carried out in
2003 (version 4.0.0), the Unicode set was even more enlarged. For that, 210 = 2,048 spac-
es were changed into pairs, enabling the addition of 1.0242 = 1.048.576 spaces designed
as follows: 96,382 characters, 137,468 reserved for private use and approximately 878
thousand free for future allocation (BRINGHURST, 2005).

The Opentype Font and its specialties


According to Buggy (2007), producing a digital font is a hard and exhausting job,
where hundreds of characters must be drawn. It is necessary to know the diversity of the
kinds of characters and their formal models to understand the extent of a digital font.
The basic structure of a font comprises a main group of characters. They are: up-
percase and lowercase, accented characters, diacritical marks, punctuation marks, liga-
tures, ordinals, proportional and tabular figures, currency symbols, commercial symbols
and fractions. Nowadays, however, it is necessary to consider, additionally, all the vol-
ume of special glyphs supported by the OpenType format, as well as their function pro-
gramming (ROCHA, 2002).
According to Strizver (2007), the main possibilities – or special attributes –,
which can be programmed in an only font file in the OpenType font and how they are
used, are listed below:
Alternates are different glyphs, separate and distinct versions of a regular or primary
character. They can present only one, descendent or ascendant stroke, slightly different
or a completely distinct drawing – as a one-story “g” instead of a roman, two-story “g”.
Contextual Alternates used in special situations or specific contexts, such as encoun-
ters between certain letters, improving their spacing or connection, as in typographies
that simulate human handwriting. Stylistic Sets are alternate characters grouped by
style, which are easily selected and alternated. They optimize choices for what alterna-
tive glyphs match better. Standard Ligatures combine two or more characters in a
single glyph. They usually fix the most common “collisions” between pairs of letters,
such as f+i, thus avoiding “graphic noise” resulting from the collision of their upper
parts. Discretionary Ligatures, they are usually more decorative than standard liga-
tures and are designed to add elegance and refinement to the text. Swashes are decora-
tive flourish letters evoking luxury. They are usually cursive letters, and normally ital-
ics, adding exuberance and emphasis to the text. Glyph substitution extended set of
optional characters, they can be added to give more expression, rhythm or even simu-
late the vagaries of a handwritten text. Numerals the best fonts in the Opentype format
show more than one set of numerals, with different designs and functions. When insert-
ed in a text block in lowercase, the ideal set of numerals is the “text numerals”, also
called old style figures. Small Caps are smaller versions of regular lowercase letters,
true-drawn to have the same typographic color of a font’s lowercase characters and to
be more visually harmonious when inserted in a lowercase text.

Figure 1: Cézanne regular (1996), left. P22 Cézanne Pro (2005), with OpenType attributes, right.

Final Considerations
In this scenario taken by digital media, where most writing demands are met by the
computer, questions concerning the importance of handwriting nowadays arise and
what the future will be like facing these impacts. Will the computer be able to incorpo-
rate its owner’s handwriting’s personality or will we lose our expression until we take
on the computer font as our personal handwriting? Facing so many dilemmas and ques-
tionings, it seems relevant to study deeply these improvements, attempting to approach
technology and handwriting even more, without prejudice for any of them. For that,
typography is the means and tool to help in this task.
Recent innovations in this area seem to be moving this way, contemporary fonts,
such as Zapfino Extra Pro (Hermann Zapf, 2004), P22 Cézanne Pro (Richard Kegler,
2005), FF Mister K (Julia Sysmäläinen, 2008) and the ones developed by the Argentin-
ian type designer Alexandro Paul (Sudtipos) are excellent examples of how to use typo-
graphic innovation incorporating the attributes of handwriting. Moreover, Microsoft
Word 2011 will finally incorporate the benefits of OpenType, which were previously
restricted to more specialized applications. This will enable every word processor user
to take advantage of more refinement in producing a text or even use calligraphic fonts
with greater capacity for simulating human handwriting.

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