Sam Howard Sam is a developer at IDRsolutions who specialises in font rendering and conversion. He's also enjoyed working with SVG, Java 3D, Java FX and Swing.

Web fonts: What’s next for typography online?

1 min read

Image showing pictoral glyphs in web fonts in Firefox
All sorts of features are in the pipeline for web fonts!

Web typography is actually still a pretty new thing – most browsers only added support for downloadable fonts around 2009. (Internet explorer was uncharacteristically ahead of the curve having added support for EOT fonts in 1997!)

Web fonts standards changes

The W3C’s recommended format for web fonts is WOFF, which is essentially a compressed OpenType or TrueType font with a new table directory. A proposal for WOFF 2.0 featuring smaller file sizes and faster decompression is now under review at W3C. The first public draft of the evaluation report is out, and it sounds positive, so I’d say it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a W3C recommendation.

Google have put out a proposal for allowing the use of colour PNG images as glyphs. This has proven quite controversial in the typographic community (due to the lack of scalability, hinting and so on) but looks like it might be being pushed through anyway – they’ve already added support for the specification into open source font renderer FreeType and open source graphics library Skia, and the OTS team has raised a case to make it compatible.

Another criticism is that it ignores the work of W3C’s SVG Glyphs in OpenType community group. Many people think this proposal is superior, as SVG is scalable and adds support for animation – as well as the proposal already being implemented in Firefox.

Browser changes

On the subject of OTS, there’s been a bit of a shift recently. Previously, both Chrome and Firefox used the version of OTS found on the Google Code page. For better or worse, the project was forked in January this year, followed by a burst of development. Firefox has already moved across to this version, and there are rumours that Chrome is considering following suit.

Chrome itself is also completely overhauling its font rendering on Windows. Up til now, it has made use of Microsoft’s GDI graphics API to render its fonts – however, Microsoft released a replacement font rendering API called DirectWrite along with Vista back in 2007. This offers improved sub-pixel rendering and anti-aliasing, along with support for many of OpenType’s more advanced typographic features.

The change has already been implemented and is now being cleaned up and tested – it’s currently aiming for release in Chrome 37 in a few months time.

This post is part of our “Fonts Articles Index” in these articles we explore Fonts.

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Sam Howard Sam is a developer at IDRsolutions who specialises in font rendering and conversion. He's also enjoyed working with SVG, Java 3D, Java FX and Swing.

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