TYPO Labs: Update on Font Variations in FontTools & Chrome

Dominik Röttsches and Behdad Esfahbod – The guys from Google presented the improvements since their last presentation in ATypI Warsaw.

By Roberto Arista

Dominik Röttsches from the Chrome team presented the steps made so far in supporting variable fonts. The Google browser reaches an enormous amount of users – around 2 billions – covering half of the mobile and desktop market. Version 57 is the stable version shipped to users, the actual development is now happening in the canary version which is publicly available here. They proudly announced that Chrome Canary is supporting variable fonts on all platforms: Android, ChromeOS, Windows (old version too), Linux and MacOS.

© Norman Posselt (Monotype)

They managed to achive such a goal by implementing a hybrid solution for environments like Windows and MacOS where Harfbuzz is used as a shaping engine and the rasterization is handled using OS tools or freetype. The binary size didn’t increase much because freetype was already embedded in Chrome for the PDF-viewer functionality. If freetype is not used, the resource comes from the related OS. We can expect variable fonts support in a stable version in 2 or 3 major releases. Before leaving the stage to Behdad, Dominik demonstrated on two different platforms, Android and Windows, it worked!.

Behdad Esfahbod, from the Google text rendering team, presented the improvements that were made since the last ATypI conference in Warsaw. The tools his team is actively contributing to are fundational for current digital typography: freetype, harfBuzz and fontTools. Behdad demonstrated a number of new functionality from command line and presented the new mathematical tools he implemented in the pens protocol in fontTools. If you are eager to have a look at the equations he wrote, I suggest you to look at the video which is already available.

© Norman Posselt (Monotype)


Laast but not least: the link to the slides of Dominik’s and Behdad’s Talk.