Calligraphy is not typography

In my April 9th post Typography hiding in plain sight, I called attention to poor typography on a packaging label for salt.

Sam Ricks was kind enough to point out the typeface used, Bickham Script Pro, contains many alternate characters. But how is this possible?

Welcome to OpenType.

This font software, launched in 1996, and jointly developed by Microsoft and Adobe, deserves a quick look. There are many advantages to OpenType typefaces, but the everyday user should know of  the two fundamental differences between OpenType and earlier Postscript typefaces.

1. OpenType is cross-platform compatible. Meaning quite simply that you can use the same type software on both an Apple and a WIndows computer. This is important because when files are shared between people on different platforms, type will appear on screen and in print the same way, allowing for seamless editing and design, as long as both users have the same typeface.

2. OpenType can contain thousands of glyphs in each weight of a typeface. Contrast this with earlier fonts which have only a couple of hundred possible glyphs. In practical terms this means type designers can add extra glyphs to a typeface such as alternative letter shapes, ligature combinations, old style numbers, small capitals and even ornaments. And for graphic designers, we can access these extra glyphs—such as the alternate letters shown in the example below—by simply opening the glyph palette in InDesign, Illustrator, and so on.

And that makes us budding calligraphers very happy. The examples below look calligraphic, but are created very easily on the computer by accessing those alternate glyphs: Look at the C, h, d, and y in the three samples, all of which are alternate letters, and there are many more:

A little trial and error is necessary as you experiment with the combinations. In fact some of the alternate glyphs are meant either to begin or finish a word, but it’s well worth spending the time seeing what works as some unexpected and delightful combinations will result.

One final note. In order to tell if a typeface is OpenType it will have the suffix Pro at the end of the typeface name.

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