[Story]What do you like about the Variable font? (Part 2 )


Variable fonts offer a variety of advantages, including user customization capabilities, easy file management, and extensive scalability. As the technical foundation for using variable fonts is established and more fonts are produced, allowing users to easily access them anywhere, the font usage experience will take a significant leap forward. 

Advantages of Variable 

Variable fonts have many advantages.

The greatest advantage is that users can directly choose the exact weight and style they desire. With traditional font technology, if only regular and bold weights are provided, users are limited to those specific options. However, with variable fonts, users can select any unspecified weight between regular and bold using a slider. This makes the designer's work easier, as they no longer need to create separate fonts for intermediate weights, and it is useful for users as they have a wider range of options to choose from.

Another advantage is that the font file size is reduced, making file management easier. In traditional font technology, each weight and style is comprised of a separate font file. Variable fonts, however, include all weights and styles within a single font file. This can replace dozens of files with just one, and the overall file size is also reduced. The compression effect of variable fonts becomes more significant as the font family expands. In web environments where reducing file size is advantageous, variable fonts provide a powerful alternative.

Another advantage is the high usability in responsive web design. Responsive websites adjust text size to fit various device screens. Variable fonts can provide 'optical sizes' designed to be more readable at specific sizes. As text size is adjusted, these fonts can offer highly legible forms. Examples of fonts that utilize the optical size feature include Apple's 「San Francisco」(link), Grilli Type's 「GT Alpina」(link) and Arrow Type's 「Fraunces」(link)

The final advantage is the versatile application according to the designer's ideas. There are no limitations on the axes that determine the variations in variable fonts. Depending on how these axes are defined, entirely new and unique fonts can be created.

Two years ago, Sandoll undertook the <Variable Numbers Project> (link). This project explored the potential of variable fonts and tested the imagination of designers, in conjunction with the creation of New Year's merchandise. Focusing on the ideas of designers, many fonts were created that are far from practical. As seen in the images below, with fonts that explode, ripple, and flow, the project provided a glimpse into the vast possibilities of variable fonts. 

Looking at Variable fonts 

Hangeul is a script with many variables due to the number of characters and the level of detail involved, making the creation of Hangeul variable fonts quite challenging. Despite this, many Hangeul designers are making various attempts using variable fonts. The <Variable Type Show> (link), showcased at the 2019 Typojanchi, is one such attempt. It was an intriguing video that displayed variable fonts from many designers, explored from diverse perspectives.

Latin characters, with their fewer characters and simpler shapes, are relatively easier to create as variable fonts. Recently, let's take a look at how variable fonts released by various overseas foundries are being used on the web.「Grilli Type」 (link) and「newglyph」 (link) use responsive web design to change the shape of the fonts based on the mouse's coordinates, making the fonts more dynamic and visually engaging. Foundries like 「Undercase Type」 (link) and 「Arrow Type」 (link) are also showcasing a variety of unique and distinctive variable fonts.

There are also services where you can directly experience variable fonts.

"Variable Fonts" (link) is a website that archives variable fonts from various creators. You can manipulate the fonts directly using sliders. It also provides information on programs and browsers that officially support variable fonts, which is useful for both creators and users.

"AXISPRAXIS" (link) and "Samsa" (link) offer pages where you can manipulate various variable fonts. They also provide a feature to test your own variable font files. There are many such services related to variable fonts. I hope both users and creators find them useful.

The Limitations of Variable Fonts 

While the advantages of variable fonts are clear, why aren't they widely used yet?

The biggest barrier is the lack of a foundational infrastructure for variable fonts. Web browsers like Chrome and Safari, as well as design programs such as Adobe and Figma, have quickly adopted support for variable fonts. However, popular document programs like MS Office and Pages have not yet provided support. This issue isn't limited to software alone; technical support for variable fonts is needed at the foundational level, including industry standards and operating systems.

Apart from technical issues, another constraint of variable fonts is their limited diversity. Particularly, there are very few Korean variable fonts available, to the extent that you can count them on one hand. The minimal infrastructure necessary for users to directly experience and utilize variable fonts has also not been fully established. There is still a long way to go.

Nevertheless, despite these challenges, variable fonts represent a technology with limitless potential for advancement. While the adoption of variable fonts in font usage environments may be slow, there is gradual adaptation taking place. The industry is actively exploring various initiatives to align with these changes. At Sandoll, we are also experimenting with a broader range of variable fonts. We appreciate your continued interest and support.

*In addition to the <Variable Numbers Project>, Sandoll is actively producing various other variable fonts. The "「Sandoll CompSans」and "「Sandoll CompSerif」 " series, along with 「SD November」 are among Sandoll's prominent variable fonts.