OpenType features

Font support + application support

Open­Type is a font for­mat invented in the 1990s by Microsoft and Adobe, and later adopted by Apple. A major goal of Open­Type was to pro­vide bet­ter sup­port for inter­na­tional lan­guages and writ­ing sys­tems than pre­vi­ous for­mats.

To do this, Open­Type includes lay­out fea­tures—com­monly known as Open­Type fea­tures —that allow fonts to spec­ify alter­nate let­ter­forms, and rules for how they should be inserted into the text. These fea­tures are manda­tory for han­dling lan­guages like Ara­bic and Urdu.

They’re not manda­tory in Eng­lish. But as a side effect, Open­Type lay­out fea­tures have allowed type design­ers to add lux­u­ries to their fonts—like alternate figures, small caps, ligatures, ordinals, and frac­tions—that had pre­vi­ously been dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that merely select­ing an Open­Type font doesn’t make its fea­tures avail­able. Rather, your type­set­ting pro­gram also has to sup­port the fea­tures you want to use. Even though many Open­Type-enhanced fonts are avail­able today, soft­ware com­pa­nies have been slow to upgrade their pro­grams.

This bit of back­ground just sets the stage for the annoy­ing truth—that Open­Type fea­tures can add a lot of typo­graphic sophis­ti­ca­tion to your doc­u­ment, but you can only use a given fea­ture if it’s sup­ported by both the font and the appli­ca­tion.