Variable font

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The "design space" of the variable font Recursive Sans & Mono,[1] illustrated as the nets of two cubes.

A variable font (VF) is a font file that is able to store a continuous range of design variants. An entire typeface (font family) can be stored in such a file, with an infinite number of fonts available to be sampled.[2]

The variable font technology originated in Apple's TrueType GX font variations. The technology was adapted to OpenType as OpenType variable fonts (OTVF) in version 1.8 of the OpenType specification.[3][4][5] The technology was announced by Adobe, Apple, Google, and Microsoft in September 2016. Making such a feature standardized in OpenType paved the way for support in many software platforms.[3][6][7][8]


OpenType variable fonts are an adaptation of Apple's TrueType GX font variations to OpenType, with integration into key aspects of the OpenType format including OpenType Layout tables and both TrueType and CFF glyph outline formats. It also surpasses TrueType GX by providing better interoperability, both between different fonts, and between variable fonts and font-formatting specifications such as those found in Cascading Style Sheets. The technology allows software to access any design instance for a continuous range of designs defined within the font. When a specific design instance has been selected, the glyph outlines or other data values for that design instance are computed as font data is being processed during text layout and rasterization.

The technology uses interpolation and extrapolation mechanisms that have been supported in font-development tools and used by font designers for many years.[9] In that paradigm, the font designer creates a variable design, but then chooses specific instances to generate as static, non-variable fonts that get distributed to customers. With variable fonts, however, the font produced and distributed by the font designer can have built-in variability, and the interpolation mechanisms can now be built into operating systems and Web browsers or other applications, with specific design instances selected at time of use.

One of the key benefits of the technology is that it can significantly reduce the combined size of font data whenever multiple styles are in use. On the Web, this may allow a site to use more font styles while at the same time reducing page load times. A further benefit is that it gives access to a continuous range of style variations, which can provide benefits for responsive design.

The technology has been compared to Adobe's multiple master fonts (MM fonts) technology, also from the 1990s, which used on-the-fly generation of font designs from master files by interpolation and extrapolation.[10][11][12][13] Multiple master fonts, however, required the user to generate a specific "instance" of the font for particular variation-axis values before it could be used. This is not required for OpenType variable fonts, however: named or arbitrary design instances can be selected and used on demand.


Operating systems[edit]

In Windows 10, version 1709, Microsoft introduced the first variable font in Windows: the "Bahnschrift" font, which is a digitisation of DIN 1451.[14][15]

FreeType, the font rendering program used by most Unix-like systems including Linux, received variable font support in May 2017 (FreeType 2.8).[16]


Adobe Creative Cloud 2018 version, released 18 October 2017, includes support for variable fonts in Photoshop[17] and Illustrator[18] and includes variable concept versions of the fonts Acumin, Minion, Myriad, Source Code, Source Sans, and Source Serif.

Creative Cloud 2020 has added variable font support for InDesign.[19]

Inkscape version 1.0 has added variable font support.[20]

LibreOffice version 7.5 has added variable font support.[21]


Variable fonts are controlled in the web browser using both existing properties for well-known options such as weight and a raw font-variation-settings control. Refer to the MDN pages of the CSS property for support history.[2]


  1. ^ Type, Arrow. "Recursive Sans & Mono". Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Variable fonts guide - CSS: Cascading Style Sheets". MDN.
  3. ^ a b "Introducing OpenType Font Variations".
  4. ^ Phinney, Thomas (February 2017). "Variable Fonts Are the Next Generation". Communication Arts. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  5. ^ Phinney, Thomas (14 September 2016). "The Lesson of Color Fonts for Variable Fonts". Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  6. ^ "CSS Fonts Module Level 4".
  7. ^ Nieskens, Roel. "Variable Fonts: the Future of (Web) Type". Typographica. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  8. ^ Hudson, John. "Introducing OpenType Variable Fonts". Medium. Tiro Typeworks. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  9. ^ Griscti, Jessica. "Jess Loves Interpolation". Alphabettes. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  10. ^ Designing Multiple Master Typefaces (PDF). San José: Adobe Systems. 1997. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 January 2005. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  11. ^ Riggs, Tamye. "The Adobe Originals Silver Anniversary Story". Typekit blog. Adobe. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  12. ^ "The Adobe Originals Silver Anniversary Story: Expanding the Originals". Typekit. Adobe Systems. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  13. ^ Phinney, Thomas (18 March 2010). "Font Remix Tools (RMX) and Multiple Master Fonts in type design". Phinney. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  14. ^ "Introducing the Bahnschrift font". Windows Blog. Microsoft. 23 August 2017. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  15. ^ Protalinski, Emil (23 August 2017). "Microsoft releases new Windows 10 preview with shell, Edge, and input improvements". VentureBeat. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  16. ^ "FreeType 2.8 Completes OpenType Variation Fonts Support - Phoronix".
  17. ^ "New features summary | October 2017 release of Photoshop CC". Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  18. ^ "New features summary | October 2017 release of Illustrator CC". Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  19. ^ "What's New with InDesign 2020? | CreativePro Network". 4 November 2019.
  20. ^ "Introducing Inkscape 1.0". Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  21. ^ "LibreOffice 7.5: Release Notes". The Document Foundation's Wiki. Retrieved 3 February 2023.

External links[edit]