I recently came up with a Variable Font model to handle glyph compression and expansion in horizontal and vertical layout that includes support for characters whose glyphs rotate in vertical layout, such as the glyphs for Western characters, along with TCY (縦中横 tatechūyoko in Japanese, which literally means “horizontal in vertical”) support.
The purpose of this article is to call attention to the open source test font that I developed, along with a description of the model itself, which are intended to be used by developers to implement such support in apps and layout engines.
The test font is a two-axis Variable Font that maps all 1,111,998 Unicode code points to one of two glyphs, based on the Unicode Version 12.1 version of the UAX #50 (Unicode Vertical Text Layout) data file, VerticalOrientation.txt:
- 785,553 code points that are assigned the Vertical_Orientation (“vo”) property value of “R” or “Tr” map to Western glyphs
- 326,445 code points that are assigned the “vo” property value of “U” or “Tu” map to CJK glyphs
Given that upright versus rotated orientation plays an important role in vertical layout, the above mappings seemed quite appropriate.
The test font includes 256 instances of the Western and CJK glyphs, from GIDs 1 through 256 and GIDs 257 through 512, respectively, whose shapes and parameters are described as follows:
- The Western glyphs are hollow rectangles whose default width is 600 units, rest on the Western baseline (Y=0), and which compress or expand 25% (from 450 to 750 units)
- The CJK glyphs are solid rectangles whose default width is 1000 units, rest 12% below the Western baseline (from Y=−120 to Y=880), and which compress or expand 25% (from 750 to 1250 units)
Why 256 instances of each glyph? It simplified the Unicode mappings that are specified in the 'cmap' table. This is important when dealing with over a million mappings.
GID+513 is an explicit half-width glyph that is intended to be used for TCY purposes, and is used to substitute the Western glyphs via the 'hwid' (Half Widths) GSUB feature.
The test font includes the registered 'wdth' (Width) and unregistered 'VWID' (Vertical Width; and yes, I am aware that “Vertical Advance” would be technically more correct, but the use of “Width” better pairs with the 'wdth' axis) design-variation axes. For both axes, the default setting is 500, which corresponds to a 600-unit horizontal advance for the Western glyphs, and a 1000×1000 box (aka full-width) for the CJK glyphs. The minimum and maximum axis settings are 1 and 1000, which corresponds to 25% compression and 25% expansion, respectively.
The test font is available in the open source Width & Vertical Width VF project on GitHub in both OpenType/CFF2 and TrueType formats.
Compression/Expansion in Horizontal Layout
The model that is being described in this article is relatively simple when performing horizontal layout: the 'wdth' axis is used to compress or expand glyphs along the X-axis as desired, and the 'VWID' axis is constrained to its default setting, which corresponds to full-width or 1000 units for the CJK glyphs. In other words, the relative height of the glyphs remains unchanged in horizontal layout.
The animated GIF below was created using the test font, and illustrates compression and expansion in horizontal layout (although it’s not obvious, the character string that was used was “かなABC漢字”):
Note how the glyph height remains unchanged regardless of the compression or expansion, which is due to constraining the 'VWID' axis to its default setting. In terms of animation timing, the default setting is five seconds, the two extremes are two seconds, and the intermediate settings are one second.
Compression/Expansion in Vertical Layout
When performing vertical layout, the handling of CJK glyphs that remain upright is relatively straight-forward: the 'VWID' axis is used to compress or expand glyphs along the Y-axis as desired, and the 'wdth' axis is constrained to its default setting, which corresponds to full-width or 1000 units for the CJK glyphs. The following are the two cases that require special handling:
- The handling of glyphs that rotate in vertical layout, such as Western ones, makes this more complex: the 'VWID' axis setting is instead applied to the 'wdth' axis, and the 'VWID' axis is constrained to its default setting. In other words, it is equivalent to simply rotating text that was laid out horizontally. The rotated glyphs can become narrower or wider in vertical layout, but their relative height remains unchanged.
- The handling of TCY is a special case whereby the 'VWID' axis setting is actually used, and the 'wdth' axis is constrained to its default setting. In other words, TCY behave like CJK glyphs: the glyphs become shorter or taller in vertical layout, but their width remains unchanged. The test font includes the 'hwid' GSUB feature so that two-character TCY can be simulated using the Western glyphs.
The animated GIF below was created using the test font, and illustrates compression and expansion in vertical layout, which includes both rotated and TCY strings (once again, it’s not obvious that the character string that was used was “あAB漢字12国”):
Note how the rotated Western glyphs become narrower or wider, but that their relative height remains unchanged. The relative height of the rotated Western glyphs is bound to the width of the CJK glyphs. Likewise, the height of the TCY glyphs become shorter or taller, but their widths are bound to the width of the CJK glyphs. The animation timing is identical to the horizontal one.
The following table summarizes the model, in terms of the settings and setting ranges for the two design-variation axes in the layout conditions that were described in the previous two sections of this article:
Of course, the actual settings and setting ranges are based on the test font that I developed, and other Variable Fonts that follow this particular model may use slightly different values. The main point is that one of the axes is constrained to its default setting, which is 500 in the test font that I developed.
Although the 'wdth' and 'VWID' design-variation axes are implemented as separate axes in a Variable Font, and given that one of the axes needs to be constrained per the descriptions above, UIs should expose only a single functional axis, named “Width,” whose setting is applied to the appropriate axis, depending on the layout direction—horizontal or vertical—and whether the characters are rotated or used in a TCY context. Another alternative is to lock one of the axes by default, but to permit unlocking to override the default behavior.
In any case, how these axes are exposed to users in app UIs may largely depend on the sophistication of the apps themselves. Less-sophisticated apps would benefit by exposing only a single functional axis, and more-sophisticated ones may allow the default behavior to be overridden by exposing both as described at the end of the previous paragraph.
Design-Variation Axis Registration
If the model described in this article becomes generally accepted, the 'VWID' design-variation axis will need to be registered, which means that it would become an all-lowercase tag, such as 'vwid', 'vadv', or similar.
In closing, everything that is described in this article is a proposal for a model that I hope will become the standard way in which CJK Variable Fonts that support compression, expansion, or both, in horizontal and vertical layout, is implemented.
Of course, comments are welcome and encouraged.