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AscenderFonts Designer's Toolbox June 2009

Using OpenType Features: Swashes

Typographic insights from Steve Matteson

Introducing the ‘swash’ – an exaggerated entry or exit stroke which adds flourish to a letterform. This design element is found in many fonts including some OpenType Pro fonts from various font foundries. This month we look at how to – and how not to – use swash letters in documents. We’ll also show how this feature can be accessed via Adobe Illustrator and InDesign applications.

Depending on the typeface design, swash forms can add a level of panache, elegance or even whimsy to a typographic layout. As you’ll see they can be the ‘frosting on the cake’. But exercise caution!

Swash Origins
Scribes have used this motif since the earliest manuscripts. Figure 1 shows a small section of the Book of Kells written in the 9th century. Letters are stretched to fill space and for decoration. In the 1500’s Ludovico degli Arrighi fashioned a typeface with chancery calligraphic features including swash forms (figure 2). His typefaces became the model for the modern day Centaur Italic. Figure 3 is a 17th Century example by Paulus Frank. It is a rather extreme example, of swashes used in an initial letter ‘T’.

Do’s and Don’ts
It’s often tempting to get carried away with anything ornamental. A page full of swash letters will likely detract from the beauty and possibly the comprehension of the text. As Plato said: ‘Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction’.

Figure 4 illustrates that typically only the first capital in a line should have a swash since flourishes tend to disrupt the letter spacing and cause collisions. Figure 4a shows that a swash at the end of the line is certainly acceptable.

Figure 5 shows a variety of shapes which can be considered ‘swash forms’ from the fonts Goudy Forum Pro , Captain Quill and Bertham Pro (coming Fall ‘09).

Using this feature with Adobe InDesign
Note: Not all fonts offer the Swash feature. Some will only allow you to use swash letters via the glyph palette.
If the OpenType font you have selected contains the appropriate glyphs, the Swash option will become available via the Character or Glyph palettes.

Using the Character palette, click on the pop-up menu in the right hand corner, select <OpenType> and Swash will appear near the top. If the feature is unavailable in the particular font, it will be bracketed (figure 6).

Another way to use these glyphs is to hand-pick them from the Glyph Palette. To open this palette go to the Type menu then select <Glyphs>. You can also find this palette by going to Window, then Type & Tables, and finally select Glyphs. The glyphs are shown in a grid. A glyph which has an alternative or swash form will have a small black arrow in the corner. Click and hold to view alternates for the selected glyphs and double-click to insert it in a text frame where your cursor is located. Sorting the glyphs using the drop-down menu may help you find certain glyphs (figure 7).

Using this feature with Adobe Illustrator
If the OpenType font you have selected contains the appropriate glyphs, the Swash option will become available via the OpenType and Glyph palettes.

While the glyph palette procedure is the same as InDesign mentioned above, Adobe Illustrator has a specially designated OpenType palette. Illustrator supports fewer OpenType features than InDesign but the button-like interface in the OpenType palette is convenient.
For example in figure 8, ligatures are turned on by default so the button is not greyed out. Unavailable features for that particular font (such as fractions in this case) are greyed out. With text selected click the <Swash> button to turn the feature on which changes this capital H to a swash form.

When used carefully, swash forms can be a wonderful final refinement to a typographic layout. Accessing swashes via OpenType features is a simple way to find and organize these special characters.
Next month we’ll take a break from OpenType and explore the development of the ampersand – in a text written by Frederic W. Goudy.

Read Original: AscenderFonts Designer's Toolbox July 2009