Dan Rhatigan tells us everything we needed to know about Variable Fonts, which are still in the early days of conception, but that isn’t stopping people from experimenting and pushing the boundaries.
Variable fonts are a way of taking many, many, many styles within a typeface family—from very lightweight to very bold weight, from wide to skinny—and packaging them all up into one small file. You’re not just saving space, you’re also getting access to all of the possible weights and sizes on the spectrum of a font. That includes more than the names you would choose from a font menu like bold or light. But how does it work?
Basically, “it’s a more complicated and sophisticated version of a font file. But it’s still just a font file and will behave on any operating system that can support it,” says Rhatigan. Variable fonts are based in formulas like any other font file. “In terms of how it knows what it can do, that’s where the applications will come in and be able to register, ‘oh, these are all possibilities within one file,’ rather than having to specify a different file to get a different style.”