The development of new typefaces is linked to the technology available to make and reproduce them. Although the idea of parametric and variable fonts has been around since the late 1970s *(yes, 70’s, as we’ll see a bit further down), it hasn’t been until fairly recently that designers the morphing, shape-shifting type — and the technology to create them — has become available.
So, variable or… parametric fonts? As a web designer, why should you care about their differences?
Generative or variable typefaces:
These are typefaces which consist of a single font file, but allowing them to be modified within constraints in ways that they can achieve multiple weights, widths, and several other attributes — all defined by their font designer. And these, you can control with CSS, for example.
Parametric fonts, on the other hand,
Work within a well-defined scope, in between a set of defined parameters, providing widely adjustable alternates for things like letter width, stroke, and x-height.
So why and where to use parametric fonts?
A good recent example is Antique Gothic, which,
…was created by Prototypo,
which, along with Metapolator,
is a good example of a current project experimenting with parametric type. Dan Rhatigan, senior manager of Adobe Type views parametric type as reinforcing the idea that a typeface is not necessarily fixed until it’s delivered to someone.
“I think of tools like this as grouped in a bucket with what a few folks are trying to do with delivering web fonts from source files, instead of delivering stuff that’s already been generated or produced,” he says.