Font formats timeline

Timeline of font formats and production software (version v10)
Timeline of font formats and production software (version v10)

While working on the past Designa Conference presentation (November 2011) about the development of an online software tool/service to help design typefaces, I’ve been compiling data for a timeline on font formats and production software packages.

While rushing through the slides, I got stuck with the few data compiled from the typography chapter from my PhD draft thesis. I’ve decided to share the working version…

Since then, thanks to the feedback I’ve got from many friends, colleagues, and important designers and programmers I’ve corrected much of the information in it, as well as aligned the dates properly. By now, the scope of it has changed, and now it list not the main production software, but almost all of them… I hope I haven’t missed anything important, although there is still much to be done and revised.

The latest (and final?) version 9 is being included in the short paper to be published by the organization.

The purpose is to better understand how font formats have evolved, and how software  has “helped” develop them. Ultimately, this aims to better understand the role of the designer and how processes have evolved through time. This timeline compilation only lists the ones that have been put into use:

  • the main outline font formats developed;
  • the main parametric based development/production systems;
  • the main font production software (once again with the emphasis on Outline Fonts).

Author of the timeline and original research and literature review:

  • Pedro Amado


Notes and Revisions

[update 1: contributions] A quick thank you note to Vítor Q. for replying with Truetype GX, F3 font formats – I didn’t know about F3, and I thought TTGX was just another Apple proprietary mania… He also sent a couple of page description languages like Interpress and PCL 5, but AFAIK these use other formats internally, like Intellitype. Stephen Coles and Rui Abreu mentioned Robofab… After ageeing, I’ve added it, but since then he also sent me Font Remix Tools… Finally a quick thanks to Diogo O. for reminding me to add SVG and WOFF fonts. Although he mentioned EOT also (another packaging format for TTF / OTF) these web font formats are pretty important, and I believe they will mold the future of the technology!

[update 2: enter the giants] Thanks to Stephen Coles for warning me to insert/correct the “van” in the names of Petr van Blokland, Erik van Blokland, otherwise besides being wrong, I guess it would just be confusing! Just another quick note to remind that it is still missing many font production software packages. I’ve concentrated my efforts on mapping only the main outline font formats and main production software, but I it can still be complemented. Please drop me a note!

[update 3: new formats] Thanks to the feedback obtained (mainly on twitter) I’m currently working on version 6 of this graphic.I’m adding a couple of formats and parametric systems do the timeline. Now the analysis is somewhat different…

[update 4: analysis, analysis, analysis…] On the one hand, the 5.1 version of the graphic reveals a “break” in the development cycle of new formats/solutions  , 1977 and 1989-90. On the other hand, it also reveals that there was an intense development of different solutions in 2001-03, 2006-07 and in 2009. This raises several questions while contradicting the common notion that new industry developments had come to a halt with the release of Fontlab 3+…

[update 5: author, and list of contributors]

[update 6: never-ending story…] Ok, every time I update the timeline, I find new tools or formats to include, or the ones in the timeline need correction… I’ll be updating as regularly as I can until it’s good enough for everyone…

[update 7: still missing important software] New iteration. Still missing the dates of Asia Font Studio, Type Tool, etc… The usual problem is to find the release dates of the original software when they were release before 1999, or before they were acquired by other companies…

[update 8: all together now] A new version (v7, 2011-12-16). Almost all font production software I know and heard of are now listed in this timeline. Frank Grießhammer has suggested this image could be converted into a wiki page. I actually have these (and some bitmap font editors) in a spreadsheet. If enough people are interested, I can publish this wherever is more practical: either on Typophile (they already have a Font Software pages on the Wiki), Wikipedia Font Editors webpage, Google Docs, or… And I’ve just realized that I still have to double check Luc Devroye’s software listing…

[update 9: are we there yet?] New version (v8, 2011, 12-18). Petr Van Blokland revised some dates and software and I’ve corrected the insertion of an “alpha” state promising software – Fontclod. When doing this late at night I tend to “loosen the filter” ;). Still need to do a final check on Luc Devroy’s webpage. His web page and Typophile wiki have been valuable sources of information… Later, I’ll try to figure out someway of merging this info with them… Ever since Note 5 the patterns of development have been changing… now I’m just wondering what happened between 1988 and 2001. There’s a break on the development. Maybe it was due to the Internet hype people lived back then. My guess is that after the bubble burst, people went back to develop software they needed… And now, we’re seeing the internet applications slowly coming back in a web 2.0 style, with Fonstruct (that I’m a huge fan), Fontclod (currently in alpha, and I’m already a fan of it), and the future release of Iris (or Horus from Aviary, still in proof of concept since 2009, but they’ll have a regular user from the moment they release it).

[update 10: to short to finish] Minor update/addition and final JPG file to include in the short paper to be published by UBI / Design Conference Proceedings.

[update 11] 2 additions and one small revision, thanks to David Berlow’s input. Still not so sure about including ClearType in this timeline. I mean, it’s mainly a “sub-pixel hinting technology”, and not a drawing tool or process… right?

Author: Pedro Amado

Professor Auxiliar na Faculdade de Belas Artes Universidade do Porto a lecionar Design de Tipos de letra digitais (Variable Fonts), Tipografia, Introdução à programação em Web Design II (Javascript) e Creative Coding em Laboratório de Som e Imagem (Processing). Investigador integrado no i2ADS na intersecção da Arte, Design e Tecnologia.

13 thoughts on “Font formats timeline”

    1. I’ve been checking out the SVG development roadmap and I thought it was only developed on the SVG 1.1 specification… But after digging in the W3C website I found an old 1.0 draft that already included it. Thank you once again—Il’ll correct the date to the oficial 2001 release.

      By the way, I’m looking at graphite. Although the development started in 1997, the first release date I’m seeing is 2003. Do you know if this is true?

    1. Hi Chris!
      Thanks for the input, I didn’t know about this one, although I’ve been following SIL/Victor Gaultney’s work for a while now.
      At first glance it seems that it is only a rendering engine, but it also has “Graphite fonts”.

      Is it already in use?

      I’ll “let it brew on the graphic” while reading more about this format/framework and update it soon if all checks out!

      Once again, thanks for the tip. Great reference.

    1. Hi Grant!
      Actually, this was one of the papers I’ve used to cross reference the early systems on my PhD draft chapter. It’s a great historical and technical document! It’s a good reading too! ;)

      Anyway, thanks for the reference!

  1. Wow! Great Compendium!

    A few notes:
    1. I should not be listed as a developer of Robofont, I only support it.
    2. WOFF has gone final!
    3. The apps used with GX variations, were:
    a. Mutator, by Mike Reed
    b. Incubator, by Sampo… both 1992
    4. ClearType is missing.

    Thanks again for the great overview.

    1. David:

      Hi. Thank you very much for the updates. Now, I guess I’ll *have* to do a new revision during Christmas holidays ;)
      Although I suspected as much, I’ve decided to listed you as one of the original Robofont developers, as in the people who helped bring it to life… I’ll update your info and add the Mutator and Incubator software.
      As for ClearType… I’ve kind of dismissed it mainly because it’s a screen/rendering feature… not actually a font development package… If I add this kind of software, I guess I’ll have to include others also… I’ll think about it.

      Anyway, thank you very much!

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