Cursive – The Twelve Days of Ax‑mas

Can some styles be more italic than others? That is, not more slanted, but actually more italic? A, what, truer italic? A more truthful italic?

David Jonathan Ross suggested yes, or at least played with this ambiguity, in Roslindale Variable Italic’s italic axis: Gradually, key glyphs change from a construction more like a slanted roman, their slanted version, to the kind of glyph construction you’d expect to see in a true italic.

It’s only when you are at the “(fully) italic” end of the range that the lowercase “g” changes.

DJR has made a habit of this boundary-pushing with his Font of the Month Club. If you are also intentionally trying to push the boundaries of Variable Fonts, or helping to demonstrate open questions in the specification docs—even if that makes your typeface slightly harder to use in the meantime—you might also follow this approach.

Roslindale Variable Italic appears to be the first, and perhaps still only, Variable Font with both a Slant axis and Italic axis, where the Italic axis is not binary. It would be interesting to see more, but in the meantime, Roslindale Variable Italic is the exception that makes the rule.

If you’d like to sidestep this conversation, however, while still building a Variable Font that still treats italic and angle as axes, you might also consider using a custom axis in place of the Italic axis.

Custom Axes

On the sixth day of ax-mas, we’re exploring: Cursive (CRSV), and the start of Custom axes.

In Recursive Sans & Mono, Arrow Type also offers support for both true italics and slanted romans, but avoided using the Italic axis. Instead, it uses a custom Cursive CRSV axis:

In Recursive, slant and cursive letterforms can be controlled separately. The Slant axis (slnt) defines the angle of the letters, while the Cursive axis (CRSV) lets you tweak how cursive letterforms are substituted in along slnt.

Recursive’s cursive letterforms (CRSV 1) replace familiar “roman” letterforms with cursive alternates like the single-story “a” and “g”. By default, Recursive will automatically apply these cursive alternates when setting the Slant axis (slnt) beyond -14. This allows smooth, animated transitions from normal to oblique type up to 13.99° of slope, but also a “true italic” style with cursive letterforms at 14°. It is also possible to use sloped romans (slnt -15, CRSV 0), upright italics (slnt 0, CRSV 1), or set custom values on both axes for more options to play with.

If the priority for your font is working as well as possible in all environments that support Variable Fonts today, and you want to support this same kind of italic control, I would probably follow the approach in Recursive Sans.

A Cursive CRSV custom axis—or whatever name is appropriate for your true italic design—effectively controls the switch from “true italics,” to “slanted romans.” It can behave like the interpretation of the Italic axis docs that is appropriate for your case.

Then, the Slant axis to controls the angle only. This means you won’t use the Italic axis at all—although maybe you’ll consider exporting a beta version that does, to continue the conversation that DJR and Roslindale have started.

Until next time,