X & Y Opaque – The Twelve Days of Ax‑mas

Last time, we looked at the Grade axis. I mentioned it could become a Registered Axis in the future—and in fact that has already been proposed by Type Network.

Font Bureau designed and developed Amstelvar and Roboto Flex typefaces for Google Fonts, which both have Grades as described in the Type Network proposal.

It’s not the idea of Grades themselves that is noteworthy here, though, but that Type Network suggests that it could be an axis made up of other axes.

I’ve mentioned indirectly how axes don’t work like this currently in a few past messages: when you are changing the Weight axis, you are not exclusively changing the weight of some aspects of the glyph drawing, and leaving everything else in place. Increasing the weight will likely also increase the width, partly to compensate. This is how people use and think about weight in fonts, so this is natural.

Because, what does “Changing weights,” or “Changing grades,” actually mean, in practical terms?

It might mean changing a series of interrelated qualities across glyph drawing. Changing weight might mean making the thick strokes thicker, which naturally would mean reduced counterforms, which might also mean slightly larger letterforms to balance out that 

In Type Network’s proposal, “changing the Weight axis” could actually mean something like that happens within a Variable Font, through a series of lower-level axes that changes these qualities individually. Those lower-level axes determine the appearance of the higher-level weight.

That‘s why the axes for today are:

X Opaque & Y Opaque

On the eight day of ax-mas, we’re exploring: X Opaque (XOPQ) and Y Opaque (YOPQ) axes.

X Opaque XOPQ and Y Opaque YOPQ control how thick or think the horizontal strokes are, and how thick or thin the vertical strokes are, in isolation from other qualities of the typeface.

While “Opaque” might not seem like the most obvious label, type designers working on Latin typefaces would probably think of:

  • X Opaque as the width of the stem in a capital H, and everything else that comes along with that
  • Y Opaque as the thickness of the crossbar on a capital H, and everything else that comes along with that

So, “opaque” refers to the positive forms, but without any Latin-specific, or even context-specific, terminology. The point of these axes is to be abstract, after all.

We’ll look at the counterpart axes that refer to negative space in the next message.

Until next time,