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

On the ninth day of ax-mas, we’re exploring: X Transparent (XTRA) and Y Transparent (YTRA) axes.

While yesterday’s X & Y Opaque axes would let end users manipulate the positive shapes in glyph drawings, today’s axes are about controlling the negative spaces in-between them.

For me, one way to think about it is how I’d use the ruler tool while drawing a glyph: if I drag it horizontally across a capital H, I’m measuring the x-axis (in the graphing and graphic sense). The ruler will show me the width of the H stem (the idea of X Opaque), and the negative space between the stems (the idea of X Transparent).

I didn’t find “Opaque” or “Transparent” immediately obvious labels, but perhaps that is a good thing, because in an attempt to be abstract they are very related to but not quite the same as some other terms you might use to describe the drawing of a glyph.

I think you could consider:

  • Opaque as “Form,” and Transparent as “Counterform,” or
  • Opaque as “Positive Space,” and Transparent as “Negative Space” 

…which are hopefully useful to clarify what these axes are actually manipulating. But upon further reflection, I don’t think these would be improvements over the chosen names:

  • “Counterform” probably implies a more enclosed space while Transparent is more broad 
  • “Positive” and “Negative” are too well associated with numeric values, which also comes into play, and so broad that they sound like graphic coordinates rather than drawing considerations

Parametric design

I don’t think I can say much else about these axes without mentioning the term parametric.

Put together, the X Opaque XOPQ, Y Opaque YOPQ, X Transparent XTRA, and Y Transparent YTRA form what the Type Network proposal calls the primary parametric axes.

Interestingly, even thought there are at least two fonts, Amstelvar and Roboto Flex, that demonstrate how a parametric system can would in a Variable Fonts, neither one of them have the Y Transparent YTRA axis. That’s for tomorrow.

Until next time,