Accessing opentype features of a font in nodebox 3

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02 Mar, 2019 04:26 PM

I am wondering if it is possible to access OpenType features in a font?
This can include contextual alternates, ligatures, stylistic sets, etc.
However, my primary question is to see if it possible to access the Font Variations axes in the (relatively) new variable font format?

  1. Support Staff 1 Posted by john on 03 Mar, 2019 02:05 AM

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    This is a very interesting question. Adding Frederik and Lucas. I imagine Frederik (the inventor of NodeBox) has some thoughts about this.

    Automatically detecting and exposing OpenType features would require some changes to base NodeBox nodes, so I believe the short answer is: not now, not yet, at least not directly.

    NodeBox does, however, give you extraordinary control over fonts if you are willing to dig in a bit. In theory you could make your own version of font variations (e.g. continuous width and weight) entirely within NodeBox. You might even be able to read in a font variation table and automatically replicate it by directly modifying the font paths. This would not be easy, but I think it would be possible even just using existing nodes.

    As a philosopher matter it's not yet clear to me how widespread fully parametrized fonts will become. It's been tried before and didn't really catch on the first time (Metafont, Multiple Master fonts. etc.). Responsive design is essential to the web and the ever expanding universe of mobile displays and might be a game-changer, but existing mechanisms seem to handle that pretty well so far. Having a family of fonts with a fixed set of weights and widths, carefully selected and designed by font experts, may produce superior results in most cases and be easier for interface designers to deal with. Sometimes too many choices can be counterproductive.

    Even so, variable fonts may well be the future of fonts. It will interesting to see if NodeBox will rise to that challenge.


  2. 2 Posted by gor on 03 Mar, 2019 04:59 AM

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    Ah I think my previous message didn't go through.

    I'm new to NodeBox so I am still trying to go through the tutorials and learn what it is capable of but have found a few font based examples, I can tell it is very powerful.

    I think one part of the challenges for variable fonts to be successful is to build the tools and interfaces which allow users to easily access the parameters and experiment. Aside from weight/width, there have been a whole new set of designs which have only just started to push the boundaries –

    Having a coding skillset is becoming increasingly more important but it comes with certain learning curves that make it difficult to bridge the gap between designers and programmer. Having had experience with visual programming using Rhino/Grasshopper3d and Max 7, I am convinced of the benefit of using this type of a node based structure in overcoming the struggle of learning code – the visualisation of how data flows makes the process much more intuitive (and fun).

    I will keep digging in NodeBox.

  3. Support Staff 3 Posted by john on 03 Mar, 2019 05:52 AM

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    I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on the intersection between coding and design. Here are two blog posts I wrote a few years back, the first on the design problem, the second on NodeBox:

    Thanks for sharing the v-fonts link. Interesting and fun. I'm curious what you will think about NodeBox coming from Rhino/Grasshopper. NodeBox is definitely simpler - completely 2D for one thing - which is both it's strength and its weakness. It has a purity much like Lisp. There are no loops and no state, that is, no global variables or way to retain information beyond each invocation of a function.

    This takes some getting used to, but has some definite advantages. Debugging is *way* easier in NodeBox than any other language I've ever worked in.

    One thing that may surprise you: there are no text objects in NodeBox. The textpath node converts strings directly to bezier paths and once converted there is no going back. Frederik has implemented text objects in NodeBox Live (his experimental web-based version) but has not as yet brought it to NodeBox 3.

    If you search for "font" on the forum you will find references to various experiments and issues around fonts and text objects. I have made animated fonts that breath in and out, and alien alphabets done my morphing letters in different ways. At the moment I'm working on a node which explodes text paths into individual lines and curves and another which can find intersections with a line crossing a complex text path.

    Good to have you aboard! I am curious to see what you might do with NodeBox once you get the hang of it.


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