Google proposes spec for colour image glyphs in OpenType fonts

If the one thing you think’s been missing from the web is fonts that enable you to easily embed colourful smiling faces and pixelated hamburgers, Google’s latest typography announcement is for you.

On the Google Open Source blog, Behdad Esfahbod and Stuart Gill of Google's font and text team state that people love using Emoji to communicate and, rather than texting ‘How about going for a burger and beer at 7pm’, it’s “much more fun” to send a picture of a burger, a beer, a clock set to 7 o’clock and a colourful question mark.

Google will release its work as an open standard and has added support for it to FreeType. “We want to make colour Emoji available in an open and free way anywhere that you use text,” said Esfahbod and Gill, noting that until now, the use of colour glyphs has been reliant on “systems doing special text processing and inserting images into the text or by using closed proprietary font formats”.

These approaches have limitations, they said, in making it “difficult for developers to support colour text in their applications," adding it was "impossible for users to change the images used for the characters".

Responses directly on the Google article weren’t very positive. One commenter, ‘Robert’, grumbled that Google was using the term ‘open standard’ regarding something it had worked on in secret and then announced, ignoring existing ongoing public work and Firefox's experimentation in this area. Another comment from ‘nemo2000’ said “stuffing coloured bitmaps into an OTF wrapper does nothing for typography,” and asked how the glyphs would be reproduced in print or on higher-resolution devices.

Speaking to .net, creative director of Adobe Typekit Elliot Jay Stocks was in two minds about the announcement, but thought it could lead to better things. “I’m not sure coloured fonts with extruded plastic graphics built into them are a good thing for typography,” he said, “but the evolution of open standards and technology-pushing experimentation is definitely a good thing and I'm sure positive developments will come from experiments like this”.