Sorry for being so political here, but: color fonts are beautiful.
Back in 2014, Roel Nieskens wrote a blog post called Colorful typography on the web where he argued that web typography would soon get much more interesting with a whole new font format: color fonts. Back then we couldn’t change parts of a font or highlight one part of a letter in a specific color and so a few formats popped up to solve that problem, all of them described as “color fonts” though.
colors.wtf has a few great examples about what might be possible here…
What if I want to change that purple part of the H to red or green? Or maybe I want to change the top part of that A to yellow? Before color fonts our only option was to make an SVG or PNG or whatever and slap that on our websites and so we resorted to almost-kinda-hacks like adding text shadows with CSS. But that was always limited. What if we could do all this with the font itself then? That was the idea behind color fonts: give us designers more options when it comes to customizing the letters and make sure that when we want elaborate typography then we can still send semantic HTML over the wire to our readers.
Yet since Roel’s post I haven’t seen any color fonts in the wild. Which leads me to wonder every few months if color fonts are dead in the water or we’re just waiting for…something. Am I missing anything here? What happened to the format? Are we still on the OpenType-SVG fonts bandwagon? Or have we ditched it for a fancy new format that slipped by? Eventually I’ll throw my hands up in the air and announce the death of color fonts and then, suddenly, something like Nabla by Typearture will light on up my radar…
Yes! This typeface reminds me just how brilliant these color fonts are and how much brighter and more beautiful the web would be with them. From this page though it looks like the COLRv1 format is the new hotness?
COLR fonts combines the best of both worlds: These fonts can be variable, and their colors can be adjusted, while it allows many more visual techniques and effects compared to the old COLRv0 specification.
Dang, that sounds fantastic! You can use this format today although both Safari and Firefox are laggards when it comes to supporting v1 of the COLR format. And maybe I’m just real behind on things here (when it comes to web standards things are always more complicated than you assume) but regardless of whatever color font format we ultimately choose, it’s about time to properly revive them and give them the attention they deserve.
Look at all the ways we can customize this thing! With just a few lines of CSS you can crack open Nabla and mess around with it in any which way.
Although, there’s probably a million problems with color fonts that I’m glossing over here. Like, is there enough demand? I assume making these variable color fonts is expensive and time consuming for type designers. And then which color font format do you support? COLR? OpenType-SVG? Or just wait for some new and future thing like COLR v2? Then there’s the fact that most web designers likely don’t know that color fonts even exist so there’s a big educational divide here. It’s sort of funny and sad that the website for this typeface can’t just be a type specimen but also describe what the heck this font format even is.
But regardless of these difficulties/shortcomings, I think that color fonts are worth the effort to bring back from the dead. They are extremely weird and give designers even more control over the letters they adorn their websites with. But we should also revive color fonts because the web deserves to be as beautiful as we can make it.
And color fonts help us do that proudly.
See you in hell,