Variable fonts, simplified.

The basics of variable fonts for brands and creatives.

Helvetica® Now Variable.

KMS x Variable fonts.

Leading brand consultancy KMS recently deployed our newest Variable release, Helvetica Now Variable, in a redesign of its website.

The verdict? It's “a new and powerful instrument for creating on-brand touchpoints. This will definitely change the role typography can play in design systems."

 

As a technology-driven design firm, adopting disruptive technologies is a part of our DNA. From virtual and augmented reality to parametric modelling to robotic process automation and more, we see the adoption of Variable fonts – itself a disruptor – as no less an opportunity to enhance, differentiate, and digitally optimize IBI Group’s brand identity.

Robyn Gillrie, Manager, Brand & Creative Strategy, IBI Group

Variable in the real world.

How do I follow my brand guidelines when a Variable font includes so many more options than a traditional font?

You can use a Variable font in exactly the same way as a traditional font. Variable fonts offer a whole range of styles that are measured like coordinates on a graph, but the fonts contain pre-selected coordinates that are named just like traditional fonts—Regular, Bold, etc. 

You have two options for using a Variable font in a design program: You can choose a ‘bookmarked’ style from the font style menu, just like your other fonts; or you can dial in any coordinate you want, usually with a slider bar.

So if your brand guidelines call for Helvetica Now Regular, it’s there. But if you want to tweak the width of it slightly, you can do that too

What about the cost? Aren’t I buying a ton of weights and styles I don’t need right now?

Possibly! But the operative word here is “right now.” 

A Variable font is a full palette of expression. It includes the specific weights and styles you need right now and gives your brand flexibility to evolve and experiment in the future. For brands who truly only need a single weight of a typeface, Variable may not make sense. But for brands using multiple weights of a typeface or hoping to expand their use of a particular font family, Variable offers incredible benefits over purchasing static fonts one at a time.

Can I subset a Variable font to reduce the file size?

Absolutely. Variable fonts do include a lot and therefore the file is larger than an single static font file would be. If you purchase a Variable font from Monotype, we can work with you to subset the file to your specific needs.

But if Variable files are bigger, how can they improve page load times?

It’s true that a Variable file is bigger than a single static font file. However, a variable font is typically smaller than two or three static font files. So, if your website uses multiple fonts and therefore has to download multiple font files, switching to a Variable font will result in faster load times and better performance. 

In terms of sheer size, a Variable font is typically a fraction of the size of the static fonts it would replace. For example, each Helvetica Now Variable desktop font file is about 12.5% of the size of its 72 input static fonts.

Will Variable fonts work in all browsers, email clients, and other customer touchpoints?

Yes, and Variable is well on its way to becoming the industry standard. All major web browsers now support variable fonts, Apple now ships their system fonts as a variable, Microsoft is planning major updates to its Office suite to support variable fonts, and more and more Adobe apps are integrating Variable support. 

Variable is here and it’s here to stay.