February 04, 2015
In the territory of Russia, there are more than 70 actively used languages based on the Cyrillic alphabet. And it is precisely this writing system that serves as a uniting and identifying factor that enables us to perceive ourselves as the united people of a united country. Currently, the Russian Federation is establishing and regulating the use of national languages and developing and adopting regional laws on languages, and it is inevitable that this process should be accompanied by the appearance of publicly available national fonts of professional quality. Generally, local laws on language stipulate that text and inscriptions should be in two languages, one of which should be the national one, on official documents, road, and other signs, etc. In addition, whether there is a law or not, there must be literature in the national language: textbooks and dictionaries in particular. Therefore, the nationwide font must be multilingual, i.e., it should support character sets of national alphabets and be commonly available. The fonts considered commonly available are those that are either supplied with operating systems or are available to download from the Internet. Even though commonly available fonts are preferable for internal paperwork, book printing, and presses, they are actually not that essential: after all, both state institutions and private companies can afford to purchase commercial fonts for a few thousand rubles, whereas federal electronic documentation and the development of national web resources is impossible without a universal commonly available set of fonts. Even if an author uses some legal fonts for the design of his website, these fonts also need to be installed on the computers of visitors to the website. Otherwise, they will either see a different layout or will not be able to read the text at all. This is precisely why the government ordered the development of a set of nationwide open license fonts which support all the majority languages of Russian Federation subjects. These considerations, coupled with the desire to design a font that is multipurpose, has a modern design, conforms with the notion of an orthographically sound Cyrillic font, and which does not cause irritation to domestic users and may serve as a template for western designers, lay at the heart of designing the PT Sans and PT Serif fonts, which were created by the ParaType company with the financial support of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media.
Structure, composition, and purpose of PT Sans, PT Serif, and PT Mono
PT Sans type family consists of eight styles. A typical type family includes four basic styles of classical proportions in regular and bold weights and both upright and italic: PT Sans Regular, PT Sans Bold, PT Sans Italic, and PT Sans Bold Italic. These basic styles are designed for typography of various documents, both in hard and soft copies.
These styles apply to formal and business correspondence, normative and technical documentation, general-purpose periodicals, etc. Two special styles of extended proportions of PT Sans Caption Regular and PT Sans Caption Bold are designed for using small-size text, i.e., for footnotes, boxes, and notes for the main text. Also, these styles will look very professional on websites, especially when creating lists where a large number of short lines are required. These styles will be used, probably above all, on road signs, general signage, hoardings, and other communication design objects in the urban environment. Owing to the extended typeface area, these styles have increased readability when viewed from an acute angle or from a long distance, in low-light conditions, in fog, on luminescent and reflective signs, with backlighting, etc. Two auxiliary condensed styles, PT Sans Narrow Regular and PT Sans Narrow Bold, are intended first and foremost for economy of typesetting, i.e., when it is needed to fit a large amount of text into the limited space of a printed page. Relatively low condensing (by about 20%) significantly saves space without greatly reducing legibility, and holds the promise of ingredients on food packaging, leaflets for medical products, and the small print in insurance contracts, where narrow types are traditionally used, still being legible.
Released 2009–2011, PT Sans, PT Serif, and PT Mono type families turned out to be so popular that it was decided that several expert fonts should be created, and their character sets expanded. The first one in the list is PT Sans Expert, which is based on the regular PT Sans font (version 2.005) with an expanded character set. The following Unicode pages are completed in the first version of PT Sans Expert:
— Basic Latin
— Latin-1 Supplement
— Latin Extended-A
— Latin Extended-B
— Latin Extended Additional
— Greek (in Greek Monotonic part)
The font has been expanded with superior figures, inferior figures, superscripts, subscripts, additional fractions, and some other characters. This version has been updated with an expanded Cyrillic font. The expert font now supports not only the majority languages of the Russian Federation but also a number of other languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. For now, this is a complete version.
The PT Serif type family consists of six styles.PT Serif Regular, PT Serif Bold, PT Serif Italic, and PT Serif Bold Italic are the four basic styles that can be successfully used in designing documents, just like basic styles of the PT Sans font. Besides that, these four basic styles are a perfect choice for fiction and non-fiction, illustrated magazines, newspapers, religious texts, and other texts where using sans-serif fonts is inappropriate for cultural or aesthetic reasons.
The type family also includes two styles with extended proportions. These styles are used for small-size characters of the PT Serif Caption Regular and PT Serif Caption Italic fonts, but here they are represented as upright and italic styles, which mainly suit those publications that use Antiqua fonts. The development of small-size styles required significant changes in the basic design; thus, a new design with features of a slab serif font emerged. One of the important user characteristics of both type families is the high quality of text displayed on low-resolution raster output devices, especially computer screens. This becomes crucial, given the development of technology for direct access to information resources from state programs such as E-Russia, e-government, etc. This ergonomic requirement, in addition to specific technical limitations to the design of the character contour, entailed much manual work in presenting the pixelated font in a wide range of sizes. Thus, the fonts are designed both for printing needs and for intensive paperless use not only on computer screens but also on digital signage, interactive information kiosks, the interfaces of portable communication devices, the small screens of household appliances, etc.
PT Serif Expert is the second in the range of expert fonts designed not only for common usage but also for analysis. Similar to the most recent version of PT Sans Expert, the font has been expanded in terms of its character set to full Latin blocks (Latin Extended-A, Extended-B, and Extended Additional), a basic Cyrillic block, and a partial Greek block (Greek Monotonic).
The PT Mono type family is designed primarily for official requirements like records, tables, application forms, stationery, etc.
The font’s monospaced characters greatly simplify the formatting of documents with complex structures, enable the sizes of input fields to be calculated, and help to align the columns in tables. One important use of the PT Mono font is on e-government websites, where various request forms are required to be filled out.
Character Sets Used by the Fonts
Each style has about 700 characters. Besides a standard set for Western and Eastern European languages, the fonts include a standard Cyrillic character set, as well as alphabetic characters for the majority state languages of the Russian Federation, which makes them a unique and extremely important tool for developing and preserving the written culture of the peoples who inhabit our country. A free commonly available font with full support for national scripts not only allows the needs of education, culture, the press, state institutions, and business to be met, but also, more importantly, enables the residents of national republics to communicate by e-mail in their native language and develop their national resources on the Internet. A single font for all the country’s national languages is an important factor in interethnic communication based on a common standard, both in terms of the coding and designing of characters common to languages and dialects that are similar in nature. This helps to avoid neighboring cultures becoming isolated and ethnic separatism developing: something which can happen so easily for often quite insignificant reasons such as differences in the customs of writing common letters. In addition to purely artistic problems, the process of designing national fonts has political angles in both relationships between neighbors as well as in relationships between the republics and the Center: something which had to be taken into consideration. The design of certain national symbols involves numerous problems in that the alphabets were designed in haste in Moscow in the late ‘30s in a centrally-controlled way without the engagement of any professional font designers. Not only were there simply no local designers, but any designers at all. Nevertheless, these scripts have existed for more than 70 years, and there are local typographic practices that at least deserve to be respected. In order to avoid aggravating these problems, during the work on the font design, requests to the cultural institutions of the republics were sent, and contacts with organizations that showed an interest in participating in the project were established. Specialists in graphic linguistics at the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences were invited to work as experts. They helped to develop a character set and prepare a special website section with information about national written language.
The Paratype team did great work on this project and not only developed a functionally sound set of fonts with a beautiful modern design but also spent a considerable amount of resources on its technical and linguistic preparation. With all of this in mind, the font has been released with an open license meaning it can be used for free without restriction, for any purpose.
The idea of creating a free font for all the peoples and nationalities of Russia emerged a long time ago and was discussed on many occasions. We believed that such a font is essential to the development of modern society and that the right to the font should be constitutionally mandated. Indeed, the government spends money on promoting literacy among the people and then gives vendors of operating systems and software complete control over the font. The vendors supply the fonts as part of their products, and these fonts de facto become the standard, insofar as the purchase them along with their computers. The majority of people do not care, and nor should they, who made these fonts and what licensing restrictions they have. It is naive to assume that everyone reads the licenses’ legal content.
Along with restrictions on their use, the Cyrillic character set these Western fonts have is usually not very good from a design point of view: although they are suitable for a computer screen, they are often completely unsuitable when it comes to typography, communication design, and other everyday needs.
Considering all of the above, we have created a list of requirements for the next font.
— It should be distributed for free, have a simple and unambiguous license, and, if possible, have no restrictions in use.
— It should support as many languages as possible.
— It should be made by a competent professional native designer.
— It should be functionally suitable for a wide range of uses.
— It should be technically well executed so that it is equal in quality with the best fonts from the leading companies.
— Its design should be funded by the government.
The last requirement is of particular importance to us, and not only because we would not have enough funds ourselves for such a large-scale project. We wanted to set a precedent because it was not about some exclusive fonts that would be used for achieving professional or business goals. This font aims to meet the basic needs of citizens: educational, social and domestic, cultural, etc., i.e., all that is directly related to the government sector.
We could meet all but the last requirement, and only a slight problem remained: convincing the government to fund the design work. This may come across as crazy to many these days, but I did not doubt that the authorities would understand and support our initiative. And such was the case. In early 2008, the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications (Rospechat) held a round table dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Russian typeface, where we proposed this project; and it was instantly met with eager approval. We planned the work itself for 2009, which gave us an opportunity to discuss, prepare, and plan all the project stages.
Fortunately enough, the lead project designer was chosen very quickly, which was unexpected. While the company management was considering to whom they could assign this important state project, our art director Vladimir Efimov took the initiative with his usual determination: one day, he announced that he had talked to Alexandra Korolkova, that her project was interesting, and that she even prepared some sketches. Everybody liked the sketches, and the question was settled. In 2009, the real work of discussing the type-family composition and the starting of a more detailed design began. The first files appeared in the early summer when the contract with the government had been signed. Further work was carried out on a very tight schedule. Alexandra was assisted by Olga Umpeleva. One of the unique aspects of this work was that the designers were seeing many of the characters for the first time, and Vladimir Efimov’s expertise was very valuable here, because he had the experience of designing characters for completely different scripts, from Devanagari to Coptic writing; and he was an indisputable authority in the area of the national Cyrillic alphabet. Concurrently with the design work, Sergey Bolotov was doing a vast amount of work: he was conducting lexicographic research on languages with a recently acquired writing system and overwhelmed us with information on exotic variants of national characters that had been encountered in different written sources over the years. Gennady Fridman and Boris Levin helped Sergey and Vladimir to understand, process, and filter the entire volume of data and to develop a character-set standard. At the same time, Gennady created pages with information about national alphabets on our website. We sent the links to interested parties from different republics and regions, including language institutes and local government committees on culture and writing, engaging them in discussions related to their linguistic issues. All the correspondence and interaction with the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications (Rospechat) was handled by Sergey Bobryshev. As soon as the typefaces were ready, they were given to the production department for processing in order to optimize their rasterization on monitor screens. It takes a trained specialist about a month to process a font with 700 characters. From the middle of October, four, and sometimes even five, people were involved in this work. The specialists had to review all the font characters coming in 48 sizes, and manually correct all of the areas where pixels stuck to each other, symmetry was broken, and other faults could be seen. All of this had to be done for three rendering modes: Black-and-White, Grayscale Smoothing, and ClearType. Meanwhile, Konstantin Kunarev was occupied with programming features, processing kern classes, and writing macros intended to simplify repetitive operations. On December 25, the release candidate versions were built.
We believe that our license document is short, simple, and clear. It essentially stipulates that the fonts can be used for any purpose except fraud. Since the fonts are free, they cannot be sold on. If they are supplied with a commercial product with a price tag, then the price of the product should not be increased on account of these fonts being included, i.e., the user should know that the product contains free fonts that did not lead to the price being increased.
Also, we do not want to shift responsibility for our font onto anyone else; so, we prohibit using the original names “PT Sans”, “PT Serif” and “PT Mono” in the names of modified versions without our special permission. Users can rest assured that by installing PT Sans, PT Serif or PT Mono, they are acquiring a font that has passed our quality-control check and that any complaints regarding it can be directed to us. You can make your own versions, add whatever you want, for example, Occidental or Greek fonts, but call them something else.
Typically, there is a basic license for a product, and there are translations of the license. The latter often are intended for information purposes only and are not official licenses. The same is with the license for PT Sans, PT Serif, or PT Mono: the official document is in Russian, and the English translation serves as a reference.
However, there is a finer point. We have received requests to include PT Sans, PT Serif, or PT Mono in various Linux versions and other products distributed under an open license. For such products, the inclusion of an official English license is essential; and we are often asked to have our license correspond word for word with the Open Font License (OFL). We are ready to provide a version of the font with the OFL upon request. This version of the font file will contain a link not to our license but to the SIL website with the official OFL.
Besides, this font will probably be distributed with other licenses as well. For example, if it is distributed with Windows, it will have the license that also applies to other fonts supplied with the system. Therefore, do not be surprised if there are various licenses for PT Sans, PT Serif, or PT Mono. These do not limit but extend the possibilities for using the font.
Free fonts produced using taxpayers’ money should protect the basic needs and constitutional rights of citizens, for example, the right to use their native language in everyday life. From this point of view, enabling support in such fonts for Esperanto or languages of neighboring countries, such as Kazakhstan or Tajikistan, is not justifiable. Although there are more of such people living with us than there are Yukagirs, we do not have civic obligations, social responsibility, or items in the budget for the development of state languages of other countries. This is why we decided to enhance the PT Sans project with PT Sans Pro and PT Serif Pro, which are commercial versions for professional use.
PT Sans Pro is a comprehensive type family intended for a wide range of uses. It consists of 32 styles: 12 styles (6 upright and 6 italic) with standard proportions, 6 narrow styles, 6 condensed styles, 6 extra-condensed styles, and 2 caption styles with extended proportions. The design combines a traditional conservative appearance with modern trends of humanistic sans serif and provides enhanced legibility, especially in caption styles. Along with their conventional use in business documents and various printed publications, these features made the fonts suitable for use for signage, timetables, screens at information kiosks, and other navigational aids in the urban environment. The fonts have extended Latin and Cyrillic character sets encompassing the alphabets of the majority languages of the Russian Federation and supporting most of the languages of the neighboring countries whose alphabets are either Cyrillic or Latin. Each font contains about 1,400 characters including small caps for all the alphabetic characters, several sets of regular and minuscule numbers, indices, fractions, and so on.
PT Serif Pro is an Antiqua type family to be used in combination with the gothic PT Sans Pro family. The PT Serif Pro font matches PT Sans Pro in metrics, proportions, weights, and design and consists of 38 styles. 6 styles with various weights (from light to black) with corresponding italics have normal proportions. In addition to these, 12 weights of narrow proportions and 12 weights of extended proportions have been developed as well as 2 caption styles (regular and italic) with extended proportions for texts of small-point sizes. The type design is distinguishable by a large x-height, modest stroke contrast, robust slightly convex wedge-like serifs, and triangular terminals. Owing to these features, the font keeps up with the modern trends of type design and provides enhanced legibility. Along with the conventional use in business documentation and various printed publications, these features make the fonts quite suitable for use in advertising and printing work. In addition to standard Latin and Cyrillic character sets, each style contains alphabet glyphs of the majority languages of the Russian Federation and supports most of the languages of the neighboring countries that base their alphabets on Cyrillic and Latin characters.