There are many options in layout programs, and I'm not clear on which options are part of the font file and which are things the layout program does for me.

For example, I'm fairly sure that both bold and italics are additional fonts that are part of a font family, because when downloading fonts, I've seen separate files for italics and bold. I've also read that if a font family lacks an italics variant, many programs will "fudge" it by slanting all the characters.

There are many other things about typography that I don't know who (the font or the layout software) is deciding. Here are a few examples:

  • letter spacing
  • word spacing
  • kerned pairs
  • small caps
  • lining and old style figures
  • tabular and proportional figures

There are probably more that I don't know to ask about.

So what what typographic properties are determined by a font choice and what are strictly determined by the layout program?

  • 1
    Note that the faux italic and bold variants are to be avoided. Mostly it is added to software like word where every font has to have bold and italic due to design of the GUI. In a way it makes no sense since many fonts have such variants as semi bold and light as well and there is no gui element for that in word.
    – joojaa
    Aug 10, 2016 at 13:14
  • @joojaa Are there simple ways to tell if a bold or italic is the faux version or not? In the past, I typed a lower case f and compared the regular and italics versions, since that character usually looks very different in true italics. Is that really a good test? Is there a similar test for bold variants? Aug 10, 2016 at 13:27
  • @Scribblemacher: You might ask separate questions for that.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 10, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft asked here Aug 10, 2016 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


As a rule of thumb, everything that cannot be automatized in a straightforward manner can be determined by the font. The main exception to this are aspects that depend on a continuous variable, such as the kerning when the letter spacing is increased. However, not all fonts specify everything they can, and the absence of such specifications is a hallmark of low-quality fonts, if they make sense for the font in question.

More specifically:

  • The default letter and word spacing is defined by the font, however, for they can be adjusted by the typesetting program usually on basis of the default value, e.g., for justified text. The same goes for line spacing.
  • Kerned pairs are defined in the font.
  • Italic, boldface, small caps, super- and subscript characters can be individually defined by the font. In current font standards, italic and boldface are realised as separate fonts, while everything else is assessed through OpenType features (or similar). At times small caps are provided as a separate font as a fallback measure when OpenType is not supported.
  • Lining and old-style, tabular and proportional figures can be defined by the font and can be assessed via OpenType. Any number style can be chosen as a default by the type designer.
  • Hinting information from instructions to bitmap hints can be defined in the font, but not every rendering software honours these specifications.

For an exhaustive list (but not complete) list, take a look at a list of OpenType features.

  • Except color... Or alpha channel... Wait those are coming to fonts again after 15 years of being deleted form them.
    – joojaa
    Aug 10, 2016 at 13:15
  • @joojaa: Colour fonts are complicated beasts, which I fortunately never had to worry about. Also, I do not use Emoji. So I do not feel qualified to say anything about them.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 10, 2016 at 13:19
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    Is there a way to "inspect" a font to know what information is and is not specified? Is this something you can determined from a a layout program like InDesign? Aug 10, 2016 at 13:30
  • Regarding figures, are number styles specifically different glyphs (meaning a lining vs old style "9" would be two different characters in the Windows Character Map)? Aug 10, 2016 at 13:31
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    @Scribblemacher: I am not certain about the Windows Character Map, but when I last saw the thing a decade ago, it only showed glyphs that were assigned to character points in some encoding (typically Unicode, as it aspires to include all other encodings in terms of backwards compatibility). As there are no special Unicode characters for old-style numbers, there is no guarantee that you will find them there if they exist (though most font designers put such glyphs into the private-use areas for backwards compatibility).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 10, 2016 at 14:02

I know this is an old question, but for anyone searching for such answers, there are simple utility font viewers that will show you what is and is not part of your font files. Easiest way to know what you have.

  • Can you provide examples of such font viewers? I haven't seen, for example, a font viewer for Linux that can do these things. Aug 25, 2016 at 11:22
  • I use Fontmatrix and FontManager. They are called font managers, but as far as I can tell, and as I use them, they are Linux font viewers with other capabilities built in.
    – CeeGee
    Aug 25, 2016 at 18:57
  • On a Mac, TextEdit and Pages built-in typography console let you play with all major font settings. One thing nobody has mentioned yet is that sometimes seriously pro font files have "all-caps" punctuation that's slightly higher to match all-caps text. Some also have numbers at small-cap height (not text figures, which go up and down above x-height).
    – Copilot
    Oct 1, 2017 at 23:16

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