RIT Rachana: a classic typeface reimagined

It was around 2006 I started reading and writing Malayalam (my native language) text widely on the computer, thanks to Unicode and proliferation of Malayalam blogs. It was also at the same time that I noticed Malayalam text was not ‘shaped’ correctly in many cases on my primary operating system — GNU/Linux. A number of Unicode fonts were available under libre license, of which I liked Rachana the most.

Cut to chase: few years later, I ended up co-maintaining Rachana, trying to fix all the known bugs and succeeded to a large extent; among many other things.

In 2020, with new insights into the design metrics of Malayalam fonts, the designer of Rachana — KH Hussain redrew all the glyphs of Rachana, completely overhauled Bold variant and freshly designed Italic & BoldItalic styles. All fonts in the new typeface contain more than 1100 glyphs with entire Malayalam characters encoded in Unicode version 13.0 and all conjuncts/ligatures in the definitive character set of Malayalam traditional orthography. The Latin glyphs are adapted from TeX Gyre Schola with express permission from GUST. These make the font suitable to typeset contemporary text, novels, poetry, scholarly works, Sanskrit text, Bible, archaic books and everything in between.

Fig. 1: RIT Rachana glyph redesign samples.

Not satisfied with solutions on how to fix some remaining shaping bugs in Rachana, I have researched and ventured to try radically different approach to complex advanced text shaping rules for traditional Malayalam script fonts. Following the v2 version of Indic OpenType specification (mlm2), a completely new set of shaping rules were written from the scratch. Though it was bit of a struggle to get Uniscribe/Windows with its idiosyncrasies to shape correctly, and Adobe InDesign need this fix, it proved to be a great success. The new set of rules fix all known shaping bugs to my knowledge. The development of this shaping rule program is a blog entry for another time.

A comparison of problematic shaping combinations can be found in Fig. 2. Note that two “സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം” differ in code points in their order of “ര്യ” and “യ്ര” and their shaping should be different.

Fig. 2: RIT Rachana improved shaping of problematic conjuncts.

In the process, the build script and test cases were also written from scratch.

The result is a new font named RIT Rachana, released under libre Open Font License free to download and use by individuals, designers, organizations, institutions, government departments and media houses.

Fig. 3: RIT Rachana variants/styles.

All four variants of RIT Rachana can be downloaded from the website for desktop and web usage. If you notice any issues, report them at the source repository.

The typeface is a fruit of months of labour of many, including the designers and developers, early users and testers and feedbacks from those: especially Ashok Kumar, CVR, Sayahna typesetters and sysadmins.

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