MeeraNew font new release 1.3

MeeraNew is the default Malayalam font for Fedora 36. I have just released a much improved version of this libre font and they are just built for Fedora 36 & rawhide; which should reach the users in a week of time. For the impatient, you may enable updates-testing repository and provide karma/feedback.

Fig. 1: MeeraNew definitive-script Malayalam font version 1.3.

Two major improvements are present in version 1.3

  1. Improved x-height to match RIT Rachana, the serif counterpart. This should improve readability at default font sizes.
  2. Large improvements to many kerning pairs including the above-base mark positioning of dotreph (0D4E) character (e.g. ൎയ്യ), ി (0D3F), ീ (0D40) vowel symbols (e.g. ന്റി), post-base symbols of Ya, Va (e.g. സ്ത്യ) etc.

The font source and OTF/TTF files can be downloaded at Rachana website or at GitLab.

Malayalam fonts: Beyond Latin font metrics

This year’s annual international conference organized by TeX Users Group — TUG2020 — was held completely online due to the raging pandemic. In TUG2020, I have presented a talk on some important Malayalam typeface design factors and considerations.

The idea and its articulation of the talk originated with K.H. Hussain, designer of well-known fonts such as Rachana, Meera, Meera Inimai, TNJoy etc. In a number of discussions that ensued, this idea was developed and later presented at TUG2020.

Opening keynote to TUG2020 was delivered by Steve Matteson, about the design of Noto fonts. He mentioned that Noto was originally envisaged to be developed as a single font containing all Unicode scripts; but that was changed due to a couple of reasons: (1) huge size of resulting font and (2) the design of many South/South-East Asian characters do not fit well within its Latin font metrics.

This second point set up the stage nicely for my talk, in which we argued that a paradigm shift from established Latin font metrics is necessary in designing and choosing font metrics for Indic scripts, in particular with Malayalam as a case study.

Indic scripts have abundant conjunct characters (basic characters combined to form a distinct shape). The same characters may join ‘horizontally’ (e.g. ത്സ/thsa) or ‘vertically/stacked’ (e.g. സ്ത/stha); and Malayalam script in particular has plenty of stacked conjuncts even in contrast with other Indic scripts. This peculiarity also makes the glyph design of fonts challenging — to balance aesthetics, legibility/readability and leading/line spacing. Specifically, following the usual x-height/cap-height/ascender/descender metrics used in Latin fonts put a lot of constraints in the design of stacked conjuncts. We propose to break away from this conventional metrics and adopt different proportions of the above- and below-base glyphs (even if they are the same characters, e.g. സ in the double conjunct സ്സ), still conforming to the aesthetics of the script yet managing the legibility and leading.

Fig. 1: Malayalam stacked conjuncts beyond conventional Latin font metrics.

Details of this study, argument and proposal can be found in the slides of the presentation available at the program details as well as the recorded talk now available on TUG YouTube channel.

TUG2020 presentation.

The conference paper, edited by Barbara Beeton and Karl Berry will be published in the next issue of TUGBoat journal.

Update Dec 2020: The conference paper is openly accessible at TUGBoat website.

Complex text shaping fixed in Konsole 20.08

Konsole was one of the few terminal emulators with proper complex text shaping support. Unfortunately, complex text (including Malayalam) shaping was broken around KDE Applications release 18.08 (see upstream bug 401094 for details).

Broken Malayalam text shaping in Konsole 20.04

Mariusz Glebocki fixed the code in January this year which I tested to work correctly. There’s a minor issue of glyphs with deep vertical components being cut-off (notice rendering of “സ്കൂ”), but otherwise the shaping and rendering is good. The patches are also merged upstream and will be part of the KDE Applications Bundle 20.08.

Proper Malayalam text shaping in Konsole 20.04 with shaping fixes.

If you don’t want to wait that long, I have made a 20.04 release with the fixes on top available for Fedora 31 & 32 in this COPR.