Kerning feature for Malayalam fonts

At SMC, we’ve been continuously working on improving the fonts for Malayalam – by updating to newer opentype standard (mlm2), adding new glyphs, supporting new Unicode points, fixing shaping issues, reducing complexity and the compiled font size, involving new contributors etc.

Recently, out of scratching my own itch, I decided that it is high time to fix the annoyance that combination of Virama(U+D04D ് ) with quote marks (‘ ” ‘ ’ “ ” etc) used to overlap into an ugly amalgam in all our fonts. Usually Virama(് ) connects/combines two consonants which makes all 3 into a new glyph – for example സ+്+ന is shaped into a new glyph സ്ന (Note that you need a traditional orthography font installed to see the distinction in this example. Many of them are available here) . The root of the problem is that sometimes when Virama(് ) appears individually in a word such as “സ്വപ്‌‌നം” it connects two consonants പ and ന, it is positioned above the x height of most glyphs and it shall not have much left and right bearing to avoid ugly spacing between the consonants പ and ന.  Because of small side bearings, in fact of the negative right bearing (് protrudes beyond the right bearing) when a quote mark follows it, quote mark gets a little juxtaposed into Virama glyph and renders rather bad. The issue is quite prominent when you professionally typeset a book or article in Malayalam using XeTeX or SILE.

Fontforge’s tools made it easy to write opentype lookup rules for horizontal pair kerning to allow more space between Virama(് ) and quote marks. You can see the before and after effect of the change with Rachana font in the screenshot.


Update 26/03/2016: Many applications already support the kerning feature out of the box, including Firefox, SILE and VLC (3.0.0-git for subtitles) that I have tested, but many still need support, for instance LibreOffice, Kwrite etc. Here is a screenshot of VLC (3.0.0-git) taking kerning rules into account while displaying Malayalam subtitle.


Other fonts like AnjaliOldLipi, Meera and Chilanka also got this feature and those will be available with the new release in the pipeline. I have plans to expand this further to use with post-base vowels of വ(്വ) and യ(്യ) with abundant stacked glyphs that Malayalam has.

SMC mentoring for GSoC 2014 too

Swathanthra Malayalam Computing is a free software collective engaged in language computing, development, localization, standardization and popularization of various Free and Open Source Softwares in Malayalam language. SMC developers have contributed to various Indian language computing efforts including fonts, spell checkers, hyphenation patterns (used by TeX, Libreoffice, Firefox), input methods etc. Last year, SMC was selected as a mentor for Google Summer of Code program and we successfully mentored 3 student projects – a web application to store and process bibliography data of books with i8n support, port SILPA into Flask application and restructure into standalone modules and Automated Shaping&Rendering testing, primarily for HarfBuzz.

Together with Santhosh, I have mentored the Automated Shaping&Rendering testing framework which we use to test Malayalam font changes against HarfBuzz. It can also be used to test Uniscribe shaping engine if compiled in Windows, or used against HarfBuzz with Uniscribe backend.

SMC is selected as an organization to mentor for GSoC again this year. If you are a student who wants to work on interesting problems, look at our project ideas. One of the problems I am particularly interested and to mentor is adding Indic shaping support to ConTeXt. Apart from the listed ideas, you can propose other ideas as well. Read the FAQ, you can reach us by mailing list or via IRC #smc-project on

smc-fonts (Meera) updated

Meera is the default font for Malayalam in Fedora. Lately, a few bugs causing wrong rendering of some complex conjuncts were identified and reported – 1, 2.  There was another bug reported in RedHat bugzilla. As Unicode 5.1 is not supported by smc-fonts, glyph Ⓡ was being displayed for Atomic Chillu letters. To make the font Unicode complying, it was suggested to remove this.

Yesterday a new release of Meera fixing all these bugs was made available by Suresh, and I’ve uploaded a new upstream source file at Savannah repository. Then the RPMs were rebuilt for rawhide, which can be found here.

And the ChangeLog reads:

* The glyphs(an R inside a circle) at unallocated Unicode code points are removed.
* Wrong glyph for 'th1s1r3u1' (ത്സ്രു) fixed.
* Breaking up of conjunct 'l3k1k1' (ല്ക്ക) fixed.
* Shaping issues for 'r3cil'+'l3l3' (ര്‍ല്ല) context fixed.

Thanks to Suresh, Ani Peter, Santhosh Thottingal and Pravin Satpute !