Accessing OpenType Features

How to Access OpenType Features

(aka, the goodies in your font!)

opentype feature fonts

I love a good feature-rich font, don’t you?

In general, once you’ve downloaded + installed your font on your machine, it should show up in any program that accesses your machine’s installed fonts, like Word, Powerpoint, or even your vinyl cutting programs. Not all of those programs are cut out for accessing OpenType Features, though.

What are OpenType features, you ask? They’re the extra goodies — swashes + flourishes, ligatures, alternate characters, and such.  Not all fonts are created equal — some fonts are more minimal in their features, and some might not have any extra goodies at all.  If you try to find goodies, and you don’t find any treasure, don’t sweat it.  It probably means that the font didn’t come with any extra bells & whistles.

Some older versions of programs you might use don’t make it easy to access OpenType features (there’s a work-around below!) but newer versions are making it a bit more easy. You’ll need to do a little bit of reading to figure it out, but once you have that info, you’ll be unstoppable!

If you’d like to watch a quick video demonstration, you can check out this YouTube video where I show you how to access OpenType features. Please be aware, this video is geared toward Mac users, but a similar process can be used for PC users.

The Easy Button

There are a few different ways to access those OpenType features.  This is the first way.  Well, first-and-a-half, and both are the easiest, least time-consuming methods, but they require special software that is OpenType friendly.

The first way is the easiest way, using Adobe CC products, like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop. Please note that older versions of the program may not have these capabilities like the most recent, up-to-date versions. In Illustrator or Photoshop, you can easily bring up the Glyphs panel by going to Window > Glyphs. The font’s full character set will display, and you can scroll/select the character you need!  A simple double-click with your Type Tool selected will insert the character into the box.

A second, slightly easier way — as long as the designer has programmed it this way — is to use your Type Tool, type out what you need it to say, and then use your cursor to highlight the individual characters. The options for the character should pop up in a box, making it easy to select. See?! One and a half ways 🙂  Check out the highlight + select option below!

The LESS Easy Button

(but still not too difficult)

The second way is a bit more tedious, but provides a work-around for anyone needing to access those special characters.  I program my fonts to be PUA-encoded, which means that all of the extra characters will show up in the Private Use Area (PUA) of a character map, annotated with a unicode of “EXXX” where the Xs are numbers assigned to any individual glyph. 

Mac users can use FontBook for this, and PC users can use the standard Character Map that comes on your Windows machine.  You’ll simply need to scroll through the characters, locate the one you’d like to use, and then copy/paste it into the program you’re working in! 

In FontBook, you’ll need to ensure you have Repertoire View turned on — you can find that by going to View > Repertoire.

In Character Map, with the appropriate font selected, make sure you click Advanced View.  Make sure the spot that says Group by has Unicode Subrange selected.  Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Group by window.  You can then group by Private Use Characters.

All of those special goodies should show up for you right there — then, you can copy/paste to your heart’s content!

Pro Tip: If you’re trying to use OpenType features on your iPad or iPhone, you can download the paid app Unicode Character Viewer. The app is .99 cents, and will allow you to look up fonts installed on your device, copy the glyph you’d like to use, and then paste the glyph into the program of your choice, like Design Space or Procreate.

Bonus Suggestion


As I mentioned in my post about how to install fonts, OpenType fonts are sorta the new kids on the block.  Since these feature-rich fonts are on the rise, other programs that access your computer’s installed fonts need to keep up.  Some newer versions of software, like Word or Pages, do have options to make finding + using those awesome goodies a bit easier.  If the software you’re using is relatively new, I would suggest Googling that software + version, along with accessing OpenType features.  You might just find a set of instructions floating around there that makes it even easier than the hunt for the perfect alternate through FontBook or Character Map.

If you want to check out Resfeber Script, shown in this post, you can find that here, along with a ton of other commercial use fonts!

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