OpenType Guide

A lot of typefaces have OpenType features. But as a graphic designer, why should you use them? Because with OpenType you can work faster and easier.
I design typefaces with a lot of extra characters, like additional ligatures, oldstyle figures, small capitals, alternate characters… If you would use those special characters in your design, you don’t have to dig in the Glyphs panel to find them, but with one click you can change the characters in the whole text. The OpenType features make this changing happen. Let’s see how to use them:

Adobe InDesign

The first examples show, how can you find them in Adobe InDesign CC 2018 (Version
Scroll down for Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Publisher or Microsoft Word :)

In Indesign you find the features on the Character Panel → TopRightCorner → On the first panel you find some Feature-names, like All Caps, Small Caps, or Ligatures, but if you go further to the OpenType Panel, there are the other features. The first panel is a bit dangerous, because it makes Small Caps from your glyphs even if the font doesn’t contain any small capital glyphs. (InDesign transform your capital letters, but the shapes won’t be nice.) If it has Small Capitals, you can use the Small Caps menu on the first panel.

OpenType menu

Let’s see a concrete example: On the image below you see the OpenType features from Amen Display. It contains Standard Ligatures, Discretionary Ligatures, Fractions, Ordinals, Slashed Zero, 2 Stylistic Sets, Superscripts, and Oldstyle Figures, but no Swashes or Contextual Alternates.
If the feature name is in [Brackets] the font doesn’t have this feature.

Proportional Oldstyle

Let’s try the OpenType → Proportional Oldstyle. It will change all the default figures to oldstyle figures. This could be useful, if the defaults are lining figures, but you would use the numbers in longer text, and the default numbers pop out. If you select the whole text it will change all the numbers to oldstyle. You can apply the feature for selected characters, or the whole text-box, as well as for Character- or Paragraph Styles.

Combining features

You can apply multiple features in the same time. At the first example I changed the default figures to oldstyle, now I want to see the alternative characters for the characters 2, 5, and 7.
OpenType → Stylistic Sets → Set 2. (For the stylistic sets you can set specified names. The Set 2 could appear as «2,5,7» in the newer applications)
It will change all the 2, 5 and 7 characters to the alternative simpler version, and stay oldstyle.
This works only, if those characters have an oldstyle-alternate version.

Other softwares

Adobe Illustrator

It’s slightly different, than in InDesign. (But why?) In Illustrator CC 2018 22.0.1 on the Character Panel you will find the Small Caps, Superscript and Subscript features. But there is an extra panel, called OpenType. You can use the small icons on the bottom of the panel, or you can reach them from the menu. The available features are marked with black, the inactive ones with grey. Unfortunately they didn’t differ the available/unavailable figure sets.
In earlier versions of Illustrator (CS6 and below) there are no different Stylistic Set features, only one, called Stylistic Alternates. So you could use all the sets in the same time, but not separately. (If the type designer set the feature so. It could be different in other typefaces.)

Affinity Publisher Beta

There is a great OpenType panel in Affinity Publisher Beta (! On the Character Panel you will find the Typography section. Here you can use the features with the icons, but if you click to the … button a new Typography Panel will appear. Here you see only those features, what the font or the selected text contains. You see them in one blink, don’t have to click around to find them, and next to each feature names are small previews, how will appear the selected characters, if you apply the feature. Great!

Microsoft Word

Can I use OpenType features in Microsoft Word for Mac (Version 16.17)? Yes, you can!
In Word you find the features in: Format → Font… There are two panels: Font and Advanced. On the Font panel you can make great fake Small Caps or positional forms :) These are just effects, not using the OpenType features. Please avoid. But on the Advanced panel → Advanced Typography section are the following features: Ligatures, Number spacing, Number forms and Stylistic sets. At the Number spacing dropdown you can change between proportional and tabular figures (if the font contains), in the Number form between Oldstyle and Lining figures. You can’t use more Stylistic Sets at the same time. There is a Preview window to see what will happen, if you apply the feature.


The panels could look different in older or newer versions of the mentioned softwares.
If you have any questions, or want to see more softwares, just drop me a line. I concentrated on softwares, what graphic designers and possibly their clients use.
If you would read more about OpenType features I recommend this article on ilovetypography, or the OT User Guide from FontFont. If you are interested in creating OT features you should definitely visit Tal Leming’s great website: The OpenType Cookbook.