Localize Your Font: Czech and Slovak Vertical Caron

Tutorial
by Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer

28 May 2018

You have most likely seen the caron, represented in Glyphs by the caroncomb, a vital diacritic in many Central, Eastern and South Eastern European languages. There is a special vertical variant, which appears only in combination of certain letters:

Lcaron
lcaron.sc
lcaron
tcaron
dcaron

While Lcaron and lcaron only appear in Slovak, tcaron and dcaron are shared between Czech and Slovak.

All you need for building these is an alternate version of caroncomb, conveniently called caroncomb.alt. It has a default anchor called _topright which connects to topright anchors in the base glyphs L, l.sc, l, d and t. They are default anchors, and their creation can be triggered with Glyph > Set Anchors (Cmd-U). You can have a .case variant for Lcaron and a .sc variant for the smallcap lcaron.sc. Summing things up, you may need these marks in your font:

caroncomb.alt
caroncomb.alt.case
caroncomb.alt.sc

In the very, very most cases, however, you will be able to use one caroncomb.alt for both lowercase and uppercase, and even small caps.

Designing

To quote an anonymous frustrated Czech type designer, ‘The glyphs containing caroncomb.alt are often wrong. And even if designers make Lcaron right, they make a mistake in lcaron.sc.’ Let’s make his life better, shall we?

Three things to keep in mind:

  • It is usually pretty vertical, perhaps with a slight inclination to the right,
  • It sits between x-height and ascender height, and
  • It should be easy to differentiate from the quoteright, in use as apostrophe: it is pretty much always smaller, very often simpler, and often straighter.

Think of it as one wing of the normal caron, rotated vertically so it fits next to an ascender and above the crossbar of the t.

That said, in light weights, it will typically have the vertical stem thickness. In bold weights, it is usually not as fat as the vertical stems, because it would take up too much space and create a huge gap in a word.

Lcaron: The tighter the better. Peter Biľak and several other Slovak designers move the caron of Ľ little bit higher, above cap height, so it is more visible in words like SPORITEĽŇA. It is an interesting approach but you don’t have to follow it. You can also fit it snug against the cap height.

Spacing and Kerning

You have choices of employing automatic alignment:

A. The compounds inherit the width of the base glyphs as is (or only with slightly increased RSB) and all potential collisions with following glyphs are taken care of by means of kerning. This has the advantage that small lowercase letters and punctuation that does not exceed the x-height already fit nicely by default.

B. You compensate the right sidebearing with a glyph-wide incremental metrics key, e.g., =+50. You can also use a layer-specific metrics key with a double equals sign, e.g., ==+50, which only applies to the layer it is applied to. The latter is great of you need different increments on different masters. This approach has the advantage that it still works in environments that do not properly support kerning. Compared to the vertical caron crashing or disappearing into the following letter, a gap in the word is still the lesser evil. Unfortunately that still is the case with many titles in the realm of office software, e.g., Microsoft Word, which, for whatever reason, has kerning turned off by default.

C. A mixture of A and B. That will be your primary choice if the vertical caron does reach below or come too close too the x-height (often the case if you have a high x-height, e.g., in small optical sizes), and a following lowercase letter will not fit nicely next to it anymore.

Further reading

Insects Project
Common Kern Pairs
‘Háček’ at the diacritic project