The Concept of a Meta-Font


  • Donald E. Knuth


A single drawing of a single letter reveals only a small part of what was in the designer’s mind when that letter was drawn. But when precise instructions are given about how to make such a drawing, the intelligence of that letter can be captured in a way that permits us to obtain an infinite variety of related letters from the same specification. Instead of merely describing a single letter, such instructions explain how that letter would change its shape if other parameters of the design were changed. Thus an entire font of letters and other symbols can be specified so that each character adapts itself to varying conditions in an appropriate way. Initial experiments with a precise language for pen motions suggest strongly that the font designer of the future should not simply design isolated alphabets; the challenge will be to explain exactly how each design should adapt itself gracefully to a wide range of changes in the specification. This paper gives examples of a meta-font and explains the changeable parameters in its design.






Journal Article