24 February 2005

Of all the problems facing Japanese print production, none is more basic and troublesome than gaiji. It is an issue that has been discussed before at Fontzone, but the gaiji problem is still the reason why the Japanese DTP adoption rate has been stuck near the 50% mark since the mid 1990s.

Simply put, gaiji are characters that lay outside the boundaries of many encoding standards. They are not used in most everyday Japanese, but they are used in people and place names, literature, Buddhist texts, academic and government documents. You might ask yourself ‘so what is the big deal?’ The deal is this: when a print job needs a gaiji character not contained in a standard Japanese font, the DTP production process quickly bogs down. The required gaiji has to be added by purchasing special fonts that both the printer and designer absolutely must have, or it has to be created by hand. This is more difficult, time consuming, and expensive than you might imagine.

An experienced font designer can create a character from scratch in Illustrator that matches a regular font design in less than a working day. A less experienced designer will probably take longer, and the result will be less pleasing. After the print job is finished, the Illustrator file gets stuck on a disk somewhere to be forgotten, or lost, until the next time that character is needed, and the show starts all over again. Every Japanese printer no matter how small, has to deal with gaiji.

The first Japanese PostScript fonts that arrived in 1989 (known to as OCF fonts) had a pretty limited character set of some 8,000 glyphs and primitive typography. High end proprietary digital typesetting systems from Shaken, an industry standard, has much larger character sets and fast, excellent typography to meet the demands of high end publishing. Many customers stayed with them – the book publishing industry, for example, never bothered with clumsy DTP production.

Glyphlets are input with InDesign CS’s character pallet. In the future Japanese Mac users will be able to input glyphlets via the keyboard with a SING compatible version of Ergo Soft’s popular input module EG Bridge.

Over the years Adobe addressed the shortcoming of PostScript fonts… very slowly. It helped that in the early 1990s Apple made big noises about fixing all the problems with QuickDraw GX. A longtime Apple engineer once told me “It’s because of GX that we have OpenType.” That is a fair statement, GX lit a fire under Adobe.

Expanding character sets and adding gaiji was the first priority. The Adobe-Japan (AJ) 1-3 character set that arrived in the mid 1990s bumped the collection to 9,354. The AJ 1-4 specification for Japanese OpenType has a total of 15,444 characters and AJ 1-5, released in 2002 in response to Apple’s MacOS X extended character Hiragino Japanese fonts, has a total of 20,317. This year we have yet another new specification, AJ 1-6 which adds even more gaiji used in newspaper production.

Specifications are important and Adobe’s Ken Lunde is doing everybody a great service putting them together, however they present font vendors and customers with a big problem: what to do about the installed base. In short the issues are

  1. Should font vendors go to the expense and trouble of creating and marketing ever larger font sets?
  2. Will customers bother to upgrade their old fonts?

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Joel Breckinridge