Since it works with text so much, Illustrator has great OpenType support, letting you easily access every character a font has.
First, you need to open the character window. The easiest way to do that is to hit command+T or alt+t on windows then select the “Opentype” tab on the window that pops up. You can also go to Window>Type>Opentype. Let’s review what you have in the options below:
Standard ligatures - These are ones you see in most fonts, like ff ligatures.
Contextual alternates - which are used to connect letters together, like “in.”
Discretionary ligatures - less used ligatures more for added style rather than overall coherence, like st ligatures shown in the example, commonly seen in old-school serif fonts. They’re also used to connect characters, especially in script fonts.
Swashes - which are flourishes in a font used to add some spice, often at the beginning or end of words, especially in script fonts.
Stylistic Alts - which are for changing the form of an entire font, often with a double to a single story “a”, or switching out the overall look of most vowels in scripts. They can be expanded out into multiple stylistic sets.
Titling Alts - which add big swashes or a change in x-height to a character, making it stand out for titles. Following up you have a couple options for numerals, like ordinals for styling “1st” or “2nd” with superscript, and fractions which stack fractions properly.
Stylistic Sets or Stylesets These are full sets of extra characters that you can enable. They’ve become somewhat of a catch-all for special features. They are different selections of stylistic alts usually, either with multiple full character sets, or smaller changes broken out into a menu. Font makers can label each stylistic set, making it easier to tell what the stylistic set changes at a glance.
Of the rest of the buttons, there’s a “Smallcaps” button on the first row which will use OpenType characters when available, or fake them if not.
A note about Touch Type Tool: The best way to change single characters is to use the Touch Type Tool. Hit “Shift T” to bring up the touch type tool, alternatively, you can select a single character. Below the font, you’ll see alternate characters that you select. This is especially useful for swashes and other type features that you’d rather only have on select characters, not enabled for an entire section.
That gets you through the basics of OpenType. For a look at what those changes do a font, make sure you view our video above.
Updated on October 11, 2018