Adobe Launches Blank, An Open Source Fallback Font You Can’t See

Adobe today launched Adobe Blank, a new open-source OpenType font that, at first glance, does absolutely nothing. Indeed, the whole point of the font, as its creator Ken Lunde writes today, is to render every Unicode character as a “non-spacing and non-marking glyph.”

This may sound like a lame and early April Fool’s joke and even managed to inspire the only pun-thread on HackerNews in recent memory that wasn’t immediately downvoted into oblivion, but this is actually a pretty useful tool for web developers.

Lunde says there are two good reasons to use a font that nobody will ever see:

  • Invoking this font, as a temporary measure, prevents OS- or application-level font-fallback from kicking in before the intended font can be rendered.
  • Related to the above, using the font allows one to detect when a web font is actually loaded, which is arguably a hack to overcome a limitation in CSS.

The idea here is to use Blank to avoid seeing your operating system’s or browser’s default font before the actual web-font has rendered. As more designers now use non-standard fonts on their sites to differentiate them from all the other sites that also use Helvetica, it’s become increasingly common for users to see this rather jarring switch between different fonts. As the Blank font is extremely small, it loads instantly and the user never sees the default font.

Lunde’s second use case – allowing developers to detect when a web font is loaded – is definitely a bit of a hack, but Adobe itself is using this trick in its Edge Web Fonts extension for its Brackets code editor and other developers will surely find more uses for it.

The font is now available on SourceForge and will soon be on GitHub, too.