Today, we’re talking shop, Microsoft Word style! Specifically, how to turn Opentype features on & off within the advanced menu options.

What are Opentype features and why should you care about them? Well, these are little bits of code (sometimes big bits!) that tell your software to do certain actions like inserting swashes, substituting alternate letters, and enabling connected letter pairs called ‘ligatures’. Basically, this code takes a standard alphabet and makes it do amazing things for you!

You see, font designers don’t just create letters – they actually program those letters to respond to your commands. The complicated swapping happens behind the scenes; all you have to do is click a few buttons and your program will take care of the rest. Talk about power, right? For whatever reason, though, some programs **cough cough, Microsoft Word** assume that you would rather not take over the world with swashed and flourished documents. So they hide these buttons deep inside advanced option menus, or worse still, pretend like fancy font code doesn’t exist. And that’s a shame, because almost every Opentype font has this cool code stuff built right in.

So, how do we start switching these cool features on? The first step is to make sure you’re running up-to-date software. Microsoft started offering fancy Opentype feature support in Word 2010, so if you’re using an earlier copy, you’ll need to upgrade. Once that’s done, simply open up the program and start a blank document. (In this tutorial, I am using Word 2011 for Mac. The menus and options look similar in newer versions, but you can always refer to Microsoft Office’s support page for instructions specific to your software.)

On the main menu, click the ‘Format’ option and select ‘Font’ from the drop-down menu. This will pull up a dialogue box with two tabs, ‘Font’ and ‘Advanced’. First, we’ll make sure our ‘Font’ settings are correct.

In this example, we’ll select the font, Ondise. Choose the style you prefer (Ondise looks best as ‘regular’) and the letter size. We’ll leave the rest of the options set to default/blank. Notice that the preview window at the bottom of this dialogue box is ‘live’ – the name of the font will grow or shrink based on the letter size you select. This is exactly how the letters will appear in your document.

Now, let’s click on the ‘Advanced’ tab. This is where the Opentype magic happens! The first thing you should do is set your character scale to 100%, and make sure that the ‘Kerning for fonts:’ button is checked. Set the number in the box next door to the smallest number possible (usually 8). This means kerning will be applied anytime you’re using a point size of 8 or above. If you set this number to 12, kerning will not be applied to words that are point size 11 or smaller.

You may be wondering, what the heck is kerning? Very simply, it’s the spacing between two specific letters. Font designers spend a ridiculous amount of time going through every possible combination of characters in the font to make sure that your words look balanced and beautiful, and are easy to read. There are literally thousands of combinations that must be set by hand, and if you’re making a hand-drawn font, this process can take months to complete. (Kerning = love!) When a font is properly kerned, your words will look amazing – so make sure you’ve got that button checked.

You may also be wondering, if kerning is so magical and important for pretty words, and if the whole point of a word processor is to assemble pretty words into functional documents, why on earth would Microsoft keep this option turned off by default? Yeah. Type designers wonder about that too.

Next, we’re going to start enabling the ‘ligatures’ feature. As I mentioned earlier, ‘ligature’ is a fancy way of describing letter combinations. Usually this refers to a pair, but sometimes there are multi-letter ligatures like ‘ffi’. Almost every font comes with standard ligatures – most also have discretionary ligatures built in. A smaller subset of fonts have contextual and historical ligatures. In this example, we will set ligatures to ‘All’, but feel free to experiment with other fonts to see how turning various ligatures combos on or off affects the document.

Number spacing is the next option. If you’re working with lots of numbers in a chart or table, you will probably want to select ‘Tabular’. Tabular numbers have the exact same width as one another so that they line up perfectly in vertical column. Proportional numbers are more visually pleasing, and work well for dates or phone numbers. You can see examples of both in use at In this example, we’ll leave this option set to ‘Default’.

Number forms is the next option, and as you might imagine, it only affects numbers in your project. Lining and Old-style are two different ways of arranging numbers on a baseline. When you’ve selected ‘Lining’, your numbers will appear in a straight row, with the tops & bottoms of each number lining up exactly. Old-style numbers look a little more irregular; some letters dip down below others, and others even change shape. Look at the difference in the zeros above – do you see how the Old-style version is smaller and rounded? Try toggling between these options and seeing how the numbers in your project change. Which version do you prefer?

And now, a word about Stylistic Sets. The most common question I am asked is, “How do I get those pretty swashed letters in my document?!” The short answer is, Stylistic Sets. Here’s the long explanation:

Many kinds of Opentype features are recognized by professional design applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. The most common (and fun!) feature that people are looking for in a font is the ‘Swash’ feature. If you’re using one of the programs mentioned above, you can easily access Ondise’s swashes in the program’s Opentype menu. Yay! Unfortunately, Microsoft Word doesn’t support the ‘Swash’ feature yet. Boo!

Luckily for us, font-designers get around this problem with Stylistic Sets. Think of these numbered sets as back doors – designers often duplicate “unsupported-in-Word” features into them. In Ondise, for example, you can enable the beautiful swashed letters at the beginning and end of each word by selecting ‘1’ from the drop down menu. Make sure to experiment with these sets to see what features they unlock; you might be surprised at all of the beautiful characters that were hiding behind the curtains!

Notice how the preview changed after we selected Stylistic Set 1? That shows that the swashed letters are now enabled. When you type within your document, anytime you put a space or punctuation before/after a letter, it will automatically flourish itself as you type. Nifty, huh?

Before you close this dialogue box, make sure to check ‘Use contextual alternates’ and ‘Enable TrueType typography features’. The contextual alternates feature tells the program to look for and make changes to specific letter combinations. When this option is checked while using Ondise, you’ll see that the second letter in an identical-letter pair will automatically change into an alternate form. So the identical o’s in soon will suddenly connect in a more natural way, and will appear to be hand-drawn.

Once you’ve made sure all of your options match those of this tutorial, click OK to go back to your document.

Voila!!! All of your fancy Opentype settings will now be in use and you can impress your friends & family with your mad font skillz. One quick note – even after you’ve made all of these changes, Word still thinks it’s smarter than you. Any auto-correct functions (capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, automatic carriage returns, etc.) will override the font’s Opentype code. You’ll need to turn all of the functions off within the Options/Preferences panels before you have 100% control over your project. (And when you do, it will feel so good.)

At some point, the wizards over at Slytherin Microsoft will catch up with the demand for one-click Opentype options & full feature support. In the meantime, hopefully this guide will help you get the most fun out of your font library!


Just starting to dabble in calligraphy? Wondering what inks to buy? Don’t want to spend a ton of money on a giant jug of sumi black? Lovelies, I have just the thing for you! Here is a little chart I lettered up today, so you can see the differences between a few of the most popular brands of black and navy inks.

First up is Speedball’s Ultrablack. Of the three black inks, Ultrablack is definitely the most opaque. It’s also totally waterproof and dries pretty quickly – this is my go-to ink on papers that are prone to feathering. The drawback is that it has a tendency to pour out of a nib unexpectedly, rather like paint. Despite this annoying habit, it seems like the little ink pot lasts a very long time, which is always good!

Noodler’s black ink is a pleasure to use; it flows beautifully right out of the bottle. It’s waterproof as well, but expect this ink to take forever to dry in heavier strokes. Like Speedball’s black ink, it is also very opaque. However, unlike the Ultrablack, Noodler’s black is a cellulose ink. This means that it reacts with the surface of most papers & becomes permanent/waterpoof. Great for envelopes!

The least opaque, and most ‘antique’ looking black is made by McCaffery’s. This effect is most visible in hairlines and areas of lighter coverage, where the ink becomes transparent. Depending on your project, this may be desirable. This ink also has a really bad tendency to crackle as it dries into in an alligator skin, if it’s allowed to pool too much. See the swatch up there? Gross, right?

Onto our blue friends… The funny thing about navy ink – a good one is hard to come by. It’s very difficult to find a navy that is dark, opaque and truely blue! Some store bought inks come close; Ziller’s midnight ink is a true blue, almost cerulean. It’s waterproof as well, which is nice.

Like their black version, McCaffery’s indigo gets more opaque in thicker strokes and more transparent in thinner areas. It makes for a very vintage look, especially on creamy paper stocks. This ink has an almost reddish-purple sheen. If you like a traditional grey-blue, this is not the ink for you.

The truth is, when I need an opaque navy ink I often prefer to mix my own! You can do this too. Plain ‘ol white gesso is a great base; it gives opacity to the final ink. A little bit of water is added to thin the gesso so it flows out of a calligraphy nib, and gum arabic is added by the drop to stabilize the blend so it doesn’t crack as it dries. Pigment can come from dry powders and paints, or as often happens in my studio, other ink. I reach for the McCaffery indigo a lot, as you can see below.

Unfortunately there’s no easy formula — if you’re mixing your own inks, it is best to start with small batches (1 tablespoon at a time) and to experiment ‘by feel’. Dip your nib into the ink and see how it writes, then adjust your ingredients as needed to get the consistency and look that you like best.

So, fellow letter-lovers, do you have any recommendations for bulletproof black or navy inks?


Happy Monday Lovelies! Today I’d like to show you one of my favorite DIY projects…

DIY tutorial for making your own wedding centerpieces out of painted mason jars

Swirly, marbled mason jar flower vases! (Perfect for wedding receptions…)

how to make swirly painted mason jars for wedding centerpieces

For this project, you’ll need:

3 or more colors of acrylic craft paint | a clean, empty glass jar | gloss or high gloss spray lacquer | drop cloth or old newspapers| another glass jar (not shown above) to contain excess paint

Any clean, dry jar with a lid will work for this project. Raid the recycling bin! I’ve used curry jars, spaghetti jars, and even old salad dressing bottles. Vintage blue-green canning jars look lovely too, and can be purchased in lots on Ebay.

diy wedding centerpieces from marbled glass pouring paint into a glass jar

First, pour your “base” color into the jar. Don’t be shy – use as much paint as you can squeeze out of the bottle. (If you’re impatient like me, take the cap off for faster pouring.) The more paint that is added now, the easier it will be to completely coat the interior later. Thicker paint will dry in bolder swirls, which is why I’m using a bottle of acrylic paint that is specifically designed to coat ceramics. It’s a little goopier than standard acrylic paint.

make your own diy swirly painted wedding table vasesmaking your own painted vases out of recycled ball jars

Add the contents of your remaining bottles, one right on top of the other. Don’t worry if the paint catches or splatters on the lip, just wipe any spills off of the rim with a damp cloth. When you’ve added all of your paint, tightly cap the jar. Now is a good time to spread out your drop cloth, if you haven’t already done so.

making your own wedding vases out of spaghetti jarsmarbled glass spaghetti jar

Gently swirl, turn and tumble your jar so that the paint begins to marble and coat the interior of the glass. The more the paint moves, the more your colors will blend together – if you prefer bold marbling, turn your jar as little as possible. When you’re satisfied with how things are looking, flip the jar right-side-up and carefully unscrew the lid. Set it aside and slowly pour the excess paint into your spare jar. Pour in as much as you can, as we’ll be swirling this jar too!

wedding vase out of a glass jar

Go ahead and give her a whirl, just as you did with the other jar. Because your paints have already begun to mix together, you’ll notice the marbling in this jar will be more subtle. As the jar dries, the streaks tend to become even more muted so bold, contrasting colors work best if your jars are tall & narrow.

marbling the inside of a mason jarrecycling your glass jars into art

Pour your excess paint into the trash or use a little bit to “patch” small areas you might have missed in the first jar. Aren’t these delicate swirls beautiful?

swirly painted glass jars

Wipe any excess paint or splatters off of the exteriors of the jars and set them upright on your drop cloth to dry. Drying time depends on how much paint is left inside the jar – its a good idea to allow for at least one undisturbed week in a dry, dark room. Warm, humid conditions will slow the process.

After a few days, poke a long wooden grilling skewer into the paint that has accumulated at the bottom of the jar; if the skewer can’t puncture the paint, you’re ready to seal! Simply give your can of spray lacquer a few good shakes and then aim the nozzle into your jar at a slight angle. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of the jar as best you can. (It’s okay if you miss a few spots.) The lacquer will prevent the paint from absorbing any water if you plan to turn your jar into a vase.

recycling glass jars into painted vasesrecycling old glass jars into wedding centerpieces

Tada!!! Gorgeous! (Because this jar was a little taller than it was wide, the paint ran further down the sides of the glass as it dried, producing a beautiful tiger-striped pattern.)

Here are a few more examples in different color combinations:

And here are the resulting marbled glass jars:

recycled jars as wedding centerpieces

wedding flowers in a colorful glass jarpurple glass vase with yellow flowers

Choose thick bunches of flowers and cut the stems short for a pop of color. You can even wrap a coordinating ribbon around the rim of each jar to dress-up the screw bands.

These vases make perfect wedding centerpieces when clustered in groups of three. Scatter tea lights around the jars for pretty reflections in the glossy exterior.

DIY tutorial for making your own wedding centerpieces out of painted mason jars

Pretty, pretty swirls…

Have fun making these and if you have any questions you can ask me in the comments or send me an email. And of course I would love to see your finished products! Pretty pictures are always appreciated. :-)