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!


  1. elisa says

    Thanks for sharing! This is a terrific tutorial!
    (Found it while trying to figure out ligatures in Photoshop – but this might be easier!)

  2. Kimberlee says

    OMG, you are my lifesaver! I am experimenting with custom calligraphy and there are times when I need inspiration. Being able to use OTT fonts to the fullest capacity is AWWWWESOME!

    Million thank you’s :)

  3. sara says

    Okay so I followed the steps above but how do I get the lines to be long before and after the words and how do I make it so the words connect? Following these steps just gave me one extra swash.


    • Jess says

      Hi Sara, to get the swashes at the beginning and end of each word, you’ll need to insert a space or bit of punctuation before the first letter of the word and after the last letter. When your application ‘sees’ this space, it will recognize that is where you’d like the swashed letter to be.

      If you need words to connect, you should contact the creator of that particular font; Magpie fonts don’t currently include this feature.

      Hope this helps!

    • Jess says

      Hi Sara, you may be using a font that was designed by another foundry – some Magpie fonts have swashes but they don’t connect between the words. If you’re working with one of my fonts and would like to have swashes before/after the words, you can just type in a space before and after the word. This tells your program “Hey, I want a swashed letter here.” If you are using a font by another designer, you may want to contact them directly to see how they’ve coded their Opentype features. Each designer does things a little differently. :)

  4. Kimia Sadeghi says

    Hi i was wondering how i can get the exact same font as “using opentype fonts in Microsoft word” i just love the look of it! thanks kim

  5. Melissa says

    Thank you for the tutorial! I followed the steps, but even though my font file I installed is an .OTF file, Microsoft Word 2013 is telling me it’s a True Type Font and the 4 Open Type Features are all grayed out. I reinstalled the .OTF file and rebooted my system (Windows 8), but Word is still saying my font is True Type. Any ideas? I’m using Samantha Italic Swash. thank you!

  6. Melissa says

    I figured out part of it … I needed to ‘Convert’ my document in ‘Compatibility Mode.’ I am now able to select Stylistic Sets and see them in the live window box, however, I don’t see them when I type them into my document. Can you help? Thank you!

    • Jess says

      Hi Melissa! Sorry for the trouble — I think what you need is a fresh copy of the font. If you can email me at jessica (at) I will send you the font file directly. That should help!

  7. Louise Tapson says

    Hi there, I have produced some lovely place cards for my wedding using Ondise in Word 2013 – following all advise to open up the ligatures which look great – however when I print it the ligatures disappear! The same happens if I save the document as a PDF…any ideas?! thank you!

  8. Nathan says

    Thanks for this great tutorial! That’s just Microsoft for you; making counter-intuitive decisions. I was using Word as one does, but noticed that kerning was disabled. I’ve been learning about this stuff recently; I’m making my first font and beginning to learn the craft, (FontForge for the win!) and things like that bother me, now. Testing it with Georgia made me think it wasn’t working, but it turns out it was just the typeface. I hope it’s just my version! The font here seems to have kerning; is it Georgia?

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