Free Fonts With Holiday Glyphs

Holidays tend to sneak up on me before I know it. So the thing with a design for various holidays is that I'm almost always rushing to get it done and print on time. Getting it done often means cutting corners on creative thinking, idea generation, and image search.  This is where the graphic designer's best-kept secret – glyphs – comes in handy. Whether you design for a client or tackling your child's school project, using glyphs could do wonders.

Font Tips: How to Easily Access and Use Glyphs with Various Apps on Mac

Glyphs are often referred to as special characters, swashes, alternates, letters with tails, and hidden elements. They are mainly used for their aesthetic appeal to make a bare-bones text more attractive. Chances are many custom fonts, especially calligraphy and scripts, that you downloaded from font sites for your DIY projects are due to those fancy embellishments that extend off or customize some standard letters and characters (i.g.@%&).

And while as a graphic designer I worship all the classic typefaces, such as Helvetica, Gill Sans, and Frutiger, as a creative soul I also tend to fall for beautiful swashes and extras in the font every now and then. Especially, when there are so many free fonts available on the web, talk about the ever updated font collections on Dafont and Font Squirrel

What's really awesome is that many free fonts nowadays include a glyphs' set with numerous alternate expressions of standard characters that you can easily access and use with basic apps on your computer.

Let’s start with the basics:

GLYPHS Each glyph is an alternate graphic expression of a character. A standard character, such as a lowercase a or &, can be expressed by multiple different glyphs.

OpenType Fonts (OTF) Not all fonts have glyph sets but many that come as OpenType versions do. Things have greatly improved since the early 2000s when the OpenType font format was released, allowing extra space storage for characters and alternates that you don’t see on a keyboard.

If earlier, all design enthusiasts could only dream of channeling their inner Herb Lubalin when adding all those swashes and extras to the text, with the OTF format thousands of extras for letters and characters became easily accessible to all.

So whenever you are deciding what font format to install on your computer (sometimes you can find TTF and OTF formats of the same font inside the zip font folder), go with OTF as it potentially can give you access to hundreds of glyphs, different characters, and other ornaments.

Since all my graphic design work is done on a Mac, here are a few ways how to easily access glyphs using built-in macOS applications and Adobe creative programs.

In my mockup examples, I am going to use The Sky font from Myfonts. It happened to have a good glyphs collection that perfectly serves the purpose of diving into a glyphs subject. For your design, you can use any OpenType font to explore its glyphs’ options.

1. Accessing Glyphs with Font Book

  1. Download and install the OTF font on your computer.
  2. Open Font Book: Finder > Applications > Font Book or Cmd + Space to use Spotlight search.
  3. Use search box to look for the font.
    Note: Make sure you choose the Repertoire mode to see all the glyphs available!
  4. Select and copy the glyph: Edit > Copy or Cmd + C.
  5. Paste the glyph into your document: Cmd + V or Edit > Paste.
Note: If pasting into TextEdit on a Mac, make sure you turn Rich Format on by choosing Format > Make Rich Text.

2. Accessing Glyphs with Apple Applications: Pages, TextEdit, Keynote, etc.

To insert glyphs in Apple apps, you can use Font Book or do it directly within the application.

  1. Create a new document and type the text using your font.
  2. Go to Format > Font > Show Fonts or Command-T.
  3. Click the Gear icon and select Typography.
  4. Highlight the letter(s) you want to apply the alternate glyph(s) to.
  5. Expand the Alternative Stylistic Sets section and go through each set to see which style works best for the selected text. Each stylistic set could be applied to both a single letter/character and to the whole word.

Note: In some cases, when there’s no Alternative Stylistic Sets section look for the Alternates section instead.

3. Accessing Glyphs with Adobe Applications: Illustrator and Photoshop

If you've been in the trenches of design practices for some time, you are probably well familiar with Adobe creative apps firsthand.


To access glyphs in Photoshop:

  1. Go to Window > Glyphs and in the Glyphs panel choose the glyph you want to insert in place of the selected character;

  1. Use the on-context alternatives menu. Highlight the letter you want to change. Hover over the blue underline to bring on the on-context menu. In the resulting window, select the available alternate. To enable/disable this behavior, go to Preferences > Type > Enable Type Layer Glyph Alternates. 

To access glyphs in Illustrator:

  1. Go to Type > Glyphs and in the Glyphs panel choose the glyph you want to insert in place of the selected character;
  2. Use the on-context menu for glyphs. Highlight the letter you want to change. Hover over the blue underline to bring on the on-context menu. In the resulting window, select the available alternate.

As you can see, the glyphs can up your design game tremendously, so have fun exploring different fonts and their alternates.  

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