Leveraging Unicode-Math And Opentype Fonts For Mathematical Typesetting

The Problem of Math Representation in Documents

Accurately and consistently representing mathematical notation in digital documents has historically been a challenge. Using graphics and bitmap images to display equations provides poor text flow and prevents semantic meaning of math from being conveyed. Legacy math encoding standards like TeX have limitations in terms of supported symbols and platform interoperability.

The Unicode-Math standard along with OpenType fonts offers a universal, cross-platform solution for encoding and rendering mathematical symbols and operators. By leveraging these technologies, authors can semantically mark up math to enable better document accessibility, reusability, searchability and multi-format distribution.

Introducing Unicode-Math

The Unicode-Math standard defines thousands of reference codes and semantics for mathematical operators, constants, functions, and common notations like fractions, radicals, integrals, etc. This allows accurate encoding of math semantics beyond just graphical symbols.

Relevant Unicode blocks include Mathematical Alphanumeric Symbols, Mathematical Operators, Supplemental Mathematical Operators, and Mathematical Alphabets such as Fraktur and Script. Codes are provided for Greek letters, operators like summation and integration, relation symbols, arrow notation, and delimiter characters.

For example the integral sign is \u222B, the equals sign is \u225D and the Greek letter phi is encoded as \u03C6. This enables semantic distinction between visually similar characters. All major math operators, functions, constants and notations are covered in a machine readable format.

OpenType Math Fonts

While Unicode provides the reference codes, OpenType fonts contain the actual glyph images and metadata to map codes to rendered characters. OpenType math fonts follow the Unicode-Math standard to ensure consistent encoding and access to the thousands of math symbols and operators.

Popular OpenType math fonts include Latin Modern Math, Cambria Math, Asana Math, Neo Euler, and XITS Math. These provide broad math support and glyph coverage in upright and italic styles. Some fonts focus on specific script styles like Fraktur or Calligraphic.

OpenType features like math styling, spacing, and kerning help optimize rendering and readability. Metric data enables properly sized display with sub/superscript scaling. The combination of Unicode encoding and tailored OpenType fonts gives optimal math representation.

Setting Up Unicode-Math

To leverage Unicode-Math input and OpenType math fonts requires proper configuration across applications and document processing systems. TeX/LaTeX platforms must compile documents with XeLaTeX or LuaLaTeX engines to enable Unicode encoding.

In HTML use CSS to assign a Unicode math font, and tag math content with MathML or semantic markup like TeX. For desktop publishing applications, install OpenType math fonts and enable Unicode-Math mode to recognize the symbol encodings in text.

The following examples demonstrate configuring systems and assigning OpenType math fonts:

XeLaTeX document class:

LaTeX font package:  
\setmathfont{Latin Modern Math}

math {
   font-family: Cambria Math; 

Word processor font setting:
Font: Asana Math
Encoding: Unicode (Math) 

When properly configured, content marked up with Unicode-Math codes will render appropriately with spacing, sizing, and styling optimized for mathematical notation.

Typesetting Mathematics

To leverage the capabilities of Unicode-Math and optimized math fonts it is important to utilize appropriate semantic markup for encoding math content.

Options include strict MathML notation which fully conveys meaning but has significant markup overhead, LaTex semantic syntax focused on efficient typing, or hybrid inline markup with operators like text{} and math{} to notate semantic boundaries.

For example, an integral over a fraction expressed MathML vs. LaTeX:


\int \frac{sin}{x}

Key best practices include proper grouping of operator boundaries, explicit notation of entity semantics like fractions or matrices rather than relying on visual appearance cues, and utilization of semantic mark up for fences, functions and relations where available.

Advanced Techniques

Building on top of a Unicode encoding and OpenType foundation, additional techniques can optimize math typesetting. Fine adjustments to spacing around operators and relations can improve readability and clarity where fonts may have default gaps that are too wide or too narrow.

If special math symbols or extend character sets are needed, Unicode Private Use Areas provide codes for custom glyphs without risking overlap with standardized encoding. Further, programming tools like OpenType feature editors give precise control over glyph substitution and position adjustments.

For font development, when designing new math alphabets or operator sets the Unicode-Math standard provides a specification for allocating and reserving code points for custom symbol encoding. Robust conformance testing also ensures custom fonts properly support features for math typesetting and function as expected.

Output and Distribution

A key benefit of the Unicode and OpenType math infrastructure is reliable rendering across all major document formats and platforms. Whether saving to PDF, exporting to HTML, or viewing in ebook readers the mathematical notation remains clear and accurate.

PDF retains full font and glyph support. HTML via MathML maintains the semantic encoding and falls back to embedded image rendering when fonts are unavailable. Ebook formats generally have high quality math support though some specialized notations may have degraded appearance on limited display screens.

Always check target formats for specific limitations, but overall Unicode-Math and OpenType solve the long-standing issues of math portability across workflows and distribution channels enabling reusable documents that stay accurate.


The Unicode-Math standard paired with purpose-built OpenType fonts provides a cross-platform solution to encoding, rendering, and typesetting mathematics digitally. This allows accurate conveyance of semantic meaning beyond just visual components.

Leveraging these technologies solves legacy issues of platform dependency, limited symbol access, inconsistent spacing behaviors, and lack of semantics. Authors can confidently produce rich mathematical documents knowing the notation will reliably reformat across any target publishing format while maintaining information integrity.

Additional resources for adopting Unicode-Math and OpenType math fonts are available at unicode.org/math and microsoft.com/typography.

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