iOS7 Day-by-Day :: Day 12 :: Dynamic Type and Font Descriptors

Written by Sam Davies

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS7 for developers –#iOS7DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the introduction page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!


iOS7 introduced a new high-level text-rendering framework called TextKit. TextKit is based on the extremely powerful CoreText rendering engine, and all the Apple-provided text-based controls have been updated to use the TextKit engine. TextKit is a significant addition to iOS, and one of the things it adds is the concept of Dynamic Type, and font descriptors. We’ll look at these features of TextKit in today’s post.

The code for this blog post is available in the github repo which accompanies this series – at

Dynamic Type

Dynamic type is a concept of allowing users to specify how large the typeface is in the apps on their device. This isn’t simply the ability to alter the font size, but also alter other properties of the type such as the kerning and the line-spacing. This ensures that the text is the most readable as it can be at the different type sizes. In order to do this you no longer specify particular fonts for your different text elements, but instead set what they semantically represent, i.e. rather than specifying Helvetica 11pt, you would set the type to be body text. This is in-line with the way in which something like HTML works – semantic markup of your text, allowing the user to control the appearance. As such, rather than specifying fonts per-se, there is a new class method on UIFont which will pull out the correct font:

self.subHeadingLabel.font = [UIFont preferredFontForTextStyle:UIFontTextStyleSubheadline];

There are 6 different text styles available in iOS7:

  • UIFontTextStyleHeadline
  • UIFontTextStyleBody
  • UIFontTextStyleSubheadline
  • UIFontTextStyleFootnote
  • UIFontTextStyleCaption1
  • UIFontTextStyleCaption2

As well as being able to specify the font via code, you can set it using interface builder:

Dynamic Type Storyboard

When combined with autolayout, using dynamic type means that a user can control the appearance of the text inside your app. There is a “Text Size” options screen within the settings screens which allows changing of the type size:

Changing Size

There are a total of 7 different font sizes – the following shots demonstrate some of them:


In future OS updates the specific font might change as the appearance of the operating system develops, but by adopting dynamic type you can be assured that your app will both be accessible and match the OS style with no further work down the line.

Font Descriptors

Another addition which TextKit brings in is the concept of font descriptors. These are much more in-line with the way we’re used to thinking of fonts – where we can modify a font, as opposed to having to completely specify a new one. For example, we have some text we’d like to make the same font as our body text, but we’d like to make it bold. Previously in iOS we would have had to know the font being used for the body text, and then find its bold equivalent, and then construct a new font object usingfontWithName:size: with the string name of the bold equivalent of the body font.

This isn’t very intuitive, and with the introduction of dynamic type, it’s not always possible to know exactly which font you’re using. Font descriptors make this a lot easier to use – as a collection of attributes about a font it’s possible to change attributes and hence change the font. For example, if we would like to get a bold version of the body text font:

UIFontDescriptor *bodyFontDesciptor = [UIFontDescriptor preferredFontDescriptorWithTextStyle:UIFontTextStyleBody];
UIFontDescriptor *boldBodyFontDescriptor = [bodyFontDesciptor fontDescriptorWithSymbolicTraits:UIFontDescriptorTraitBold];
self.boldBodyTextLabel.font = [UIFont fontWithDescriptor:boldBodyFontDescriptor size:0.0];

First we get the descriptor for the body text style, and then using the fontDescriptorWithSymbolicTraits: method we can override a so-called font trait. Then the UIFont method fontWithDescriptor:size: can be used to actually get the required font – noting that setting the size: parameter to 0.0 will result in returning the font sized as determined in the font descriptor.

This is an example of modifying a UIFontDescriptor using using a font trait, other examples of which are as follows:

  • UIFontDescriptorTraitItalic
  • UIFontDescriptorTraitExpanded
  • UIFontDescriptorTraitCondensed

It’s also possible to specify other features of the font appearance (such as the type of serifs) using attributes. Have a read of the documentation of UIFontDescriptorSymbolicTraits for more information.

As well as modifying a existing font descriptor, you can create a dictionary of attributes and then find a font descriptor which matches your request. For example:

UIFontDescriptor *scriptFontDescriptor = [UIFontDescriptor fontDescriptorWithFontAttributes:
                                                      @{UIFontDescriptorFamilyAttribute: @"Zapfino",
                                                        UIFontDescriptorSizeAttribute: @15.0}
self.scriptTextLabel.font = [UIFont fontWithDescriptor:scriptFontDescriptor size:0.0];

We’re here specifying a font with a given family and size in a dictionary of attributes. Other attributes which can be used include:

  • UIFontDescriptorNameAttribute
  • UIFontDescriptorTextStyleAttribute
  • UIFontDescriptorVisbileNameAttribute
  • UIFontDescriptorMatrixAttribute

This list is not exhaustive – UIFontDescriptor is incredibly powerful and brings iOS inline with many other text rendering engines used elsewhere.

Font Descriptor


Dynamic type is an incredibly useful tool to improve both the appearance and accessibility of your app. When combined with autolayout it allows user content to be beautiful and easily readable. Font descriptors offer a much easier way to work with fonts – much closer to the concept we hold in our heads from years of using word processing software. It should make working with fonts a lot less painful. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg here today – type rendering is a complex concept, and with these new concepts iOS is providing much easier access to the underlying engine.

Don’t forget that you can get the code for this project on github at If you have any feedback/comments then feel free to use the comments box below, or hit me up on twitter – @iwantmyrealname.