Charts on the fly: FF Chartwell opens new doors


FF Chartwell is a pi font with a difference, enabling users to create on-the-fly bar, line and other charts without having to go back to Excel or Illustrator every time the numbers change. It’s marketed as requiring Open Type Stylistic Sets, which QuarkXPress 2015 doesn’t currently support. However, what isn’t in the marketing blurb is that all of the Stylistic Sets features are available as Discretionary Ligatures—which QuarkXPress 2015 does support. For Quark users, Chartwell is ready to go.

Could Chartwell be useful to you? In this article we unpack what it does, look at the power of on-the-fly charting more generally, and consider the longer-term impact of Open Type new features.

The scenario

So, you’re working on a long document with lots of numbers. It could be an Annual Report, a Public Health Report, or anything where you want the reader to take in a lot of information relatively painlessly. The number crunching people have given you a pile of Excel documents with charts in them, all of them formatted differently. You’re about to start diligently recreating them to export as EPS files, when a thought strikes you: are these the final numbers? You make a phone call. “Oh,” says the chief number cruncher, “the numbers are changing all the time. We thought we’d give you these just so you can get started. All of the charts will change a bit—we’ll send you the new spreadsheets when they’re ready.”

You silently grind your teeth and decide not to explain how tedious and difficult it is making brand-compliant charts in Excel, and how much work it is to recreate all of them and export them one by one in Illustrator.

Instead, you reach for FF Chartwell—a FontFont collection of charting fonts which are going to save the day.

How it works

FF Chartwell is a set of seven fonts which produce horizontal bar charts, vertical bar charts, line charts, pie charts, ring charts, rose charts and radar charts. At the moment the bar and line charts work perfectly in Quark, but a little trickery is needed if you want to use the pie charts in colour (and you may ask what the benefit of an all black pie chart is). More on that later.

Verticals and linesFor now, we’ll look at vertical bar charts, which are going to be the most useful kind anyway.


  1. First, type in your numbers as percentages, separated by a ‘+’: 12+75+18+92.
  2. Then, change the font to Chartwell Vertical Bars.
  3. Finally, turn on ‘Discretionary Ligatures’ in the Open Type features. This is in the Measurements palette, though, as we’ll see shortly, setting it as a Character Style can do more for you.

The magic comes when you turn on ‘Discretionary Ligatures’, because that’s when your numbers turn into perfectly drawn bar charts.

If you turn off Discretionary Ligatures, you can then change the colours.

The result is an attractive bar chart which you can include in text, and, crucially, which you can edit without having to go back to Excel. It will be colour compliant with your colour scheme, and you can control its proportions and spacing using the horizontal width control in the characters section of the measurements palette, and the usual tracking controls.

Once you’re happy with the colours, there’s no reason to be turning discretionary ligatures on and off to edit the numbers. Instead, go to the Story Editor, where they appear as numbers.


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