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Operator Mono is one of the most popular paid coding fonts. A quick search would reveal several posts on the internet reviewing the font.
Operator Mono is something I would like for my daily use; however, as a scrappy entrepreneur trying to build a startup, dropping $200 isn’t an option. Naturally, I looked for open source alternatives similar to Operator Mono that I can use in my code editor to increase workflow.
Before talking about good free alternatives to Operator Mono, I would like to point out its most unique design feature –– Operator Mono’s “true italic,” which improves the coding experience by making comments and keywords more quickly identifiable.
Monospaced Coding Font with True Italic
For context, italics come in two flavors: faux and true. Many fonts offer slightly slanted versions derived from the original letterforms. This slanted version of italic is called faux italic.
On the other hand, true italics offer more visual distinctiveness: Rather than simply slanted, they look very different from the fonts’ regular versions –– italic letters are distinctive. The true italic takes inspiration from calligraphy or cursive writings in Operator Mono.
Since many IDE themes use italics for comments and keywords, having uniquely different italics is incredibly helpful in making these stand out and easier to read.
Here are three fantastic, free, and open-sourced coding fonts with true italics, similar to Operator Mono.
Like Operator Mono, Victor Monotakes inspiration from cursive style letterforms to create true italics that make keywords and comments stand out.
img: Victor Mono Italics
IBM Plex Mono
Though cursive-style letters look distinct, they may not be the best reading experience for everyone. IBM Plex Mono is a great coding font if you feel more at ease reading without the cursive letterforms. Its italic has style influence from cursives but still looks monospaced and remains distinctive enough to stand out from the normal version.
img: IBM Plex Mono Italics
A quiet rebel, JetBrains Mono’s italic is more muted than all the coding fonts we have covered to minimize reading disruptions. JetBrains Mono uses true italic construction for only three of its letters, “a”, “y”, and “f”, and features a small degree of slant.
img: JetBrain Mono Italics
Monospaced Coding Font with Ligature
While researching Operator Mono, I also went down a rabbit hole with ligatures, a popular feature that many coders pursue and hack. With that said, there are also numerous. Some argue that using ligatures fiddle with the semantic meaning of code.
In a font, ligatures are special characters that combine two or more characters. For example, the letter "f" has a high frequency of appearing with "i" and "l", as in words like “figure” and “flower.” To improve the readability in these specific cases, font designers created ligatures as a solution - common letter combinations, like "fi" and "fl", would be combined to create a unique character that would replace the two letters when typed together. So, if a font has a ligature for arrow, “= >”, the ligature “=>” would replace the two characters, “=” and”>.”
Though Operator Mono does not currently support any ligatures, two of the fonts we featured in this post do –– Victor Mono and JetBrains Mono. Fira Code also has a popular ligature set that many programmers use to configure fonts like Operator Mono or Source Code Pro, which lacks programming ligatures of their own.
In addition to true italic, another bonus about Victor Mono is that it has programming ligatures that make things like arrow, "=>", easy. Coding ligature is a feature Operator Mono is yet to have.
img: Victor Mono Programming Ligatures
JetBrains Mono JetBrains Mono features an excellent set of ligatures for programming to reduce the noise of multiple letters in your code.
img: JetBrains Mono Programming Ligatures
Fira Code is one of the most popular coding fonts with ligatures. It is so popular that many use Fira Code’s ligature to add to other programming fonts that don’t have coding ligatures. Fira Code also does not have any italics.
img: Fira Code Programming Ligatures
To Wrap Up...
Both Victor Mono and JetBrains mono are coding fonts with ligature and true italic features. When it comes to visual noises of true italics, they are polarizing end of spectrums. Victor Mono is similar to Operator Mono, with a highly distinctive italic that stands out, Whereas JetBrains Mono is more muted and blends in with the rest of the code.
If you don’t care for ligatures, IBM Plex Mono is an excellent choice as a coding font with true italics. Ligatures can also be disabled in Victor Mono and JetBrains Mono. Fira Code also has an excellent set of programming ligatures.
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