Cantarell was full of off-by-ones-or-twos and technical don’t-do-thats, diacritics were inconsistent and Cyrillics still need a look-over. The bold face was in an even poorer state. Back in June 2013 Adobe’s contributed a new high-quality OpenType/Postscript-flavor hinting engine. The problems were only magnified because the new engine actually takes hinting information seriously and will spit out garbage when the font designer isn’t careful.I am thrilled for this news! For a while now, I have replaced Cantarell as the default font in my GNOME desktop with the Droid Sans font. It just looked better on my display at work. (Oddly, Cantarell still looks great on my laptop at home.) Droid Sans is a nice user interface font, and it has a modern look. With the improvements in Cantarell, I look forward to switching back.
Nikolaus has cleaned up the fonts considerably by fixing the blue zones, outline precision to fall within them and numerous other problems. You might also notice that letters like bdfklh are a bit taller for a more harmonious look. It should display consistently at all sizes now.
This also comes at an interesting time. I have been planning a blog post to discuss the GNOME user interface in terms of branding and wayfinding. In preparing the post, I have been breaking down what I perceive to be the essential branding elements, what are the minimal visual elements that define "GNOME" as a desktop interface. And in doing that exercise, I discovered that it's not really today's "GNOME" without the Cantarell font. Cantarell is part of of the visual branding for GNOME.
Look for that update in the next few weeks.