Re: Font readability?

Subject: Re: Font readability?
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 1995 08:37:10 PDT

>All of the studies I've seen (STC, books on usability, books on design)
>say that sans serif is easier to read on screen, and serif is easier to
>read on paper. However, it's harder to read _everything_ on screen, so
>if you're using the one look for both on screen and paper, you're better
>off using sans serif.

Anyone who's gone through the exercise of drawing characters in a
5x7 pixel array will understand that, with very low resolution, things
like serifs, decent appearance, and even lower-case letters have to be
left by the wayside. As the resolution goes up, the level of constraint
goes down.

Most monitors weigh in at about 75 dots per inch. That's a pretty crummy
resolution, one that one one would choose if it weren't dictated by
technology limitations. Even fonts designed specifically for use on-screen
don't compare with phototypesetting (1200-2400 dpi), laser printing (300-
600 dpi) or even FAX (100-200 dpi). The fonts are relatively ugly,
primitive, and distorted compared to fonts designed for printing.

Most monitors are also pretty small -- it takes a 20" monitor to show an
8.5x11" page full-size, and most people don't use monitors this large.
15" monitors are now the norm. So you not only don't have enough dots
per inch, you don't have enough inches.

Personally, I think it's tremendously inappropriate, in this age of
600 dpi laser printers, to format your printed documents the same way
as your on-screen documents. You'll end up with big-type, weird-font,
tiny-page editions that'll look like they were intended for an audience
of second graders. There are plenty of desktop publishing, word processing,
and formatting packages out there that can retarget output for different
uses, using templates, style sheets, and the like. Even Microsoft Word,
which I love to complain about, does this pretty well.

The two media are just two different for it to be appropriate to try
to paint them with the same brush. Personally, I wouldn't even TRY
for the same "look" in both places. Not where fonts are concerned,
anyway.

For on-screen documentation, you should pick a least-common-denominator
monitor, and design a presentation style that works there. (When I worked
at Activision, the game designers used 19" Montgomery Wards color TV
sets, to make sure their games were playable on low-quality TVs, and
not just high-quality color monitors. The same goes for on-line
documentation). For printing, you should so something that looks
professional. With 300 dpi printers, this was a stretch -- most fonts
looked pretty bad at 300 dpi. We settled on Adobe Sabon, which had
a lot of extra effort put into it to keep it from breaking up at 300 dpi.
At 600 dpi, you can pretty much stop worrying about resolution-based
problems, and pick what you like.

-- Robert

--
Robert Plamondon * Writer * robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (408) 321-8771
4271 North First Street, #106 * San Jose * California * 95134-1215
"Writing is like plumbing -- even people who know how to do it will
pay top dollar to keep their hands clean."


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