typefaces for online viewing: summary (longish)

Subject: typefaces for online viewing: summary (longish)
From: Susan Fowler <sfowler -at- EJV -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 08:54:21 EDT

John (and TECH-WR-L):

Following is a collection of information from the utest and visual lists in
response to my similar question a few months ago. Hope it helps!

--Susan Fowler
co-author, The GUI Style GuideJohn and TECHWR-L:

A few weeks ago, I'd asked if any typefaces had been designed or were especially
suitable for online use (in multimedia applications for example). I received
some interesting responses and promised to summarize and send back a report.
Here are the responses with names stripped since I didn't think to ask whether
everyone who responded wanted to do so publicly--but thanks to everyone who

"Lucida is a font designed primarily for use on bitmapped displays and
printers. I think Chuck Bigelow has written quite a bit about its
design, though I can't readily find any citations."

"Charles Bigelow of Bigelow & Holmes designed a typeface called Lucida which is
designed specifically to scale from screen to printer.
It is available through Adobe."

"First of all, I don't do Windows so I can't help you there.

"On the Mac, certain fonts (notably those Apple includes with their System and
those from Adobe) have been optimized for on-screen use at certain sizes. For
example, Palatino comes in point sizes of 10,12,14,18, and 24 in plain, bold,
italic and bold-italic that actually look fairly good.

"In general, postscript or TrueType (PS/TT) fonts look horrible at small point
sizes (as I'm sure you're aware!) so finding a PS/TT font with a wide array of
small bitmap fonts will certainly help. Be careful, though, as many electronic
type manufacturers don't put very much care into rendering the small bitmap
fonts that they send out with their PS/TT fonts; they don't go in and optimize
it for screen presentation like Apple has with their system TT fonts and Adobe
does with their PS fonts. In general, I have had good luck with fonts from
both of these manufacturers; even though they were not specifically designed
for the screen, they have been tweaked enough that they actually look pretty

[Plus an additional message from the same person answering my followup question:
"Well, here's another way of asking the same question: how well do these faces
do in italic on the screen? What about Optima-like faces with thin and thick
lines? What about sizing the faces very large or very small--do the 'hints'
manage this as well for onscreen as for print?"]

"Sizing fonts very large should look fine if you're starting with a TT/PS font.
However, in sizing fonts very small (eg. under 24 points or so) they do not do
well, hence my message about optimized "screen fonts" earlier. This is why
font manufacturers release small bitmap point sizes with their outline fonts,
so they don't look terrible when you're looking at them on-screen, even though
they are mainly intended for print.

"Also, re: italics, note that many of the Adobe fonts do have optimized italic
and bold fonts as well. Take a look in the finder at the suitcase for an Adobe
font (if you have one lying around) and check out the fonts in the suitcase.
The italic ones can be quite nice."

"I'd say dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of fonts have been designed
for multimedia, online, onscreen use. You've got the Mac's default fonts:
Geneva, Chicago, etc. Then there's Knuth's TeX, and TrueType, Display
Postscript, etc. I'd think that Adobe, Bitstream, etc would all claim they've
got fonts specially designed for electronic use, and would even claim they've
re-designed the old standbys to work better on-screen. So, yes, they exist,
but you're already familiar with them. Copy the biggies."

"if you experiment with fonts, you'll realize that
some fair better on screen than others, in multimedia
applications, but what are you really asking? A multimedia
font? one that antialiases better in 8bit? a font that
doesn't squish wben its bitmapped? a font that doesn't
have super thin caslony serifs? what? you can
use postscript fonts in text fields like director and hypercard...
i'm not sure i understand what your question about multimedia fonts is...

"as for online...most fonts are regulated to be types that
ascii, fixed space fonts to be compatible with different
machines. mailing postscript documents arounds answers
that problem, but postscript documents are often very
large and not every machine shares the same postscript
interpreter (we'd hope they did, but mac is eps and sun is ps --
just for a start..) or has the same fonts installed...so
people use ascii to send. some mailers have font selections
so you can read mail in different fonts, but when you send
it, it coverts it to ascii. i just changed my eudora to lithos bold.
some things like the @ character didn't display, though it
recognized that i typed it, because the mail got through, but
those inconsistencies are frustrating..."

"At Microsoft we recently had Matthew Carter design two online fonts, a regular
and a bold. They were designed for the best legibility at small sizes. They are
True Type fonts. We had originally hoped to put them in Windows 95, but now
they may ship in some kind of add-on product."

There is an article about Matthew Carter in Adobe Magazine, Vol. 6, #4,
March/April 95--on p. 42 the author mentions that Carter is designing a set of
fonts for Ziff/AT&T's online network. Carter is quoted as saying the current
fonts are not well designed for online use.

Following is a message posted to utest about a font readability study (not in
response to my question but about the same topic):

Because of the apparent shortage of empirical data on font readability
specifically for the MS Windows environment, my colleagues and I recently
conducted our own study comparing the readability of "popular" fonts in
Windows. The complete results are going to be presented in a poster session at
the CHI'95
conference (May 7-11 in Denver), but here's the abstract:

The readability of twelve different fonts and sizes in the Microsoft Windows
environment was studied. The specific fonts were Arial, MS Sans Serif, MS
Serif, and Small Fonts. Their sizes ranged from 6.0 to 9.75 points. These
were presented using black text on either a white or gray background and either
bold or non-bold style. There were significant differences between the various
font/size combinations in terms of reading speed, accuracy, and subjective
preferences. There were no consistent differences as a result of background
color or boldness. The most preferred fonts were Arial and MS Sans Serif at
9.75. Most of the fonts from 8.25 to 9.75 performed well in terms of reading
speed and accuracy, with the exception of MS Serif at 8.25. Arial at 7.5 and
both of the Small Fonts (6.0 and 6.75) should generally be avoided.

Here's a little more info that's not in the abstract:

1. The study was conducted on a 17" monitor (15.5" actual) running at 1024 x
768 (small fonts) resolution.

2. If you do an analysis that combines reading speed, accuracy, and subjective
ratings in an equal-weighted fashion, you find that the "best" fonts to use are
Arial or MS Sans Serif at 9.75. (Note that some development environments call
that size 10.) These are significantly better than all the others. The next
"tier" of choices is MS Sans Serif at 8.25, Arial at 9.0, and MS Serif at 9.75.

Hope this is useful. Come to CHI for more details!

Tom Tullis
Fidelity Investments
71470 -dot- 3017 -at- compuserve -dot- com

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