Appreciating Fonts

The look of this blog when viewed on a Windows machine has always subtly annoyed me. I’ve been using the default font setup for WordPress, which uses Lucida Grande first, and if that is not available it uses Verdana. Verdana to me looks, I don’t know, thin or stretched or something. Loose. Unfortunately most Windows boxes don’t come with Lucida Grande, so Verdana is what most people experience. Today I decided to do something about it.

It’s possible now to tell a broswer to load a font from the Web when displaying a particular page. I could quite easily put @font-face directives in my files, load copies of Lucida Grande onto the server, and I’d be done (except for Internet Explorer, and those people can get by with Verdana). Unfortunately, although technically pretty simple, that course of action would not be legal.

There’s a font on Windows called Lucida Sans Unicode (or something like that) which is very similar to Lucida, but is not nearly as good for italics and bold face. This will be my fall-back solution.

For a while today, however, I thought I might go look for a new font, something that caught the spirit of this blog, yet was easy to read on a screen and had a nice ink density. On top of that, it had to be free or at least reasonably priced, and it had to include good italic and bold versions, and it had to include the wacky Czech diacriticals for those few episodes where I use them, plus the full range of punctuation including a variety of dashes, copyright symbols, and stuff like that.

I came up empty. Making a good font is not at all simple, and the people who make the great ones quite understandably want to be paid for their work. If I found one that measured up to Lucida Grande in usefulness and that would give this site a unique feel, I might be tempted to pony up.

The closest thing I could find was a font called Liberation, which is a favorite in the Linux world. At this writing, those without Lucida Grande will see that font (unless you’re using Internet Explorer). It’s OK, but the text is actually a little smaller for the same font size. That certainly is annoying. I haven’t looked at the text on enough different screens to know for sure, but I think right now the lettering is too small.

How’s it looking for you, my windows-using readers? Do you have any favorite fonts? I think with screen resolutions improving, it’s even possible to consider a serifed font these days.

10 thoughts on “Appreciating Fonts

  1. The font you’re using now seems a little on the small side, but not too bad. Then again, I’m running a very high-resolution screen, on which the smaller print isn’t really a problem, especially given that I like to have a high density of information. If the print is small but still legible, it’s OK by me.

    The newest versions of Windows come with a font called Calibri that supposedly is designed specifically to look good on the Internet. It’s a sans-serif font that looks much like what I currently see on my screen on your blog. I don’t know exactly how it compares to Lucida Grande, however. Other sans-serif fonts you might look at include Eurostile, Franklin Book Gothic, and Kalinga.

    And speaking of serif fonts, I’ve been using Georgia on my blog all along. I’ve rather grown to like that font. However, it’s too ornate to go well with the overall design of your blog. If you were to go with a serif font, you’d want to use one in which the serifs are understated, such as Cambria, Century, or Iskoola Pota.

    • I’ll try Calibri in machines that have it installed already, but all the fonts you mentioned would be expensive to license so that all users could see the same thing. It’s a nice-looking font and Windows 7 includes bold and italic versions so it will render well.

      But… the dang thing is another font that is smaller than average. Would it kill these guys to make 12-point fonts all be the same height? We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

  2. 1) As I read this post, I notice that the font in the comments is different than the font in the actual post; and the font in the comments is very nice to my eyes. Clean, smooth, easy to distinguish.
    2) I am not very up on fonts as a whole, and I have not read much about fonts in general. I did once run across a very pedantic article about fonts that made a huge deal about what we call ‘fonts’ really being ‘type face.’ As I said pedantic. It totally reminded me of the sneering folks who correct you when you say ‘chimpanzee’ – “I’t actually a Bonobo.” Whatever. I bet they don’t call themselves that.
    3) I was actually gonna make a blog post about this, but what the hey, I’ll use it up here…What is up with books always having a final page: “A note on the Type. This type face was originally a flemish blah blah blah, when in 1999, Selma Smegma revamped it with an amended serif, blah blah blah. We think it is very readable and gorgeous, blah blah blah.” Really?!?!? Why are you killing one more tree to add this to the back of the book? I cannot tell the difference between your “wonderful” type face, and the typefacii of every other book on the planet. I hope you didn’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.

    • 1) On Mac at this moment the episode’s text is Lucide Grande 12px, while the comments are Lucida Grande 12.9667px. I agree that the strokes in the comment section seem a little more substantial and it makes for easy reading. I had been considering pushing the font up to 13px anyway to compensate for the smaller size of Calibri, but now that you’ve called my attention to the comments, I can see that it would be an improvement in its own right.

      2) “Lucida Grande” is actually the font family, and there are at least four typefaces in the family – regular, bold, italic, and bold italic. One of the reasons Lucida Sans Unicode falls short on windows is that it doesn’t have the italic and bold typefaces, so the computer has to generate them on the fly (by leaning the letters, for instance), and the result is not always satisfactory. One of my favorite fonts, Baskerville, has sweet italics.

      3) Next November, go onto the NaNoWriMo discussion boards and follow some of the conversations about what fonts they use to poop out their crappy novels. Some people really care about that stuff. Trees die in multiples of eight pages (I’m pretty sure that’s the number), and you can bet the publisher would not have indulged all the crap about the typeface unless there was a spare page to fill. Unless the font foundry cut them a deal in exchange for the plug, I suppose.

  3. Well, I set it to be Calibri 13px on machines that have Calibri installed but don’t have Lucida Grande installed. The text still seems insubstantial and too wide, but the insubstantialality may just be the way Windows renders text at small sizes. I’ll leave it like this for a while, though, so let me know what you think.

    • Never mind. It was just too small. The bodies of the episodes are now Lucida Sans Unicode, while the comments are Verdana. (Unless you have Lucida Grande installed.) Windows folks – which do you prefer and why?

  4. And here’s something I didn’t expect – on Windows, Internet Explorer renders text better than Firefox. The differences are subtle, but they are there. Especially obvious are the uneven line heights in Firefox.

    I would have thought that both browsers would use the same operating system functions to draw text, and thus get the same results, but that seems not to be the case. Is this another case of IE engineers having access to secret hooks in Windows?

    Probably not – Microsoft got in enough trouble the last time they did that. Still, it’s odd.

    • The Lucida Sans Unicode is prettier, but it is a bit on the small side. People with lousy eyesight and/or low-resolution monitors may have trouble with it.

      Yes, I had noticed Firefox’s shortcomings in rendering text on a screen. Chrome seems to do okay, though. (Now, when you go to print that screen, if it’s wider than the paper, IE will cut off the ends of the lines, while Firefox will shrink the text until it fits. I don’t know about Chrome, since my laptop isn’t connected to a printer.)

      Oh, yeah, I actually do like the extra page that tells something about the font used in a book. I’ve learned a lot about how to look at a typeface and see the nuances of it.

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