Christian Schwartz on Screen Fonts

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Matt McInerney's picture
Joined: 28 Feb 2008 - 2:07pm
Christian Schwartz on Screen Fonts

I'm sure a lot of you caught the Christian Schwartz interview on FontFeed yesterday.

He mentions that when it comes to type on the web, the lack of readable screen font is more of a drawing problem than a hinting problem.

It's something that I've been thinking about a lot recently as more people start using @font-face and services like Typekit. We're starting to see a lot more print fonts in use, even for body copy on the web, and the problem is, even if they're hinted, they're not designed to be seen on screen and it shows.

I'd like to know everyone's take. What is the largest problem here? Is it the design of typefaces used on screen? Is it the lack of/improper hinting and/or grid fitting? Or is it the rendering technology in the browsers?

In reality, I know it's a combination of everything, but I wonder if a strong enough design can hold up in even the harshest of rendering conditions. Georgia and Verdana seem to be able to.

And if so, where are all the great screen fonts? Is it just too soon? Or does the economic model need to be set in stone first before type designers dare design a great commercial screen font?

John Boardley's picture
Joined: 10 Aug 2007 - 11:00pm

I think it’s a design challenge. Hinting is not the panacea that some dream it is. With present resolutions, some fonts will never look good on screen, however well they’re hinted. We simply need more typefaces designed for the screen.

Stefan Hattenbach's picture
Joined: 7 Sep 2004 - 1:22pm

I think Christian is absolutely right when he says that most typefaces aren't designed for the web (screen). Just as Arial is ugly when used in print. This opens up a great challenge for us type designers, and I'm sure we will see many new well designed typefaces for web as the WOFF format feels comfortable enough to encourage the progress. I often feel blessed to be part of these Interesting times we face since the computers changed things around...

Arno Enslin's picture
Joined: 30 Jun 2009 - 3:48am

@Stefan H

You can provide different CSS for different media, Arial for the screen and Helvetica for the print for example.

(We need high resolution screens.)

David Berlow's picture
Joined: 19 Jul 2004 - 6:31pm

>What is the largest problem here?

It could be that the spectacular view from the restaurant balcony of the Mexico City Holiday Inn is distracting?

But maybe, it's that perfectly intelligent people recognize the fact that there are a plethora of behaviors in sizing, scaling and rendering type, selecting styles, formating and composing fonts on de veb, but still think one can just draw their way out of it with 'perfect outlines'...;)

And then, maybe the problem is that the 'high level' decisions on font technologies and font quality for the web have been made by folks unqualified to dot your i's.

>(We need high resolution screens.)

We'd all need high resolution screens, wouldn't we?


Chris Lozos's picture
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am

A large glass of Metaxa always covers a multitude of hints :-)


paul d hunt's picture
Joined: 5 May 2005 - 8:44pm

@Matt maybe this will give you more to think on on this topic:

Not an answer to all your questions, but a bit of a look at the process Miguel took for tailoring existing fonts to render well in a specific screen environment. Hopefully you find it insightful in some way.

Richard Fink's picture
Joined: 25 May 2009 - 10:04pm

@stefan H

>Arial is ugly when used in print.
Arno's correct - nobody's stuck printing out in Arial. Not a problem.

>and I’m sure we will see many new well designed typefaces
>for web as the WOFF format feels comfortable enough to
>encourage the progress.

What's WOFF got to do with it? Or comfort? MSFT spent a bloody fortune on the Cleartype fonts and they *do* look good. Why didn't Apple do us all a favor and license them from MSFT as they do the other "web safe" fonts?
(This would have, as a practical matter, speedily *doubled* the choice of fonts available without resorting to linking with @font-face.)
Why is it - or so we're told - difficult/expensive to create good screen fonts? Where are the tools?
(Check out the post on the adobe blog paul d hunt's post has a link to.)
And with all the hoopla about @font-face, why has a tool like WEFT not been updated since 2003?
And do the flashified versions of print fonts that get used for headings or photoshopped versions used for background images and buttons look bad?
No. It depends on the way the font is rendered. Why is there no way to specify what kind of rendering you want in the browser without jumping through JavaScript hoops or relying on a plug-in like Flash?
And why am I going on like this?
And who is Christian Schwartz? (Any relation to Muslim Weinberg?)
Look, ain't no plethora, this was all spelled out years ago in the song, "Fifty Ways To Gauge Your Gamma":

Don't sweat about hints, Vince
Make a new stem, Clem
Just snap to the grid, Sid
And get yourself free...


Arno Enslin's picture
Joined: 30 Jun 2009 - 3:48am

We’d all need high resolution screens, wouldn’t we?

David, do you mean, that everybody would need a high resolution screen and that it would be cheaper to develop more fonts for low resolution screens?

It’s the same as with the ebook devices. Which technology is promising with regard to high resolution screens and when can we expect high resolution screens?

I don’t think, that it is necessary to develop many new fonts for the actual screens. A few more well hinted fonts, designed for the screen would be enough.

(In my opinion the development of fonts families with styles for different sizes is much more important. And more serifed fonts. And finally worthy digital successors of classic typefaces like Garamond or Bembo. [Merlo works perfectly fine in small body text sizes.])