Television-typography

Hi everyone,
As I can't seem to find much information I drop the question here:
What are the specifics when designing a typeface for use on (PAL) television?
Does anyone know of a good source of information on this topic? I saw some books on Amazon, but their value is not clear...

TIA

Best,

Diederik

J Weltin's picture

Ask Joe Clark. He’s a member here.

Diederik Corvers's picture

Thanks! His site is a real 'fundgrube' of information, although largely on accesibility & subtitling. I will read a handfull of Texts from his site, but I am also looking for information on type used in name tags and infographics on tv.

Best,

Diederik

_null's picture

I know a few very loose rules...
I'd like to know if you do find any good books on the subject - most my my knowledge is from working with guys who've been making broadcast ads since before, well, computers.

So, take 16pt (on an average 1000upm face) as your minimum. With that in mind, any strokes thinner than 3pt are going to start to strobe depending on the quality of the TV. So your looking for something with strong strokes, and large open counters to stop it appearing uneven.
Obviously upwards from 16pt and you can get more free, but remember the strobing problem still applies even on large sizes.

I think some of the older computer games developers would know more on the subject than anything broadcast centric - they've been dealing with complicated interfaces and typography for years on PAL, HD has eliminated most of those issues now. Most broadcast stuff is big and in CAPS for the reasons above.

VAG, Gill Sans, and Zurich have all had long and fruitful lives on TV. Maybe they hold the secrets...

Diederik Corvers's picture

Thanks for the info _leigh,
but 3 pt strokes on 16 pt type? For both horizontal and vertical strokes? Sounds quite obese...

D

Ray Larabie's picture

I was a game developer for years and have worked on lots of fonts tuned for TV.

There's no better way than getting some tv sets and testing. Figure out your worst case scenario TV set and set up a video card to output to it. When I designed Cinecav, I used a TV which I found on the curb and a few other low end sets. I found that the higher end sets didn't give much better feedback than a computer monitor. When I worked in games, we didn't have gold standard set for testing. Any reasonably shitty TV will do the trick. I never tested in PAL but I imagine it would be similar. The resolution is irrelevant because you never know what size the font will be scaled to.

Here are some tips for making CRT fonts. Some of these rules may apply to plamsa & LCD but maybe not.

When dealing with CRT with interlace it's best to avoid thin horizontals. If you're doing a serif font, make sure the serifs are beefy enough that they don't cause interlace flicker. How beefy? Depends. You have to test the serifs at different sizes. Short sharp serifs still flicker but they may not be noticeable. Times New Roman regular is an example of too thin/too long. My Byington font is an example of serifs that were designed to avoid excessive flicker. Compare with other Trajan based fonts which have sharp serifs.

Near horizontals look like blurry horizontals on a CRT. Subtlety in horizontal angles is going to get lost so stay flat when possible. Avoid angled ends. Compare Arial to Helvetica on a CRT. Arial's ends don't look angled, they just look fuzzy.

Near verticals? No problem. Vertical lines are pretty much just as blurry no matter the angle. Enjoy your vertical freedom.

Phosphor traps are like ink traps or light traps. Unlike ink traps, they tend to look best when they're squared off. Pop over to http://www.ccfonts.com/ and you can see phosphor traps that are really exaggerated. You don't have to go so wild with the phosphor traps but that squared trap strategy can shed a few crotch pounds when needed.

Counters fill in like crazy on a CRT so take care and test a lot.

_null's picture

Yup, what he said. Fine advice.

And obese it is! Learn to love it.

Also, just to complicate it further,It would also depend on how the font is being outputted, your digital programme guide is being rendered by the device, where as things like Now/Next/Later would be broadcast and decoded like an image - that will also effect the quality.

My bad, didn't mean to imply your 16pt needs 3pt strokes, but as a rule I try never to let any single lines drop below that mark, for boundaries and horizontal rules etc.

@typodermic, i've wondered how they cope in Japan using their alphabet on crappy CRTs - did they just have to make everything huge?

Diederik Corvers's picture

Thanks you all. Excellent info!

Ray Larabie's picture

@_leigh the closed captioning on my Toshiba Regra TV set is enormous and blazing white. I can't change the font size so it's really irritating. The text often covers half the screen so you can't even see the actors through all the kanji. My Panasonic phone has a TV with closed captioning . . . it also obscures a lot of the screen but it's not as bad. Subtitles in the movie theater are more subtle. I've seen a few movies with English audio and Japanese subs. They use really thin fonts as not to be so distracting. On DVD, they use reasonably sized fonts for Japanese subs. When things get too wordy, they edit the text to fit. I notice a lot of dialog gets left out, probably just to make the text fit or for simplicity's sake.

TV variety/talk/game shows have their own "hard subs". You've probably seen clips on YouTube where certain words are displayed in colorful fonts. They started doing that about 15 years ago so now it's expected for most variety/talk/game shows. Since they don't subtitle every word, they can afford to use huge lettering, often with special effects. If you watch those shows with closed captioning, they sometimes leave out the words which are already displayed on-screen but sometimes they're duplicated. It's not that consistent. A large percentage of talk/variety shows have no closed captioning.

Diederik Corvers's picture

The text often covers half the screen so you can't even see the actors through all the kanji.

Hmmm, Japanese... And here's me thinking seriffed type would be a challange on a tv screen. My client still is adamant about the serifs though! I picked up the glove (it has been done before, serifs on tv, I mean) and hope I can find a fitting solution.

Thanks again for all responses!

D

Ray Larabie's picture

Serifs can look good on TV. I opted for slab serifs for Cinecav because anything thinner caused interlace flicker. Although they weren't designed for the screen, have a look at Courier and Officina. Test them on screen and make observations . . . I think you can learn a lot from looking at the way print fonts behave on screen. Century Schoolbook kind of works on screen. Looking at the way existing fonts behave on screen before you start designing can set you on a clearer path.

Diederik Corvers's picture

Thanks for the tips. I am looking indeed, not intending to reinvent the wheel.
Right now I am exploring slab serif designs, careful not to make the characters look too planted & heavy. At the same time I am looking for contrast in shapes & counters to keep the letterform open & recognizable in screen resolutions. It's an interesting puzzle, which will probably result in an interesting face.

to be continued...

_null's picture

no doubt mate, as some famous designer once said..."give me the freedom of a tight brief"
Just remember to test the thing to it's limits and trust intuition.

p.s. interactive television uses a wide variety of typefaces - it's 90s tech, but people still use it, so might be a good place to check out. It's nearly always under the red button on the remote in the UK...not sure about father afield....

Test them on screen and make observations . . . I think you can learn a lot from looking at the way print fonts behave on screen.
Are you thinking ink-traps may become light-traps on screen? If so, loving the terminology. Light trap...just sounds cool.

Ray Larabie's picture

I used to call them phosphor traps on a CRT but now they could be plasma traps, LCD shutter traps, electroluminescence traps etc.

gokoroko's picture

Edsall, S.H. (2007). Computer Graphics for Television A Reference Manual, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.

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