Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 148 / JANUARY 1993 / PAGE S1

How to work with fonts. (Compute's Getting Started with Fonts & Clip Art)
by William Harrel

With the right software, computers can do almost anything. They create documents in half the time of typewriters. They organize data, crunch numbers, paint, draw, play back animation and sound--you name it. Nowadays, it's difficult to find something they can't do. For example, did you know that that one-eyed wonder sitting on your desk is also a typesetter? With the right software, your computer can turn out the same professional-quality typeset documents as the print shop down the street--and it can do so inexpensively, too. All you need is a collection of fonts.

Before talking about typesetting with computers, let's clear away the confusion concerning the terms font and typeface. Today's computer users use font as a catchall for both terms. Traditionally, they refer to two different aspects of type classifications.

Typeface: A typeface is a style of type, such as Times Roman or Helvetica. Most typefaces have four different weights: normal (sometimes called book or roman), bold, italic (sometimes called oblique), and bold-italic. Typefaces usually fall into two categories: serif and sans serif. Serifs are the tiny strokes at the ends of individual letters in typefaces such as Times, Palatino, or Bookman. Serifs help move the eye from letter to letter. As a rule, serif typefaces work best for blocks of small text, such as body copy in newsletters or brochures. You can also use them for short headlines.

Sans serif typefaces--such as Helvetica, Arial (Microsoft's TrueType Helvetica equivalent), and Avant Garde--don't have strokes at the ends. Instead the characters consist of straight lines. In fact, sans serif means "without serifs." Sans serif typefaces look good at large sizes, and most of them need less room than serif typefaces of the same point size. Newspapers often use a sans serif typeface, such as Helvetica or Helvetica Black, for headlines and subheads, and a serif type, such as Times, for body copy. If you're unsure about combining fonts, using sans serif headlines and subheads with serif body text is a good rule of thumb.

A third typeface distinction is decorative (sometimes called display). These come in all shapes and sizes. They include the fancy, such as Brush Script and Engraved; the frilly, such as Thunderbird and Parisian; the elegant Park Avenue and Vivaldi; and the silly Ponderosa and Paper Clip. There are literally thousands of decorative typefaces. They should be used with caution. Most are difficult to read. Also included in this category are the bullet fonts, such as Dingbats, or the TrueType Wingdings that come with Windows 3.1. These are fun and have their place. But you should always consider their appropriateness for the task at hand.

Font: This term breaks the typeface distinction down a little further. Fonts designate the weight and, sometimes, size of specific typefaces. Times Italic 12-point, for example, is a font.

This distinction is, however, a little fuzzy. It really depends on whether you're talking about bitmapped or outline fonts (see the article, "Font Formats"). Bitmapped fonts require a separate file for each weight and size. In other words, to use Times at 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, and 24 points (there are 72 points per inch) in normal, italic, bold, and bold-italic requires 28 files--which most bitmapped font vendors label as 28 separate fonts. Outline fonts, on the other hand, require only one file for each weight at all point sizes. Technically (even though you can use them at any size ranging from 2 points up to and beyond 200 points) this gives you only four fonts. Obviously, outline fonts are the superior technology. Bitmapped fonts will soon be a thing of the past.

What You See Is What You Get

Fonts are also classified according to the target output device. The two distinctions are: screen fonts and printer fonts. This is important because the two devices--your monitor and printer--can't use the same fonts.

Screen fonts, of course, display on your monitor. They're used primarily by Windows, OS/2, and other Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), such as Geoworks and the Apple Macintosh. Most character-based DOS applications can't use them. Screen fonts worth their salt are WYSIWYG (pronounced wizzy-wig), or What You See Is What You Get.

WYSIWYG fonts allow you to see what a document will look like before you print it. Another important use for screen fonts is onscreen multimedia or slide-show presentations. Printer fonts, of course, print on hard copy devices, such as laser printers and slide recorders.

Apart from the bitmapped and outline distinction, there are two basic kinds of fonts: resident and non-resident. Resident fonts are built into the printer by the manufacturer. Non-resident fonts are not; your computer sends them as softfonts from the hard disk to the printer, or they can be installed with a font cartridge.

Font cartridges, most of which contain bitmapped fonts, were popular a few years ago. However, due mostly to advances in outline softfont technology, they may be phased out before very long.

Type Managers

Adobe Type Manager (ATM), Windows 3.1 TrueType, Bitstream FaceLift, and other type managers use outline printer fonts to render (or rasterize) fonts for both the printer and monitor. Though there are a few DOS-application type managers available, most work primarily in Windows. A problem with using type managers (or fonts, in general) in DOS applications is that each application is a separate entity. It requires its own version of the type manager and fonts. Another problem is that many DOS applications are not WYSIWYG; you can't really see what your work looks like before printing it. Windows, on the other hand, shares fonts and printer drivers among applications. This makes managing and using fonts much more practical.

As you type characters in your documents, the type manager creates bitmapped screen fonts, which Windows displays on your monitor. When you print, the type manager creates and sends a printer version of the font to the printer. What could be simpler? The only thing left to think about is what kind of type manager and fonts to use.

Type 1 vs. TrueType

Until the release of Windows 3.1, Type 1 PostScript type managers, such as ATM and FaceLift, were the most efficient way to handle Windows fonts. Windows 3.1 has its own type manager--TrueType--built in. Both font managing systems work well and produce high-quality screen and printer fonts. However, for all but a few Windows users, TrueType has some extra benefits, especially in the areas of simplicity and expense.

The best thing about TrueType fonts is that they're part of the Windows' system. There's no third-party font manager to deal with, and the fonts are available to all printers defined in Windows. Type 1 font managers, such as ATM, require you to install fonts for each printer. If you forget to do so, or install them improperly, they won't print.

A major disadvantage of Type 1 technology concerns compatibility among different Windows configurations. In order for a document to format properly from one computer to another, both systems must have the same fonts installed. TrueType solves this problem with font embedding. With font embedding, when you save a document you can include the fonts as part of the file. The person you give the file to can then install the fonts in his or her Windows configuration and view and edit the file without the usual font formatting headaches. He or she also can embed the same fonts into another file and give it to somebody else, and so on. (Note that as of this writing, only Microsoft PowerPoint supports font embedding. However, many software developers plan to support it soon, including Aldus and Corel.)

Another advantage of TrueType is it's free. When you install Windows 3.1, the TrueType font manager and several TrueType fonts are also installed. To use them, just select the one you want and type away. If those included with Windows aren't enough, Microsoft and several font vendors sell TrueType font packages dirt cheap.

Microsoft's TrueType Font Pack for Windows, for example, gives you 44 fonts for only $99. If you already have a supply of Type 1 typefaces and don't want to shelve them, try one of the inexpensive font conversion programs to convert the Type 1s t o TrueType fonts.

As I mentioned before, a few Windows users should think carefully before switching to TrueType. Desktop publishers who often send files out to service bureaus for imagesetter output, for example, may find that their service bureaus don't stock a wide selection of TrueType fonts. Most service bureaus use Adobe Type 1 typefaces.

You can, however, get around this difficulty by printing your documents to PostScript print files (see "Printers As Hot Rods" in the September 1992 COMPUTE for a description of how to print to a PostScript file from Windows).

Others who should think twice about switching are users who already have a lot of documents formatted with Type 1 fonts. Windows does allow you to define font substitutes, so the equivalent TrueType fonts are used when the original Type 1 fonts are absent. But many TrueType fonts and their Type 1 equivalents don't have the same character widths and kerning (letter and word spacing). For documents where line breaks and text placement are critical, switching fonts could play havoc with your layout. The good news is that TrueType and other type managers can run concurrently. When I need to edit or print a document formatted with Type 1 fonts, I turn ATM on while working on that document. I'm betting, though, that TrueType is the font of the future. Eventually ATM and my Type 1 fonts will be deleted forever.