Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 148 / JANUARY 1993 / PAGE S4

How to choose the right font package. (includes glossary) (Compute's Getting Started with Fonts & Clip Art)
by William Harrel, David English

Nowadays you can literally find fonts at a dime a dozen. Shareware and 100-fonts-for-$5 packages abound. Just look in the classifieds in your favorite computer magazine, in one of the many forums on CompuServe or GEnie, or on your local BBS. The real question is, are the fonts usable? Many are not of good quality.

After deciding whether you need Type 1 or TrueType fonts (many packages come with both), be on the lookout for quality. To produce good screen and printer fonts, the outline fonts themselves must be well-constructed. Unless you choose a reputable font vendor (such as Adobe, Bitstream, Linotype, Monotype, or Z-Soft, to name a few), you really should get a money-back guarantee. The only way to judge font quality is to see how they display on your monitor and how they print. A safe choice for TrueType is Microsoft's TrueType Font Pack for Windows. For Type 1 typefaces, you can't go wrong with Adobe fonts, though they are a little pricy.

If you use TrueType, another consideration is font embedding. There are three types of TrueType fonts: Read Only, Read/Write, and fonts that don't support embedding at all. Read Only fonts allow the recipient of a file containing embedded fonts to view the file, but he or she can't edit the document or use the fonts with another document. Read/Write fonts can be distributed and used freely. Look for fonts that support Read/Write embedding (unless, of course, you don't want file recipients to edit your documents). All the fonts that come with Windows and those in the TrueType Font Pack for Windows are Read/Write format.

Choosing the Right Typefaces

There's something about fonts. They're enticing. Novice desktop publishers and designers have a tendency to use too many and to use them inappropriately. You shouldn't, for example, use a font simply because you like the way it looks or because you haven't used it before. Typefaces set the tone and make a statement about the document. Hence, you wouldn't use a silly font like Blippo Black in your company's year-end stockholders' report.

When looking for a font package, first decide what your needs are. If most of your work is business communication, such as letters, reports, and memos, look for font packages that contain businesslike typefaces. The most common are Helvetica, Times, and their equivalents. And, though not etched in stone, it's safe to use sans serif typefaces for headlines and serif fonts for body copy.

You can spruce up documents by choosing more elegant combinations, such as Avant Garde for headlines and Garamond for body text, or perhaps Universe with Bookman or Palatino. (Note that these typeface names are for Adobe typefaces; other font vendors' equivalents usually have different names.) It's also acceptable to use a bold weight of a font for headlines and the normal weight of the same font for the body. Another interesting combination is a light variation of a font for the body, and the normal weight for headlines, such as Garamond Light and Garamond Book.

If your work includes spreadsheets, tables, or other documents where space is critical, look for a package that includes one or two narrow or condensed sans serif typefaces, such as Helvetica Narrow or Helvetica Condensed.

The characters in these font families contain slightly compressed characters and smaller spaces between letters, allowing you to squeeze more words and numbers into tighter spaces.

If you plan to design brochures, ads, flyers, and other advertising material, your font package should include a few decorative typefaces. Remember that these come in a variety of styles and tones--from carefree and happy to elegant and staunchly serious. Your font package should contain some of each kind, so that you're not confined to only one tone. You wouldn't, for example, use CopperPlate Bold, a strong and forceful typeface, to announce the annual Christmas party. The typeface just wouldn't fit the occasion.

You'll also need a collection of bullets. The most common is Dingbats, which includes arrows, hollow boxes, check marks, and several other useful characters. These come in handy for creating forms and adding professional touches to your documents. You can, for example, use check marks instead of plain old black dots for bullets, and hollow boxes are great for creating checklists.

Before You Buy

The ideal font package contains a little bit of everything--a few serif and sans serif typefaces, varied styles of display typefaces, and at least one bullet font. With so many products available, the competition is steep and prices are low. You shouldn't have any problem finding a collection of fonts to suit both your taste and needs.

If the only work you do is business writing, you probably don't need additional fonts. The Times and Helvetica equivalents (Times New Roman and Arial) that come with Windows 3.1 are good typefaces. They display and print quite handsomely. Also, if you plan to buy a draw or presentation package soon, you may want to hold off buying fonts. Many graphics applications come bundled with extensive font collections. Corel-DRAW 3.0, for example, comes with 255 Type 1 and TrueType fonts. While not all of them display as well as they should, all print nicely, and you can use them in any application that supports either format. Gold Disk's Professional Draw (an excellent draw program, by the way) also comes with 100 good Type 1 and TrueType fonts.

How Many Fonts Do You Need?

While many people collect fonts and have vast libraries, seldom do they use more than a few. This is true even of desktop publishers and designers. I have over a thousand typefaces sitting on the shelf behind me. But in the hundreds of brochures, newsletters, and books I've designed, I doubt if I've used more than 50 of them. The rest collect dust. Although font vendors may not agree, one good package containing a few fonts for each task you use your computer for is about all the fonts you'll need.