Fonts – The History and Basics


Fonts – The History and Basics

Author: Rex Camposagrado

Fonts are a set of glyphs or images that represent characters from some particular character set in a particular size and typeface. The fonts term comes from the Middle French fonte, from fondre (meaning to melt or cast) which referred to type produced by casting molten metal at a type foundry. Fonts in printing, sometimes called Fount, are a complete set of type of any one size, with all the usual points and accents; a font consists of about 100,000 characters. In computers, a computer font is an electronic data file which contains a set of glyphs, characters, or symbols such as wingdings. Although the term font first referred to a set of metal type sorts in one style and size, since the 1990’s most fonts are digital and used for computers or computer devices.

Ascender is a leading provider of advanced font products specializing in type design, multilingual font development & licensing and software development for mobile phones. The Ascender team is renowned for its TrueType and OpenType font expertise, and can tune fonts and create custom fonts for on-screen legibility in Microsoft Windows as well as Digital TV fonts, Set Top Boxes, Mobile Phone fonts, Game Consoles fonts, Embedded Systems, Consumer Electronics and other devices.

Font History and Font Formats

There are different font formats – which one should I choose?

OpenType fonts (.OTF) – OpenType is a scalable format for computer fonts that was initially developed by MicrosoftTM, then later joined by AdobeTM Systems. OpenType fonts were first announced in 1996 and AdobeTM completed conversion of its entire font library to OpenType around the end of 2002. In 2005, there were around 10,000 fonts available in OpenType font format, with Adobe’s font library making up under a third of the total. As of 2006, every major font foundry and many minor ones were developing fonts in OpenType font format.

TrueType fonts (TT or .TTF) – TrueType is a digital font technology that was designed by AppleTMComputer, and is now used by both Apple (MacTM) and Microsoft (PC) in their operating systems. Microsoft has distributed millions of quality TrueType fonts in thousands of different styles. TrueType fonts offer the highest possible quality on computer screens, printers, and include a wide range of features which make them very easy to use. PostScript Fonts(Type 1) – PostScript fonts predates TrueType by about six years. First, there were many different font formats for digital fonts, none of which were standardized. Then Apple adopted Adobe’s PostScript page description language (PDL) for its Apple LaserWriter printer in 1985. This, combined with the introduction of desktop publishing software, sparked a revolution in page layout technology. ClearType Fonts(found on – Microsoft ClearType fonts are an unprecedented innovation in font display technology that dramatically improves font display resolution and marks a genuine breakthrough in screen readability.These Microsoft fonts were designed by Microsoft and leading type designers and font technologists to improve the reading experience in Windows VistaTMand Microsoft Office 2007TM.With ClearType font technology, the fonts on your computer screen look almost as sharp and clear as those printed on a piece of paper.

The choice of font format is mostly based on the kind of documents you create and your computer environment. Here are some general guidelines: OpenType TT OpenType TT fonts contain TrueType® outlines, and have a .TTF file extension. This is the default font format of both Macintosh and Windows systems. OpenType fonts with TrueType outlines are popular among home users and both small and large businesses or other enterprises. OpenType PS OpenType PS fonts contain PostScript® outlines, and have a .OTF file extension. OpenType PS fonts are replacing Type 1 fonts as users upgrade their systems. Type 1 PostScript Type 1 is the original font format that was part of the desktop publishing revolution that started in 1985. Type 1 fonts for PostScript and PostScript compatible printers consist of more than one file and have a limited character set. These limitations are overcome with OpenType fonts.

Font Characteristics

Font Weight

There are three basic categories of font weights: light, regular, and bold. The regular font weight for most typefaces is slightly lighter than medium. Many computer fonts for Microsoft Office, Web and common use come with a normal, regular and a bold weight. Font Weight relative order: thinultra lightextra lightlightsemi lightbookregular, (roman), plain, normalmediumdemi bold or semi boldboldextra boldheavyblackextra blackultra Font Width compressed, condensed, narrowwide, extended Font Families There are a multitude of typefaces that have been created over the centuries and they are commonly categorized into font families according to their appearance. At the highest level, one can differentiate between blackletter, serif, sans serif, and decorative fonts.

1. Blackletter Fonts Blackletter fonts were the earliest fonts used with the invention of the printing press. They resemble the artistic handwritings of cloisters in the Middle Ages and fall into three groups: Gothic fonts and Old English Text – Of all the blackletter fonts, the Gothic ones most closely resemble the Textura calligraphy used with manual copying of books. A Gothic typeface was thus also carved by Johannes Gutenberg when he printed his 42-line Bible, including a large number of ligatures and common abbreviations. While in Germany, Gothic fonts were quickly displaced, they remained in use in great variance and are frequently also referred to as Old English Text fonts.Schwabacher typefaces were predominant in Germany from about 1480 to 1530. Most importantly, all of the works of Martin Luther, leading to the Protestant Reformation, as well as the Apocalypse of Albrect Durer (1498) were printed in this typeface. It was probably initially used by Johannes Bamler, a printer from Augsburg, in 1472. The origins of the font name are unclear; some assume that the font was designed by a typeface carver from the village of Schwabach who worked externally and was thus referred to as the Schwabacher.Most commonly known among the blackletter fonts as those of the Fraktur font family, which stated when Emperor Maximilian I (1493 – 1519) established a series of books and had a new typeface created specifically for this purpose. Fraktur faces were widely used in Germany until the end of World War II.

2. Serif Fonts Serif fonts are divided into four font groups: Renaissance – this font type has a slight difference in thickness within each font. This font category includes the GaramondTMand PalatinoTMfont families.Baroque – this font type has a thickness within each font with greater variety. This font category includes the BaskervilleTMand Times New RomanTM font families.Classicist – the most variance of thickness with each font. This font category includes the BodoniTMand Century SchoolbookTM font families.Modern fonts – these fonts are designed mainly for decorative purposes. This font category includes the RockwellTMand AmasisTM font families.

3. Sans Serif Fonts Sans Serif fonts first appeared to be the “Egyptian” font released in 1816 by William Caslons’ foundry in England. The Sans Serif fonts are commonly used for display applications such as signage, headings and other applications where the font is needed to stand out and continuous reading is not a requirement. Sans Serif fonts are divided into four font groups: Grotesque – This font category includes the GrotesqueTMor Royal Gothic fonts.Neo-grotesques – This font category includes the Standard, ArialTMand UniversTM fonts.Humanist – This font category includes the Gill SansTMor FrutigerTM fonts.Geometric – This font category includes the FuturaTMor SpartanTM fonts. Other common Sans Serif fonts include: LucidaTM, TahomaTMand VerdanaTMfonts.

How to Download fonts makes is easy for you to download the font. For every item that you purchase there will be a download link on the order confirmation page. Additionally, the receipt that is automatically emailed to you will also have the links. For more information, please view our Font Help page section on “How to Download Fonts” How to Install fonts provides font downloads in two forms: Automatic Installer for Windows Manual install for Windows/Macintosh/Linux/Other For more information, please view our Font Installation page under Font Help. All trademarks are property of their respective owners. Please view our Trademarks page for more information.

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