Subscripts: Type News and Links 1

super size my type
Recently I promised some short ‘newsy’ pieces. Meet Subscripts a new and ‘irregular’ feature, where I’ll list some typography resources, web sites and events. First to pop Subscripts’ cherry is:

Smashing Magazine’s

super-size me feature, The Showcase of Big Typography, which lists a number of sites, that…you guessed it…use big type. I like some of the examples; however, what most of them demonstrate is the power of type. Good type standing alone can make quite an impression. You certainly won’t need to use your screen reader with most of these sites, so even your grandmother will be happy.

However, something that really baffles me with a number of these sites, is their use of Flash and text as image (TAI). Text at large sizes on the web works pretty well, so why not use browser text? For example the yellow Designer Shock web site, could easily be turned into plain old XHMTL and CSS site (or even use sIFR) — and, if they wish to keep the clock, then that too can be achieved with real browser text and a little JavaScript. What do you think?

Type Radio

Hundreds of podcasts of interviews with people in type. Sometimes it crosses the twilight zone into the surreal, but overall it’s pretty entertaining and informative. There are interviews with the incredibly talented type designer and former Type Director of Linotype Akira Kobayashi, (designer of FF Clifford, Conrad and the ITC Woodland typeface, among many others; he also worked with Hermann Zapf, and with Adrian Frutiger on the redesign of Avenir); and also interviews with Gerard Unger and even one with Helvetica (yes, an interview with Helvetica the typeface).

If you’d like to learn more about Letterpress, then take a look at British LetterPress, a new site about getting started with Letterpress — with everything from where to buy equipment to assembling type. Even if you don’t plan on buying a a 2-ton letterpress and 100kg of lead type, then it’s a wonderful educational resource. Many thanks to Manuel Martensen for the link.

There’s also a wonderful Flickr set of photos on Letterpress Composition, Make Up and Proofing that’s an absolute must-see. I’m hoping to interview Michael of Interrobang Letterpress next month, so stay tuned.

I’ll announce the winner of the Kinescope Font Giveaway in the next article. More than 300 of you have already entered. I really need to get some more prizes for you all!

I was recently interviewed for SheUnlimited in what is becoming known as The 10,000 Toilet Rolls Interview (why did I have to go and say that? Well, you live and learn). I hope that’s enough to sate your typographic thirst. Let me know what you think of these links, and feel free to send me your own via the contact page.


  1. Robert

    Wow that “The Showcase of Big Typography” site showed a lot of really good stuff. I got so inspired. I agree a website that is completely CSS is really amazing. But lazy people such as myself still tend to use flash and saving the type as an image. I do plan to learn more CSS though, it’s just so more powerful and easier to edit. :)

  2. Kari Pätilä

    There’s still some life left in Georgia, so CSS typography in general doesn’t have to be all boring.

    On the other hand, when dealing with larger type the problems with kerning and such tend to grow as well, so sometimes you’re really better off using images.

  3. Philip

    I’m not sure, but I think it’s because XP doesn’t come with the font smoothing on by default. It’s not too noticeable with the body text, but you can see what happens to the headings with smoothing off.. it’s not exactly pretty. Or maybe I’m just used to the anti-aliased fonts.

  4. Robert
    That you were inspired is great to hear. And it’s not always laziness. With time constraints we work with what we work best at (what an ugly sentence). I reckon I should sleep.

    You’re right about the need for tighter kerning at larger sizes, and although CSS letter-spacing can help alleviate the problem, it’s not a panacea.

    I spend most of my time on a Mac, and then when I do have to use Windows, I have font smoothing on; so, yes, it’s easy to forget. A reminder for me, and a reminder for Windows users to turn font smoothing ON. Thanks for the image: really brings it home — ouch!

  5. Lis

    One of the biggest things for a web designer is to make sure you know how your site is going to look.. everywhere. I do a LOT of work with CSS, I think it’s great. But when it comes to typography… I prefer images or flash (depending on the precise usage)

    Flash will allow you to use any font you like - a big bonus if you are using anything not super standard (especially with several different OSes floating around right now). You can control precisely how smooth it is, how big it is… everything. While you can control a helluva lot with CSS, you cannot determine precisely how it will look on the other side.

    If you use a lower version of flash, you can also assure that the majority of people looking at your site will be able to see it. Very few OS-browser combinations do not support Flash (the only ones I’m coming up with run on a *Nix base) and with the compression available now, there’s no reason not to — if flash will make it appear as you desire.

  6. Truth be told, I like most of Smashing Magazine’s articles, but they often select way too many sites made solely with Flash that look pretty but have horrible usability issues.

    It is relatively easy to make a “pretty” site in Flash, but it lends itself to quite a few usability issues and thats why I don’t really touch it. Flash in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. I think its good for video-related sites and great for games and animation, but using it in most kinds of business and personal websites is a mistake in my mind.

    PS: If I owned 10,000 toilet paper rolls, I’d totally build a fort out of them.

    PPS: Letterpress is pretty interesting. I think its neat when business cards have a bit of texture. The prices for it seem expensive, but I’d think it would be worth it. Maybe covering various types of professional printing technologies and options would make for a good article at some point John.

  7. Jared

    I’m typically a big fan of Smashing Magazine’s articles, but this one just wasn’t really well done. I enjoyed the topic, but because the website screenshots were all strung together it was hard to tell what’s what. And there was absolutely no commentary or categorization of anything. Pretty much useless.

    And John, I’m surprised that you didn’t mention that iLT was included in the SM article. Congrats!

  8. Oh, letterpress! I had my wedding invites done on letterpress by one of my professors. He got a machine for free (he just had to pay to have it delivered to his home from an old print shop) and he does a lot of work for Hollywood stars. He has a website, Backyard Press, but it’s not really up and running yet. He truly sparked my interest in typography (and I think we might be distant relatives… his last name is the same, spelling and all, which is rare, as my great grandpa—Heinz). I would love to be able to work on a letterpress some day. It’s so beautiful!

  9. I really admire your passion for sharing, John. Not only you post great things about typography you are good at, but you also give away prizes (great blog promotion anyway) and respond to many comments.

    I don’t know much about typography but I am eager to learn. I like the magic you use (Chocolate font!) and a lot of basic tips that should be obvious but are not!

  10. allan jones

    the main issue with using css to display fonts is that the end-user’s system must also have that font installed to display it. while this obviously isn’t a problem for the ‘standard’ fonts like arial and times new roman, anything outside the usual (i.e. nearly all of the fonts on the font display bar of this page) isn’t likely to be installed on most people’s machines. as a result, the page doesn’t display as intended, and doesn’t look as good as it could. the only really viable option is to use text-as-image for titles, and then a standard system font for the main body text of a website. it’s relatively boring, and doesn’t look as good as using a nicely picked-out typeface to make it stand out, sure. tai is also no good for accessibility, either. but in that case, there’s a trade-off between the look of the site and the actual real-world usability of the site that many designers don’t take into account. in effect, web designers are working with a limited palette of fonts, and that’s why these other options are popular alternatives to using the preferred (and imo superior) option of xhtml and css.

  11. Lis
    You make a good point. Yes, sometimes an image is the only option. For example, the header image of this site, if presented in browser text, would not have the same impact. I guess it’s about balance; finding a healthy balance between accessibility and aesthetics. I wonder what Zeldman has to say on this. Hopefully, in future we will see further improvements in on-screen fonts rendering and perhaps see some improvements to CSS3 — though no doubt, we’ll be waiting until CSS 6 before we see any dramatic changes.

    I’d like to really get into Letterpress too, but you’re right, the cost and the time involved make it quite an investment. If you do ever experiment with it, do let me know. Can’t wait to see that fort.

    I’m not sure that a commentary is necessary for these lists; however, a follow-up article with a little more detail and explanations as to why they were chosen would make an interesting read, and provoke some good discussion. I was waiting for you to mention it, Jared ;)

    Lauren (first ever iLT commentator!)
    He’d be an interesting chap to meet. Do you have any photos?

    Thank you. It’s a pleasure to share it, and even a greater pleasure to see the enthusiasm for the topic that you and so many other iLT readers share for type.

    There’s certainly a long way to go when it comes to improving web type. Embeddable fonts will surely become a standard feature one day, but until then, our options are certainly limited. However, that does make for an interesting challenge. Back in the days of metal type, we could say that in some respects they has fewer options at their disposal, yet we still marvel at their work. Really appreciate you contributing to iLT, Allan. Thank you.

  12. I’m baffled by that as well. Why not use (X)HTML, and then use CSS to replace it with a pretty background image?
    The text can be indexed by search engines, read aloud by screen readers, viewed on mobile devices without good image support, and the awesome graphic layout can be seen by those with good vision and a decent-size screen.

    @Allan might be interested in sIFR, which is designed to overcome the problem of using css to display fonts when the end-user’s system doesn’t also have that font installed.

    Thanks for the great articles, and site!

  13. I haven’t played with it yet, but the latest WebKit builds are supposed to support the @font-face rules that allow you to set it up so that users can use any font you place on your server.

    Three issues with that….

    a) If people can upload extra files to your computer, security would be a concern.

    b) Like the music industry, font-makers may view this as a threat instead of as an opportunity and are going to lash out with more restrictive usage terms and maybe even DRM of some sort.

    c) Its going to take quite a while for IE and most other browsers to support this I’m guessing.

    Having extra web fonts available would be nice, but I hope that wouldn’t distract from other important things like having a great layout.

  14. @Chris — Yeah, I can’t imagine that that will fly. The licensing for this would be nightmarish, and it’d be about a thousand years before IE would build in support for it. I think we’re stuck with sIFR, CSS hacks, and Flash, for a while. (Unless Johno makes a breakthrough with ImageMagick!)

    Anyone remember WEFT? Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it…

  15. If you’re interested in font-embedding, here’s an article by one of the inventors of CSS:

    “a) If people can upload extra files to your computer, security would be a concern.”
    My understanding is that the security risk level is identical to embedded images, graphics, videos and audio.

    “b) Like the music industry, font-makers may view this as a threat instead of as an opportunity and are going to lash out with more restrictive usage terms and maybe even DRM of some sort.”
    I think the major font-foundries have been consulted. Not sure about that one.

    “c) Its going to take quite a while for IE and most other browsers to support this I’m guessing.”
    Agreed. Let’s encourage them to do so, since … ah, wouldn’t it be nice!

  16. For more information about embedded fonts, here’s an article by one of the inventors of CSS:

    (Not sure why my comment got lost…)

  17. Michael
    Many thanks for your response. Your comment was marked as spam. Very odd, especially as your preceding comments passed the spam filter without any problem. Apologies for that. The A List Apart article is a great one.
    As you allude to, one of the main barriers to widespread adoption is the Font companies (and foundries); the music industry parallel is an interesting one, and the font sellers are very aware of the developments with font embedding; I do think, however, that they don’t know what to do and how to do it. The only difference between the music industry and the font “industry” is that the font industry comprises many small companies and many more individual font designers, who make a great deal less than the singers and songwriters.

    I think it’s a really difficult one for the font sellers and type designers, but rather than opening up a forum and discussing the topic, they do appear to be — at least it looks like it — burying their heads in the sand.

    The discussion on this over at Typographica is an interesting one, though I don’t share Stephens “fear” of web-embedded fonts. I do think that once embedding becomes the norm (and it surely will), initially we’re going to see lots of “MySpace” typography. In the long term, however, surely more choices will leader to better web typography….

    The other barrier that you mention is of course the browser vendors; but then that’s a little Catch 22: should the vendors offer browsers that support embeddable fonts before the font industry decides what it’s going to do; or should they get on with it and hope the font companies follow. Perhaps no-one wants to make the first move.

    In all of this I don’t blame the Font “industry” (of course it’s not really organised enough to be accurately referred to as an actual industry); the situation is a complex one; and do the font sellers have the leverage, or even the money and resources to set the whole thing in motion. Imagine it: we could have type foundries going on strike!

  18. No problem at all.

    “I do think that once embedding becomes the norm (and it surely will)”
    Hope springs eternal.

  19. Inspiring, especially the smashing magazine article on BIG fonts was good, thanks for sharing!

    I agree with Chris though, some sites in the list are a bit backwards though, one was based on one background image! Which means the site will be inaccessible to quite a lot of people.. It looks like a photoshop mockup put online! no accessibility whatsoever, in terms of type most of them looked great though.

    I did know about font smoothing, seeing it on other computers, but didn’t know before how it was setup, what a shame :P, so yeah that’s an issue as well, it does make a huge difference, as a web designer it’s not that bad to have it turned off though, so you know what your fonts look like when you make them larger for a lot of people.

  20. Some cool links there John, thanks. (Those type radio interviews are weird at times, but very interesting)

    Also, I have to agree with everyone, it’s quite a surprise how dependent on images some of those sites are, it’s really very inaccessible, a lot of them don’t even have alt text!

  21. Unfortunately I have no photos of my old professor, John. But there is one on his website (I don’t think it’s a very good one of him though).

    Ah, here’s another one (from one of my other prof’s sites) and you can’t really see their faces, but this is the two of them together (and so’s this). I sure miss them! They were both excellent instructors in typography and design.

  22. Sallyyi

    I don’t understand everything about the enbedded fonts, but I like the Smashing post. Thanks johno!

  23. Another interesting discussion about embeddable fonts is, The resurrection of downloadable Web fonts over at 456 Berea St.

  24. Ko

    Keep up the interest in letterpress. The beauty of letterforms which type designers / punch cutters of earlier years could achieve in such small things as cast letters is still an inspiration.
    Even though I’m interested in all things typographic, and I only use it in daily life in digital form, I just love visiting those places where they still cast type and print by hand. The Stichting Lettergieten (Westzaan, Netherlands) has a large collection of matrices and still supplies lead type from their Monotype setters and other casting machines to whoever is into letterpress.

  25. Ko
    Certainly will. Hoope to have an interview with a Letterpress person pretty soon.

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