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Typefaces for Screen Display

Back in 1975, AT&T wanted a new typeface to commemorate the company’s 100th anniversary. AT&T indicated that the requirements for the new typeface must fit more characters per line without reducing legibility to reduce paper consumption, reduce the need for abbreviations and two-line entries, increase legibility at the smaller point sizes, and be used for the phonebook directory. Matthew Carter, a now very famous and successful type designer, got the job and created the new typeface Bell Centennial.

Carter’s new sans-serif typeface was more condensed, increased the x-height, and used more space in the open counters and bowls. Aware of the printing limitations, he used letters with deep "ink traps," which allowed for the counterforms to be open making them more legible at smaller point sizes instead of becoming filled with ink; this also reduced ink usage, a serious consideration by those who buy ink by the truckload. His typeface was not effective at larger point sizes or on stock paper because the ink traps, little gaps in the corners of the counters, would not fill in and could be seen.

For its intended purpose, at small sizes, in poor paper, it was very effective. A particular typeface often must be selected, or designed, for the specific context. In 1975, available technology, the medium, and users were considered. As designers and developers today, these considerations remain throughout the design process. You need to understand that when choosing a typeface, context of use is key.

Challenges of Mobile Typography Technology Today

While some devices are beginning to allow effectively unlimited type selection, support vector glyphs, and have large amount of storage and running memory, most mobile devices are still resource and technology constrained. General issues of storage on the device, running memory, download times and cost of network access, limit availability of type for mobile application design. As almost all devices require raster (bitmap) faces, each size is loaded as a complete, different typeface. Most products end up with the device's default type, or with a very limited set of choices for their application.

Digital Fonts Today

Digital fonts used today are constrained by the technology display capabilities and the device OS. Most current mobile phones use anti-aliased fonts. Because of the display’s square pixel layout, anti-aliasing is used to render some of the pixels shades of gray along the edges of the letter. This helps users to perceive the letter as being smooth. Anti-aliased text is more legible when using larger font sizes for titles and headings; however, using anti-aliasing text in small font sizes tends to create a blurry image. Consider the mobile display’s capabilities when choosing the font size and font family because they might not be available for that mobile device.

Companies such as Microsoft, Bitstream, Monotype, and E-Ink have introduced their own type of font display technologies to improve readability for such devices. Some of these font technologies are constrained to a specific fixed arrangement of pixel display technology. ClearType, Microsoft’s subpixel rendering technology, is orientation specific and will not work on devices whose display orientation can change. However, ClearType works very well on LCD displays because of the fixed pixel layout. On some OS, there may be an "automatic" font setting which to detect if the display is an LCD or CRT to turn on or off sub-pixel rendering.

Font Rendering Technologies

The following are examples of some of the available rendering technologies used to improve type legibility on digital displays.

Be aware of display technology. ePaper, for example, is a series of technologies used for electronic digital displays such as eReaders (note that "E-Ink" is but one of many brands, and is not a generic label). ePaper generally relies on reflected, not emitted light, by suspending particles in a liquid; a charge causes the dark particles to rise and be visible, or bi-color particles to rotate from light to dark (technologies vary) and display dark areas on a lighter surface, much like ink on paper. While the stochastic nature of the display elements, contrast and low speed of the display change make ePaper design very different, current display technologies can only drive them with conventional backplane technology, so pixels are effectively square, as with all other display types.

While ePaper is a dramatic departure, every display technology has it's unique attributes. OLED and AMOLED displays, for another example, are lit-pixel displays (without a backlight). White text on black will, unlike a backlit display, use much less power than black text on white. This may be a key design consideration for those devices.

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Typefaces for Screen Display (last edited 2013-08-28 03:25:52 by shoobe01)