Tag Archives: Font

Taking a Butcher’s at Fonts

Fonts are fun.  When we (Lazy Bee Scripts) publish a stage play or pantomime, we pick a title font that says something about the content.  Usually it’s a feeling conveyed by the typeface (from chilling to frivolous); occasionally it’s suggested by the font name – so I have used a font named Gaslight for plays set in the late Victorian era.

So far, so good.  However, we distribute a lot of scripts as Word files and that brings some additional problems.  Obviously we don’t expect our customers to have the same fonts installed on their computers as we do, but Word provides a means of embedding TrueType fonts into the Word file, so that they are available to readers of that file who don’t have the font installed.  There are two options for doing this: embed the whole font file or only characters used in the file (which Word recommends as “best for reducing file size”).  We take the latter option.

When the customer opens the file, if they don’t have the font installed, they may see a message about restricted fonts.  Sometimes we use fonts that (for copyright reasons) are not freely distributable, however, if embedded, they will show up on-screen and may be printed.  What the customer can’t do is to edit a document containing a restricted font.  That’s fine.  Most of our customers do not need to edit our scripts.  (Not least because of the general point that you should not change a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder.)  However, there are occasionally good reasons for editing (embedding lighting cues for a specific production, for example).  In that case, if the customer saves an editable version, they will lose the embedded font and Word will substitute its default system font (which probably won’t look anything like our chosen font).

The next problem was pointed out to us by author Tim Cole when we sent him a copy of his script Butchers.  When he took a butcher’s *, he pointed out that there was a spurious square at the end of the title.

Usually, spurious squares are an indication that the creator of a font has not implemented some characters (usually punctuation marks).  In this case, the square appeared at the end of the line, in the position of the paragraph return.  Even more bizarrely, making the paragraph marks visible displayed the pilcrow (the printers’ end of paragraph mark, ¶ ) in the chosen font.  Somehow, when the pilcrow was supposed to be invisible, Word was trying to display a character that wasn’t in the embedded character set.

If you paid close attention to my second paragraph, you may have identified the obvious way around the problem: instead of embedding just the used characters, why not embed the whole font?  You’re right.  I tried that, and indeed the invisible character that isn’t embedded in the “used characters” is part of the whole font set and so if the whole font set is embedded, the problem disappears.  Unfortunately, there’s a cost to doing that.  Remember that recommendation from Microsoft that embedding just the used characters is “best for reducing file size”.  Embedding a whole font in a test document grew it from 98 kB to over 1.7 MB – so one invisible character cost me 1.6 MB of storage space.  The problem is prevalent in all non-installed fonts and, since we don’t know what our customers have installed on their computers, applying the fix to all scripts would cost us 10 GB of on-line storage.  (You can argue that this is not very much by modern standards; however Lazy Bee Scripts is a small publisher with small storage requirements compared to, say, YouTube.)

I found a different solution, which was to replace every return character in a script title with a return in the document’s default font.  Quite tricky to automate (and, because of thousands of scripts, it needed to be automated), but it removes the spurious square at no cost to the file size.
All this may well be a feature of the latest version of Word.  I had not come across it before, but then I don’t keep archived copies of different versions of Word just to test for Microsoft’s problems.

 

 

*     “Butcher’s hook”, rhyming slang for look.  Not many people see butcher’s hooks any more, but they were very useful to my grandfather.

The Font of All Knowledge

Amongst many other things, Lazy Bee Scripts publishes plays intended for performance by young children.  Young in this case can be taken as meaning relatively new to reading and writing.  As a result, I am perpetually niggled by the issue of readability.

Actually, this is a specific case of a general issue: what constitutes a readable font?  Whenever I dip into the academic literature on this subject I get two contradictory answers.  The first answer is that seriffed fonts (those with tiny lines decorating the tips of the strokes of a letter), Times Roman, for example, are more readable because the serifs help to define and distinguish the letters.  The second answer is “the plainer the better”, so sans serif fonts are easier to read because they are less fussy.  To date, Lazy Bee Scripts has gone with the former verdict, however I am unhappy about this for scripts aimed at the early years of the education system.

The reason for my discomfort stems from the start of the alphabet.  Look at the lower-case letter A in Times New Roman, then compare it to the way the letter is taught for handwriting.avsa5 The printing font – in this case Times New Roman – has a curl going back over the top of the letter.  (David Lovesy, who, when he is not writing or performing comedy sketches, works in the art and design field, tells me that this ornament is called a terminal.  He also tells me that this information is useless, unless it happens to come up in a pub quiz.)  This is not taught as part of the (early years) writing process, not least because it is unnecessary for distinguishing the letter.

Now, you may think that this feature of the lower case A is part of a seriffed font.  Not so.  Take a look at the common sans serif fonts – Arial for example – and you’ll find that the vast majority have the terminal.  (Irritatingly, many fonts, including Times New Roman, lose the terminal for their Italic versions.)

This came to a head for me whilst I was working on I’ll See You In My Dreams.  Michal Y Noah’s book for young children has been adapted into a play (to which I contributed the songs).  So I embarked (not for the first time) on a hunt for a better font for early readers.  You might think that there are a lot of fonts available with the schoolbook a – and so there are, but most of them have other problems.  There are two issues: all letters need to be distinct (low confusability), and the font needs to look professional. The vast majority fail at the first hurdle:-ivsl2 (For adult readers, the similarity between those two glyphs doesn’t matter, because we will interpret them according to context.  For young children, this is an unnecessary complication.)  The obvious contender that passes the confusability test is Comic Sans, but it doesn’t look professional.  (In defence of Comic Sans, it was never intended to look professional; it was created by Vincent Connare to look like the font used in the handwritten speech bubbles in comic books. It fulfils its purpose, but it wouldn’t look great in a newspaper, a business report or a play script.)

In the end, I settled on two fonts: Primer Print (from Typodermic Fonts), which works for body text, but (in my view) not so well as a title font, and Fibel Vienna (by Peter Wiegel), which is better for headlines, but (I think) has the wrong aspect ratio for body text.  I have provided an example here (pdf), showing what the same text looks like in Times New Roman and in Primer Print.  I’ve implemented this approach for I’ll See You In My Dreams, and if the general view is favourable, we’ll apply it to other scripts for children.

If you have experience of, or strong opinions about this issue, feel free to leave a comment below.