Font scaling and font smoothing

Discussions about the development of TrueType and OpenType fonts.
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Font scaling and font smoothing

Postby mikeycorn » Sun Feb 29, 2004 8:13 pm

Before I delved into the FCP, I had always thought fonts were actually bitmaps - really, really big bitmaps - but bitmaps that then were scaled down to smaller sizes. Now I know better, but it brings an important question to mind.

The thing is, running Windows XP with the font smoothing turned on, almost any font looks pretty decent, but as a software developer keeping in mind that most Windows users are still viewing their fonts in a binary / pixellated format, I've turned off the font smoothing and it's a whole other story with most fonts when you see them sans smoothing.

Even with font smoothing off, once again, the Microsoft fonts like good ol' Ariel, Verdana and Tahoma, they still look perfect when they're scaled down to smaller sizes, however almost every other font in my collection has some problems at the small sizes.

I read an interesting thread here suggesting the 2048 units per em, but is there more to it than just that? Do the font designers at Microsoft know things like how wide to make an "o" so it translates perfectly symmetrically down to 8 pt. size? I have thousands of other fonts and they look good at a large size, but take them down to a very small size and you see it scales down kind of randomly and it's just not very appealing to look at.

Because when you come down to it, these glyphs really do become bitmaps, right? With the font shading off, with no anti-aliasing, all the fonts are really reduced to a two-color bitmap. Is there some magic formula that allows you to be totally in control of how your big glyph scales down into that bitmap?

Bhikkhu Pesala
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Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Mar 01, 2004 5:55 pm

Yes, what you mean is Font Hinting

Font Creator doesn't yet support the addition of hinting information, and editing existing font outlines in font creator will remove hinting information. You can, however, add new characters to a font in Font Creator by creating composites, without losing hinting.

Many fonts contain automatic hinting information, very, very few are manually hinted. I believe that Monotype Georgia is one of the few manually hinted fonts.

I find that since most fonts look fine with font smoothing turned on, adding hinting is not really necessary any more. It substantially increases font file sizes, and anyway is not used in printing as it is irrelevant at high resolutions.

See my thread on font hinting and smoothing
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Postby mikeycorn » Sun Mar 07, 2004 6:14 pm

Thank you for the reply!

Sometimes when I read the complexity of the answer though, I'm almost sorry I asked! :wink: I just had no idea how complicated this font stuff was. I mean, of the two links, your post was pretty readable, but on the first time through the Microsoft white paper, I'd say I only understood maybe a quarter of what I read . . .

It looks like until I really know what I'm doing, outside of some symbols I'm creating, it looks like I'll be sticking with those three standard Microsoft fonts for some time to come.

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