Fonts, Typefaces, Typography

Fonts, Typeface, and Typography -- what a mess. Not only does one have to repeat, essentially, the history of typography and letterpress printing to understand all this, but most fonts, like software, are protected and licensed in strange ways, which can increase risk.

And so, we turn to Open Source and Open Content licensing as well as interesting, beautiful and most of all useful typefaces to use these days.

Note that this page is updated on occasion.

Font Editors - Free and Open Source

There are two interesting open source font projects, the venerable FontForge and the relatively new and modern TruFont. FontForge also has a lovely Book Design with Fontforge.

Glyphs and Glyph Mapping

In short: characters are what you type, glyphs are what you see.1

Complex Characters

In many Southeast Asian languages, along with other South Asian-derrived scripts, there are complex characters which include overlay positioning of characters.

Kerning and Ligatures

There is not only special glyphs kerning (spacing) between specific sets of glyphs (e.g., x and each rounded glyph (a,c,d,e, etc.)), and ligatures, which are essentially unique hybrid glyphs representing two or my glyphs positioned next to each other (e.g., ff, fi, etc.).

Unicode Character Charts

Unicode specifies character charts and language blocks.

TrueType and OpenType

OpenType is an improvement over TrueType and can act as a wrapper around TrueType fonts, as well as extend their functionality through advanced glyph handling, as well as cross-platform compatibility.

OpenType vs. TrueType - 5 common misconceptions

While this video is useful, it does not take into account that OpenType is not a superset of TrueType and there are some features in TrueType not available in OpenType (e.g., hand-hinting), and being an older font format, there may (still) be more tools that work better with it.2

Digression into Languages, Scripts, Keyboards, Characters, Glyphs

First we start with languages, which may have one, more than one or no scripts (entirely verbal languages). Scripts consist of characters and glyphs, characters being discrete marks and glyphs being semantic. In many cases a glyph can be made up of multiple characters, and can also be modified in some way (kerning, position, etc.) based on combination.

Keyboards map keys to characters, but the specific font can have mapping tables which produce these custom glyphs when in some kind of proximity.

Previous Work

More than five years ago I posted something about fonts, namely comparison of a few typefaces.

Fonts of Importance

The ultimate goal will be working toward a nice set of typefaces which will support various scripts and collectively be a great toolbox for the creation of most kinds of documents and publications.

Types of Typefaces

  • Serif: Humanist - Caslon, Linux Libertine, Linux, Biolinum, Gentium
  • Sans Serif: Geometric - E.g., Beteckna, Futura
  • Sans Serif: Grotesk - E.g., Nimbus Sans, Franklin Gothic URW, Helvetica
  • Sans Serif: Humanist - E.g., Gill Sans, Verdana, Open Sans, Gentium

While this appears useful, and is based on the Vox-ATypI classification, the criticism that this is outdated, that small differences separate different categories, and ultimately that these categories are unhelpful in any meaningful and practical sense.

OTF has within it a different set of categories that can be used, including:

  • OS2 Width Class: From Expanded to Condensed
  • OS2 Weight Class: Standard style from very light, thin to heavy, black


  • PANOSE Family: Any, No fit, Text and display, Script, Decorative, Pictoral
  • PANOSE Serifs: Degree and type of serif (from normal sans through a variety of options)
  • PANOSE Weight: Standard style from very light, thin to heavy, black
  • PANOSE Proportion: From Expanded to Condensed

In the exercise of comparing and categorizing Thai typefaces, a few categories could be seen as helpful:

  • Sans, aka Sans Serif (though not are all Sans in the same way)
  • Serif (though sometimes difficult to see a big difference with some similarly shaped Sans, e.g., Google's Noto Sans and Noto Serif
  • Slab Serif (I prefer Block as it is more descriptive)
  • Script (handwritten)
  • Blackletter (aka Gothic, a more apt term), can include caligraphic fonts
  • Another category which is similar to script, but is more geometric and angular (hence Angular)
  • Monospaced (fixed width, typewriter)
  • Stylized (very special fonts that expand beyond these basic categories into a category of their own)

Licensing of Fonts

Fonts on the Web

For the web, where reading is quite important, websites should spend as much time on thinking about legibility as the recent typographic refresh on Wikipedia.

Typography Web Applications

There are quite a few interesting web applications for typography that may be useful.

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