Font embedding in the real world

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Published:  January 25, 2011
Font embedding in the real world

For years, I’d been going on about font embedding. The original solutions, such as WEFT, were never that reliable: I remember my first attempt around 2000 came out all in italic. In those days, too, font embedding would work in one browser and not in another; plus there were plenty of legal ramifications to embedding fonts.

Over the last decade, the industry has come to more of an agreement on embedding. Some foundries and distributors sell licences to cover embedding, while there are now widespread tools available. Some designers have released Creative Commons fonts, many of which can be embedded.

Font Squirrel is probably the best known way to generate a kit (containing stylesheet code, website-only fonts, plus sample specimen sheets) and over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting.

The Lucire website was the first beneficiary of that, with the headlines displaying in JY Fiduci, a typeface family I developed for internal use (though once I finish the bold italic, I might release it). Initial thoughts: it looks somewhat bitmappy. It’s not – take a screen shot and blow it up and you’ll see some antialiasing – but it’s far from being as smooth as the rest of the page.

The headline is set in JY Fiduci, an embedded font. The writer believes it is not as sharp as a regularly installed font.

The headline is set in JY Fiduci, an embedded font. The writer believes it is not as sharp as a regularly installed font.

The pull quotation on this web page looks bitmappy.

The pull quotation on this web page looks bitmappy.

However, when enlarged, it is antialiased—just not as well as with a conventional font.

However, when enlarged, it is antialiased – just not as well as with a conventional font.

I also had some compatibility issues, with Chrome refusing to show the SVG files, though Firefox, IE, Opera and even Safari were all right.

Chrome fails to embed Fiduci, displaying text in a default font.

Chrome fails to embed Fiduci, displaying text in a default font.

In these days of broadband, the extra time taken to download (and the web page does this at the end) was negligible, though I would hate to load some of our pages on dial-up – assuming one was in a weak wifi area or in a less advanced country.

Having tried it with headlines, I went the whole hog when developing jya.co, JY&A Consulting’s new website.

JY&A Consulting's new website: embedded fonts all round, but the small type is not very sharp.

JY&A Consulting's new website: embedded fonts all round, but the small type is not very sharp.

Judgement: it’s really not that good with non-headline type, at least not the way browsers are rasterising the glyphs. I could have picked a different typeface family, but I wanted fidelity with the rest of the company’s materials. That’s probably a major consideration for a lot of designers. But it meant the result wasn’t as clear as I would have liked.

What it means is that designers will have to be far more careful about type, especially if they’re going to choose something that the client will use cross-media. While font embedding is, on the whole, a good thing, not all the bugs have been ironed out; for now, I’d recommend sticking to embedding for headlines, and avoid text unless you’re confident about download times and the ability of the chosen typefaces to stay legible at small sizes.

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