Web Fonts at the Crossing

by Richard Fink

26 Reader Comments

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  1. I know that @font-face has been around since IE4 but the recent developments have been great and I can’t wait to see what the future of web fonts brings. It not only changes the way that I design but the way that I code. Now that I’m needing text-replacement less and less, my sites are more quick; something that is incredibly important now that Google are basing rankings on site speed (to a certain extent).
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  2. I feels like I read at least one article per week about new developments in web fonts. Every time I see an article I think to myself great, finally a solution to the age old web font problem, yet after every article I come away with the same, empty feeling. While all the articles I’ve read about the progress of fonts on the web all discuss various thoughts about how things will eventually change, so far the end result is still hacky workarounds and mixed ‘standards’. sIFR, cufon, @font-face, and on and on and on and I’m still left with no single good solution. If I want to display an image on the web, I can easily post a gif, jpg, or png. They work. No kludgy workarounds needed (IE/png yeah yeah). I don’t mind discussing the progress of fonts on the web, in fact it’s vital for progress to be made, but can we stop rehashing the same argument about what currently works and doesn’t work and how ‘someday’ things will be better? Let’s focus our energy on advocating a real solution, one that will benefit font and web designers. Why it’s taken over a decade and a half to get fonts right is beyond me.
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  3. I think we already have great solutions for webfonts. Despite rendering issues, that will soon be covered by Microsoft on Windows, and despite the time taken to users upgrade, I feel comfortable about the WOFF solution (and I’ll be even more pleased with the advanced OTF capabilities). I can’t though be more unsatisfied with the overprotecting rules pushed by font foundries. It seems like they’re trying to cover they fear of not controlling their product by fooling customers with confusing EULAs and abusing fees. They advertise themselves as underpaid geniuses and ending treating customers as thieves. It’s clear to me, by observing fair distributors like FontSpring and exljbris, that there’s something wrong with the “traditional” and bigger foundries business model. What I can say by myself is that I won’t bite. I’ll continue to buy fonts from small foundries and hope that someday the bigger ones will eventually see the money they lost by treating web professionals with such ignorance. I also wanted to say that I really admire font designers, their passion and their product. I understand that they are trying to figure how to distribute their work. Maybe they should take some lessons from small and successful software companies. I feel optimistic about this empty feeling - as catchmyfame described - going away.
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  4. First off, I’d be remiss not mention “Fontdeck”:http://fontdeck.com/ as another font service to add to the mix. Plug over. Secondly, I think it’s worth taking a step back and thinking how far webfonts have come in a matter of about 18 months. _catchmyfame_ may say _it’s taken over a decade and a half to get fonts right_ but the reality is that it’s taken only year and a half. Webfonts only really became a viable possibility once Safari and in particular Firefox supported them as well. Until that happened we could only use EOT on IE and that simply wasn’t good enough. What has happened in a matter of months is the opening up of a whole new marketplace - nothing unusual there; it’s what the Web is good at. But what also happened was a complete turnaround of an industry - font ‘foundries’ and designers went from ignoring the web as a marketplace to embracing it. Maybe not all whole heartedly, and certainly not all immediately, but nonetheless I think the font design community (for that’s what it is) deserves some kudos for this, and should be cut some slack. Any comparisons with the music industry should be dismissed as hokum.
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  5. A correction: IE8 can, in fact, render EOT with CFF/PostScript outlines (unlike previous versions). For a while, the trick was actually getting such an EOT built, since WEFT doesn’t support CFF/PS. Today, there are some options for getting such an EOT built. Of course it will look pretty bad, since IE8 still uses GDI, which doesn’t do a good job with CFF/PS fonts.
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  6. @catchmyfame:
    @font-face doesn’t belong lumped together with sIFR and Cufon. @font-face is a standards-conformant solution. There is nothing temporary or hacky or proprietary about it. Implementations may differ for awhile but that IS the way fonts will be linked to web pages. Period. @victornogueira
    I, too, like the simplicity of a pay-once and be done licensing model. I believe a lot of customers will be lost to those who don’t offer it. But that said, +1 to what Richard Rutter said about comparing font designers to the recording industry. I haven’t seen any villains appear in this drama yet. Just people trying to figure out how to adjust to the realities of digital distribution. @Richard Rutter
    I’m sorry. I had no idea Fontdeck was out of Beta and alive and going. Hey, keeping up with this stuff is starting to get complicated, you know? Gotta sleep, sometime. I owe you a blog post for this, certainly. ;) Note: I have to fly from Florida to Rochester, New York today but I’ll back…
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  7. I asked this one over on typophile.com earlier today, but did not get any bites. Does anyone here know why iPhone/iPad/iTouch only supports SVG @font-face implementation, and not TTF (or WOFF)? Seems strange to me since Safari supports TTF from version 3.1 and later. Richard referred to SVG here as a “a much simpler and elegant @font-face alternative to font rendering” and “a major font format going forward”. Please elaborate. Might help to explain why Apple is not supporting TTF for Mobile Safari.
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  8. I’ve been trying all sort of hacks, scripts and what not to add custom fonts to my websites for a long time. The solutions described in “Making it work today” are the first that actually worked. I didn’t think I would see a custom font render on IE6 in Windows XP. And by custom I mean any font that doesn’t come with a standard installation of Windows, Mac and most Linux distributions. It’s not perfect, but to me it’s fine for now.
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  9. bq. As PNG and JPEG are to image formats like BMP and TIFF, WOFF is to TTF and OTF. I think this is a bit misleading. A jpeg is a file format and a compression method. Tiffs can use jpeg compression (or zip, or LZW). PNG isn’t just zipped BMP either. Otherwise, very interesting article :)
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  10. @chris roberts
    Why does Safari Mobile only support SVG? I don’t know, a mystery to me so far. But other mobile platforms don’t support @font-face at all, as yet, either. Expect to see fallback fonts for some time to come. @Radu.Tanasescu
    I’m glad the “making it work” rundown helped clarify things for you. @skilldrick
    Consider me niggled. In broad strokes, though, I think the analogy between WOFF and compressed image formats like PNG and JPG helps get the point across.
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  11. I knew there was a reason I was holding off on buying that typeface I really liked from this big name distributor. (That kind of behavior is not usually in my nature) I reread that distributor’s confusing EULA and right away saw exactly what Richard was talking about. Went over to fontspring and found the exact same font for the same price (with an option to purchase @font-face for a little extra) with a lot less restrictions. Thank you both!
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  12. Hi Richard — a nice article, with some good info. As you summarized, “Yes it is confusing.” I think part of this has to do with the variety of different perspectives on this topic. Like you and many other readers of this article, my company, “Ascender Corp”:http://www.ascendercorp.com, is passionate about web fonts and the potential it has for all the stakeholders. We have invested a lot in developing various web fonts solutions and web sites. Our goal is to provide web designers & developers with the best quality fonts and the typographic tools they need to implement web fonts. Unfortunately in your article you have glossed over some key points that add to the confusion. *Quality*: this is one of the key challenges with web fonts today. Fonts may look good at large headline sizes but totally illegible at small text sizes. Fonts may not look the same in Mac and Windows. Fonts used in a Photoshop wireframe design mockup may not render same when viewed as web fonts in web browsers. Why is this? The simple answer is that web fonts are different from print fonts. High quality web fonts need to be carefully designed, hinted and proofed. At Ascender we have chosen not to simply dump our collection of 10,000 print fonts onto the web. This would be a disservice to the market and would not further our collective goals of improving the typography and readability of websites. Instead we are investing a significant amount of time and resources in optimizing fonts for the web. Our efforts are led by Tom Rickner, the renowned type designer and font developer who hinted the fonts we all use everyday (and many take for granted) in Macs, PCs and mobile phones: Georgia, Verdana, Segoe UI, Droid, Prelude and others. We have a very strict, high quality bar that we have set for the web fonts we offer today, and those in development. In summary, not all fonts are created equal and web designers will figure this out one way or another (hopefully by not “pulling a Boing-Boing” by trying to implement a poor quality free font). *Font Hosting Services*: I think it is a bit disingenuous to add “obfuscation” and try to coin a new acronym to describe our approach to serving web fonts. Don’t we already have enough acronyms? EOT, WOFF, TTF, OTF, SVG, FOUT… :-) One of the many benefits of web fonts hosting services is that they simplify the process and cut through the confusion. Making web fonts simple has tremendous value to web sites of all shapes and sizes. The service we offer at our “FontsLive”:http://www.fontslive.com site, and the service we are developing with the Font Bureau at “Webtype.com”:http://www.webtype.com will provide significant value to both those who want to host their own fonts and those looking for an easy way to plug in web fonts without all the hassles that you’ve pointed out. What I take issue with is your comment that Ascender’s web font delivery system has “a clever but hacky DRM-like structure”. We went out of our way to avoid DRM, and built our system following web standards without “hacks”. Best of all, our web fonts system works for both our customers who use our hosting service and for those who host our web fonts on their servers. So yes, even a web font hosting service still has value to websites that want to host their own fonts. One of the benefits of FontsLive.com, and soon Webtype.com, is that we can generate all the web font files along with the CSS which customers will need, thus simplifying the process even for self-hosting websites. The value we provide is not only high quality web fonts optimized for rendering on screen, but also an easy way to obtain and implement the web fonts.  So I think your comment about web fonts hosting services being “a phase” may not prove to be true in the long term. Only time will tell. I look forward to ten years from now and looking back on 2010 as “˜the year of web fonts’ to see how it turned out for us all!
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  13. To: Bill Davis >Our efforts are led by Tom Rickner
    Who I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past few days with at the Future Of Reading Conference at Tom’s alma mater, RIT, in Rochester, NY. (Along with your colleague Steve Matteson, too.) Great people, and deeply committed to quality font design.
    Quite true. As for my choice of words, I stand behind them. But if, in the future - as user agents and business practices change - they no longer apply, I will happily say so loudly.
    All I advocate is informed, smart decisions. So what I would suggest is this: anyone reading these comments should go right ahead, try your service(s) under the free 30 day trial, and then, kindly report back on what problems, if any, they found and/or foresee. Including the pricing (based on bandwidth) and in light of the checklist. Fair enough? That would be a win all around, I think.
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  14. Great article - I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time however, something tells me that millions of dreadful websites made with Comic Sans and Papyrus will be popping up everywhere.
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  15. But current implementations are either too legally restrictive or too technically complex to be worth our time…
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  16. @Richard, _> As for my choice of words, I stand behind them._ I think you missed my point that you make references to Typekit, but then say that Extensis, Ascender and Monotype use DRM or hacks. Not true at all. We went out of our way to design our FontsLive site making it as efficient as possible, and delivering W3C compliant web fonts. I can’t speak for the others, but I don’t think any of us appreciate being painted with a broad, tainted brush. -:)
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  17. Richard: The www needed this article. I feel, however, you omitted to say EOT has always been able to overcome the licensing problems with domain specific fonts. Why doesn’t WOFF do this? It’s beyond me! Why didn’t the community embrace and develop on EOT? Probably because the old eot generator from MS offended us so badly with lots of other things besides TTF and OTF to EOT conversion, muddying the process with unrelated, un-useful functions. But EOT still remains a zipped, DRM’d format.
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  18. After reading this article, I got interested in trying out @font-face. The resulting performance made me think I must be doing something wrong: 7 to 11 seconds to load my page?! I began to look around for solutions but all I got was confirmation that this was ‘normal’ for font downloading. (See “Steve Souder’s Tests”:www.stevesouders.com/blog/2009/10/13/font-face-and-performance/) I must admit I am rather disappointed, but hopeful. Is there a solution to the performance issue?
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  19. RE: the guy who posted comment #18. Yep, tried that too. Some of these load times are just out of control. Also tried Google fonts. Some are okay, buy on the whole they’re nothing much. At this moment in time, I’ll stick to what’s already on user’s systems. Trebuchet, Arial, Georgia and Times. Just like ALA!
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  20. In listing point #3 in the initial roundup of the article there’s a link to EOTFAST. This website is reported as an attack site by Google. See link for details
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  21. “See link for details”:http://safebrowsing.clients.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?client=Firefox&hl=en-US&site=http://eotfast.com/
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  22. Hello, First of all, thanks for the article. I’ve translated it to Russian and posted in my website, while keeping all the credits: http://cascadi.ca/misc/fonts-at-the-crossing/
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  23. “Protecting fonts from being installable in an OS will seem quaint and silly in a decade when using fonts for something other than the web will be a rarity. Install fonts on your OS? Whatever, grandpa! In the near future, nobody will even want to install a font on an OS.”
    definetely ;)
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  24. Im not complaining, but it would be nice if there was a general font format that all browsers accept!  Less trouble in finding free fonts that work for all browsers. :)
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  25. Hi, I am new to this blog and this is my first post. I really enjoyed the article so I said I would say my bit. I have being doing Web design in Ireland for 3 years now and for ages I always had the problem with fonts, which ones to choose, which will actually come out ok on web browsers? For the first year I used Arial (save as houses) then I dabbled in Georgia and Myriad Pro and others. I eventually got sick of them and wanted a good choice so I researched it and kept seeing Google fonts coming up. I tried it out and WOW once you install them they look mint on a website. You get a great variety and you can type the words you like and see what they will come out like (in browsers) before downloading the font for FREE. If you are a newby like myself you will love this tip. Hope im a help to someone
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  26. Thanks for the info I always find it difficult to present information in a professional manner while obtaining the not so serious feel of a site. by the time i get to choosing a font im usually burnt out so thanks.
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