Type Case

Choosing the Right Fonts for E-Text

Type Case Q&A with Monotype’s Steve Matteson

In a short span of about 20 years, screens have increased from fewer than 100 dots per inch to 300 and more. This radical change in technology requires designers who serve publishing markets to look closely at typefaces and make wise decisions that will result in optimal reading experiences.

The greatest challenge, of course, is that with so many different devices all using various types of LCD or electronic paper surfaces, each screen has different characteristics that may erode the sharpness of letterforms. In addition, each reading application (browser, mobile app, e-pub) has different technologies for displaying typefaces as pixels.

With all these considerations, we caught up with Monotype’s Steve Matteson to understand how the company’s eText typefaces are addressing these challenges.

Type Case: What makes eText typefaces different from other digital typefaces?

Matteson: Our eText typefaces have been designed with reading on screen in mind. Rather than the screen being an interim step to a printed document, the screen is now often the final product where information is consumed. eText typefaces have an increased openness – spacing between letters and space inside letters. The ‘black’ parts of letters (round, straight and diagonal strokes) are made slightly heavier to prevent them from fading out.

Figure 1 eText - depend on what Figure 1. With all these variables there is one common denominator for achieving a good reading experience: preserving the visual contrast of the letterform and the background. Just as readers lost the added weight of letterpress ink squeeze with the adoption of offset printing, readers lose the same vitality in typefaces when they are rendered poorly in an electronic format.

Type Case: How do different device surfaces and screen characteristics (resolution) impact the sharpness of the letterforms?

Matteson: The different technologies that convert letterforms into pixels on screen use different algorithms to determine whether a pixel is all black or just a shade of black. Screens also are manufactured with various sized pixels (represented in dots-per-inch). For example, a 12-point letter H on a desktop computer may be made up of 16 pixels, whereas a mobile device may use more than 30 pixels to create the same letter H at 12 points. 

Backlit LCD screens will make the thin parts of letters appear lighter because of the intensity of light. Electronic paper, on the other hand, causes subtle gradations in black and grey that are hard to distinguish. This causes a lack of definition or subtlety in letter shapes.

Figure 2 eText - Hamb Figure 2. Much like text-size typeface masters in hot metal era designs, eText typefaces are larger on the typographic em square. The larger lowercase proportions are more comfortable to read in screen text sizes. Here we contrast the Baskerville eText design in black compared to the original Monotype Baskerville typeface in the gray background.

Type Case: Given the complexity of designing across multiple devices, what is the best way to choose the right eText typeface?

Matteson: There is typically no way to tell on which device/browser/e-reader your content is going to be read, so it's best to choose the worst possible scenario and make sure it reads well. eText typefaces are tested on a number of platforms to ensure they look as beautiful as possible. Of course, personal preference and the subject matter of the content will also play a role in determining the best choice of typeface. 

Figure 3 eText - Hamburgefon Figure 3. eText types are tuned with crisp hinting (code which aligns features to pixel boundaries for a higher quality representation).

Type Case: What’s next with eText typefaces?

Matteson: Digital typography continues to evolve with advances in technology, and part of the solution is to redraw typefaces with electronic output in mind. Monotype’s new eText typefaces, which are already seen in many popular consumer electronics devices, are enabling designers to raise the level of typeface quality to achieve the best possible digital reading experience.

Learn more about eText typefaces.

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