Fonts

My handwriting is commonly understood to be horrible and allegedly impossible to understand. Most people I know, of the more varied professions, are spending far more hours typing than writing by hand. So the habit is lost, and an already challenging calligraphy becomes absolutely unreadable with the lack of practice, apart from painfully slow.


Still, sometimes we need to write with pens. There are still people who (shock horror!?) do not use email, let along any of those “social network” tools that the internet has brought. There are times when a letter has to be written. Not typed, but written. You would not send a letter in Times New Roman typeface to your grandma, would you?

I have some one in my personal network of people I write letters to who do not mind typed letters – better typed than nothing, I guess they think. But I wanted my letters to look a bit more “human-made” so searched for handwriting-style fonts for such occasions.

And I discovered a whole new field of human activity in the world of “true type fonts”, TTF, in the process. “Readme.txt” files do not usually amount for fascinating reading, and neither do the .ttf files themselves, but in this case, I learned something interesting from looking at them.

The .ttf files are the files where the actual characters are set. So, at first sight, they are just an organised of characters used by mostly European languages, boxed in a kind of table, so each character has its allocated slot. For example, there is a slot for character 4, another one for ³, another one for €, another one for ñ and so on (hopefully these examples will display correctly on your screen; more on this later. If they do not, they are: cubed, as in, exponential, the euro sign and the letter that denotes the sound «gn» in French or «ny» in Catalan).

Some fonts had more empty slots than others. In some extreme cases, there were fonts that had only the most basic and indispensable numbers and letters “just” for the English language, which make them sadly unusable for probably any other European language.

The readme.txt file usually contains the “license” under which the developer releases their font and allows others to use it. Some fonts are free for all uses; others are free only for non-commercial use. So far, so usual in the world of software, and software-related things.

And then came the surprise. In the form of font developers who offer tailor-made fonts just for you – for a fee. Some even specify that, upon receiving a sample of your handwriting, they can try creating a font that resembles it.

Now, I imagine I am not the only one arriving to the world of handwriting-style fonts because of the deficiencies of my own handwriting. Why would we owners of the most hideous calligraphies want to pay for the chance of easily spreading it effortlessly across our letters, blogs and websites?

Which brings on the next aspect of tailored, or just fonts that are not standard or widely available. I personally see no use for them other than the occasional letter-writing, and the pleasure it gives you to type your documents in a font or another. Outside this private realm, the world (read internet and publishing outlets) is made up of standards.

You can apply whichever font you wish to your personal site. But readers will only see your website in your desired font if their browser correctly identifies it; that is, if they have your font already installed in their computers. If they don’t, their browser is programmed to use an alternative font, which will be one of the industry-standard.

It would seem the next place to try your favourite font, or all the funky fonts you wish, is in the next book you’ll publish. This will make [financial] sense if your book is about art, or if different fonts signifiy so much in themselves it actually adds to the content of the text to have different typefaces. “The Neverending Story” comes to mind. A boy finds a book and the readers get to see exactly what is written in said book. The boy’s story is printed in one colour, what he reads is printed in another. That’s the one example I can think of. All other books I have read used black ink only and a “serif” type that resembled the Times typeface. All of them.

Apparently this is no coincidence. One of the first thing I was told when introduced to publishing is that it has been scientifically observed that the human eye “enjoys” reading most when the font is serif type; apparently it is less tiring for the eye and the brain, which is quite important if you’re intending to make them read through and process tens of thousands of words.

Overall it seems that (mostly) every font has its place in a wide range of writing situations. And bad handwriting, like most problems has its solution(s), and each solution has its limitations. And I still enjoy writing with pencils. For short texts, it is less tiring.