Category Archives: Typography

Web fonts used in print

I am always amazed, though, to see grossly overused“Web fonts” show up as display type on a printed page. Yet I did on several entries this year. If I were to return exclusively to print design, one thing’s certain: I’d never again use Verdana, Georgia or Trebuchet!

Jay Small shares his observations made at the earlier reported Society for News Design’s25th Annual Best of Newspaper Design competition.
Well, I am only mildly surprised that somebody would use those fonts for print design. After all they appear by default in the font list on your computer. Not everybody knows that all three were created specifically for enhanced legibility on screen display. Moreover, most reports typed in on the computer are then printed out, leading people to get used to reading them on paper.

What about you? Did you ever use those fonts for print jobs, or were you ever asked to? How did you react and did you manage to convince the client or your friends otherwise?
I also found this interesting study (2001): A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which is Best and When?

Indeed it is interesting to see Verdana and Georgia in print. Like mentioned ablove, they were all designed for screen by our beloved MC. I have to disagree though when somebody says that verdana is a good font for print. For my personal taste it is heavy and clumsy. However – I have recently compared Georgia to some of the classic typefaces and the outlines are not bad at all. What Carter said in one of his interviews was that he paid much more attention to the space in between the letters than on the letters themselves. This is a standard typographic procedure (since a punch cutter had to cut the counter punch first – which was the space) but often neglected. If you look at Georgia in detail, you will se certain slightly odd features, which are adjusted with excellence, but still visible. I think it is completely fine to use it for smaller – ‘homegrown’ – printed matter, but for continuous text I suggest to look somewhere else.

Trebuchet however is not a nice face at all. The lowercase ‘e’ stands there with an open mouth, the ‘i’ amd ‘j’ have very strong upper serif-terminals and the lowercase ‘g’ has got a really big upper bowl. I think – again because of personal taste – it is kind of ‘all over the place’. Maybe good for screen, not good for print.

But what is interesting is that we might be talking about something that is soon irrelevant anyway. OS X has introduced to its font smoothing capabilities and the fonts we are talking about are mainly designed to work as pixelated faces. So let’s see what comes next.

To continue this talk of converting screen typefaces for print applications, I would like to add the thought about whether this is of any use. I have a few comments:

There are a multitude of typefaces to choose from – needless to say – (nearly) all designed for specific reasons. If a font is designed for screen based work then why feel the need to use it in print? I acknowledge the ‘split’ of designer / non-designer work, and the perceived attitude that ‘we are all designers’, but those with knowledge of type and design should not fall from their pillar into non-designed territory.

Concerning issues of legibility and readability,there is currently an interesting article by Phil Baines in the latest issue of Eye magazine. Coming under ‘Agenda’, it looks at guidelines issued by organisations such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind (UK), and responds with reference to debates of legibility that have been the concern of type designers for over 500 years. Government’s and certain organisation’s views over factors of readability seemed far removed from what type designers and graphic designers have been studying for centuries. Reading the article in conjunction with views from John Tarr (writing in the Penrose Annual of 1949) and Zuzana Licko (in Emigre), presents an arguement that ebbs and flows in design circles. Who controls / states what is legibile or readable? (It might be of interest to note that in Dutch these two terms come under one word. As indeed I believe the words ‘handwriting’ and ‘printing’ use the same basic term in the German langauge).

Verdana or Georgia should remain where they are – on the screen. The adage ‘we read best what we read most’ (Licko) holds true. But as designers we should try to honour for what purpose type was designed for. Otherwise we should all just use Helvetica for everything!