Considerations for Digital/Web Type

As someone just getting into type design I was wondering what the main considerations are currently for optimising typefaces for web and digital applications in general, especially now as the gap between digital and print is smaller than ever. Is designing to a pixel grid required? How important is hinting nowadays for usability? Do you think we will ever get to a point where there is zero distinction between typefaces intended for print and digital? 


  • as long as there are lower resolution monitors displaying the text, which there still are in 2018, many, and hinting is used in such a way as to improve the readability of the font, then Hinting will continue to be relevant. 
  • You should also design your glyphs to be open —

    Compare Helvetica Neue on the left with Calibri on the right. Calibri's apertures are much more open, aiding legibility at small sizes.
  • Johannes NeumeierJohannes Neumeier Posts: 255
    edited February 2018
    I've written my master’s thesis on designing a typeface specifically for the use in screen interfaces. That is a somewhat different focus, but overlaps in many aspects with general type design for screen, so some of the chapters might it be well worth a peek.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,851
    Johannes, would you consider making your thesis available via Lulu or another print-on-demand service? I would very much like to have a book version.
  • I had considered making physical copies available in one form or another eventually, and at no profit so, since some of the image material was granted for fair use in a research publication only. Alas, I have not gotten around to it.

    However, I have a couple of samples from the first print run available still. PM me your post address and I'll send a copy on its way to you, or anybody else interested.
  • @Matt McDonagh Thanks, I was actually thinking more about the technical side of things, but this brings up another point – why do you think these tech giants such as Google and Apple with went with more closed forms in Roboto and SF? Did they deem branding/design aesthetic more important than legibility? 

    @Johannes Neumeier This is awesome work, thanks for sharing! Silta looks great.

  • I’m slightly going off topic here, but considering the relation of type designed for print as opposed to digital, how do print based decisions like ink traps affect usability in digital?

    I actually quite like the look of ink traps and deep notches on screen if nothing for aesthetic value, I feel the it activates the whites more adds a certain vibrancy. 

  • Type is printed at 1200 dpi in professional settings. The best phones are under 600 dpi for now. Even an office xerox will do black text at 600 dpi. The phone will be better than your home printer.
    phones which have very high resolutions that are better than print.
  • I'm thinking of book printing here. It will be different if you're printing out a poster. Digital direct printing can be much lower, but it doesn't have to be. As long as the printer is postscript, the resolution is dependent on the printer. Heidelberg digital printers have 1200 dpi for black and white printing.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,857
    edited February 2018
    The resolution being dependent on the printer is generally the case, not particularly an issue of PostScript vs other device languages. (PCL added vector font support with PCL 6 in 1995, 22 years ago.)
  • Type is printed at 1200 dpi in professional settings. The best phones are under 600 dpi for now. Even an office xerox will do black text at 600 dpi. The phone will be better than your home printer.
    High-end vector data for offset is sometimes RIPed at around 4 or 5,000 dpi. Unless someone is trying to read 2-point type with a magnifying glass, it's probably overkill. I think the real point, though, is display resolutions are rapidly approaching the point where tediously tweaked hinting is becoming increasingly less important for most purposes. 

    Crossing that boundary between the time/money spent exceeding the gains achieved probably depends on what the typeface is intended to do. Yes, there are still many people using lower-end and older desktop monitors, but at some point it becomes a decision about how how much time should be spent on catering to an ever-diminishing group of left-behinds. For most purposes, I'd say we're probably already there.
  • Don't overlook that print is black and white only. Digital screens use antialiasing, and I suppose even the best screens still antialias their text. 1200 dpi is just about enough for not-too-small print; 2400 dpi and higher is a more realistic number.
  • Automatic hinting is ok, and both VTT and TTFAutohint, do a great job of getting you started. However, fine tuning the details, and making sure all glyphs in the fonts, including accented glyphs for instance look great, is the key to achieving the best quality. VTT allows you to easily do this fine tuning, and it can be done in TTFAutohint, via control files.
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