Display Fonts

Using the fontmap.dir method of font installation opens up options which affect the appearance of text on the screen, even for the standard fonts (Courier, Times, etc.). Basically, there are three common ways to get text on the screen: Using a series of bitmapped fonts, using a Type 1 font, or using a TrueType font. In general, bitmapped fonts look best and are fastest to display at any given size, which no doubt is why Applix ships with bitmap fonts for a variety of sizes for its standard fonts. Applix doesn't even attempt to scale these fonts, though, which can produce some moderately strange effects. Specifically, if you use a font at a size not represented in Applix's bitmap set (e.g., Times 13), that font will display at a different size (e.g., Times 12), meaning that a line displayed as a certain length will print with a different length. This may not be important for most text, but it could be important when designing a table or something else that requires precise text placement.

Neither Type 1 nor TrueType fonts suffer from these problems, but they render more slowly and often aren't as legible, particularly at small sizes. In my experience, good TrueType fonts rendered by xfsft tend to look better on-screen than good Type 1 fonts rendered by XFree86. In fact, TrueType fonts which have been very well hinted, such as the base fonts that ship with MacOS or Win95, or the fonts Microsoft has made available for the web, can look quite good at screen resolutions. I have therefore gone through my fontmap.dir and replaced references to most of the standard bitmapped fonts with references to TrueType fonts; this maintains high legibility on the screen but gives a more WYSIWYG display. I've left the .afm file references to these fonts as-is, which seems to work well.

Another possibile modification to fontmap.dir for display purposes is to replace the standard bitmapped fonts with the Type 1 fonts that come with Ghostscript. To do this, it would first be necessary to create a fonts.dir file describing the Ghostscript fonts, and add the Ghostscript fonts directory to the FontPath in XF86Config. In my tests, this usually results in a reduction in legibility, but the display is more WYSIWYG in terms of character placement, at least in font sizes which don't match the sizes of the standard bitmap fonts. Palatino is particularly bad in legibility, as the horizontal lines in the "t" and "f" characters disappear at sizes below 16 points or so, at least on my 1024x768, 17-inch display. The other fonts fare better than this. There may be "standard" Type 1 fonts which would display better at screen resolutions than the Ghostscript fonts; for instance, the Type 1 fonts that come with Adobe's ATM, or the ones that come with IBM's OS/2. I've not tried either of these in this way, however.


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Copyright © 1997, 1998 Rod Smith, rodsmith@rodsbooks.com