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Flash Professional Basics

Web Type

The web, being screen based, is a low-resolution place when it comes to type. Eventually, those crisp postscript fonts one sees on the screen are going to have to be "flattened" or rasterized. When a postscript font is rasterized for print it has thousands of pixels to work with.

On the web the opposite occurs. At best you can expect roughly 100 pixels per inch. Not only that, there is no postscript on the web. There are only pixels and at such low resolution, the subtleties of the typeface are lost. To make things worse, the second the type is "converted" to a graphic for use in a web page, the information is lost. A search engine can't find the words. Also, once a line of text is made into a graphic, unless it has an ALT Tag applied to it, it won't be "read" by visually impaired web surfers either. You can't reuse them elsewhere in the page and, in certain worst-case scenarios, the art will grow or shrink depending upon the vagaries of the design and the browser.

The core issue is one of copyright. The fonts on your machine are licensed through the foundry to the manufacturer. Thus you don't have the right to make them available to anybody who visits your page. The result is today's reliance on the lowest common denominator when it comes to typography on the web. The fonts used are those found on practically every desktop computer on the planet because they are installed along with the operating system. As well, dealing with bitmaps, puts us right back to the beginnings of Desk Top Publishing when all we had to use were screen fonts and, because they are relatively expensive to design and produce, there will be very few fonts other than those developed specifically for the screen- Charcoal, Verdana and Trebuchet, for example- that will take advantage of being displayed on a computer screen.

The Technology of Digital Type

The technology behind the fonts on your computer is complex and it is therefore important to understand what you have before you start setting type for your pages.

There are two major groupings of fonts: Bitmap and Postscript.

Bitmap fonts build each character on a grid of pixels that are either on or off, depending upon the shape of the letters. This is where bitmaps fall apart. Being composed of pixels, they are extremely difficult to resize and shape without a serious loss of resolution. When you double the physical size of a bitmap , you aren't making the image larger, you are simply doubling the size of each pixel. The result are lines that wander or letters that have a "faint resemblance" to their original character.

Postscript fonts, on the other hand are nothing more than a series of mathematical calculations for lines, curves and subtle detail. This allows the text to become "scalable" with no loss of resolution because the math takes the size change into consideration. Even then, exercise caution. At small sizes, the calculations include "hints" regarding how to maintain the integrity of a curve in a serif but they can become unreadable, especially on such low-resolution devices as a computer screen.

You would think the introduction of PostScript technology would solve the font headaches. Not quite. There are three types of Postscript fonts out there. They are Type 1, Type 3 and Type 5. Type 1 fonts are the standard Postscript fonts developed by Adobe many years ago. Type 3 Fonts are those offered by third party vendors and Type 5 fonts are the fonts embedded in the ROM of your Laser Printer. Though there are no real functional differences between the three, the major difference is in how they build the letters. Type 1 and Type 5 fonts are built in the output device, such as a laser printer. Type 3 fonts are "built" in the font itself. The major problem is the current incompatibility of Macintosh fonts on the Windows platform. If you are using FF Confidential on the Macintosh you can't simply drop the PostScript font into the Windows universe without first converting it to a format recognized by the PC.

Then, of course, there is TrueType. Postscript fonts essentially toss the Printer or Outline font around the bitmap on the screen when Adobe Type manager is installed. TrueType skips that step. Apple developed the TrueType technology when it introduced System 7. The thinking was to simply store the outline and resolution hints in the system and display them on the screen. The outlines are stored as a series of curves - B-spline curves for you purists- that are far easier to compute and manipulate than the Bezier curves that make up Postscript fonts. The problem with this technology is there is no support for font encryption, which is why many of the classic fonts from the major type foundries are simply unavailable in a TrueType format.

This explains, for instance, the origin of the TrueType font named "Swiss". It looks like Helvetica, but isn't, because Helvetica is based upon the original font developed by Max Meidinger in 1951 and the foundry that owns the rights- Haas- is protecting its property by putting the digital version into a format that includes encryption.

Don't for a minute think a TrueType font is somewhat substandard or less important than a Type 1 or Type 3 font. Both formats use Postscript and, especially on the Windows platform, TrueType is as close to being a de facto standard as one can expect. The typography explosion was kicked off by the introduction of TrueType and innumerable web pages use this technology.

How, after 371 years,"Haas Neue Grotesk" became "Swiss"

Max Meidinger designed and drew Helvetica in 1951 for the Haas Foundry which is based in Munchenstein, Switzerland. The Swiss call Switzerland, "Helvetia". Thus the origin of the font's name. Not being able to obtain the rights to produce a TrueType version of Helvetica, a "version" was created in the TrueType format and named "Swiss". Helvetica was initially released as "Haas Neue Grotesk". Four years later, Walter Crunz, who worked for a company named "Stempel", reworked the design for Linotype GmbH in Frankfurt, a major stockholder in Stempel. It wasn't until the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in New York adopted the design, that Helvetica rapidly became the most popular sans serif in the world, replacing at the time, Futura. The Haas Foundry can actually trace its roots back to one founded by Jean Exertier in 1580 and can rightfully claim to be the world's oldest surviving type foundry.


Choose a font other than Helvetica, Times, Arial, Avant Garde, Verdana, Comic sans and Georgia.
Write a brief history of the font,who designed it, where it is used and why it appeals to you.

500 to 700 words

Due next class

photo Tom Green
Tom Green

Who is tom green?

Teacher, author, raconteur. Here's a run down of what I have been up to over the past few years. My Bio.



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