Get Real With Real Fonts

A List Apart, for people who make websites.

Web fonts are here. Now what? In Issue No. 296 of A List Apart for people who make websites, Nice Web Type’s Tim Brown debuts Web Font Specimen, a handy, free resource to see how real fonts really look on the web; and Jason Santa Maria discourses on web type, showing how to avoid using fonts that don’t work on the web, and achieve graceful pairings of fonts that do.

House Party

REAL FONTS on the web: House Industries supports WOFF format.

…a font format for the Web that satisfies the needs and concerns of browser makers, web designers, and type foundries. … WOFF offers compression to speed page load times, freedom from thorny legacy issues, and inclusiveness (font outlines can be Postscript or TrueType).

WOFF has the support of a wide spectrum of the type community; from peers such as Emigre, Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Commercial Type, etc., and larger foundries such as Linotype and Monotype. Today it has also gained the support of Mozilla in the their release of Firefox 3.6 (Mozilla has a full list of designers and foundries that support WOFF on that page). We hope and expect that WOFF will quickly gain support in other major browsers as we support, endorse and expect to license our library for use on the Web in the WOFF format in the future.

Read more

  • The Problem: We have the fonts, we have the CSS and the workaround for IE. What we don’t have is beautiful, reliable, consistent cross-platform rendering of real fonts like Gotham, Franklin, Garamond, etc. — 29 October 2009
  • Web Fonts and Standards: How real fonts work on the web via standard CSS. Making it work in IE. The licensing hurdle. Rise of the middlemen and their effect on the adoption of font embedding standards. — 17 August
  • Web Fonts Now, for Real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau publishes a proposal for a permissions table enabling real fonts to be used on the web without binding or other DRM. — 16 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; browser support; Cufón and SIFR, oh, my; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; Typekit debuts; — 23 May 2009

Fonty font font

It’s the Fonty-Fresh™ thang! UPDATE: Now with further explanations and Mr Zeldman’s specific concerns for web designers, web users, and the future of type on the web.

Short URL:

Am I Blue


Our classic orange avatar has turned blue to celebrate the release of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition by Jeffrey Zeldman with Ethan Marcotte. This substantial revision to the foundational web standards text will be in bookstores across the U.S. on October 19, 2009, with international stores to follow. Save 37% off the list price when you buy it from

Short URL:

DWWS 3e mini-site updates

Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition

The new mini-site for the 3rd Edition of Designing With Web Standards has been updated, with additional information about the substantially revised web standards guidebook, and with tweaks to the CSS which, one hopes, now bring embedded web font goodness to Internet Explorer users, as well as our friends on Safari, Firefox, and Opera. We love the smell of Franklin in the morning.

Short URL:

Web fonts and standards

AS FAR back as 1998, CSS2 provided a way to link to real fonts from your style sheet:

  @font-face {
  font-family: "Watusi";
  src: url("") 

  h1 { 
  font-family: "Watusi", sans-serif; 


Instead of static pictures of fonts, linked font files can be retrieved from the web and used to display HTML text. And not just for headlines, but for body copy, too. It’s brilliant! It’s magnificent! There are just two problems:

  • Unless they are specifically licensed for web use (and few fonts are), if you embed fonts you own on a web page, you may be violating your End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) with the font foundry.
  • While Safari (and other Webkit browsers, including Google Chrome), Opera, and Firefox support @font-face for TrueType (TTF) and OpenType (OTF) fonts, guess which browser does not? That’s right, Internet Explorer. That’s not because IE is technically inferior to the other browsers. Rather, it’s because Microsoft does not wish to provide technology that might infringe on the rights of type designers. Instead, Microsoft supports @font-face only for the Embedded OpenType (EOT) format—which Microsoft itself invented. EOT discourages the copying of copyrighted font files via encryption, “subsetting” (using only needed characters rather than the entire font), and other techniques. Microsoft has supported EOT—and proposed it as a W3C standard—since IE4 was young. No other browser maker supports EOT.

The Tan method and IE

It’s the perennial web standards problem, but until Microsoft joins the party, Jon Tan offers a commendable workaround, combining standard @font-face with EOT served via IE conditional comments. It’s a hack, perhaps, but a clean one—and one that even Microsoft would approve. Nice work, Jon Tan. That’s one hurdle cleared.

The licensing hurdle

Type foundries are on the verge of agreeing to standards that will protect their rights and enable designers to embed real fonts on their web pages via standard CSS. They are on the verge, but not there yet. Competing proposals include Erik van Blokland and Tal Leming’s .webfont, a compressed format containing XML and font data; Ascender’s EOT Lite, which removes the chief objections to Microsoft’s EOT while still working in IE; and David Berlow’s OpenType Permissions and Recommendations Table, a mechanism for showing that the designer has paid for the right to use a particular font on a particular domain.

Using @font-face in all browsers today

Some of these methods work already. For instance, on Font Bureau’s website, you will soon be able to buy a web- and print-licensed version of one of their fonts for 20% more than a print-only-licensed version, and embed it on a given domain via @font-face. It will be legally licensed, and it will work in Safari, Firefox, and Opera. It will even work in IE, if you use Jon Tan’s workaround.

Rise of the middlemen

Until type designers agree to a standard and all browsers support @font-face embedding of TrueType and OpenType fonts, “middleman” platforms such as Typekit and Typotheque will make real web fonts possible by handling licensing and technological hassles.

As nearly all of you reading this know, here’s how it works: First, companies like Typekit get font vendors to sign on. The companies agree to license their fonts through Typekit. Designers pay a monthly fee to Typekit for arranging the license and hosting the fonts. Typekit also provides a technology solution, ensuring that the fonts show up in browsers that support standard font formats via @font-face (Safari, Firefox, Opera) as well as the one that does not (Internet Explorer).

Worth noting is that Typekit is font foundry agnostic, welcoming all, whereas Typotheque is a foundry-specific solution. The wizards at Clearleft have their own middleman platform in the works. All these solutions are currently in beta.

As of this writing, their pricing models are unknown—and price is sure to have an impact on acceptance.

Moreover, by definition, no web font middleman (or font developer, like Typotheque) offers every font you could wish for, and ultimately, designers will only choose a service that provides fonts they wish to use. Nor is it yet known whose technical solution will be best, whose font file will load fastest, how reliable each hosting platform will be as usage scales up, and so on.

The effect of font services on web standards

It remains to be seen whether a font-licensing standard and universal browser support for @font-face will kill the middlemen, or whether the middlemen will prove so successful that they delay or stifle the adoption of a font-licensing standard and allow Microsoft to shrug its shoulders indefinitely at supporting @font-face for anything beyond its proprietary EOT file format.

There is also the possibility that the middlemen, by increasing acceptance of web fonts, will hasten the arrival of a licensing standard—and that this will, in turn, prompt Microsoft to support @font-face for any licensed font.


Links for a Thursday

In this installment: a free tool to create EOT Lite webfonts; An Event Apart interviews CSS web comic creator; Apple is exonerated of censoring iPhone dictionary; and “a new breed of documentary photographers.”

“A New Breed of Documentary Photographers”
Curated by photographer/photo editor Geoffrey Hiller, Verve Photo presents “photos and interviews by the finest young image makers today.” Case in point: Joni Sternbach, and her amazing 8″ x 10″ Unique Tintypes of surfers.
Schiller Responds Re: Ninjawords and App Store

Daring Fireball follows up on its previous Ninjawords: iPhone Dictionary, Censored by Apple, exhonerating Apple of censorship and suggesting that “Apple’s leadership is trying to make the course correction that many of us see as necessary for the long-term success of the platform.”

An Interview With the Creator of “CSSquirrel”
CSSquirrel is both a person and a web comic. Both are profoundly geeky. Picture a comic where, to understand the punch line, you have to follow the politics of the development of the HTML 5 specification or be conversant with the details of RGBa color notation, and you’ll know why we love the subject of this interview.
Ascender Corp. introduces tool to create EOT Lite fonts

In their own words:

Ascender has made a proposal for a subset of the Embedded OpenType (EOT) format with two features removed:

  • MTX font compression
  • URL Binding (root strings)

…In order to help type designers, foundries and font vendors create an EOT font without these two features, Ascender has developed a simple software utility called the “EOT Lite Wrap Tool.”

This GUI-based tool is compiled to run under Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Features in the tool include:

  • Wrap a single font or a batch of fonts
  • View the EOT font header information

Ascender is offering a free license to this tool to qualified type designers, foundries and font vendors for use to create EOT versions of their own fonts.

Please review the Read Me file and EULA before requesting a copy.

[tags]webfonts, apple, censorship, ascender, EOTLite, documentary, photographers, photographs, blog, CSS, CSSquirrel, webcomics, aneventapart, interviews[/tags]

Web fonts, HTML 5 roundup

Over the weekend, as thoughtful designers gathered at Typecon 2009 (“a letterfest of talks, workshops, tours, exhibitions, and special events created for type lovers at every level”), the subject of web fonts was in the air and on the digital airwaves. Worthwhile reading on web fonts and our other recent obsessions includes:

Jeffrey Zeldman Questions The “EOT Lite” Web Font Format

Responding to a question I raised here in comments on Web Fonts Now, for Real, Richard Fink explains the thinking behind Ascender Corp.’s EOT Lite proposal . The name “EOT Lite” suggests that DRM is still very much part of the equation. But, as Fink explains it, it’s actually not.

EOT Lite removes the two chief objections to EOT:

  • it bound the EOT file, through rootstrings, to the domain name;
  • it contained MTX compression under patent by Monotype Imaging, licensed by Microsoft for this use.

Essentially, then, an “EOT Lite file is nothing more than a TTF file with a different file extension” (and an unfortunate but understandable name).

A brief, compelling read for a published spec that might be the key to real fonts on the web.

Web Fonts—Where Are We?”

@ilovetypography tackles the question we’ve been pondering. After setting out what web designers want versus what type designers and foundries want, the author summarizes various new and old proposals (“I once heard EOT described as ‘DRM icing on an OpenType cake.’”) including Tal Leming and Erik van Blokland‘s .webfont, which is gathering massive support among type foundries, and David Berlow’s permissions table, announced here last week.

Where does all of this net out? For @ilovetypography, “While we’re waiting on .webfont et al., there’s Typekit.”

(We announced Typekit here on the day it debuted. Our friend Jeff Veen’s company Small Batch, Inc. is behind Typekit, and Jason Santa Maria consults on the service. Jeff and Jason are among the smartest and most forward thinking designers on the web—the history of Jeff’s achievements would fill more than one book. We’ve tested Typekit, love its simple interface, and agree that it provides a legal and technical solution while we wait for foundries to standardize on one of the proposals that’s now out there. Typekit will be better when more foundries sign on; if foundries don’t agree to a standard soon, Typekit may even be the ultimate solution, assuming the big foundries come on board. If the big foundries demur, it’s unclear whether that will spell the doom of Typekit or of the big foundries.)

The Power of HTML 5 and CSS 3

Applauding HTML 5’s introduction of semantic page layout elements (“Goodbye div soup, hello semantic markup”), author Jeff Starr shows how HTML 5 facilitates cleaner, simpler markup, and explains how CSS can target HTML 5 elements that lack classes and IDs. The piece ends with a free, downloadable goodie for WordPress users. (The writer is the author of the forthcoming Digging into WordPress.)

Surfin’ Safari turns up new 3-D HTML5 tricks that give Flash a run for its money

Just like it says.

Read more

  • Web Fonts Now, for Real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau publishes a proposal for a permissions table enabling real fonts to be used on the web without binding or other DRM. — 16 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Everything you ever wanted to know about real fonts on the web, including commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; which browsers already support @font-face; what IE supports instead; Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS, on @font-face at A List Apart; the Berlow interview at A List Apart; @font-face vs. EOT; Cufón; SIFR; Cufón combined with @font-face; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; and Typekit, a new web service offering a web-only font linking license on a hosted platform; — 23 May 2009
  • HTML 5 is a mess. Now what? A few days ago on this site, John Allsopp argued passionately that HTML 5 is a mess. In response to HTML 5 activity leader Ian Hickson’s comment here that, “We don’t need to predict the future. When the future comes, we can just fix HTML again,” Allsopp said “This is the only shot for a generation” to get the next version of markup right. Now Bruce Lawson explains just why HTML 5 is “several different kind of messes.” Given all that, what should web designers and developers do about it? — 16 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]@font-face, berlow, davidberlow, CSS, permissionstable, fontbureau, webfonts, webtypography, realtypeontheweb, HTML5, HTML4, HTML, W3C, WHATWG, markup, webstandards, typography[/tags]

Web Fonts Now, for real

David Berlow of The Font Bureau has proposed a Permissions Table for OpenType that can be implemented immediately to turn raw fonts into web fonts without any wrappers or other nonsense. If adopted, it will enable type designers to license their work for web use, and web designers to create pages that use real fonts via the CSS @font-face standard.

My April 21, 2009 A List Apart interview with Berlow explains how a permissions table would enable type designers to support @font-face without DRM or intermediary hosted licensing. A press release provides more detail:

Future web users will not want their browsers clogging the workings of their Operating Systems with fonts, or the browsers’ presenting the users with web content that the user cannot read. In addition, web users do not want imprecisely or un-aesthetically presented content where a simple type-bearing graphic would suffice. Lastly, users do not want fonts to be able to give fraudulent users the unique corporate appearance of a genuine company.

So far, the browsers allowing use of the @Font-face font linking are installing and removing fonts in an invisible way, but future browsers may need to more intelligently manage web fonts for users as more sites employ them. Here, the proposed table can help by containing the links from which the fonts came, and determining their cacheability based on the user’s browsing history. More importantly, the recommendations section of the proposed table could allow a browser to offer reconcileablilty of any font treatment in conflict with a user’s ‘preferenced’ desires in areas such as sizing of type, presentation of line length and potentially dangerous type treatments such as rapid text blinking.

The Permissions Table proposal will be announced tomorrow on newsgroups and forums frequented by type designers.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Everything you ever wanted to know about real fonts on the web, including commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; which browsers already support @font-face; what IE supports instead; Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS, on @font-face at A List Apart; the Berlow interview at A List Apart; @font-face vs. EOT; Cufón; SIFR; Cufón combined with @font-face; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; and Typekit, a new web service offering a web-only font linking license on a hosted platform; — 23 May 2009

[tags]@font-face, berlow, davidberlow, CSS, permissionstable, fontbureau, webfonts, webtypography, realtypeontheweb[/tags]