Well, it’s been a few months since my last post about fonts and typefaces and since then I’ve done a lot more exploring into the vast world of typefaces and returned with some very interesting finds.
I am the Indiana Jones of the typeface world.
As followers of my site will know, I particular passion of mine is Graphical User Interface (GUI) design. Hell, I work on computers for many hours a day*, mainly my own, and have a lot of experience and interest in customising and theming Linux Operating Systems. I am, consciously and subconsciously, always seeking the perfect GUI for Operating Systems. And a very large chunk of what makes a GUI look so usable and appealing is in the choice of font used.
Fonts In The World of GUI
You only have to look at real-world examples to understand this. Apple’s celebrated “Aqua” interface, used in their OS X series of Operating Systems, is one of the world’s most recognisable, usable and beautiful GUIs available. Undoubtedly, a vital part of the Aqua look is in the font used – Lucida Grande. Such is the popularity and beauty of this font that it has become widely used as the body text font on websites all over the internet. It is, for example, Facebook’s primary font. I also use it on my site.
In the world of Microsoft Windows, the release of their Vista OS also introduced a brand new GUI named “Aero” – featuring translucent ‘glassy’ windows, glossy buttons and a brand new system font called Segoe UI. Segoe UI is an excellent humanist sans-serif that has proven to be very popular and highly legible to boot. So successful was this font choice that Microsoft decided to keep it for their subsequent OS release “Windows 7”.
Fonts In The World of Linux GUI
Linux, up until recent times, remained unremarkable when it came to GUI design. Really, it’s been in the last 2-3 years that we have seen considerable advances in the GUI of Linux desktops. Ubuntu made strides forward with its “Human” interface – featuring subtle browns and bright orange icons. Similarly, SuSE and openSuSE became well-known for their primarily green colour scheme. But what was missing from the GUI of these two great Linux distros was a magnificent screen font. Many Linux distros, including Ubuntu and SuSE, adopted the DejaVu family of fonts, which is a nice family of fonts but certainly not on a par with Lucida Grande or Segoe UI.
But all of that is changing. With the release of Ubuntu’s “Lucid Lynx” LTS OS, we saw a brand new UI, named “Light”. Ubuntu Lucid shipped with two new default themes – Ambiance and Radiance – a new icon theme called Humanity, and a completely new branding overhaul, complete with a new logo and colour palette of white, orange and “aubergine” purple. The new interface was adored and hated in equal measure by many but more importantly, whether you hated the look or not, it signified a new direction from Ubuntu in particular and from Linux general and that was a move towards mainstream mass usage.
And, for typeface lovers like me, a further development announced in Mark Shuttleworth’s post on the new Ubuntu UI was the immediate development of a new humanist sans-serif designed specifically for Ubuntu. It would simply be called “Ubuntu” and developed by the famous font foundry Dalton-Maag. The font itself was not ready for the Lucid release but we should hopefully see it in use for the forthcoming “Maverick Meerkat” release in October 2010.
Until that glorious day when the new Ubuntu font is released, I’ve been searching and experimenting with various typefaces on my desktop. I have accumulated here what I consider to be the best fonts for screen usage, as well as a couple of other fonts I’m fond of that are useful for print design. Even better is that these fonts are free.
Sans Screen Fonts
Aller Sans was designed for the Danish School of Media and Journalism and developed by Dalton-Maag – the company currently working on the new Ubuntu typeface. Aller Sans is an excellent sans font for screen legibility – it showcases slightly thicker than average strokes and is readable at all sizes. The font package itself includes properly rendered bold and italic styles as well as providing two alternative variants as well – ‘Light’, a thinner version that works nicely for headers, and ‘Display’, a bold mixed-case style. It’s been properly kerned and hinted for screen use as well. Curiously, in the few previews I’ve seen of the new Ubuntu font, Aller Sans and Ubuntu show remarkable similarities. Perhaps this typeface is the precursor to the new Ubuntu font?
The font is free for use non- and commercial use.
A typeface I found fairly recently, PT Sans is a remarkable humanist sans-serif with excellent legibility for screen use. The PT Sans family was “developed as a part of the project “Public Types of Russian Federation”. The fonts of this project have open user license and can be freely distributed. The main aim of the project is to give possibility to the peoples of Russia to read and write on their native languages.” It bears some resemblance to Aller sans, particular in the numerical characters where PT Sans has more uniform metrics than Aller Sans. PT Sans has extensive Eurasian language support and includes, as well as properly rendered Bold and Italic styles, a ‘Caption’ style for smaller uses and a ‘Narrow’ version for more economic purposes. Both extra styles are still excellent screen fonts.
PT Sans is free for non- and commercial use.
Developed for the mobile phone platform Android, Droid Sans is undoubtedly one of the best humanist sans-serif typefaces to be released in recent times. It is practically flawless; the hinting and kerning of the font is perfect, it’s readable in every size and it’s very, very beautiful. Droid Sans is quickly becoming an extremely popular typeface to use, not just for use in Linux distros, but also many websites are now adopting the font for use in body text. The Droid font family also includes an excellent monospaced typeface and a serif variations as well. All bold and italic styles are properly rendered and hinted.
Use of the font falls under the Apache License.
To this day, I still can’t remember where I found the M Plus font family website, but I’m glad I did. This font family is huge. It contains, and I quote:
Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, and IPA Extensions. And most of Greek, Cyrillic, Vietnamese, and extended glyphs and symbols were prepared too. So the fonts are in conformity with ISO-8859-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, Windows-1252, T1, and VISCII encoding. In addition, proportional M+ P Type-1 and M+ P Type-2 fonts were completed with Latin Extended-B, Latin Extended Additional, and Windows Glyph List 4 (WGL4). And many Greek, Cyrillic, IPA Extensions glyphs, and symbols were expanded. Those additional glyphs are included in M+ C provisionality.
The font family contains 7 styles – M+ 1c, M+ 1m, M+ 1mn, M+ 1p, M+ 2c, M+ 2m, M+ 2p – and in a variety of different weights, from thin to heavy. It’s a very readable font but you can tell it’s still in heavy development – the kerning needs addressing (too much space between characters at around 10pts) to begin with. I would, however, definitely keep an eye on the development of this font family; improvements are being made all the time.
M Plus is completely free software.
For a while, CartoGothic STD was my preferred font of choice for GUI design. Its characters’ shapes are very reminiscent of Adobe’s Myriad Pro font family. It demonstrates a thicker than average stroke and provides properly rendered bold and italic styles. I feel some work still needs doing on this font though – the hinting for display use is slightly off and the y vertices needs addressing. Still, should this font continue to receive some love I can see it becoming a firm favourite. A commercial version, which includes more weights, is available on the developer’s site.
CartoGothic STD is free for non- and commercial use.
Sans Header Fonts
Vegur is my typeface of preference for my company logo and with good reason. It is a gorgeous humanist sans font. As with CartoGothic STD, you can see the Myriad Pro influence. In particular, I adore the light weight of this font and it will easily add a sense of class and professionalism to any print design. More work is required before it’s ready for display use, I feel, but the font version is only up to 0.601 and is still in development, so there’s plenty of scope for improvement.
Vegur is free for non- and commercial use.
Serif Header Fonts
IM Fell Great Primer
Moving into the territory of serif typefaces, we chance upon an unusual yet totally awesome font project. The Fell Types is the work of Igino Marini, who seeks to digitally modernise and revive the work of a 17th Century Oxford Bishop John Fell, who developed the original typefaces. Marini has lovingly recreated each character in each typeface, compiled them into various font families and provided extensive hinting and kerning work to turn these ancient works into usable fonts. Of the ones currently available, Great Primer is my favourite, available in regular, authentic italic and small caps styles.
IM Fell’s Great Primer is free for non- and commercial use provided that the required citation is present.
Light Sans Header Fonts
To cap off this post, I leave you with a typeface completely unsuited to screen use but brilliant for print design. Raleway is a light, neo-grotesque-inspired sans font suitable for headers in print design. It is a “display face that features both old style and lining numerals, standard and discretionary ligatures, a pretty complete set of diacritics, as well as a stylistic alternate inspired by more geometric sans-serif typefaces than it’s neo-grotesque inspired default character set.” It is available only in a light style but it does it very well.
Raleway is a free, open-source font.
Well, I hope you’ve found this post interesting and useful. Screen typefaces is not a topic touched on all that often but is a particular love of mine. Here’s hoping that the new Ubuntu font will be awesome.
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Ian Cylkowski aka Izo
Logo & Brand Identity Design, Print Design and GUI/UX Design
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