Printer hell, please help!!!

wolfattack's picture

Hello Everyone.

So, this may turn into a long story, here we go...

I recently purchased an HP Laserjet 1320 to spec type with since it is a 1200 dpi printer. Everything seemed to be going fine and dandy until once day, I noticed on any type smaller than about 12 point, there were some weird inconsistencies in the kerning of the font I am developing. The only reason I noticed is because the spacing problem was between /d/o/l/.

As everyone knows, the spacing of /d/o/l/ should leave the o directly in the middle of the stem of the /d/ and /l/ because I have the same right side bearing on the /d/ as the left sidebearing of the /l/, and the /o/ has even metrics left and right. So why the heck would this be happening?

I drive up to my old school where they have a HP Laserjet 5200, and print out my file, and voila, no spacing errors. So i'm thinking "well, I guess the postscript driver on this older HP 1320 must not be as precise as the newer 5200". So, after a bit of reluctance, I went ahead and found a decent deal on an HP 5200.

Fastforward a week... the 5200 arrives, and guess what.... SAME DARN PROBLEM!!!! Now I am just getting really bummed out...

So I decided to just expand the type on the page, and it printed with the correct spacing... but, am I compromising my fonts glyph contours by doing that?

My next idea was that maybe since I've updated to Mountain Lion, and I'm pretty sure my school has not, maybe Mountain Lion has some sort of different thing going on to make this happen. Which brings me to ask, has anyone with Mountain Lion noticed any problem like this?

Any help would be greatly appreciated! I'm getting really annoyed with the idea that I might be making metrics and kerning changes based on incorrect printouts....


charles ellertson's picture

I've been kerning type a long time -- counting photocomp, about 35 years. To this day, I never rely on a laser printout to judge kerning. In a way, laser printouts are a step backwards, because with photocomp, we could run out our tests on the typsetting machine. At least there, whatever rounding decisions the software was making were the same as when used for work.

Here's a long thread that goes into some of the issues:

Good luck with it all,

JamesM's picture

When I google "Mac Mountain Lion Kerning" it shows some some discussions at Apple's support forums about kerning problems. Not sure if it's the same as your issue, but you might want to check them out.

hrant's picture

Not that this addresses your problem, but:

the spacing of /d/o/l/ should leave the o directly in the middle

There are at least three reasons that's not necessarily true:
- The left and right sidebearings of the "o" can be different, because: in a design with steep stroke stress the vertical positions of the extrema could be different enough to warrant it; the frequency of shapes to the left versus right of an "o" are different.
- Ideally spacing should be propagated: the left side of the "d" isn't the same as the right side of the "el", and that affects the other sides.
- To me the "el" should be looser (because it needs help standing out).

BTW, there is one good reason to rely on a laser printout to judge kerning: if that laser print is your final output! :-) Not exactly a rare thing either...


wolfattack's picture

Sorry I should have mentioned that it is a grotesk sans serif so it has a symmetrical stroke stress.

wolfattack's picture

Thanks Charles, I appreciate the advice.

If you don't mind me asking, if you don't trust a laser printer for kerning, what do you use?

charles ellertson's picture

If you don't mind me asking, if you don't trust a laser printer for kerning, what do you use?

Well, for initial work, I trust my experience a fair bit. I use the FontLab Glyph pallet at 128 points, with several words in the window, and at least one wordspace .

But I make final decisions from a printed book. If it is a new-to-us font, I make sure to get a copy when printed. Sometimes I have to pay for it. Use to be the typesetter was always given a complimentary copy, but that's rare these days. However, most often the publisher has no use for the F&Gs after the book is bound, and will send us those for free.

You need to check the kerning based on the media you're aiming the font at -- as I said in that long post. If you've got a friend at a publishing house, sometimes you can get a page or two printed offset when they're doing a test on something else. Offer the publisher a free license (or reduced price for a license for three, four, five machines ... whatever). They're saving you about $300, after all...

As Hrant says, if laser is to be your final output, you have to trust it. Find a machine where the kerning is the same between the same letter pairs no matter where they occur. Rarer than you might think, that. If John Hudson had good luck with the Brother, I'd trust that. We use HP 5550s in the office to make proof sets, and I don't trust them. Good enough for proof sets, not to judge kerning with 10-point type.

JamesM's picture

> maybe Mountain Lion has some sort of
> different thing going on to make this happen

Although it sounds like a problem with your computer's software, you might want to run a test to be sure. Print a test sheet on your printer using a different computer (one that isn't using Mountain Lion).

Also, go to the web site of the printer's manufacturer and see if there are any newer printer drivers available, in case there was a bug that's been fixed.

Albert Jan Pool's picture

I recently purchased an HP Laserjet 1320 to spec type with since it is a 1200 dpi printer.

I would like to suggest you to create a test document with sizes such as 12 pt and smaller. Print this document at 600 dpi and at 1200 dpi. When the 1200 dpi output is darker in all sizes than the 600 dpi output, it is probably the rasterizer which renders the characters in a ‘different’ way at 1200 dpi. I have a Brother printer with a PostScript clone rasterizer. At 1200 dpi it rasterizes type in a way that is similar to graphics. All pixels that are touched by the outline are rendered black. At 600 dpi, only the pixels of which the center lies within the outline are rendered black. Someone from Adobe confirmed me this story, so the Brother PS clone seems to be perfectly mimicking the PostScript specs when it comes to rasterizing type. I have seen image setter output showing exactly the same effect. Back in the days when true 1200 dpi printers were rare, dedicated rasterizing suffered from being time consuming and laser image setters had rather thin spot diameters anyway, the idea of skipping a step in the rasterizing process may have been advantageous. Nowadays, processors have become much faster, and I think therefore it is now wrong to not rasterize 1200 dpi output exactly the same way as 600 dpi. I wonder that some of the engineers and programers do not seem to adjust their rasterizing algorithms accordingly.

Back to kerning: When rasterizing is inaccurate (as might be the case at 1200 dpi), spacing and kerning will become inaccurate too. But also rounding effects have to be handled some way or another. I do not know where the rounding effects are ‘hidden’. Between characters? In the combination of characters and word space? Is there a difference in handling rounding effects between justified and non-justified setting? I’d test this as well. In oder to avoid as much trouble as possible, I set all my test documents ragged left, switch off all InDesigns H&J tricks and make sure that kerning is set to ‘metric’.

Back to spacing lowercase l: Although Walter Tracy recommends this in Letters of Credit, I do not think that it makes sense to space the lowercase l wider than d at the right. Tracy’s rule may have made sense in the days of unitizing at 18 units/em where a tight fitted lowercase l would stand out more than a loose fitted lowercase l, but today I think it doesn’t make sense anymore. When spacing, I ignore everything that is above the x-height or below the baseline. Except for f. I checked many many typefaces against Tracy’s rule and concluded that it is rather an exception than a rule. I recall a Swiss book propagating to space all ascenders (such as b, h, k at the left) and wider than the other letters in order to avoid words like ‘illuminate’ to become a dark spot at ‘illu’. It has to be noticed though, that the example was set in a tightly spaced Helvetica-like typeface at a small headline size. I think in that case, the observation was right, but the method chosen was wrong. When one uses tight headline spacing at relatively small headline sizes, as was advocated by Berthold and many typesetting houses that worked for the advertising agencies in those days, it is not just the l in ‘illu’ that messes up the balance between the intercharacter spaces and the counters. It is rather likely that all spacing is crappy.
We should rather try to look what happens in front of our eyes, than trying to condition our eyes through misunderstood legends from the past.

dberlow's picture

A lot of good advice here. I'd also suggest, that many laser printing devices are not actually the resolution they seem from the name or literature, or at least not in the same sense that type designers think of resolution, i.e. as an array of more or less fully addressable pixels at x number of them per inch. I think there's probably a lot of information on this from the past, but it's been forgotten.

The summary is pretty clear though — when quality assuring the details of text type, one is advised to either use typeset output, or double the proof size along with the viewing distance, or acquire a reducing lens to point at such an oversized proof.

wolfattack's picture

Wow, thanks for all the great advice everyone!

I really appreciate you all taking the time out of your day to type such long and detailed responses.

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