Better term for "Virtual Typefaces"? Wikipedia category

Hey guys,

So, somebody on Wikipedia has been fairly successfully propagating the label "virtual typefaces" for what I would call digital typefaces or digital fonts. That category has been getting applied to many typefaces, apparently the distinction being that they are *only* available in digital form, and were not phototype or metal typefaces.

So, two related questions:

1) I might argue that every typeface that is available in digital form should also get the same label (whatever that label is). Agree or disagree?

2) I think the label "virtual typeface" is silly. Nobody uses that term that I am aware of, except this one person. The actual link redirects to "computer font." Some possible labels:

  • Computer typeface
  • Digital typeface
  • Virtual typeface

For the category label, "font" does not work so well because we are indeed talking about "typefaces" (the entire family).

What do you prefer?

Personally, I prefer "digital" over "computer" because these fonts are used on many devices that are not thought of as computers, even if they do have computer chips inside them.

Michel Boyer's picture

If you follow the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_typeface you are redirected to "Computer font". Note that there are virtual fonts in TeX, with extension .vf

Mark Simonson's picture

Definitely “digital”. How can this guy possibly insist on a term that people who make the damned things have never heard of (outside of TeX)? Good luck with that.

Michel Boyer's picture

Virtual fonts in TeX contain no glyphs (no spline) of their own and thus may deserve being called "virtual".

John Hudson's picture

'Digital typeface' seems eminently sensible, if one intends to refer to the target medium of the original design. Hence, one would talk about metal typefaces, photo typefaces and digital typefaces, as types originally designed for those media, independent of their current implementation in whatever font format.

hrant's picture

I thought this was about font delivery via the cloud... But even for that "virtual" is pretty lousy - I would prefer something like "offline", "hosted", "proxy" or something. But for plain ol' computer fonts, "digital fonts" isn't just reasonable, it's also already established. Please get him to stop.

hhp

dberlow's picture

"1) I might argue that every typeface that is available in digital form should also get the same label (whatever that label is). Agree or disagree?"

Digital alone has never described bitmaps vs outlines vs strokes vs metafontishness.

"2) I think the label "virtual typeface" is silly. Nobody uses that term that I am aware of, except this one person. The actual link redirects to "computer font."

Silly as it is, it is word for word, accurate. It is not a font but a typeface, and it has the attributes of wood, metal, and phototype, without sharing its physical form, unless one insists on making a font from the virtual typeface.

Si_Daniels's picture

>How can this guy possibly insist on a term that people who make the damned things have never heard of (outside of TeX)? Good luck with that.

If this fellow has enough time on his hands and an agenda to devalue digital type then maybe he can get the term to stick?

Thomas Phinney's picture

> Silly as it is, it is word for word, accurate.

I am not disagreeing that it is an accurate description. But I don’t think it is reasonable to make up a brand new term for an encyclopedia. It also seems to denigrate the category, as Si points out.

Chris Dean's picture

[to follow]

John Hudson's picture

It is not a font but a typeface, and it has the attributes of wood, metal, and phototype, without sharing its physical form, unless one insists on making a font from the virtual typeface.

In that sense, all typefaces are virtual until implemented as a font. But that's not the sense in which the guy on Wikipedia seems to be using the term. He's using it to distinguish typefaces designed for digital media from typefaces designed for e.g. metal. I presume he's borrowing the term from 'virtual reality', confusing the computer medium of digital virtual reality with what makes it virtual (which suggests he never played any role-playing games).

Digital alone has never described bitmaps vs outlines vs strokes vs metafontishness.

A general descriptive term or category doesn't need to express distinctions of sub-categories.

quadibloc's picture

I agree that the notion that a typeface only available in digital form isn't a "real" typeface is not sensible. Now, if somehow the only fonts in which it were available had some kind of DRM code in them, so that they could only be displayed and never printed...

But at one time, I coined a similar phrase. A manual for a computer text processing program assigned some EBCDIC codes to overprinted characters on a particular line printer. Since those characters didn't actually correspond to type slugs, I proposed to call this extended character set a "virtual character set".

By focusing on the means of production instead of the end product, I perhaps made the same mistake as they did here.

Michel Boyer's picture

If the initial question refers to the page entitled "Category:Virtual typefaces" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Virtual_typefaces which states

This category contains virtual typefaces that exist in digital form, as opposed to actual type that has been cast in metal, or fonts made available for Photocomposition.

a page which contains "Ionic (wooden typeface)" in its list, then "digital typeface" would not be any better than "virtual typeface" as a name for the category (and the description does not correspond to the list).

John Hudson's picture

The whole notion that anything on a computer is only virtual vs anything physical is, as I suggested earlier, a misapplication of the term as it relates to a particular digital phenomenon, 'virtual reality'. What makes virtual reality virtual is that it seeks to emulate things and experiences that exist in reality. This seems to me directly contrary to the usage proposed for 'virtual typefaces', which are -- ignoring the massive inconsistencies of the example list -- precisely those that do not seek to emulate actual type defined as that 'cast in metal'.

ahyangyi's picture

I think it's better to leave the word "virtual" in strictly the sense as that in LaTeX.

Say, assume that I somehow hacked libfreetype and libfontconfig to let my programs use a typeface named "Hybrid", which is just Times New Roman except an alternative /g/. Programs requesting for glyphs in "Hybrid" will get every glyph except /g/ from Times new Roman but will get a /g/ from another source. That "Hybrid" font will deserve the name of a "virtual" font, because it doesn't actually exist in my hard disk (if it would, I will be violating the EULA of Times New Roman).

Other uses of this term will cause confusion. Why not just digital or "digital-only"?

John Hudson's picture

Note that the LaTeX use is virtual font, not virtual typeface. As I understand Tom's original post, the search is for a term that denotes types originally designed for digital media, as distinct from say those that are digital font revivals or otherwise versions of types originally designed for metal etc.

BTW, your example of a LaTeX virtual font corresponds to what is now often referred to generically as a composite font, i.e. a combination of two or more fonts appearing to applications as if a single font, allowing mixing of glyphs from these different component fonts to represent specific characters. The ISO/IEC 14496-28:2012 standard defines a Composite Font Representation, which is a kind of XML wrapper identifying the component fonts and to which characters they apply.

ahyangyi's picture

John Hudson,

Thank you! Composite font is a good name for what I had in mind.

dberlow's picture

"He's using it to distinguish typefaces designed for digital media from typefaces designed for e.g. metal"

Yeah that part is nuts.

But, we now have virtual typography, and one dont get there without virtual typefaces, and unless you like digital fonts or digital outlines or outline fonts, or digital outline fonts or digital typefaces, typeface fonts, typeface outlines, or fonts, we had no term.

Whether the fonts are imitations of metal printed on sand, Garamond in general, or Segoe on xp at 19 PX in particular, is not that important compared to the users' points of views, which are, that these things were all physical before they appeared on screen,

(and BTW, deep down in a piece of the brain you'll never find, there is the actual virtual skull of a cow lurking for every single a, and a holy cow for every a-ring.)

quadibloc's picture

@John Hudson:
a misapplication of the term as it relates to a particular digital phenomenon, 'virtual reality'.

Of course, though, the idea of using "virtual" in a similar sense in connection with computers came about much earlier, back in the days when the term "virtual memory" was used for what swap files give to programs.

ahyangyi's picture

In that sense, isn't computer memory itself "virtual" as what it stores is probably never produced first in somebody's brains.

Perhaps for we should call the swap files "virtual virtual memory" then.

Chris Dean's picture

In my opinion, adopting the term “virtual” not only requires a contextual re-definition of the term, but opens up a can of worms to the tune of needing to back-label every other typeface in the world based upon its original material design. Not to mention how to deal with ones that were made in different materials at the same time. Too many combinations.

Prediction: Instead of being called “virtual typefaces” (by one-eyed technophiles with a desire to label all things new) the term will disappear within two years, and what are now being called “virtual typefaces” will be called what they are. Typefaces that only exist in a digital form (or a similar phrase that is a simple and accurate). Ore better yet, what they have always been called. Typefaces. I believe the term “virtual typeface” will eventually be seen as a fad buzz-word, the way we now view the term “information superhighway.”

russellm's picture

I think that since digital type is the norm these days, the distinctions should be for metal or other forms of type... Which is sort of what we do already, isn't it? Type is assumed to be digital by default, unless you specify otherwise.

Té Rowan's picture

And I who thought that all typefaces were virtual; that once they became real, they’d become fonts.

Si_Daniels's picture

The fact that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_typeface redirects to an entry titled "computer font" should say it all .

canderson's picture

Is it too late to propose cyberfont? Because that would be, like, cool and futuristic....

Chris Dean's picture

“Cyberfont” totally gets my vote. I’m still pissed that the “Information Superhighway” didn’t end up being called the “Infobahn” (its mentioned in first sentence of the Wikipedia link).

russellm's picture

you're all crazy.

:o)

charles ellertson's picture

Just out of curiosity, what does he call photocomposition typefaces? How about in-between systems like the L-202 (with which bbg is intimately familiar)? The type is stored digitally, but can only be usefully rendered on the video screen, where it exposes photosensitive paper.

Digital *fonts* (what's sold) are published. Metal fonts are *founded.* Can't copyright 'em... What's photocomp, published or founded....?

The implementation of type, a "font," is a system capable of rendering random character sequences the same, if one chooses, time after time. Handwriting, painting, stone cutting, etc., perforce introduces variables in the characters each time they are created.

Wikipedia is full of errors about type and typesetting.

And so what if we're all crazy?

hrant's picture

Chris, I'm reminded of one of my favorite cartoons from the 90s: a 6-lane freeway labeled "Information Superhighway", totally congested with trash trucks... Kind of like when TV was invented, people were so excited that it would enable widespread education...

You need a king for that.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

And who can forget Typography with the IBM Selectric Composer (Frutiger, A. 1967).

russellm's picture

"computer font" should say it all .
Sort of like saying motor car... or, um, electric light.

John Hudson's picture

You need a king for that.

Oh yeah, universal education is a real hallmark of monarchical aristocracy. That's why social democrats never had to fight for it.

Chris Dean's picture

Have typewriter fonts been classified?

Chris Dean's picture


Figure 1: What is this classified as?

russellm's picture

an antique

hrant's picture

John, let's just say that I don't count the de facto enslavement of women to further better brainwash our children (concocted by British democracy to -further- empower Industry) as "universal education".

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

I guess Infobahn wasn't pretentious enough for the Inner Party.

Aside: I also like 'Infomat' for a public data terminal and sedecimal for the sixteen-digit numbering system.

John Hudson's picture

Those highway metaphors were always silly. Everyone knows the Internet is a series of tubes.

dberlow's picture

"...needing to back-label every other typeface in the world based upon its original material design"

What? this is a project well underway for other purposes, but there is nothing here-related "needing" it, and no one is saying "every other typeface in the world", it's "every typeface in the world", dude.

"Have typewriter fonts been classified?"

Normally (as in since mid-60's?), they fall into a class called "Monospace", but we are thinking about subclasses and trans-classified fonts too.

"...a real hallmark of monarchical aristocracy"

...is its habit of crushing type under the free press it crushes above?

It would be funny, if it were not so sad, that the longest "successful" chain of monarchs in Euro-history, were also the last aristocracy to go genocide, (against Greeks, Assyrians and others), leaving its democratic successor state to clean up the mess. If that line had only fallen a single generation earlier, there might be a much more diverse Near-Eastern cultural landscape. But it's all virtual now.

charles ellertson's picture

I am surprised, nay, stunned, that a collective of contemporary type designers cannot solve the problems that have long plague the world.

That said, and borrowing from a post by Thomas in another thread, how about, in a technical environment,

Typeface = design,
Font = specific implementations of the design.

Yes, I know this moves the terminological debate from "virtual typeface" to "virtual font," but somehow I'm much less resistant to "virtual font."

For commonspeak, where 'typeface' and 'font' are collapsed, well, as always, rely on context.

hrant's picture

David, are you taking about Germany or Turkey?

BTW the longevity of a monarchy has nothing to do with how likely it is to end in genocide. And most significantly, the worst genocide in history was carried out by a democratic country... the one you and I are standing on (which is one reason I don't vote). One could even say that the US would not have become a superpower without the Native American genocide (not to mention slavery). And it doesn't help that there's a holiday to pretend they were friends.

hhp

Albert Jan Pool's picture

Typeface = design,
Font = specific implementations of the design.

Fully agreed.

Mark Simonson's picture

I agree with that, too. “Virtual font” would make more sense, although it’s still not a term anyone uses.

Chris Dean's picture

I’m not sure I’m following the typeface/font distinction you are drawing in the context of this thread.

To date, my understanding has been Typeface = an entire family. Font = a specific size.

Do not your “Typeface = design, Font = specific implementations of the design” confuse the entire “virtual” naming scheme even further as it shifts the meaning of two previously defined terms?

John Hudson's picture

Chris: To date, my understanding has been Typeface = an entire family. Font = a specific size.

Nooooooooo. A typeface is an individual design style, so that would be not an entire family but the individual roman, italic, bold, etc. designs. A font is a functional implementation of a typeface or some part of a typeface for a given technology. Hence, a font of metal foundry type would be a tray of sorts in a particular style/weight combination, its functionality determined by the set of languages it can cover. So a single typeface, e.g. Fubar Roman, might be spread across multiple fonts if it happened to support more characters than a single composing tray could hold and had extensions for 'exotics'. You are right that a font, in the context of metal type, would be a specific size, but it is a specific size of a specific style design: a font is not a specific size of an entire family. A family is either a typeface family or a font family, depending whether you are talking about a set of related designs or a collection of fonts.

What I like about this use of the terminology is that it is technologically independent. The notion of a typeface as described and the notion of a font map neatly to various typesetting technologies and attendant font formats, even though the referants for the word 'font' change and the elements of a typeface that can be captured by an individual font varies for different technologies.

Nick Shinn's picture

@Thomas: That category has been getting applied to many typefaces, apparently the distinction being that they are *only* available in digital form, and were not phototype or metal typefaces.

People!
You’ve got the wrong end of the stick, from Thomas.
The Wiki page in question lists digital revivals of pre-digital type designs (with the odd mistake, such as Minion).
The idea is that digital revivals are virtual versions of metal/photocomp typefaces.
That is, if not misleading, shallow.
For instance, consider three of my faces:

1. Scotch Modern. Even though this is a digital revival, it is not a virtual typeface, because the outlines do not look like metal type—rather they look like typography done with metal type, including the artefact of press gain. So, although the fonts are not virtual, they can be used to create virtual facsimiles of old letterpress documents. The distinction is between type and typography, which this “virtual is a digital revival” concept does not address. ITC Bodoni, virtual; digital Bauer Bodoni, certainly not.

2. Handsome Pro. An original design, and hence not “virtual”? Surely, if any category of digital fonts deserves to be termed virtual, it is those OpenType scripts, with ligatures and flourishes, the express purpose of which is to imitate handwriting and/or hand lettering.

3. Brown Gothic. As an original design, this would not be considered a virtual font or typeface. Nonetheless, it has been designed specifically to imitate, when printed by offset lithography, the effect of letterpress printing. I would say that’s highly virtual.

Thomas Phinney's picture

> The Wiki page in question lists digital revivals of pre-digital type designs (with the odd mistake, such as Minion).

That almost fits the evidence, but:

1) The "odd mistake" is about 10-15 of the 149 entries on the list.

2) In the linked "talk" page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_talk:Virtual_typefaces), the inventor of the term seems to say that he intends it to apply to all typefaces available in digital form.

3) The definition of the list, on the list page, says something different.

The page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Virtual_typefaces

Definition on the page: This category contains virtual typefaces that exist in digital form, as opposed to actual type that has been cast in metal, or fonts made available for Photocomposition.

(In the definition, "Virtual typefaces" is a link to "computer fonts")

dberlow's picture

I think they are all virtual typefaces, Nick. It doesn't matter what it's trying to look like or how it got that way. Unless one makes a digital outline font that can only function at one size, (a bitmap is a virtual font), all others are virtual typefaces. Typefaces before, were a font style at all available sizes. Typeface families before, were several font styles at all available sizes.

Typefaces now are a style able to represent all font sizes, (a virtual typeface).
Typefaces families now are one digital file, that can generate all the styles and sizes of those styles, like a superpolator file, (a virtual typeface family), or a group of typeface styles, coming in all sizes, like a normal family of otfs, (and a family of virtual typefaces).

Simple as pi.

Hrant: "..the worst genocide in history was carried out by a democratic country... "

You need a history lesson. Between 70 and 90% of the native population of north and south america was destroyed by deceases brought to the western hemisphere by monarchy-funded voyages of discovery, before 1783.

hrant's picture

Pure obfuscation. Your Manifest Destiny was the greater disease. Everybody knows what happened, but it would cost too much to do the right thing. The democratic United States carried out a program of mass extermination to establish a more expansive country. They only stopped because they hit the Pacific. You need to fess up, individually, as a people and as a country. Most of the world knows that, but everybody has their own causes to fight.

And please answer my question, so people don't have to wonder why you left out Armenians (who lost the most) and how you think the organizers of ISType having to warn the speakers not to bring up the Armenian Genocide qualifies as "cleaning up the mess".

hhp

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