The end of aliased web fonts?

Jared Benson's picture

A trip to Versiontracker this morning pointed me to an update of Internet Explorer for Mac OS X. This latest version, v5.2, includes support for the new Quartz text smoothing feature included in X 10.1.5.

Even as I type this message, all the type on my screen is smoothed. I'm not sure I like it- the small type loses that crisp edge we've grown accustomed to, and the aliasing makes the type appear as if in a lighter color. I have to ask myself: Is this really more legible?

Here's a quick screenshot comparison of Yahoo:

Yesterday's Mac IE:

Today's Mac IE:

Here's my two cents on where I think this might go:

Small type on the web, as we know it now, will become a thing of the past, if anti-aliased type is to become the norm. Designers will have to allow for larger type selections in their site designs, which could pose a problem if we remain prisoners to the 800x600 browser size. Isn't about time we start designing for 1024x768?

sevenfingers's picture

Well. From the samples you've shown, I definitly like the aliased type better...

The screen isn't mature enough for anti-aliased type yet. Nope. It looks like type when I'm drunk.

Stephen Coles's picture

Richard is right. OSX is foggy. Look for aliased type to
maintain its popularity until monitor resolutions increase.

Jared Benson's picture

Here's one benefit: Mac users have been long deprived of a 10pt Arial Bold on the web. The anti-aliased type corrects this:


Jared Benson's picture

The smoothing can be turned off, although it is on by default.

Explorer > Preferences > Web Browser > Interface Extras


Jared Benson's picture

Web Browsing with Smooth Text
by James Davidson

hrant's picture

> The screen isn't mature enough for anti-aliased type yet.

The screen is what it is.

The *real* problems are:
1. The rendering algorithms suck - but it's
(apparently) very difficult to write a
really good one.
2. There is no full support (yet) for hand-
made anti-aliased bitmap fonts, which are
far superior to what you're seeing.


porky's picture

Incidentally, if you have MacOS X 10.1.5, you might want to try this out:

A darned sight faster than downloading IE5.2, and will "make" other Carbon apps use Quartz rendering too. Oh, unless you hate anti-aliased type, of course :)

Miss Tiffany's picture

yes it is.

johnbutler's picture

It is not time to design for 1024x768. It is time to design for 768x1024. LCD monitors are getting incredibly cheap, and folks smart enough to ask for it will get the pivoting kind (not much of any price difference.)

Why the new iMac didn't do this I will never know. I'm so sick of landscape mode. Once we get over the crutch of a physical keyboard, we can have laptops/"slates" that support this too. (The touch screen LCD technology is already here and cheap.) I'm seeing rumors of an upcoming touchscreen Mac. That would be a great leap forward for designers. Draw on the screen already!

My ideal portable:

* pivot
* finely granular pressure-sensitive touch screen
* handwriting recognition or grafitti area w/ pop-up virtual keyboard
* snap-on "real" keyboard for those who want it
* 300 dpi screen
* Mac OS X

The only thing anywhere near this is the still-not-shipping OQO (

hrant's picture

John, exactly why is portrait better?
Don't be so print, dude.


Stephen Coles's picture

Hrant - Why portrait? Because most of the Web is
text, and most of the text is in languages read
left to right, and long column measures are a pain
to read. You of all people should be pro-portrait
with your posts using manual line breaks.


johnbutler's picture

I will always be "so print." The look of print is the ideal towards which screen graphics is trying to move. Why do you think all this anti-aliasing business is pursued in the first place? Say what you like about the quality, I see it slowly improving. But screen resolution is the best way to address this problem, beating anti-aliasing hands-down. And companies are investing in higher LCD resolution. IBM already has some 300dpi prototypes. And I haven't kept up with medical imaging technology either, which I bet is further along in the resolution game.

Most book pages have a portrait aspect ratio. Notable exceptions like LetterLetter exist, but most print designers use portrait mode. The widely predicted End Of Print turned out to be a farce: the number of books being printed continues to grow.

For designing fonts, most letters themselves have a portrait aspect ratio, so in portrait mode, you can get more detail in a maximized glyph window in FontLab. Try it sometime.

But regardless, there are certainly situations where it's good to be able to use landscape mode as well, and the technology to rotate the screen is simple and cheap, so users should be given a choice. Apart from sites designed to work at 800pix wide or greater, I quite prefer my web browsing in portrait mode.

Stephen Coles's picture

Oh yes. I do give it up to IHT. Great for reading.

hrant's picture

Stephen, John, I'll answer in full soon.
For the time being: Joe, do you mean some-
thing like ? :-)


hrant's picture

OK, no long-winded reply from me (for a change).

To me the bottom line -irrespective of precendent, practical formatting issues, etc.- is that the human vision system (the retina, the neck, even our environment) is naturally horizontal.

Just one specific rebuttal:
> screen resolution is the best way to address this problem, beating anti-aliasing hands-down.

They're not mutually exclusive, and each of us does what he can: I can't help to improve resolution, but I *can* make nice A-A bitmaps (until there's no longer a need).


Christian Robertson's picture

If any of you haven't seen OmniWeb's anti-aliasing, you should check it out. I for one am all for anti-aliasing, as long as it is a good algorithm. Photoshop, for example, does horrible anti-aliasing (and really fuzzy downsamples for that matter). Fireworks' anti-alias routines are better. Perhaps the answer is to give the user more controls over the parameters of the anti-aliasing algorithm.

About aspect ratio: Now that I have been using my titanium g4 for a while (1152 x 768), I can't stand the horrible almost square ratio of the traditional monitor. I was going to buy a larger lcd to work on when I'm at my desk and I couldn't bring myself to do it.

sevenfingers's picture

Doesn't the Apple cinema screens have the same aspect ratio as the tit. g4? (they're a bit pricey though, I drool over the 23")

Joe Pemberton's picture

Windows users: is Windows XP anti-aliasing
fonts throughout the OS?

I seem to recall that it is, but I don't
have an XP box handy.

Joe Pemberton's picture

While it may be time to break the 800px rule,
I find sites that _require_ the full 1024
widths cumbersome. I think something in between
is better, like 900 or so.

And, yes a vertical aspect ratio is nice.
However, there's something great about a truly
cinematic (letter box) aspect ratio when it
comes to motion graphics. I'm personally
hoping the web goes more in this direction,
than in a static, print-centric direction.

I've recently been re-inspired by the article
format at the International Herald Tribune site It uses set column widths and by
putting multiple columns on the screen,
doesn't require scrolling. It's a much more
natural approach to reading on screen.

hoefler's picture

I think it's hard to anticipate what the schism between electronic and printed information is going to be, but it's certainly coming. Some things are always going to exist in print, some things will cease to exist in print. Dostoyevsky and TV Guide offer a nice juxtaposition, or Pat The Bunny and the OAG Frequent Flyer Airline Schedule. We take for granted that books and newspapers contain different kinds of information; their formats reflect this, as does their typography. Although I wholly agree with John's excellent and succinct comments above, I have to acknowledge that a folded The New York Times is long rather than tall. That said, The New York Times is just the kind of thing that's best served up on a monitor.

Speaking as a focus group of one, very little of the information I gather online resembles what I'm accustomed to on the printed page. I rarely read more than 250 consecutive words on screen, with the exception of e-mail, which arrives in windows that I stretch to fit the natural cadences of their content. The valuable information delivered over my monitor tends to be expressed in widely ranging proportions, just as the shape of a spreadsheet is determined by the data it contains. Travel itineraries seem to naturally flow vertically, product comparisons are generally horizontal. Neither of these kinds of information resembles John's book or Hrant's horizon, leading me to wonder if the Portrait v. Landscape debate might not be so relevant after all.

If we're going to indulge in Things I'd Like To See (tm Mad Magazine), I'll vote for the 1200dpi digital paper in scroll format, which the user can unfurl as the situation dictates. Or the projection hologram, which sounds equally fun, and refreshingly non-rectangular. Until then, I'll use whatever Apple sees fit to manufacture.

Syndicate content Syndicate content