How to test hinting?

wolfattack's picture

Hello everyone.

I'm curious how everyone tests hinting of fonts? I know this may be obvious for some, but hinting is a fairly new thing for me, and so far i've only done auto hinting with TTFAutoHint.

Without sounding totally dumb, I can't even seem to figure out how to test the quality of the hinting. Being on OSX, it seems like I'm having trouble finding a place to see how a TTF file actually is displaying.

I've tried a few of these online drag and drop font testers, but there seems to be no change between loading an unhinted font, and a ttfautohinted font. Here are the sites I am referencing...

To make sure it wasn't just my files, I tried downloading the sample font files from the TTFAutoHint site and dropping them onto one of these sites and there is no difference in display between the autohinted file and manual hinted file.

Do these sites just not show the hinting? Is this because i'm on a OSX and not Windows? Does anyone have any suggestions on ways to test the hinting of a font?


dberlow's picture

>Is this because i'm on a OSX and not Windows?


wolfattack's picture

hmm, is there any good way of checking on a mac without running a Windows emulator?

John Hudson's picture

Font rendering is platform-specific (where platform is typically operating system, but can be individual applications (e.g. Adobe apps, which use their own rendering engines) or subsets of the system (e.g. the Metro environment on Windows 8). So the best way to test font rendering, hinted or otherwise, is to test widely on as many platforms as possible.

It would be great to have a single test app that incorporates the different rendering engines from the different platforms, and allows you to switch between them and to compare them side-by-side.

wolfattack's picture

Yeah, it is too bad that in this day and age there isn't some sort of testing app that at least simulated the different platform rendering engines.

It basically sounds like hinting is a Windows problem then?

Does that mean that there is no need to deal with any sort of hinting when generating a font as an .otf intended for a Mac? What happens as far as font rendering when installing an .otf on Windows versus using a hinted .ttf?

Without sounding dumb for a second (or third) time, I don't really understand the difference between the type of hinting the "Auto-Hint" feature in the AFDKO makes (the Cmd + Shift + H hints in Fontlab) vs. something like TTFAutoHint?

I'm assuming the AFDKO is hinting for .otf files, and TTFAutoHint is for .ttf files, but is there any point in even using the AFDKO auto-hint if .otf files are rendered pretty well on their own on a Mac?

Sorry for so many questions, it can just be really difficult finding solid answers to such specific inquiries into the hinting world...

Richard Fink's picture


I'm the guy who put the test page together at Readable Web that you cited.
Direct link:

Truetype hinting only comes into play when there's a TrueType interpreter in the graphics display engine that's programmed to interpret the truetype hinting code that the autohinter adds to the font.
Yes, it's mainly a Windows thing.
By now I've autohinted thousands of fonts and my opinion is that TTFAutohint 1.0 is certainly the best performing autohinter available.
Also - since all I'm concerned with is how fonts look in web browsers on various platforms, I first turn to view the results of my work in IE 8 on Windows XP. (That's the most demanding environment. If the hinted font looks good there, it will likely look good everywhere.)
I then branch out - checking it on the latest version of IE in Win 7 (which uses the DirectWrite rendering engine), plus Chrome and Firefox on XP and Win 7. Plus various Mac and Android devices, too.

To get a really good result, you might need to tweak some of the outlines to make them a bit more "autohinter friendly". The autohinter has a personality, it "likes" some curves and shapes better than others. (The notion might amuse, but it's true.)
(Tip: converting the Truetype outlines to PS outlines and running the Adobe autohinter first and checking the readout might help identify some irregularities that might also trip up the Truetype authohinter. The two are not all that dissimilar in their predilections.)

I would also recommend that if the x-height of the font is not in line with ye olde system fonts like Arial, Verdana, Georgia, et al - meaning an x-height somewhere in the Goldilocks zone of 46% - 54% of the m-square (ie: 960 units on a grid of 2048) consider scaling up or down accordingly.

I have seen startlingly - I mean, really amazingly better - hinting results solely from simply following the pack and scaling the font into that "traditional" zone.

What I've found is that most designers are Mac centric and just don't want to go the extra mile to keep a windows machine handy just for the purpose of hinting and testing truetype fonts. (And I certainly can understand why - it's a pain in the ass and there are just so many hours in the day.)

Also, many type designers are focused near-totally on graphic design and just don't and won't ever accept it as their responsibility to provide a Truetype font hinted for the screen. They just don't care, never will, and many have ongoing animosity about the fact that the Truetype flavor of Opentype and therefore the need for hinting still exists. (Damned Microsoft!)
I'm not finding fault with this. It's just the way it is. An observation.

Hope some of this was helpful.

charles ellertson's picture

Below doesn't address the thread, except to remind folk that much of this will change fairly soon now. I'm using an 18-inch Windows machine (9 x 16 inches), half tablet, half desktop, depending on your whim. And as a tablet, yes, mine's bigger than yours...Once nice thing about it is the resolution of that 18-inch screen is 120 ppi.

Big tablets and laptops --- The 15-inch Dell (Windows) is up to 235 ppi, and the 15-inch MacBook Pro essentially the same at 221.

Slightly smaller tablets -- the Kindle Fire is at 340, and the iPad Air at 264.

Phones: The smaller iPhones are close 400. There are better android devices, at least in terms of resolution. Way better than the first generation laser printers -- the Oppo Find 7 has an effective ppi of 534 ppi, if my math is right.

Soon, hinting will matter only if you want the type to appear better on the old desktop computers. How long will people hang on to their old equipment? (Whilst admitting I'm hanging on to an Windows NT machine.) With Microsoft ending support for the XP-generation machines, nobody should be going on the internet with them.


Just as a reminder, the old Linotron 202 typesetting machine, the gold standard in the 1970s and 1980s, had an resolution of about 960 dpi. By the time you actually exposed & developed the the photographic paper, you're significantly lower than that. A bit more loss making the negative, an little more burning the plate. And then, apply the ink to paper with an offset press...

Of course, there are resolution errors, rounding errors, and other distortions, and they're all quite different. But it won't be very long before the screen is as good as typesetting for offset printing used to be.

hrant's picture

Way better than the first generation laser printers

And what do we think of the first generation laser printers? It's even possible to tell the difference (especially in small type) between 1200 and 2400 dpi.

Hinting will be with us for a while yet, especially considering non-affluent societies.


dberlow's picture

wolfattack: It basically sounds like hinting is a Windows problem then?

Basically, yes.

And there are two things about typography on windows that have undefined ends for the purpose of considering the end of hints. One is that ClearType of all kinds does "not use" all the resolution in y. Because of this, 130 dpi, which is what MS pad claims, is really only giving you 100. ClearType is like a little bleach. In addition, fonts with thin to skinny features are problematic on windows even if hinted, and this goes on as long as CT lasts, or until everyone has 300 dpi screens. Everyone.

On testing hinting, I don't bother beyond the following: if the y direction hints do what they are supposed to, in aligning the overshoots and other vertical features, maintain a minimum of 1 pixel for each vertical feature, and consistently round like-features together from 9-67 px, the font is hinted for my world, where recommendations for size use are included in the presentation of the font during trials and licensing. This way, even if a skinny style is perfectly hinted, but does not render well on windows below 80 ppm, I can warn the web designer.

Richard Fink's picture

+1 (mostly) to what Jack B. Nimblest Jr. wrote - the 'mostly' growing out of the difference between manually hinting a font (a very fine level of control available) and autohinting a font (only a 'broad brush' level of control available).

But by and large I declare a font adequately hinted for my world under the same criteria as Jack's.

And, certainly, take heed:

"In addition, fonts with thin to skinny features are problematic on windows even if hinted, and this goes on as long as CT lasts, or until everyone has 300 dpi screens. Everyone."

Until then, beware of extremes.

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