What do you consider a good font (aesthetics aside.)

blank's picture

What should designers look for when purchasing a font? I’m thinking about stuff along the lines of well-drawn vectors, good letterspacing and kerning, Opentype features in Opentype fonts, oldstyle figures in text fonts, and so on.

James Arboghast's picture

Apart from good technical quality, build and execution, I always look for well-honed design value and conceptual specifity.

Default oldstyle figures are nice for book and literary work and ads, and msot kinds of display typography, but lining figures have huge practical advantages if you're doing annual reports, point-of-sale literature, maps, instruction manuals and the like.

OT features: built-in smallcaps are handy but with some OT fonts they're poorly kerned and it's easier using a separate smallcaps font. OT capitals spacing feature I find very useful if the font maker has established useful settings---it saves you time and tracking experiments.

j a m e s

dezcom's picture

I guess saying that it 'functions well for its intended purpose' is a brief way of saying it. The longer way would take pages and long analysis of what your intentions were.


timd's picture

How can you view the quality of the technical aspects James (P) lists without buying the font?


dezcom's picture

I think I misread James's question. I thought he said when designing a font, not buying a font, sorry.


Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Don't forget diacriticals, for spelling non-English words or names.

Si_Daniels's picture

Truthiness - that the values in the font are accurate and the font tells no fibs - eg embedding bits match the EULA, codepages and Unicode range bits are set accurately, no hack encodings, name table entries are set properly, etc.,

Manlio Napoli's picture

> Don’t forget diacriticals, for spelling non-English words or names.

Yes. Unfortunately many good text faces haven't a wide character set.

dezcom's picture

"no hack encodings"

Si, does trying to work around Apple's less than stellar supprt for OpenType count? I mean stuff like using the uni name as the glyph name so that certain Greek and CE glyphs show up in Pages, TexEdit, and OfficeMac?


Mark Simonson's picture

A "hack encoding" is when you encode a glyph incorrectly intentionally. For example, putting alternate characters into the slots intended for math characters.

The uni name thing is a workaround to overcome a deficiency in Apple's font support, but it's a just a different (and equally valid) way to make a font. It doesn't break any rules, it's just a pain in the butt.

dezcom's picture

Thanks Mark, I coudn't agree more about the pain in the butt thing!


fontplayer's picture

Regarding hack encoding, there are characters that I've never used in my life, and I'd rather have a few ligatures in those spaces. But I can appreciate that there would be other views.
; )

dezcom's picture

If you are making the font for yourself only, knock yourself out. If you are selling it and put something only you understand in the slot for an eth, don't sell it to an Icelandic person! People expect that when they type a certain key stroke combination that the correct glyph will appear. The private use area is for that kind of stuff.


Si_Daniels's picture

There are slots in Unicode that can be used for odd-ball glyphs. It's known as the PUA, so there's really no excuse for hack encoding. However larger companies (such as Microsoft and Adobe) have been criticized for using the PUA - some feel that their use of it is standardizing the area.

Cheers, Si

Si_Daniels's picture

>If you are making the font for yourself only, knock yourself out. If you are selling it and put something only you understand in the slot for an eth, don’t sell it to an Icelandic person!

Believe me, you don’t want to solicit "eth threats" ;-)

dezcom's picture

Ethically speaking, that would be a no-no :-P


TBiddy's picture

How can you view the quality of the technical aspects James (P) lists without buying the font?

An important question, and an issue I run into when buying fonts from some newer and/or independent foundries (many majors' draws of classics fall into this category too to be fair). The letterspacing is downright awful at times and I have had to track and kern the $hit out of some typefaces in order for them to at least look normal. I don't think there's any real way to know that until you take the plunge.

I generally look for value, OT features, and usability of the face when I make purchases. Can I use this face more than once? How many options do I have to set text with it? I also like old style numerals so, I like looking for faces that have them as an OT feature.

I gotta throw a thumbs up to Font Bureau for Interstate. The spacing on the family is the best of any sans-serif font I have ever used, period. It requires the least maintenance, and is beautifully drawn so it gets a lot of use from me.

The Thesis SuperFamily ain't too shabby either. Luc(as) knows fonts! They're both pricey as hell...but worth the dough. An example of quality being worth the price tag. Very versatile. I use the ever loving crap out of both families. :)

TBiddy's picture

Ethically speaking, that would be a no-no :-P

Oh...Chris! Did you actually say that? :)

dezcom's picture

"Oh...Chris! Did you actually say that? :)"

You know dad-gum well I did :-P


fontplayer's picture

I wouldn't want to alienate the people who are into eth & em. I was talking about things like the alt+0172

Florian Hardwig's picture

I really hate the practice of filling in empty slots with placeholder junk.

This is from an OpenType font of a not-so-fameless foundry: 19 stickmen (out of 251 characters altogether), brazenly flailing at me!

If you don’t bother designing such time-consuming glyphs as superscript 1,2,3s, vulgar fractions or basic mathematical operators (which btw is okay to me, as no-one promised me anything to the contrary—though I actually would expect more from a OT font with © 2003), then please leave their slots blank. Thank you.

Lex Kominek's picture

Speaking of aliens who are into S+M...

- Lex

JCSalomon's picture

Chris: Just telling people not to substitute other glyphs for eth isn’t sufficient, since they’ll just find a lesser used character. This can lead to a no-wynn situation.


dezcom's picture

LOL!! Go for it, Joel! :-)
What could be Greaterthan that!


metalfoot's picture

You know, you all are right on this...

*moves the image of a toaster out of the "grave" slot in his font*

I'm actually planning to incorporate a full range of Old/Middle English chars in my font. Yogh is such a cool character to draw...

Jackie Frant's picture


I think first the designer has to decide which font he or she will be purchasing. It has to marry the job they are working on. Next, if you purchase a font, you want one that has been well made. What I mean by that is, the letters fit together like they should, there should be punctuation, numbers and incase it is a display typeface and not just a text face - then a few alternative letters would be nice.

Then a font that will be able to work with your computer's system - and to the printer you send it out to, if you are having the job printed. (I'm on a MAC - Mac Type 1 are stabile, .ttf can be trashed - and not all Pro or OT fonts are created equal.)

Then you just need to know the font works for you. Best of luck to you on your first purchase.

P.S. An what is really nice about owning the font - is if they change the way the fonts are produced, they normally replace the one you have with the new type. I can still remember my Mac Type 3 floppy disks going out the door and new Mac Type "A" fonts returning...

filip blazek's picture

James, before using a font in a project, I check (among others) following list. I am a designer working mostly with texts in Czech language, so my comments are related to Central European characters only.

  • diacritical marks – proper shape, position and size (one of the most problematic glyphs in Czech language is dcaron, if this character is drawn properly, it is a good indicator the rest of the characters will be probably – but not always – acceptable)
  • kerning of accented letters (many type foundries somehow forget to kern accented letters, they probably don’t know that in many European languages accented characters could appear next to each other – even four in a sequence “tříšť”; several type foundries do kern accented letters but only with non accented letters)
  • proper kerning of letters dcaron, tcaron and lcaron (special attention is needed as those letters could be followed by letters of x-height or letters with ascenders)
dezcom's picture

Good tips, Filip! Thanks! Do you have a good test string for kerning CE?


SuperUltraFabulous's picture

I hate with a passion the "parts bin". Characters pulled from a generic font that is contrary to the majority of the design. Particularly, these guys: @, ®, ©,¶, ™, €, and $. The math symbols are the usually victims. I don't set anything needing the math symbols but if they're there, it's nice to see them native to the font.

But when you bomb the registered trademark, copyright, and "at" symbols I have to seriously rethink if i really want the font.

Usual offenders: Linotype, Monotype, ITC and Bitstream.

Font Bureau offer (as well as others) generally excellent fonts. However many "at" symbols are optimized for capitals whereas I think they are mostly important in the lowercase for email addresses. Tedious baseline shifting is not fun. So be weary of special symbols.

Bitstream Engravers Gothic- bad:

FF Megano- good:

Mike Diaz :-)

dezcom's picture

"However many “at” symbols are optimized for capitals whereas I think they are mostly important in the lowercase for email addresses."

Opentype case feature {case} to the rescue! Several type designers (even me) use the case feature to make an at sign work with both caps and lc text. The case feature works when "All Caps" is chosen from the style portion of the Character pallette.

The following low rez is an example using my soon-to-be-released Dez Squeeze Fat:


Jens Kutilek's picture

Florian Hardwig wrote:

If you don’t bother designing such time-consuming glyphs as superscript 1,2,3s, vulgar fractions or basic mathematical operators [...], then please leave their slots blank.

Florian, there's actually a technical reason to fill the blank slots with placeholders. If you just leave them empty, the common code pages will not be supported by the font and thus it may show up in weird places in the font menu of apps like InDesign, e.g. at the bottom between the CJK fonts. You could use spaces but I think that's even more confusing than stick figures appearing :)

Si_Daniels's picture

Perhaps the conventional thing to do would be to map to the missing or null glyph?

Florian Hardwig's picture

Jens, thank you, I didn’t know that.
Still, my feeling is: if the common code pages are not supported by a font, then it’s not complete, in a way. No?

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