fonts for televisions

stormbind's picture


If you thought the differences between print and computer screens were difficult, then type for television would make you cry.

Television pixels are rectangular rather than square. Furthermore, the colour pallet is constrained by legacy broadcast technologies and the type must appear smooth on even old low resolution television screens.

It may have been in the 1950s when the BBC designed their rounded font for broadcast subtitles. Does anyone know where to acquire a copy of BBC fonts for use on a PC?

Alternatively, can anyone suggest an excellent font for use on low contrast transmission with rather big rectangular pixels?

Si_Daniels's picture

“Television” is a very broad target - everything from Gramps black and white TV, through tiny 2" or smaller mobile phone screens, through to a monster plasma panel (I think the pixels are square on most HD TV's), and then there all the different standards PAL, NTSC etc., etc.,

Anyway may be a good place to start.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Ascender Corp. sells tv-specific fonts.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

joeclark's picture

What exact kind of text do you wish to display with these fonts?

Joe Clark

stormbind's picture

Hi Sii,

I tentatively suggest that the breadth of devices is not a significant problem and that the pertinent term might be graceful degredation. My suggestion is that producers design content to look right on the least capable device. For example, a type for television would be intended for interlaced transmission.

I feel that HDTV consumer products are shrouded in marketing hype and difficult to understand. For example, the up to date HDV 1080i encoding format has a rectangular pixel ratio of 1.33

Hi bert,

Thanks. Sadly, I cannot afford to pay much because I finished studies only last week. Do you know of a free source? :)

stormbind's picture

Hi joe,

I am concerned with subtitles that contain commentary. For example, the text may undercut statements in audio.

However, my concern is only to produce show reels for playback in a domestic setting such as DVD/TV or DVD/PC. I am seeking font faces for broadcast so that the demos appear safe and conventional.

I am trying to raise support for a documentary film.

Si_Daniels's picture

> format has a rectangular pixel ratio of 1.33

I stand corrected - just took some macro pics of my TV and the pixels are not square.

Although i'm sure there are system that use specific bitmap fonts drawn for TV, typically I'd expect folks to use outline fonts rasterized to take into account non-square pixels - support for this has been built into the TrueType rasterizer since day one - to support CGA/EGA/VGA shaped pixels.

Stickley's picture

Gill Sans (and the like) is great for television in my opinion - clear, legible, and holds up well when it finally hits your TV at home. Generally sans serifs tend to work better for a greater volume of words at a smaller point size, but serifs can be sharp too.

I've had a great many discussions, read many specs about proper and effective use of type on-screen, and done a lot of design for broadcast over the years, from main titles, to lower-thirds, to DVD menus, and my simplified guide-line is (for standard-definition): 18 pt. minimum, 230 for each R, G, and B value maximum, and watch the contrast of the type color/luminance to whatever the background values are. Television both is and isn't forgiving that way. And, designs properly prepped for broadcast look fairly awful on a computer (too murky and dull).

As for square pixels, designs all start out square (or should start square - that's a whole other discussion), get cropped, squeezed down to the desired output ratio (NTSC, PAL, whatever), and eventually get spat out to your TV screen essentially looking square. Yes, resolution is lost in the squeeze, but things get pulled back to a more proper proportion when you see it on your TV. Circles are circles again, squares look square, type isn't crushed any more.

So, it's less about the font chosen and more about the treatment and handling of the font in the design that will make or break its usage.


stormbind's picture

Thanks Michael :)

I'm actually torn between Gill Sans and Lucida Fax. I prefer the latter, but I do not remember seeing serifs on television - I don't actually watch TV unless its prescribed.

The technical details in the middle of your post are interesting. However, I lack relevant experience to fully appreciate what you have said.

I understand that legacy broadcast signals have difficulty transmitting sudden changes in brightness. Have you used anything behind the light grey text to give it contrast against light backgrounds? :)

Thanks again!

joeclark's picture

> I don’t actually watch TV unless its prescribed

Man, are you ever the wrong designer for this task. Seriously: Should a client hire a graphic designer who doesn’t read books “unless it[’]s prescribed”?

Joe Clark

Stickley's picture

Here's an image to see what I mean for color specs:

The left is to spec, the right is 100% white or black (255, 255, 255, or 0, 0, 0). True whites and black should be avoided for everything on-screen, especially text. It's akin to avoiding a rich black for text on the printed page. I think Lucida Fax looks good at larger sizes (24 pt. in my example). The T serifs especially get muddy when smaller.

The colors are all pulled down to work with the background image - so that'll depend on what you are doing. I also added a very soft, centered drop-shadow to the first word in the Do list to give the type a little contrast to the back but keep it well within the numbers and gave all the words +10 tracking. The contrast will be exaggerated on most televisions so things will look bright and clear but there won't be any buzzing or fighting for clarity. I tend to go for softer contrasts for just that reason, so everything will work and be crisp and quiet.


stormbind's picture

Thanks Michael. Your demonstration has really helped! :)

> Man, are you ever the wrong designer for this task.

The more I learn about how broadcaster's manipulate audience minds, the less I want to be a part of their audience! I heard that the top drug dealers don't consume their own drugs, and I apply the same principle to media :)

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