What typefaces are appropriate for displaying chemical formulas in a web page?

regiskuckaertz's picture


I'm working on the redesign of a web application used in the chemistry industry. Lots of screens display chemical formulas next to the name of the formula itself.

The choice of a correct font stack is important to my opinion, especially when lots of these formulas are displayed in a table column. The wrong typeface could slow down the reading process dramatically, or worse make some character combinations completely unreadable.

What I'm currently looking at is how readable subscripts are at certain sizes, and if the typeface contains troublesome characters (eg: lowercase-l compared to uppercase-i). Based on this font matrix, I found that Trebuchet may be a good choice—it seems to be the only one where the lowercase-l having has a curved end.

Trebuchet is widespread, which makes it a good candidate. What I don't like is all the other incongruities which I think make it look not very professional.

My questions are:

  1. do you think I'm using the good approach?
  2. do you have better a recommendation than Trebuchet?
  3. or if not, what other typefaces would you suggest in the stack, should Trebuchet be missing on the user's platform?
  4. and finally, is there any typeface that would complement it well and be better suited for setting texts with a professional tone?

I hope it all makes sense and I welcome any suggestion. Thanks in advance.

Scott Thatcher's picture

Looking at your criteria, I'm wondering if you've ruled out a monospaced font? It wouldn't be good for the web page as a whole, but would it be possible to use just for the formulas? Andale Mono is as prevalent as Trebuchet and differentiates between I, 1, and l. It presumably matches well with Verdana or other Microsoft web fonts. You could then include Bitstream Vera Mono/Sans (or a variant like Deja Vu) for Linux users. I've never tried to set chemical formulas, so I don't know how that would work.


regiskuckaertz's picture

Monospaced fonts. I admit I skipped the idea very quickly, but I was obviously all wrong.

Andale Mono seems to be missing from Windows installations though, but definitely I will explore this route.

Thank you very much for your suggestion.

Scott Thatcher's picture

That's strange, since it's listed as being installed by default on the matrix. Something to note is that Andale Mono is also available as part of the core web fonts released by Microsoft way back when, so it's even freely available to those running Linux (or any other computer that doesn't have it) if they choose to install it.


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