Typeface details and file size

Tim Brown's picture

At Typekit, we've had to turn away several really nice typefaces because their amount of detail equates to significant file size. Especially type with a built-in sketchy or distressed look. They're just too large, and cause too long a wait as people browse Typekit.com and the websites that use these fonts.

Solid versions of such typefaces might help, as might editing the details a bit. Are there strategies for simplifying overly complex letterforms? Have type designers had to consider file size in this way before?

Jackson's picture

The updated FF Trixie is a good example of a typeface with grades of detail. http://trixiefont.com

Is there a certain file size that you've determined to be too large?

bojev's picture

Fontographer has a Clean Up Paths feature that works well to reduce file size - I used to have my students see how small they could get fonts they made by running it several times, worked well on grunge fonts and sketchy ones done from scans

clauses's picture

Tim, yes they have. Early imagesetters had slow RIPs so complex pages, pages with heavy images, or complex fonts took longer to process in the RIP. Same deal with the early laserprinter RIPs. Thus some fonts were designed with this in mind. That meant straight lines were favoured over curves, and the number of segments were kept low. Some RIPs would use curve-flattening – converting the curves short segments of straight lines.

Tim Brown's picture

Jackson: Trixie is actually a really interesting case! The folks at FontShop offer FF Trixie Web as a Web FontFont, which despite its detail is only about twice the file size of an average font. This is certainly acceptable. The problematic faces I'm talking about are extremely large — 1.5mb/variation, etc.

Thanks for the tip, Bob!

Claus: That's really interesting, about the old imagesetters. It can sometimes seem like the web/screen hurdles we face are brand new, but I'd guess there are quite a few parallels to previous technologies.

oldnick's picture

Generally, I try to avoid Fontographer's Clean Up Paths feature except to insert extrema: even at its lowest setting, it's a little too aggressive about simplified, especially with round-serif fonts. However, sometimes--as noted above--Clean Up Paths works like a charm. The example below shows the letterforms as I originally drew it (left), with 97 nodes and all-straight-line segments. Using CUP at the maximum (5) setting reduced the number of nodes to about one-third the original, and still maintained the felt-tip-pen-on-napkin effect I was going for.

brianskywalker's picture

I had tried to download a font file that - according to the download indicator - was 21.3mb. I am on dialup so that wasn't going to happen...

For anyone who wants to know, it was the source file of Raph Levien's ATF Century Catalogue revival. The .pfb wasn't there to dowload...

...the mask images must have all been in the file?

Jack B. Nimblest Jr.'s picture

Tim> Are there strategies for simplifying overly complex letterforms?

There are, as functions of the size of use, and the resolution of use, "design compression" software is possible.

Tim> Have type designers had to consider file size in this way before?

In modern situations, there is a clear question to ask to the thousands of designs in use today where the average letter would be a larger file than most complete fonts — are you not better served as a graphic?

I know @FF use is going to have a great pull on people's minds, but I also think it can get kind'a ridiculous.

Chris Dean's picture

A small file file sizes was the genesis for Matrix (Licko, Z., 1986). This was done to burden the load on old postscript printers. There’s a nice history of the typeface on Emigre’s website.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Unburden or lighten, right?

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