Print v Screen Typography

Cath's picture

I am proposing my thesis topic and could do with some feedback. My aim in the thesis is to critically look at typography in print and on screen, and examine the differences between them focusing on legibility and readability, and perhaps transferring a piece of visual communication in print to screen and see if it captures the viewer the same or creates a completely different feel. I am looking for as much information on the topic and to find professionals who may have applied theories to either print typography or on screen typography. I think it is fairly new topic with the rapid emergence of new technologies and how type can be treated on screen - kinetic type, 3 dimensional etc.
So if anyone has some opinions or links I can research, I'd really appreciate it.

hrant's picture

It's not a new topic, but it certainly hasn't
been covered well enough. Good luck!

hhp

aluminum's picture

Seems like an incredibly broad subject matter for a thesis.

You asked for opinion: The primary differences are 1) resolution and 2) light source.

As for 1) that's slowly but surely becoming irrelevant (e-ink, retina/high-density iOS devices, etc). As for 2) still a primary difference (reflective vs. projected light) though, again, e-ink is making that a bit less of an issue.

I'd be interested in a thesis that perhaps looks forward a bit into the not-to-distant future to see where we're going.

hrant's picture

Resolution might become an irrelevant difference one day,
but ~300dpi isn't even close to enough, even anti-aliased.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Motion changes everything.
Pick either with or without animation.
I would go with motion, as it’s more interesting from a design point of view, whereas discussing motionless screen typography takes you into technics and readability science.

hrant's picture

Or readability science might prevent you from going into motion. :-/
Not that there's no room at all for animation; just not much room
that's shared with efficient delivery of text.

hhp

zachhinkle's picture

Will your thesis be given on a powerpoint/projector? Seems difficult to show key differences between two processes when they are all shown digitally.

Nick Shinn's picture

For an example of the difference between print and screen typography, consider Ikea’s change of corporate typeface from Futura to Verdana.

Verdana is brilliant on screen, for which it was designed, but lacks sophistication in print, which is unfortunate for a design business like Ikea.

Here are a couple of items that will give you a good idea of how designers can dislike a face in print (to the extent of it being the butt of an April Fool’s joke), which has long been extolled on screen:

http://idsgn.org/posts/verdana-and-georgia-grow-up/
http://idsgn.org/posts/apple-switches-to-verdana/

More typically, the issue of screen/print portability is framed the other way around, with the main culprits being faces which have excelled for centuries in print having difficulty adjusting to pixellation.

Cath's picture

Thanks everyone, great feedback and a lot of things to consider. It has helped in the direction I want to take my thesis. I knew it was so broad but wasn't sure how to narrow it to something that was interesting and could be supported by theories. I was looking at the readability and legibility theories, but motion changes everything with type. Plus that is the direction I myself are taking - digital media.
Thanks also the links those who posted them
Cheers

hrant's picture

Nick, actually to me Ikea's image has an "earthiness" (more
than a sophistication) that Verdana sort of matches. I think a
bigger problem than the font chosen was that it was in effect a
technical cop out, and right when webfonts were taking off!
They thought it would save them money, but resorting to a
pedestrian solution loses you money in the long term.

hhp

hrant's picture

Speaking of resolution:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/aegir/6845170968/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Look at the "N", third line from the bottom. If that "N"
is large enough to read comfortably, it's also messed up
to the naked eye. So if you're going to render like a slob,
you need much higher resolution. You can get away with
coarser (I mean ~300) resolution if you're mindful of how
the pixels lay down. You can't have both, no matter how
many laymen (and rosy-eyed non-laymen) you fool.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Reaction to the new iPad would indicate that we are entering an era when screen resolution will no longer be such an important issue (hooray!), to be replaced by that of backlit vs. reflective. And this will not so much pit print against screen, considering that there are reflective e-readers.

hrant's picture

That link I posted is from the new iPad...

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry, I wasn't talking about your reaction, Hrant :-)

hrant's picture

Fair enough, but do you think that "N" is good enough?

hhp

riccard0's picture

do you think that "N" is good enough?

To me it looks better than most Ns I encounter daily in books and newspapers.

Nick Shinn's picture

…do you think that "N" is good enough?

Similarly rounded parts of a type like Calibri should all straighten out together at a certain resolution threshold, and it looks like that hasn’t happened in your example. However, I couldn’t say whether this is problematic without seeing it on the actual Retina screen.

hrant's picture

More than the inconsistency of rounding
versus not, look at the two stems of that "N".

hhp

oldnick's picture

Nick Shinn hit on an important topic which is seldom addressed in the print vs. screen debate, and that is transmission vs. reflection.

Personally, I find looking at the screen for extended periods to be fatiguing: I take frequent breaks from the screen, simply to desaturate my eyeballs. If I don't, I can easily develop optical migraines—i.e., pulsating, jagged star-like phantoms in my visual field. If I encounter a lengthy article online which interests me, I am inclined to print it out, rather than torture my eyeballs for an extended period of time.

hrant's picture

That's what an e-reader is for. It's a pretty amazing feeling,
how calm and "accommodating" it is. In contrast emissive
screens are pretty much yelling "Look at me!" the whole time.

hhp

Mark Simonson's picture

The resolution of the new iPad screen is 264 dpi. Looking at it on the actual screen, the "sloppiness" of the "N" is barely visible. The impression is very similar to the way color laser prints look, except backlit. You can see certain artifacts if you look very closely, but otherwise not.

hrant's picture

It's interesting that you compare it to a color laser,
even though it doesn't use subpixel rendering, right?

hhp

Mark Simonson's picture

As far as I can see it doesn't. Wouldn't really work as there is no "correct" orientation.

I've noticed with color laser prints (the kind you see in short run printing for brochures, books, business cards, etc.) that if you look very closely you can see a very fine raster grid. That's what it looks like.

hrant's picture

> there is no "correct" orientation.

Unless the OS uses the screen's orientation to
optimize the subpixeling... But the resolution
is so high (at least for a large device = doesn't
get held very close to the eyes) that it might
not matter too much.

hhp

hrant's picture

So I finally got a chance to check out an iPad3,
and even with my 20/15 vision I was impressed.
Although I can detect a bit of strangeness in the
text rendering, since I don't expect most people
to curl up with it for hours and read a book* I have
to think it must be good enough. The fact that there's
a lot of real-estate means you can hold it at a decent
distance** and that makes the resolution effectively
much higher. So I'm guessing that for a large device,
above 250dpi is good enough.

* The emissive nature of the screen is
still an obstacle I think. In contrast
e-ink is much kinder.

** In fact the notable weight means you
have to rest it somewhere soon enough.

There are other large devices with high resolution
already on the market, but my question now is: are
there any good analyses of when most people will
start seeing such screens in front of them most of
the day?

hhp

Mark Simonson's picture

I have read quite a few books on the iPad. The backlit screen hasn't been a problem for me, maybe because I'm used to reading on one all day at my desk. E-ink would probably be better, but worse for most other things I use it for. The weight is a bit of a problem, unless I can rest it on something. That's true of some books, too. I notice it most when reading in bed.

fontdesigner2's picture

If a font has poor hinting, it will look poor onscreen but look fine in print. Sometimes design applications change the way a font appears. Photoshop has four different anti-aliasing modes and each one changes the appearance of a font drastically. In Illustrator, if you create outlines, the font suddenly looks better, though it is thicker and darker when printed. Basically, when type is editable, that editablity seems to detract from its looks. The best looking type is the type that cannot be edited or selected or copied anymore. It's been flattened out somehow. Or printed.

Thomas Phinney's picture

"The best looking type is the type that cannot be edited or selected or copied anymore."

Here we will have to disagree. Flattening the type into a graphic changes the rasterization model to a graphical one, which leads to bolder type. It also eliminates hinting. At screen resolutions, particularly at smaller sizes, I find these to be objectionable effects.

However, I'll be the first to concede that some folks prefer this look. But most do not.

Cheers,

T

hrant's picture

I agree with Thomas - my experience has been that type generally looks better before it's rasterized.

hhp

Mark Simonson's picture

Where are you seeing type before it's rasterized? In your mind's eye?

hrant's picture

Good one. :-)
What I meant is "flattened" I guess.

hhp

ilovedesign's picture

Not really sure if this is the best venue to look for your sources. I do have to warn you to be careful with talking to some of the the "experts" out there. A lot of people have countless good experience to share regarding the topic, but not all are as experienced as they claim to be.

JamesM's picture

I used to think that I'd never want to use an iPad to read a book, but I discovered that it actually works pretty well for me.

I don't think there's much doubt that electronic books will gradually replace printed books (except perhaps for coffee-table books, etc.).

oldnick's picture

There are some of us for whom the electronic book will never replace the dead-tree versions—at least in our hearts. Unfortunately, this may be simply another example of “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

American consumer culture appears to be oblivious to the burden-shifting that has been going on with most media. Instead of free television over the airwaves, we pay for internet access to “free” content. Book publishers can forgo the expense of printing books through electronic distribution. And, currently, there’s a move afoot to absolve phone companies from the responsibility of maintaining landlines.

Virtual reality indisputably has some good things going for it, but they ain’t cheap.

Chris Dean's picture

@Hrant: “but ~300dpi isn't even close to enough, even anti-aliased.”

Reference?

I’m pretty sure this has been discussed, but from what I understand, based upon a few readings:

A Jonesblog post about the Apple retina display
According to a relatively recent, but authoritative study of photoreceptor density in the human retina (Curcio, C.A., K.R. Sloan, R.E. Kalina and A.E. Hendrickson 1990 Human photoreceptor topography. J. Comp. Neurol. 292:497-523.), peak cone density in the human averages 199,000 cones/mm2 with a range of 100,000 to 324,000. Dr. Curcio et. al. calculated 77 cycles/degree or .78 arcminutes/cycle of *retinal* resolution. However, this does not take into account the optics of the system which degrade image quality somewhat giving a commonly accepted resolution of 1 arcminute/cycle. So, if a normal human eye can discriminate two points separated by 1 arcminute/cycle at a distance of a foot, we should be able to discriminate two points 89 micrometers apart which would work out to about 287 pixels per inch.”

The article it references: Curcio, C. A., Sloan, K. R., Kalina, R. E. & Hendrickson, A. E. (1990). Human photoreceptor topography. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 292(40), 497-523. doi>10.1002/cne.902920402

Abstract
We have measured the spatial density of cones and rods in eight wholemounted human retinas, obtained from seven individuals between 27 and 44 years of age, and constructed maps of photoreceptor density and between-individual variability. The average human retina contains 4.6 million cones (4.08–5.29 million). Peak foveal cone density averages 199,000 cones/mm2 and is highly variable between individuals (100,000–324,000 cones/mm2). The point of highest density may be found in an area as large as 0.032 deg2. Cone density falls steeply with increasing eccentricity and is an order of magnitude lower 1 mm away from the foveal center. Superimposed on this gradient is a streak of high cone density along the horizontal meridian. At equivalent eccentricities, cone density is 40–45% higher in nasal compared to temporal retina and slightly higher in midperipheral inferior compared to superior retina. Cone density also increases slightly in far nasal retina. The average human retina contains 92 million rods (77.9–107.3 million). In the fovea, the average horizontal diameter of the rod-free zone is 0.350 mm (1.25°). Foveal rod density increases most rapidly superiorly and least rapidly nasally. The highest rod densities are located along an elliptical ring at the eccentricity of the optic disk and extending into nasal retina with the point of highest density typically in superior retina (5/6 eyes). Rod densities decrease by 15–25% where the ring crosses the horizontal meridian. Rod density declines slowly from the rod ring to the far periphery and is highest in nasal and superior retina. Individual variability in photoreceptor density differs with retinal region and is similar for both cones and rods. Variability is highest near the fovea, reaches a minimum in the midperiphery, and then increases with eccentricity to the ora serrata. The total number of foveal cones is similar for eyes with widely varying peak cone density, consistent with the idea that the variability reflects differences in the lateral migration of photoreceptors during development. Two fellow eyes had cone and rod numbers within 8% and similar but not identical photoreceptor topography.”

And some quick web searching:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/vision/rodcone.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoreceptor_cell#Humans

It seems that there simply a finite number of photoreceptors in the human eye. This is not a question of of good or bad science, but human physiology. You can cut an eye open, and count them. If there is something I am misunderstanding, please explain, as this is a topic I am quite interested in (sans line breaks please).

And if the afore mentioned literature is correct, then obviously issues of rasterization and hinting are moot.

hrant's picture

In practice however receptor density (in only one of our two retinas no less) is not the only factor to consider.

hhp

----

Today, learn about the Armenian Genocide.

Chris Dean's picture

What factors are you referring to when you claim “…~300dpi isn't even close to enough…”?

oldnick's picture

Latest scientific evidence suggests that migrating birds can actually see earth’s magnetic fields: no mention was made of resolution.

Today's lesson: the Turks doubtless remember that episode in their history which they otherwise refuse to admit happened. The “civilized world” is hesitant to get involved in the current mess in Syria because a likely resultant civil war might lead to an autonomous or semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the south of the country. When combined with same in Iraq, events would likely unfold such that Turkey would feel compelled to quash a subsequent Kurdish separatist movement in an eerily familiar manner.

dberlow's picture

It's really interesting that many people think the appearance of a 264 dpi mobile reading device means light at the end of the tunnel as opposed to another light in a constellation of long-lasting possibilities. Low resolution still has a 20-year contract remaining.

I also think, for thesis purposes, resolution and light source are kind of obvious targets while reader age and reader motivation have become significantly more important when you think about the shift from p to s.

hrant's picture

David, I'm still trying to figure you out... I agree with you about the contract, but then I don't get your stance that Apple-style hint-dumping is OK. Do you think that highly size-specific rendering (basically simulating a bitmap font) is the way to go, at least for lo-res screens? I'm all ears.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

To any type designer and foundry: Imagine this hypothetical business context:

a) IF at 300 DPI means resolution no longer matters, which would then result in no need to concern yourself with hinting (which from what I understand of the process would save a significant amount of time) would you charge less for the typeface because it took less time to complete?

b) Would people who get paid to hint lose their jobs?

oldnick's picture

Christopher,

Your hypothetical scenario would raise the issue only if the end-user were aware of the diminished effort. Otherwise, fontmakers can silently join the corps of burden-shifters mentioned above.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Christopher:

Hinting is only a significant portion of the time involved in making a font if the font is hand-hinted. It's a distinct minority of fonts for which that has been the case, to date. So I don't expect that eliminating the need for it would cause prices to go down.

kentlew's picture

Christopher — Your first question presupposes that you are being charged explicitly for the hinting in the first place.

Does Pepsi Next cost less than other sodas, now that they don’t have to add all that extra sugar?

dberlow's picture

CR: "...would you charge less for the typeface because it took less time to complete?"

Custom font yes, retail font no.

Chris Dean's picture

@dberlow: “Custom font yes, retail font no.”

So, sans hinting, for a retail market, we could hypothetically stand to make more money.

In a custom context, would you expect the profit margin to be higher, lower, no significant difference, or simply too hard to guess given the variety?

dberlow's picture

if a font is made for custom it is priced according to the cost of design. if a font is made for retail it is priced like all other fonts and we don't know if or when there will be a profit margin. if a font is made for the former and later released as the latter, we usually make something.

it's also hard to compare because of both text vs display and webtype subscription vs FB licensing, furthermore by Webtype vs self-hosting options. and then finally, it's hard to compare because of what can be auto-hinted vs what can't auto-hinted.

it goes without saying thay we'd rather not pass these complexities on to the broad market, treating hinting like kerning, and only doing it when it's useful, and not e.g. charging less for monospace fonts.

Chris Dean's picture

Great answer. Thanks.

Richard Fink's picture

David Berlow wrote:
>Low resolution still has a 20-year contract remaining.

Yup.
But there's a lot of Rip Van Winkling going on.

fontdesigner2's picture

@Thomas Phinney and hrant:

I don't think you understand what I was saying. What I meant was that when you flatten type it looks closer on screen to how it will print. While it's editable, in most apps the type is distorted. The kerning looks uneven and bad for one thing, until it is coverted to outlines or rasterized, and then suddenly - presto - it looks nice. That is it looks nice on screen, but not nicer if you print it. That's the paradox I was talking about.

dberlow's picture

@HP "but then I don't get your stance that Apple-style hint-dumping is OK."

Okay is relative. First, most of their platform is above 120 dpi, and second, the hintless rendering they do for screen is "color" compatible with the printed result. Compare and contrast.

"Do you think that highly size-specific rendering (basically simulating a bitmap font) is the way to go, at least for lo-res screens?"

There is a best way to go, and there is a way to get somewhere, and they are not always the same. I think,the best way to go is to design and hint superpolateable fonts that render like Franky from super hints and can parametrically style for size, width and weight to compensate for everything from background color to dyslexia, but that's not yet the way to go. Clearer, I hope.

@fontdesigner2 "That's the paradox I was talking about."

I think that is a superficial paradox, with acdeeper issue being that Adobe font technology is just not engineered to optimize the appearance of every type design for both print and screen from the same source.

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