Unix/X font stuff

These days this is mostly Linux font stuff.

Common Font/fontconfig Problems
Some common problems people have with using anti-aliased outline fonts under Linux

Linux font management: some very brief notes.

rune fonts
Both Nordic and Tolkienesque runes

What is a font?

A font is an implementation of a typeface, and a typeface is a design of a coherent or coordinated set of letterforms or shapes.

In plainer English, then, a typeface is a design like Times or Helvetica or Garamond or Caslon. It usually exists as a set of drawings or as ideas in a designer's mind.

A font was originally a whole pile of tiny pieces of metal, each with the shape of a letter cut out of one end. Fonts were made, like other metal things, in foundries, and were originally called founts for that reason.

Today, a font is computer description of how to draw the various shapes that make up a typeface.

Read on to learn more about fonts, including where to get them.

Why do I care?

Fonts are used to draw text; almost every time you see a word on the screen, it was made by a font.

Aren't all fonts the same

There are several ways in which they're different from each other:

  1. Typeface designs are all at least slightly different. The differences are obvious to people experienced at working with fonts, but at first they maight not seem so obvious. It's like office furniture: an expert will point out that you'd be more comfortable with a different chair, and you can see it's different, but if you didn't know you probably wouldn't have noticed.

  2. Since fonts are like computer programs, they can be implemented well or badly. Some of the better fonts have had literally decades of labour spent on them; others, a few days. Most of the work is spent on making fonts look good on the screen or be readable at text sizes.

  3. Fonts, like applications, are distributed under a licence, or end user license agreement. Some fonts can be freely shared and some cannot. Just as GNU/Linux[tm] users want the GPL to be respected, and get upset when it isn't, so the font creators want their licence terms to be respected.

  4. There are several different file formats in which fonts are distributed. They are not all equivalent, and you have to use the right format for your operating system. For Linux, even on Apple hardware, you can use TrueType fonts made for Windows, Type One PostScript fonts made for Windows or Unix, and OpenType fonts made for Windows or Unix.

    You may sometimes also run across things called bitmap fonts; you should generally avoid these unless you have a particular need for one.

Where can I get free fonts?

Remember that although sometimes free fonts can be of high quality, usually they aren't, and in some cases can even crash your computer, or make applications freeze or hang. Yes, even on Linux.

Most Linux distributions do include quite a few free fonts; for mandriva Linux, for example, use rpmdrake to search for fonts and you will find a long list!

Where can I buy fonts?

The best-known place is My Fonts.