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Font, That Four-Letter Word

(May 2005) posted on Thu May 05, 2005

The greatest cause of printing-file disasters.

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By Stephen Beals

Font is probably the single greatest cause of four-letter-word
tantrums in print production. Fonts are certainly the greatest
cause of printing-file disasters.

At my shop, we have threatened to ban every font except Helvetica.
But then we realized we have several hundred versions of
Helvetica, and we couldn't figure out which one to keep. Not that
it was a terribly practical idea of course. After all, even printproduction
operators who get burned by bad fonts on a daily
basis don't really want to live in a single type-style world.

The font-management

Why can't such a simple
thing as a set of code for the
characters of the alphabet
be made to work on some of
the world's most sophisticated
computers? One reason
is that there are tens of
thousands of fonts available,
a number that's growing
daily. Plus, not everyone
who creates fonts is completely conversant with how they should
be made"?and many are not all that concerned about whether
they can actually be output on a PostScript printer.

There are other reasons, too. Designers simply love to play
with and manipulate type in programs like Fontographer. Software
manufacturers feed font-junkie's habits by allowing them
to create increasingly sophisticated special effects. In addition,
there are fonts written for special needs (like dingbats and
braille fonts), special languages (like Japanese and Farsi), and
even special applications (like scientific and musical notations).

More insidious than font designers, however, are operating system
designers who continually upgrade the products we use
daily. The rules of the game are constantly changing. Imagine, if
you will, 10 players on a basketball court, all playing with a different
set of rules: The center is playing by New York State High
School rules, the guards and forwards are playing by NBA rules,
but anyone who comes in off the bench must play by WBA rules.
Of course, at halftime everyone must switch to a different set of
rules"?and when you are playing on the left side of the court
you use the rules adopted in 1975, and when you play on the
right side of the court, you play by 2005 rules. How would you
like to referee that game?