OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

 in
Advice for installing and choosing fonts in OpenOffice.org.
Serifs, Sans Serifs and Others

The majority of fonts fall into two categories, serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have small feet or hooks at the tops and bottoms of vertical lines; sans serifs do not.

Figure 1. The major categories of fonts. Notice the serifs or feet at the ends of lines in the serif sample and how much broader and even the serifs are in the slab serif. The third line shows a sample of a dingbat font.

Times New Roman is the most widely used serif font, and Helvetica and Arial the most widely-used sans serif. Because many computers have these fonts, using them or near-replicas often means that exporting and importing files between computers is easy. But the price you pay for this convenience is an utterly conventional design. Hundreds of alternatives are available, including thousands of free fonts that can be found on the Internet.

The North American convention in printing is to use serif fonts for body text and mostly sans serif fonts for headings. By this standard, using sans serif fonts for body text looks innovative and avant-garde. By contrast, in Europe, san serif fonts often are used for body text, although in some places American cultural influence appears to be making this standard less common.

On-line, sans serif fonts are used more often than serifs. Screen resolutions are much lower than the resolution of text in the average book, and serifs often do not reproduce well. An exception is the sub-category of slab serif fonts, which use especially large serifs.

Other font categories include:

  • Script fonts: fonts that resemble handwriting, sometimes called calligraphic fonts. Whatever their name, they usually should be avoided in business documents or on-line.

  • Display fonts: fonts designed for headings or for brief lines or paragraphs in advertising, posters and brochures. Display fonts should not be used for body text, because they often can be hard to read in long paragraphs.

  • Monospaced fonts: fonts in which each letter is the same width. By contrast, most fonts are proportional, with different letters having different widths. Monospaced fonts were used in the original command-line interfaces on computers. For this reason, many people still use them to indicate commands to type in technical material. Courier, the most common monospaced font, is perhaps the ugliest font ever designed, but a few monospaced fonts look as good as proportional fonts.

  • Dingbats: fonts that consist of pictures or designs rather than characters. Hundreds of dingbat fonts exist. Some, like Zapf dingbats, have general-purpose pictures. Others have themes, such as flowers or portraits. One use for dingbats in Writer is as unusual bullets.

Whatever its category, each font creates its own impression. When you choose a font, think about the impression you want to convey and the tone and content of your message. In conventional typography, the goal is to enhance the message, not to call attention to the choice of fonts.

Choosing Fonts

Fonts are easy to overdo. So many fonts are available these days that it is easy to use too many at once. Similarly, an office suite can transform them in so many ways that you quickly can enhance a font into illegibility. If you restrict your documents to no more than two or three fonts apiece, and minimize the effects, you should improve the readability and the design of your documents.

This restriction is not as rigid as it sounds. Each font generally is divided into several typefaces or variants. The standard font usually is called regular or roman, although in the case of some fonts designed by Adrian Frutiger, it is designated 55 instead. Most fonts have at least three other typefaces, some combination of regular, italic, bold and bold italic. Some fonts also have narrow, expanded, oblique, extra bold or other versions. For this reason, using only two or three fonts actually means having at least eight to twelve typefaces available.

Figure 2. The four main typefaces in a font. Some fonts add a half dozen more, such as Thin, Medium, Oblique and/or Ultra Black.

Selecting Fonts in OpenOffice.org

If you are formatting manually, you can select from the available fonts by using the second drop-down list from the left on the Object tool bar. By default, the list previews fonts by displaying each font's name in the font itself. In addition, the most recently used fonts in the document appear at the top of the list, directly below the one in use at the current cursor position. Both of these options can be turned off to save memory in Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> View. Other buttons on the Object bar manually format the size, typeface, color and background. Alternatively, in Writer, you can select the default, heading, list, caption and index fonts in Tools -> Options -> Text Documents -> Basic Fonts.

If you want more control, select Format -> Character for the currently highlighted text string. If you want to format the entire paragraph, select it. There are no font settings in Format -> Paragraph. By contrast, if you are using styles, you find the same set of options in the formatting window for both character and paragraph style. In any OpenOffice.org application, the easiest way to open a style's formatting window is by selecting the style in the Stylist and then picking Modify from the right-click menu. Whether you are formatting manually or using styles, you can set font characteristics from three tabs:

  • Font: contains settings for the font, typeface, size and language.

  • Font Effects: font formatting.

  • Position: how the font is placed in relation to a line of text and the spacing between characters. This tab is unique to Writer, the application most concerned with text formatting.

In practice, you probably will need to jump back and forth between these tabs as you design.

______________________

-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

Great article, Bruce. As a Linux newbie, the up-to-date roundup of formats and their myths, combined with a great explanation of the different ways you can install them, was invaluable. Thanks!

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

In both cases, you should install only the fonts you need. Font files are relatively small in themselves, but collections of several thousand fonts are common, and installing this many fonts would deliver a serious blow to your machine's performance. Better in either case to load or unload fonts as you need them.

Has anyone yet considered having a more modular font system? One that unloads the LRU fonts and reloads them as required?
I'm sure that that's possible, given that the LRU algorithm is one taught quite widely in OS classes.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Guitarman's picture

Adobe Type Manager for the Mac does this, kind of. Say you open a document that has used Garamond, but you don't have that font activated in ATM. If you've configured ATM to know where you store "extra' fonts, it will simply find the font, activate it so that the document is seen like it should be, the de-activate it when you close the document. A nice little feature they forgot to add to the Windows version of the software. I would love to see something like this in Linux, though. It would help the appeal, IMHO.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

Probably because things like font dialogs (which list every font) tend to make LRU-type algorithms somewhat useless...

OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: why not in Writer?

Anonymous's picture

I hope I am not found rude by asking this ;)

Why can't we download a copy of the 'OpenOffice.org Off the Wall' articles as Writer documents, or as PDF?
It makes it easy for readers to understand styles and gives them the opportunity to apply custom styles...

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: why not in Writer?

Bruce_Byfield's picture

I'm still making arrangements, but I will be gradually releasing each column under the OpenOffice.org public documentation licence and making them available on the OpenOffice.org site.

The plan is to post each column thirty days after it was published, when the rights revert to me.

Tell you what: when I start to do that, I'll put a note at the top of the column. Okay?

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: why not in Writer?

Anonymous's picture

Great plan! Thanks for your time; I'll be looking forward to them.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

Interesting article but an important part is missing: fonts lisibility in OOo. Let me explain...

Since OOo 1.1 the Suite includes the Bitstream Vera family of truetype fonts. Ahhh, beautiful fonts on screen (and printed too) but they should be set by default (either by font relacement or in different options -- like in Writer).

Postscript or type1 fonts are not smoothed in X11 but ttf are, this behavior makes a huge difference on screen lisibility.

You did not mention the ugly fonts in OOo help (F1) that can be changed if you edit the file /usr/lib/openoffice/help/fr/default.css (adjust the path for your system and the language after /help) and add Bitstream Vera Sans before Albany in

font-family: Albany,...blabla

and don't forget to increase the font size from 9 to 10pt.

Finally, I always have at least 3 font replacements always waiting to be checked on just before exporting to pdf:

times new roman -> times
arial -> helvetica
courier new -> courier

You will get smaller pdf files as they will simply use one of the 14 base fonts of Adobe's reader.

Raymond

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

>Postscript or type1 fonts are not smoothed in X11 but ttf are
Wrong.
I'm using freetype with type1 fonts exclusively on my system.
They are anti-aliased and smoothed like ttf.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Guitarman's picture

I'm a professional Graphic Designer and Linux Junkie and I found the article to be pretty informative for non-designers, except for the font installation part. Most (if not all) of the fonts that are installed in fontilus are NOT available for OpenOffice.Org. This caused me large amounts of headaches until I found that the fonts have to be installed in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/ before they are available for OpenOffice. This is something that should be fixed in the program (IMHO), but is something that I thought should have been stated. Don't know about the KDE font manager. Don't use KDE, ever.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

In KDE - or at least as far as it is done in Mandrake 9.2 - I've installed several large blocs of varying fonts from a wide variety of sources.
These included Arabic, Aramaic/Syriac, Hebrew, the Furthork (English Runes), Georgian and Armenian, Tolkien's Tengwar, and a whole heap of others.
And I can access them - they are filed away in the /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/ directory as you mentioned, and I can make use of them in OpenOffice.org, and I haven't got around to testing them in KWord or AbiWord yet.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

Character sets are a major hurdle in my experience. If you are in a cross platform environment you never can tell what is going to happen to your documents.

The Linux lang setting makes a difference, but very often the characters you set, especially in OOo with the auto-correcting for quotes and some other 'special' characters, are not the ones you will see when viewing a PDF or web page in another system.

I find some fonts, Futura/Typo 2 and some dingbats, for instance, work fine in Windows but do not even show up in Linux after install. (This appears to be a defect in the character rendering server that fails when missing something or other)

I find that OOo 1.x will convert some of my banner headlines to bullets, actually change the character codes so the text is lost, when going from Linux to Windows. I have to use StarOffice 5.2 to avoid this problem.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

I have given up using OO writer for a project where I had planned to do so. Reason: I'm generating MS Word 2000 files in a Windows program for which there is no Linux equal. The Word files contain line drawing characters from a special TT font set provided by the program vendor. I have had no luck trying to install that font set into Linux OO. Furthermore the Linux version of OO refuses to convert a one page test Word file to anything but 120 pages of gibberish no matter what choices I make on the OO menus. The Windows version of OO will do the conversion and give me one page of text but OO refuses to recognize the special font unless I do the conversion manually character by character, which is necessary as they are scattered thru the document. MS Word has no problem opening the test document properly for editing or whatever I need to do with it.

Since this is a font discusssion I won't mention the horrors of getting printing to work in OO on RH9 and GNOME. It all ads up to extreme frustration and the end of trying to use OO. It should not be this hard to get commodity type computing to work.

What about ghostscript and printing?

derekfountain's picture

I gave up using Linux for writing several years ago because it was virtually impossible to ensure that what you saw on screen was what would come out of the printer. My understanding at the time (IIRC) was that the printing subsystem - Ghostscript - had a completely separate idea of what fonts were installed than did the X screen subsystem. Unless you got the two perfectly in sync, substitutions would happen at print time.

What's the general position on this now? Can I open a file in Abiword, Koffice or Openoffice, hit the print button and expect a correctly printed version of exactly what I have on screen? Do I need to spend the whole afternoon tuning my fonts to make it happen?

Re: What about ghostscript and printing?

Anonymous's picture

> I gave up using Linux for writing several years ago because it was
> virtually impossible to ensure that what you saw on screen was
> what would come out of the printer.

That, in my view, is the wrong approach. You don't really want for your printer to printer exactly what you see on the screen - unless you have a super-duper screen and/or a very low quality printer. This is what is called WYSITMTYG (What You See Is The Most That You Get). For producing beautifully typeset documents nothing beats the TeX family.

Re: What about ghostscript and printing?

Anonymous's picture

Dunno about "vanilla" OpenOffice, but the one that comes with Ximian Desktop is great. They've taken the Xft2/Freetype font system and hooked it into everything -- not only X11 but also OpenOffice, CUPS, GhostScript, etc. It's truly WYSIWYG and there are no inconsistencies.

Re: What about ghostscript and printing?

Anonymous's picture

I find printing more than acceptible on Linux these days. Especially with CUPS :)

Oblique vs Italic

Anonymous's picture

IANAF (I am not a fontie) but IIRC from discussions with one, Italic properly only refers to serif fonts. For sans-serif fonts, the appropriate term is oblique. I suppose I shouldn't fault the article for failing to mention that, and software generally has only Italic (rather than oblique) as a font option, regardless of the serificity of the base font. However, the article used Italic as an example while oblique was given as an option in a list of options. The reader might well conclude that Italic and oblique were independent options.

I agree that Courier is ugly, but I have to say that it is surpassed Letter Gothic (often called the typewriter font).

parl

Re: Oblique vs Italic

Anonymous's picture

There's no reason a sans-serif font couldn't have an italic complement designed for it--it's just that it's not as easy as tilting the upright version and tweaking a few things to make an oblique. Technically an 'italic' face is supposed to be derived from the strokes of handwriting, and can look substantially different from the roman face of the same family. Since most sans-serif faces are rather 'modern' or severe in appearance, having been designed mostly in the 20th century for metal or digital type technologies, an italic face would look kind of odd with them unless it was carefully made to complement the 'normal' face. The very popular Officina Sans is a good example of a sans-serif face with an italic rather than oblique complement.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

Ahhh.... a few inaccuracies in this article:

(1) type1inst is not a font server
(2) there is no Adobe Type Manager necessary on OS X--it's built into the system.
(3) there was no mention of OpenType, despite its wide availability and support from Adobe and others
(4) the mention of install methods was so sketchy as to be useless (could we have an actual explanation, please?)
(5) there was no mention of the difference between X core fonts and the fontconfig/freetype system
(6) there was no mention of the standard bitmap fonts which users will still run into, thus generating large amounts of confusion
(7) TrueType fonts are generally superior for onscreen display (assuming you're using the normal set of TrueType fonts) because they're designed to be used onscreen, with hinting made specifically for this purpose. It's not a "myth".
(8) there is no mention of the fact that TrueType works just fine with modern printing system on Linux; most if not all PostScript printers will accept TrueType fonts as Type 42 and GhostScript uses them just fine too.

Overall, this article is pretty weak on actually getting fonts to work and heavy on not-quite-accurate general info about font types and rarely-used options that are pretty self-evident to begin with.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Bruce_Byfield's picture

1) You're right; in trying to be economical with words, I made a mis-statement.

2.) The line should have referred to OS X Classic - that is, the old, non-UNIX Mac operating system.

3.) OpenType may be the wave of the future. However, for now, many font foundries are not using it.

4-5) The emphasis is on OOo, not fonts in Linux in general. That would be a good article idea for the future, though, so thanks.

6) The bitmap fonts are mentioned because they're useless for any serious design work.

7) I'm not sure what you mean by the "normal set" of TrueType fonts. However, I am not talking about a specific set of fonts, but the TrueType standard in general.

8.) The article does mention that the file format is mostly unimportant these days. I have found some TrueType fonts that postscript printers choke on, but not enough to matter

As to whether options are "rarely-used" or not, that depends, surely, on whether you are interested in designing documents, or simply in writing them.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

[Luke Kendall here, speaking about item 7]

You basically said that hinting doesn't matter at low (i.e. screen) resolution.
In reality, the exact opposite of that is true: hinting is needed at screen resolution and lower, but becomes unimportant as resolution increases.

Hinting does things like balance stem widths, "sensibly" snap character outlines to pixel grid positions, and more.

I have to admit that the hinting mechanism of Truetype fonts is also superior to that of Postscript fonts, since it's vastly more flexible. That's not to say an individual font might not be badly hinted (in either system), of course.

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

OS X Classic? Mean you not MacOS <=9?

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

(11) there should be a note about the file VCL.xcu which defines the internal font replacement

Re: OpenOffice.org Off the Wall: Fonts of Wisdom

Anonymous's picture

(9) there should be a description about a XLFD and what it means for configuring Postscript fonts for OpenOffice.org (look at fonts.dir)
(10) nobody mentioned the possibility to configure bitmap fonts (if they are available within the fonts section of a PPD - the printer driver...)

Webinar
One Click, Universal Protection: Implementing Centralized Security Policies on Linux Systems

As Linux continues to play an ever increasing role in corporate data centers and institutions, ensuring the integrity and protection of these systems must be a priority. With 60% of the world's websites and an increasing share of organization's mission-critical workloads running on Linux, failing to stop malware and other advanced threats on Linux can increasingly impact an organization's reputation and bottom line.

Learn More

Sponsored by Bit9

Webinar
Linux Backup and Recovery Webinar

Most companies incorporate backup procedures for critical data, which can be restored quickly if a loss occurs. However, fewer companies are prepared for catastrophic system failures, in which they lose all data, the entire operating system, applications, settings, patches and more, reducing their system(s) to “bare metal.” After all, before data can be restored to a system, there must be a system to restore it to.

In this one hour webinar, learn how to enhance your existing backup strategies for better disaster recovery preparedness using Storix System Backup Administrator (SBAdmin), a highly flexible bare-metal recovery solution for UNIX and Linux systems.

Learn More

Sponsored by Storix