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Font Basics


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A font is actually a graphic shape, for example a triangle, which can be used to create a typographic character. A group of fonts of similar design can be used to create a typeface. A set of typefaces in different sizes and weights, created from the same group of fonts, is a type family. These terms are often misused, the term "font" being used to mean a typeface.

There are two basic kinds of fonts, bitmapped fonts and scalable fonts. Bitmapped fonts are constructed as a pattern of dots. Bitmapped fonts can be enlarged, but this produces jagged looking type.

Bitmapped Font

Scalable fonts are stored as outlines of the characters along with rules (know as "hints") used when displaying the font. This allows the fonts to be displayed over a wider range of sizes and still look good. Scalable fonts can be used for both the computer screen and the printer, making it more likely that the print will closely match what's seen on the computer screen.

Scalable Font

A font file will usually contain a set of fonts in several different point sizes. A font's size is the height of the characters in "points". There are 72 points per inch. The font size refers to the height of characters when printed on paper. Unlike paper, computer screens come in different sizes and can be set to different screen resolutions. Also many applications allow the user to magnify the document; therefore, the size of type on the screen will only rarely be the same as the point size.

Adobe invented the first scalable font technology called "PostScript", but PostScript basically became obsolete when Microsoft provided its "TrueType" scalable fonts for no extra charge with the Windows operating system. One important feature of TrueType fonts is the ability to embed the font into the document itself.

The fonts used in a document are embedded in an encrypted form that prevents the recipient of a document from removing the font and using it without paying for it. The font developer can configure the font to be read-only, where the receiver of the document with the font may view and print it but not edit it, or read-write, where the receiver may edit, as well as view and print the document.

Bitmapped fonts are stored in files with the extension .fon. TrueType fonts are stored as font descriptions in files with the extension .ttf. To install a font, simply copy the font file to the c:\Windows\fonts or C:\WINNT\fonts folder. You could store a font file in a different folder and include a shortcut to the font file in the fonts folder.

To view a font, simply navigate to the fonts folder and double-click on a font file. You can also view fonts by selecting Start | Settings | Control Panel and opening the Fonts utility. The Fonts utility provides many extra features, such as the ability to select similar fonts.

When you select the "font" menu item from within an application, the Font dialog box will display a list of the the fonts stored in the fonts folder. The Font dialog box in some applications will actually display the typefaces for you to choose from.

When you install some applications, like graphics programs, hundreds of fonts may be installed along with them. To keep the number of fonts manageable, you may want to delete fonts you don't use. To delete a font, simply delete the font file, but remember, if you used that font in a document, when you open or print that document, Windows will be required to select the closest matching font to the deleted font, and you may get unexpected results.

System fonts are used by the Windows operating system for text like window titles and menu items. To determine which fonts are being used by the system, select Start | Settings | Control panel and open the Display utility. In the Display Properties dialog box, select the Appearance tab. In the Item: drop-down list, select items that use text, like "Title Bar", "Menu", "Message Box", and so on. The name of the font used for each item will appear in the Font: text box. Don't delete a font being used by the system.


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