Embedded Fonts

Douglas Edric Stanley


I’m currently playing about with Safari 3.1’s embedded font feature. It’s great, and about time. If you’re reading this blog directly from my website and with Safari 3.1+ then you know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait until Firefox and Explorer catch up.

I’m not sure I’ve found what I’m looking for in terms of legally embeddable fonts. It actually harder than you might think to find interesting, yet readable, open fonts. If you use this feature, be careful: you cannot embed commercial fonts as this would be the equivalent of distributing them and could get you into trouble. Some web designers have complained about this, but I actually think this is a Good Thing™. We need a more developed open type community — and no, embedding fonts in Flash is not a solution — and this will only accelerate that process.

Which reminds me — there’s this brilliant project currently in beta where you can “build, share, download” open typefaces: FontStruct over at the infamous FontShop. It’s a great service, even if it still needs a lot of work. You can even embed a flash example into your blog or webpage, as in the following Pixel Cube example:

type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” style=”width:750px; height:90px;” data=”http://fontstruct.fontshop.com/widget.swf“>

I don’t know how long I’ll be using this font (it has a lot of issues), and for the moment I have yet to figure out how to single out browsers that do and do not support this feature, in order to create the right type relationships for those that do not. For the moment, I’m figuring most cannot see these fonts, and so the sizing is all wrong. But whatever the case I think it’s great to see a community tool perfectly in sync with this complex issue, and if you think my website is now even uglier than before, please give me some time to figure out how to deal with this (welcome) extra layer.

Original Comments:

2008-04-20 19:11:26

Stephen Coles

I too am excited about the possibilities of Web embeddable fonts, but as you allude, the fonts you’re using for this page are not optimal for on-screen reading. It’s far too narrow and the bold is too heavy. As I mentioned in my reaction to the announcement of the @font-face feature, there are very few licensable fonts that are screen-ready, especially for text. A big reason why the Web is so readable right now is due to the use of fonts that were designed specifically for low-resolution display: Verdana, Lucida Sans/Grande, Georgia, Arial.

Thanks for your kind words about FontStruct, by the way. I happen to be part of the team that produced the site, so I welcome your comments on how to improve it.

2008-04-21 19:58:57

Douglas Edric Stanley

Oh I agree that my font choice doesn’t really work, and yes that bold is way too heavy. Again, I don’t really want it at this size but for those without browser support anything larger makes Verdana far TOO large to be comfortably readable. It’s a back and forth I’m still experimenting with and will probably opt for yet another font whenever I can find the right one. The sooner the better.

But this is a different issue than that of open & free fonts as opposed to commercial fonts. I don’t see how the current commercial paradigms for distributing fonts could ever work with an open web. Something’s got to give, or else the commercial distributors need to step up to the plate and give us a workable solution other than embedding Flash precisely where it doesn’t belong (especially from a design perspective). Embedded fonts is now, finally, a reality — and very quickly designers all over the world are going to start clamoring for professional-quality fonts that they can embed into their work. Are the font houses ready to answer that call? Or perhaps we need to bypass the issue entirely, and just rebuild a new library of fonts designed specifically for these open formats.

2008-04-24 17:24:56

Stephen Coles

Are the font houses ready to answer that call?

I guess I would turn that question around a bit and ask “are the CSS spec people ready to answer the call with a embedded system that doesn’t download a reusable font to every user’s computer?” That’s the biggest stumbling block for font makers when considering allowing the @font-face rule in their licenses.

2008-04-24 19:35:51

Douglas Edric Stanley

Based on similar cycles with previous software, formats, platforms, protection systems, DRM, and so-forth, I don’t see how any of that can sustain without cracking somewhere and the floodgates breaking open. Maybe fonts are too obscure, unlike music, and a fear-and-shame-net could be built large enough around attempts to unlock embedded fonts — if ever someone even figured out how to distribute embedded fonts. Personally, I wouldn’t be against protected fonts, because ultimately I’m a pragmatist, but again I don’t see how such a system could technically work. There is a profound reason why PDF is not in the same legal space as HTML.

But I think the final word is just the nature of the world wide web itself, and any semblance of political clarity on the part of the W3C. It would be profoundly dangerous to allow a private, protected system to creep into the open standards of the web. The same problem is happening in FOSS and while I think various commercial+open licences can co-exist, it is important to keep certain standards completely open, otherwise we are no longer really talking about a standard. Everyone might agree that Blue-Ray is the new standard for HD video distribution, for example, but this doesn’t move us any closer to an open format. Et caetera, et caetera, …

2008-06-15 03:11:36


For those who do not have safari installed, it would be cool to see a screenshot of this page with the fonts embedded. I agree that it is an awesome advancement to be able to embed fonts…it will really open up the web for people to be truly creative with their fonts…how it is right now is like being stuck with 14 colors to use.