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Quality in Typefaces & Fonts

By Thomas Phinney

What makes for quality type? What's the difference between typeface quality and font quality? Who makes quality typefaces/fonts? Today's post is partly an education for the beginner, but also a plea to my colleagues at other companies for more testing.

One of the things that attracted me to work in the type group at Adobe, when I was dreaming of such things a decade or more ago, was my belief that Adobe made the best fonts. Now, of course, I didn't know all the world's type foundries then - and with the ever-growing number of font vendors out there, I still don't. However, Adobe certainly makes very good fonts, and my concern with quality has continued to this day....

First, let's go ahead and make that distinction between typeface and fonts. A typeface for my purposes is the actual aesthetic design, and may encompass a range of styles and be implemented in multiple ways. A font, in this digital era, is a specific file (or in the older formats sometimes a pair of files) that instantiate that design on your computer.

For example, Times is a typeface. Linotype's Times type family in digital form comprises four fonts, a regular, italic, bold and bold italic. Monotype's Times New Roman may or may not be the same typeface (a debatable point, as there are some tiny aesthetic differences), but is certainly a different set of digital fonts.

So typeface quality is about how the design does in terms of aesthetics, and also the optical principles of perception.

Some explanation of these optical principles may be in order. They are illustrated in the graphic below, an edited screen shot of Myriad Pro Regular from the FontLab Studio 5 font editing program.

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