Following up on quality fonts and meta-fonts

In response to my post on quality fontsmbana provided a pointer to a Typophile discussion on the Tex Gyre fonts. In particular, Thomas Phinney described their quality as "wildly variable". I suppose at the time I was using "quality" to more describe whether the fonts provided all the features I would expect to need, rather than only aesthetic quality. I have to admit when I did skim the specimens that they didn't look too bad to me. He did say that the glyphs based on the original URW designs were quite good, while the Greek and Cyrillic "range from mediocre to poor to largely useless". Phinney most certainly has more experience with Cyrillic and type design than me, and arguably he probably just has a much better eye than me.

Leon recommended Junicode, which provides the most important features I discussed. I do think its stems are a bit thinner than I prefer, but it seems very well done.

In my discussion of METATYPE1 and meta-fonts, Till pointed out the existence of the meta-font Antykwa Półtawskiego. At the time I told him that I thought he was misinformed because Antykwa Toruńska seemed to have been created by tracing scanned specimens. A few days ago, Peter Backes pointed out this rather egregious error in reading comprehension on my part. Currently, only the generated Type 1 font files are available for Antykwa Półtawskiego.  However, it sounds like it was prepared using a rather early version of METATYPE1 and therefore the sources could possibly be incompatible with the newer versions of METATYPE1.

Peter also noted that he has also created a font with METATYPE1 called OCEANIA. It is perhaps not as "meta" as he thinks would be ideal, but during the time I've spent working with METAFONT and METATYPE1, I've definitely found that it is often quite difficult to come up with a reasonable declarative specification of a glyph.

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Quality fonts

The other day on Digg I saw a link for 30 high-quality free fonts for professional designs. Many of the samples seem decent, but I guess it sparked the question in my mind of just what constitutes a "high-quality font".

I suppose when I think of a a quality font, I tend to expect a consistent design along with some of the following:

  • composing characters or glyphs for most diacritical marks, ideally Greek and Cyrillic glyphs as well
  • proper kerning
  • appropriate ligatures
  • old-style numbers
  • optical sizes

Given these criterion, offhand I have to say that perhaps the best high-quality free fonts that I can think of off the top of my head are probably the TeX Gyre fonts and the Latin Modern family.  I would be curious to hear about other recommendations.

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Fonts in LaTeX, Part One: XeLaTeX

Now and then I get asked about how to use some TrueType or OpenType font with LaTeX, so I figured I would take the time to write up some simple tutorials on how to do so. The first part will focus on the easiest route to making use of TrueType and OpenType fonts in LaTeX: XeTeX and XeLaTeX.

XeLaTeX also has the advantage of not only giving easy access to modern fonts, but also accepting Unicode input files.

The first thing you need to do is find out if you have XeLaTeX installed, and if it is a sufficiently up to date version. This is easiest to do from the command-line:

% xelatex
This is XeTeXk, Version 3.141592-2.2-0.996 (Web2C 7.5.6)
%&-line parsing enabled.
**^C

This is the version that I am using for the tutorial, and is what comes with TeX Live 2007. I highly recommend just installing and using the entire TeX Live CD/DVD, even if you're using a Linux system that offers TeX Live packages, because, in particular for Debian/Ubuntu, I've found that the default installation often doesn't install some important packages, and it can be a pain sort through all the available packages using Synaptics or whatnot to find what it didn't install.

I am also assuming that you are using a (modern) Unix or MacOS X system. I assume that most of this material should also apply when using Windows, but if someone can comment, let me know.

Now, as an example, say you want to use the Pagella font from the TeX Gyre project. First download them and install the fonts (the otf files) as you normally would on your computer. Under MacOS X, this means using Font Book. If you double-click on an otf file it will load Font Book for you and there will be dialog with a button to install the font. If you load Font Book yourself, you can use the "Add Fonts..." menu item under the File menu to select the files. Under a modern Unix, I would recommend just placing the otf files in your ~/.fonts folder, though I think file managers like Nautilus also understand how to install fonts.

And that was all the installation work necessary; as I said, XeLaTeX is the easiest solution unless you have specialized needs. Now just create a small LaTeX document:

  1.  
  2. \documentclass{article}
  3. \usepackage{fontspec}
  4. \setromanfont{TeX Gyre Pagella}
  5. \begin{document}
  6. Testing XeLaTeX!
  7.  
  8. Greek: τεχ.
  9. \end{document}

The fontspec package isn't necessary, but it makes dealing with fonts in XeLaTeX much easier, for example it defines the convenient \setromanfont command. You can learn more about all of its great features from its beautifully formatted manual.

The other thing you might need to know is what XeLaTeX thinks your font is called. If you're using TeX Live, like I suggest, you will have the program otfinfo at your disposal that can do that for you:

% otfinfo --family texgyrepagella-regular.otf
TeX Gyre Pagella

Note that despite its name, otfinfo will also work on ttf files, assuming that they include OpenType data in them. The other option is to use Font Book on MacOS X or fc-list from the command-line in Unix.

Now you just run xelatex:

% xelatex test.tex
This is XeTeXk, Version 3.141592-2.2-0.996 (Web2C 7.5.6)
%&-line parsing enabled.
entering extended mode
(./test.tex
...
...
Output written on test.pdf (1 page).
Transcript written on test.log.

And you have your document:

XeLaTeX test

I think that is about everything you need to know, but if you try this tutorial out and find that something doesn't work, let me know.  If you have more specialized or demanding typographical needs, you may want to use pdfTeX and pdfLaTeX, and part two of the tutorial will explain how to do the necessary configuration to use TrueType and OpenType fonts with them.

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