FontLab still digs pixel fonts

Now this is kind of ironic. Just after the “the death of the pixel font” article I posted a couple of days ago, comes the news that Fontlab is in fact investing some efforts in the pixel-emulating font creation. I’ve just received an announcement from the Typophile e-mail news feed. To quote:

As Flash websites have proliferated some typographers have taken to creating special pixel-based TrueType fonts which render cleanly and sharply at low resolution on such sites. Craig Kroeger, of miniml.com, gave a demonstration of this technique at TypeCon 2003. Such fonts act like bitmap fonts in that they are not anti-aliased and turn on specific pixels in a grid when displayed at the size for which they were designed.

The Fontlab guys were so impressed with this idea that they immediately sat down and hammered out a Python plug-in for FontLab that largely automates the process of creating one of these fonts. The plug-in, tentatively named FlashFonter, will quickly and easily create a “pixel-font” TrueType font for a specific pixel grid size from any installed TrueType font. No more fuzzy fonts
in Flash!

Yuri Yarmola of Fontlab will demo the first version of the plug-in at the Fontlab show and tell hour on Sunday, 28 Sept. at ATypI, Vancouver.

It’s fantastic to see that FontLab (the company which makes FontLab, the best font editor around) actually cares about the newest trends, although I believe this plug-in arrived with bad timing. Even though we’ll still be dealing with Flash MX (and won’t have direct access to Flash MX 2004’s new font features) for about one year or more, the solution to “no more fuzzy fonts on flash” problem has already been released, and it has been released by Macromedia: it’s Flash itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Fontlab’s products, and nowadays I do all my font work on either TypeTool or FontLab, both their products; but they are late. In fact, all you needed to create so-called pixel fonts on FontLab or TypeTool was some nice metrics (just a few numbers), a grid aligned to your generated pixel coordinates, and the box tool. If they had released a simple template with that one year ago, it would have been more than enough and anyone would be able to create pixel fonts with extreme ease, instead of spending countless hours tweaking one font to render properly on a given size (what I had to do some time ago, in fact; after that, creating a new font based on that template was a piece of cake).

In the end, their plugin will be able to generate pixel-emulating fonts on a given size using its hinting instructions. It’s just what Flash MX 2004 itself does internally, and what that other tool cited on my last post does too. It’s nice for FontLab owners, and it’s funny to see FontLab trying to bite Macromedia’s foot by exploiting a failure (“not rendering fonts correctly”) on a past version of their software (specially because their biggest competitor is Macromedia Fontographer), but I don’t think it’ll have a big impact anymore.

  • jean-baptiste levĂ©e

    what about releasing such a template (for pixel fonts i mean) ? i’m currently struggling with FL’ hints to get it work, but it doesn’t, and I have absolutely no idea of how I could get my EM units work in pixels !