All Things Typographic: 5
f the tools of document design, such as InDesign and QuarkXPress, have for years provided pretty much the same functionality, whether employed on a Mac or a PC, the same can not be said of font management. To put it bluntly, font management on Windows systems has been primitive. Happily, recent initiatives by the two main developers in the field have gone a long way to achieving font management parity between platforms.
Font Management Comes to Windows
Extensis struck first in February by providing a version of Suitcase for Windows: Professional Font Management that added automatic font activation and deactivation to Adobe and Quark applications. Mac users are so accustomed to the virtues of this feature that they might think it self-evident, but for Windows readers this can briefly be described as the ability to activate just the fonts required for a particular document when it's opened, and conversely deactivate them when the document is closed. Font activation and deactivation makes so much sense, both from system resource management and font consistency perspectives, that I can't imagine Windows-based designers not immediately adopting it. Extensis manages the process via plugins for InDesign, Illustrator and QuarkXPress that employ its proprietary Font Sense technology, which it claims is unique in being able to activate the exact version of fonts within embedded EPS or PDF files. Keeping such plugins current is essential and Extensis duly updated its Mac and Windows plugins in May to work with the CS3 versions of Illustrator and InDesign. Beyond activation, Suitcase for Windows provides a wide range of font management capabilities, allowing users to group fonts into font sets, preview fonts prior to installation and activation, print font spec samples, and perform font problem diagnosis, repair and organization.
Like Suitcase, Insider Software's FontAgent Pro provides diagnostics and repair, font selection and font book creation capabilities. Insider Software made its first Windows version, for XP, available in May, with support for Vista "coming soon." The Mac version opens fonts as needed when applications request them, but unfortunately this approach has no counterpart on the Windows platform. On the other hand, a very flexible approach is provided for the creation of quickly-activated font sets, so the prospect of manual intervention for activating and deactivating fonts is less daunting. With the capabilities of both products very similar at this point, I encourage Windows users to put the trial versions of both Suitcase and FontAgent Pro through their paces.
If you're of a certain age the phrase "bitmap font" may conjure up visions of jaggy system fonts on antique Macs, as created in the mid-eighties with such arcane tools as Font Editor or Altsys' Fontastic. Those creating graphics for the Web or using Flash will think of these in their more modern iteration as pixel fonts, handy indeed when crisp, tiny text is required at fixed sizes. But bitmap fonts have other characteristics, such as color and transparency capabilities, that expand their use to include print publications, Web pages, animations, computer games, mobile electronic devices, phones and electronic displays.
FontLab has a lock on the development of font creation tools, with a lineup that includes FontLab Studio, TypeTool and the antediluvian Fontographer. Less well known is BitFonter, which can create and modify monochrome, grayscale or full-color bitmap fonts. While it has been around a long time, a Windows version has only just been made available, to coincide with the release of BitFonter 3. The latest release has a new interface that is said to make it easier for those used to image-editing applications such as Adobe Photoshop. Also new or improved is enhanced support for glyph outlines; simplified conversion of scanned lettering or digital photos into fonts; faster and more precise image manipulation filters; easier, faster and more-consistent spacing and kerning; and improved support for FontLab's Photofont technology. Worth taking the trial version for a spin, if you're unfamiliar with the possibilities of bitmap fonts. But wait a minute, what was that about Photofont, you say?
I had forgotten all about Photofont, a promising initiative that alas seems to not have reached critical mass. FontLab's idea was to provide a way for people to use full-color bitmap fonts created with BitFonter, complete with transparency, in Photoshop via a free plugin. A worthy goal, but the Photofont page makes no mention of CS3 compatibility and the Photofonts.com site seems pretty empty, with the exception of a few free downloadable Photofonts. Well, hats off for trying, in any case.
sIFR: Hack or Kludge?
We're this far into the Internet era and we still have no way to control the look of type on Web pages? How nutty is that? While most designers seem resigned to the ongoing typographic wasteland that is the net, the topic still periodically bubbles up from some subterranean source of discontent, most recently in a post from Roger Black, who sees Microsoft as our current best hope. But while the standards debate goes on and on, what's a designer to do? I recently posted an extract on Graphics.com from Sitepoint's The Art & Science Of CSS, which leads readers through the process of using Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) for the display of small blocks of Web page text using Flash. While not widely adopted, this approach has been around for years and would seem to get the job done in some situations, at least until a real solution shows up.
Open Up to OpenType Webcast Archive
If you missed the recent webcast in the Dynamic Graphics magazine free webcast series, you can still catch it via a recorded transcript. The well-attended event was hosted by Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, who performed an admirable job demonstrating the advantages of OpenType. Viewable separately are Ilene's reponses to questions from attendees that couldn't be answered during the webcast itself.