Fonts & Encodings

Reviewed by Major Keary

Fonts & Encodings

Reviewed by Major Keary

The answer to a typophile's prayer, Fonts & Encodings is a large (over 1000 pages) book with an extraordinary breadth of coverage and depth of detail. Apart from a very brief description the book does not discuss physical type other than to explain the concepts and origins of terms that have been carried over into the jargon of digital typography, and to provide a fascinating history of typefaces—with examples—from Gutenberg to the digital transition of the late twentieth century. As a matter of interest, Gutenberg didn't want to parade a new technology, but intended to produce bibles that the buying public would accept as having been hand-written in the traditional way.

In the age of metal type there were as many systems as there were printing houses; similarly, present day digital typography is a maze of formats, standards (so many to choose from), software, and operating systems. Fonts & Encodings explores that maze. I have not seen any single text that contains so much technical information about fonts and encodings. The section on classification of typefaces is a masterpiece in that it is a concise presentation of current systems; however, don't expect to find a simple method of identifying typefaces—there's no such touchstone.

Remarkably, the author—Yannis Haralambous——is Greek, but wrote Fonts & Encodings in French, which is understandable: he has resided in France since age seventeen and teaches computer science there. It has been beautifully translated into English by P. Scott Horne (software developer and typographer fluent in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Latin). The writing is lucid and engaging; anyone with an interest in typography is sure to find Fonts & Encodings absorbing and informative, even though some of the technical detail may need to be skipped by lay readers.

Regardless of operating system, font format, input system, software used for input, or the language in which text is to be printed, this work presents the reader with authoritative discussions and information about further resources. Anyone who uses, at whatever level, non-Latin characters (such as Japanese) and extended Latin characters (the ones with everything-except-the-kitchen-sink diacritic marks) will find Fonts & Encodings an indispensable resource.

The chapters on Unicode provide an excellent introduction that is highly recommended to anyone who wants to come to grips with that ever-evolving technology. The author deals with font management on the Mac (pre- and current OS X), under MS Windows, and under X Windows. Fonts in TeX (yes, TeX is alive and well) gets a comprehensive level of coverage that is a resource in its own right.

Typography for the Web has become a prominent issue as web developers and authors seek reliable means of presenting documents using predetermined typefaces and layout, regardless of browser or availability of particular fonts on an end user's system. The topic is discussed in depth with real-world solutions.

The last three chapters deal with editing and creating fonts; the use of two software packages (one commercial, the other open source) is described in good detail.

Some forty per cent of the content is taken up with appendices, each of which is a resource in its own right: Bitmap Font Formats; TeX Font Formats; PostScript Font Formats; TrueType, OpenType, and AAT Font Formats; TrueType Instructions; Metafont and its Derivatives; and Bezier Curves.

Apart from the book's remarkable sweep across the landscape of digital typography it is the best single source I have seen of practical information about the current state of typography and its many encoding systems. Highly recommended a library acquisition.


Yannis Haralambous (trans. P. Scott Horne): Fonts & Encodings
ISBN ISBN 978-0-596-10242-5
Published by O'Reilly, 1 pp., RRP AU$ 110.00



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