Typefaces and Typography

The first time I tried to create this design was over a decade ago, back when we had Web 2.0, when we were all struggling with semantic markup and strict XHTML and the web held so much promise. I wasn’t happy with the results then. Three important things had to happen for this design to work:

  1. Browsers improved their text handling and made more advanced font features available through CSS.
  2. We all started using higher resolution displays. Georgia isn’t the only serif that looks good on a screen anymore! Typefaces that only worked in print suddenly looked decent on our phones and laptops.
  3. Type designers and foundries released high quality fonts with permissive licenses. I wasn’t interested in paying a recurring licensing fee.

These things happened! So now I can finally share a version of Diplograph that I’ve been thinking about since the time when blogs still mattered.

Typefaces

The main serif typeface, used in the site’s masthead, header elements, and body text, is EB Garamond. Garamond is a wonderful old-style typeface and has long been one of my favorites, and I was really happy to find this version! It’s elegant, beautiful, and thoughtful.

The roman face comes from matrices cut by Claude Garamont (c. 1495–1561).Not all typefaces called Garamond are the work of Garamont; many are based on the types of Jean Jannon (d. 1658) which is a story we should come back to some day. This does not mean the misnamed typefaces are necessarily bad! Jannon was a skilled typecutter and many revivals are very nice. But there’s a century between Garamont and Jannon, and they really aren’t the same at all. As with most modern Garamonds, the italics are based on type designed by Robert Granjon (1513–1589). Until the mid 16th century, romans and italics weren’t paired or thought of as just a style variant like they are now. They were separate typefaces, and entire books might be set in italic. So while Garamont did cut italics, they weren’t necessarily designed to match with his romans.

EB Garamond was developed by Georg Duffner using the Egenolff-Berner specimen, printed in 1592, hence “EB.” Octavio Pardo then added the bold faces (which weren’t really a thing until like the 19th century) and reworked the font to support variable weights.

Scan of the Egenolff-Berner specimen, showing a number of samples of printed type. Some are labeled with headers. Parts of the document are damaged or missing.

The Egenolff-Berner specimen, printed by Conrad Berner in 1592.

Many of the typefaces are mislabeled. In A View of Early Typography: Up to About 1600, Harry Carter identifies the types as a mix of Garamont’s, Granjon’s, Jacques Sabon’s (1535–c. 1580), and Pierre Haultin’s (c. 1510–1587) ( 99 ).

Even so, the specimen is an incredible example of 16th century types.

In The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst writes:You would be forgiven if you looked at this site and thought, “she read The Elements of Typographic Style fifteen years ago and never moved on from that.” You would be forgiven because you would be right.

Choose a typeface or a group of faces that will honor and elucidate the character of the text.

This is the beginning, middle and end of the practice of typography: choose and use the type with sensitivity and intelligence. ( 22 )

What is the character of my text? I have no idea. The content of this site is as much Animal Crossing screenshots as it is anxiety. So maybe EB Garamond is aspirational: it’s the stories I want to share, the art I want to make.

Diplograph’s body text is set in 22/30. On screens that are large enough (basically any device that isn’t a phone), the body is 540 px wide, chosen so that each line contains about 60–70 characters, a comfortable measure for reading. On the smallest screens, where the lines are shorter, the body text increases in size to 24/30.

The accent typeface, used for navigation links in the header and footer, is Poppins. I wanted something relatively modern for contrast, something like Century Gothic or Avant Garde, to pull the blog away from looking like a 16th century manuscript. Poppins filled that space. I’ve also added a small amount of letter-spacing, which opens it up a little bit.

Published by the Indian Type Foundry, Poppins has extensive Devangari support, designed by Ninad Kale. To be honest, I’m only using the type’s Latin characters, designed by Jonny Pinhorn.

Technical prose and captions are set in Inter, by Rasmus Andersson. Inter is a neo-grotesque sans-serif designed for screens and user interfaces, and it seemed like a nice fit for when I’m writing about code.

It’s generally true that smaller text benefits from positive tracking, and display text looks great with negative tracking. I’ve never seen an attempt to capture this relationship in a formula, but Inter does with its “Dynamic Metrics”. I sort of like it, and for the most part am using the horizontal metrics as recommended.

cat << EOF

Code is set in FiraCode [1], which is also what I use
in my editor most of the time. It has a lot of really
neat / weird ligatures and contextual alternatives
for programming, such as === for triple equals.

As the name suggests, FiraCode is based on Mozilla's
Fira [2] typefaces. The idea for the coding ligatures
comes from Ian Tuomi's Hasklig [3], which in turn
extends Paul D. Hunt's Source Code Pro [4].

[1] (https://github.com/tonsky/FiraCode)
[2] (https://github.com/mozilla/Fira)
[3] (https://github.com/i-tu/Hasklig/)
[4] (https://github.com/adobe-fonts/source-code-pro)

EOF

There’s enough really cool stuff going on with the code formatting that it needs its own page. I want to write that one soon.

Subsetting and Compression

The full fonts would be too large to send to every visitor. EB Garamond Regular alone would be nearly 200KB.

Each font is processed with pyftsubset, part of fontTools. For each font family, I’ve specified a range of codepoints to keep, an optional set of glyph names to drop, and the layout features I want. Wakamai Fondue helped me figure out what each font supported.

For example, for EB Garamond Regular, I’ve kept these codepoints:

And these layout features:

I also drop the c_t and s_t ligature glyphs.

After subsetting and compression, the font is a much more reasonable 56 KB. That’s still not free, but it’s smaller than a high quality photo, and I really like how nice the site looks with beautiful type.There are more than one thousand words on this page, so the math works out.

Typography

Ligatures

The usual set of ligatures, such as ff or ffl are enabled. Compare affably baffled vs affably baffled.

I’ve also enabled discretionary ligatures, for example Th, tt, ss, or fj. Compare: Throttled fjord Crossing vs Throttled fjord Crossing.

I’ve removed a few specific glyphs, such as the ct and st ligatures.These examples of removed features are being rendered with an second font file that still has support for those features. Most pages on the site won’t load this second font file. They’re beautiful but distracting; these glyphs are literally known by the technical term quaint. My process for removing them is pretty fragile, but here’s what I’m doing:

  1. I take the font and export it as TTX XML.
  2. I go through each file, removing elements that reference the glyph by the glyph, glyphName, value, or name attributes.
  3. I also clean up some parent elements, for example a LigatureSet that no longer has any ligatures, or the modified PairValueRecord in the GPOS table.
  4. I then convert the font back into a TTF for further processing.

These steps probably only work for the specific glyphs I’m dropping in the fonts I’m dropping them from. But now I get to turn on more ligatures, and that’s cool.

Figures

I use old-style proportional figures in prose; compare 5,678 vs 5,678.

Numbers with enough digits are letterspaced. Small numbers like 17 don’t get this extra space. Compare 2,048 and 555-1234 vs 2,048 and 555-1234.

Tables use tabular figures so numbers will line up with each other:

NoteFrequency (Hz)
C3130.813
C4261.626
C5523.251
C61046.502

Punctuation

InkInk is what I call the software that generates this site. automatically turns any "straight quotation marks" into their “curly equivalents,” using an algorithm based on David Dunham’s Smart Quotes algorithm.

It skips over text it doesn’t think is prose (e.g., <code>). It will traverse sibling nodes, so it will correctly curl the marks around “emphasized text”.

“Opening punctuation hangs into the left margin in supported browsers, so the text remains aligned in each paragraph.” (Your browser may or may not support this.)

Inline Styles

Emphasized text and citations are italicized. Strong text is set in small caps instead of bold, which looks weirdly out of place to me.

Superscript uses the sups font feature. EB Garamond’s subs glyphs sit on the baseline, so I use the sinf scientific inferiors for subscript instead, which sit below the baseline.

Headers

I’ve only styled three levels of headers for now, and by this point you’ve seen all of them. <h1> is used for the page title. On all but the smallest screens, first and second level headers hang into the left margin a bit, which makes it easier to scan for a header when scrolling through the page.

All of the headers are also anchor links that point to themselves, so you can copy the URL of a header to share a link directly to that section.

EB Garamond has the wonderfully whimsical capital Q as a swash alternative, but it’s a lot in body text, so it’s enabled only on headers. Compare Quickly Quoth vs Quickly Quoth.

Lists

  1. List markers hang in the left margin, while the list text itself stays aligned with the main body text.
  2. On the smallest screens where there isn’t any left margin, the list is indented to make room for the numbers.
  3. I haven’t figured out what to do yet with nested lists. That’s a problem for future me to solve.

Block Quotes

Block quotes are marked with a vertical line and use a subdued color. The text is indented to offset it from the main text.

That was probably written by someone very cool.

Asides

Ink supports sidenotes.They look like this. At larger layout sizes, on laptops or desktops, the sidenotes appear in the right margin. The text is set in 16/22, and there’s a bit of top padding so the baseline of the first line of the sidenote aligns with the body baseline. On smaller screens, the ordinal is tappable and shows the sidenote as an inline parenthetical in a subdued color.

Instead of using superscript, the inline numbers are actually EB Garamond’s ordinals. Ordinals may be intended for series, as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, but I like how they aren’t raised quite as much. Compare superscript1 vs ordinals1. The inline numbers are also slightly larger. Compare the standard size1 vs the slightly larger size.1

The style and implementation of sidenotes takes after the margin notes in Joel Dueck’s Try Pollen.And Matthew Butterick’s Pollen inspired some of Ink’s markup language and architecture.

Acronyms

Words and acronyms formed entirely of UPPERCASE LETTERS stick out from their surrounding text like shouting, and so Ink instead sets them in SMALL CAPS. A mix of numbers, letters, and some punctuation is also allowed: JPEG, 3DES, C-3PO, A-Z, A/B, 3 PM.

Capitals that are a part of another word are not included: macOS. Some initialisms are skipped over when part of specific phrases: EB by itself is set in small caps, but not in EB Garamond. Some technical acronyms are set in small caps, with an initial full capital, when they are part of a mixed case name: MozJPEG, OptiPNG.

To be honest, I haven’t really found an exact set of rules I’m happy with, so Ink has a lot of exceptions to make this work.

A small amount of tracking has been added to any sequence of small caps, including acronyms, strong text, and headers. Compare: JPEG vs JPEG.

Math

Math is typeset with KaTeX\href{https://katex.org/}{\KaTeX}. I don’t write math that often, but I think there must be a law that states as a blogging engine grows older, the probability of it adding support for TeX\TeX approaches 1. Or, because Ink follows this law, we can write it as:

limtPTeX(t)= 1(1) \tag{1} \lim\limits_{t \rightarrow \infin} P_{\TeX}(t) = \space 1

The rendering is done during site generation; there’s no client-side JavaScript needed.

I’ve made a couple of tweaks to the default styles. KaTeX\KaTeX math is normally larger than the surrounding text, “which makes super- and subscripts easier to read,” per the docs. Diplograph’s base type size of 21 px is large enough that I think it’s okay without the size adjustment: yi=x2ay_i = x^{2a}.

The fonts are based on Computer Modern, developed by Donald Knuth in METAFONT. Knuth based his designs on Monotype Modern, a 19th century revival of 18th century neoclassical forms.

KaTeX\KaTeX isn’t a full TeX\TeX environment, and it’s not exactly perfect. I’ve had to add a hack for PTeXP_{\TeX} to look right, but I really can’t blame anyone for not expecting someone ridiculous (me) would try to write P_{\TeX}. In my limited use so far it’s been great.

Selected Sources

  1. Robert Bringhurst. The Elements of Typographic Style. 2004.

Typefaces

  1. Rasmus Andersson and contributors. “Inter”. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  2. Georg Duffner, Octavio Pardo, and contributors. “EB Garamond”. 22 April 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

    I couldn’t figure out which page to link here. Duffner’s site about EB Garamond and the corresponding GitHub project are for an older version of the font, and Pardo’s GitHub project lacks the variable fonts unless you build them yourself. So, the link above is to EB Garamond’s Google Fonts page.

  3. Ninad Kale, Jonny Pinhorn, and contributors. “Poppins”. Indian Type Foundry, 5 March 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  4. Nikita Prokopov and contributors. “Fira Code”. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

Software

  1. Emily Eisenberg, Sophie Alpert, and contributors. “KaTeX”. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

    LaTeX\LaTeX-like math typesetting for browsers.

  2. Roel Nieskens. “Wakamai Fondue”. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

    Tool to examine which layout features and glyphs are supported by a font file.

  3. Just van Rossum and contributors. “Fonttools”. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

    Python library and command line tools for manipulating font files, including pyftsubset for creating fonts with only specific layout features and glyphs.

Additional Sources

  1. Harry Carter. A View of Early Typography: up to About 1600. 1969. 2002.
  2. Jost Hochuli. Detail in Typography. Translated by Charles Whitehouse, 2008.