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Specifically, the focus of this guide is on computer system fonts, although we will touch on web fonts, computer fonts, and fonts in general.

In metal typesetting, a font referred to a particular size, weight, and style of a typeface, each of which was a matched set of types. In light of digital typography today, the font is more often considered to be synonymous with typeface. Traditionally, a font would have been made of metal or woods, but today it is a digital file, also known as a computer font.

A computer font is implemented as a data file of related glyphs, characters, or symbols. Although a font originally referred to a set of movable metal type pieces, all of the same style and size, today it more often refers to a set of digital shapes that are of a single style, and scalable to different sizes. A font family (typeface) is a reference to a collection of related fonts across styles and sizes.

The most common types of data file formats used in fonts are bitmap, vector, and stroke. Bitmap fonts are made up of a matrix of pixels representing the image of each glyph in each face and size.

Bitmap fonts are faster and easier to use in computer code but, because they are non-scalable, they require a separate font for each font size. Vector fonts use Bézier curves, drawing instructions, and mathematical formulas to describe the appearance of the glyph, making them scalable to any size without distortion. Also known as outline fonts, stroke fonts are made up of a series of specified lines and additional information that defines the profile, or the size and shape of the line in a specific face, which together forms the appearance of the glyph. Most of the fonts used on computers are outline fonts.

Fonts are created and modified with font editors. Some fonts, designed for computer screens rather than printing, are known as screen fonts.

While designing a document to be printed on paper, a user may select any font that has been properly installed on his computer, and the document will, of course, use that font. That's not the case with web documents, however. When you design a web page using that uniquely elegant new font that you purchased and installed, not everyone will have access to that same font.

Every device comes with its own pre-installed font selection, one that is based largely on the operating system that is used. Computers operated by Microsoft Windows may have one group of fonts, while the Apple macOS will draw from another, and the same is true of Google devices and all of the others.

These are known as system fonts, and we will speak further of them later.

When you use a font that is unique to your machine or even to your type of machine, your web page will look different to anyone who doesn't have that new font that you have installed.

Fortunately, standardization has become more common now than it was many years ago, and there is such a thing as web-safe fonts. Web-safe fonts are ones that appear across all common operating systems, whether the viewer of your web page is using Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, Google Chrome, or any of the several Linux-type operating systems.

Web design allows you to specify alternate fonts to be used in the event that your default font is not available to your viewer, but I'd rather stay on topic and this isn't a web design guide.

Most, if not all, operating systems will allow you to install new fonts, which will then be recognized by your computer as long as these fonts have been properly installed. Many people will consider these aftermarket fonts as being system fonts because once installed, your computer system will recognize them and use them when they are called for, and they will be made available for use to the local user through most applications using fonts.

Technically speaking, however, a system font is one that is utilized by the operating system for displaying text used in menus, icons, error reports, and so on.

However, for the purpose of categorization here, we will consider any font designed to be downloaded and installed to a computer to be an appropriate topic for this category.

 

 

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