Gathan Beaga

Typekit, and Windows web font rendering

If you are at all interested in the use of various typefaces on webpages, you will have noticed that most web pages seem to use a very abbreviated set of faces. This is because typically to see the web page the way the designer intended, site visitors must have the same set of fonts on their machines as the designer has specified to be used on the website. In practice this means that the designers can only count on a very few number of fonts being available to all their users – so they specify these in order to obtain a consistent experience across their userbase. This means fonts like Arial, Times, Georgia, and Verdana.

Typekit seeks to overturn this rather dull state of affairs by allowing designers to license new fonts that are then downloaded into their users’ browsers at the time the website is viewed. It’s a great idea, and implemented quite nicely through the addition of two javascripts to each website page, and some configuration on the Typekit website.

I had run across Typekit a few months back, and signed up to try it out. The invitation came through last week (as it did for many people) so I gave it a go over the weekend.

I was up and running within a matter of minutes, having selected a couple of new fonts I liked, and then further adjusted my stylesheet to make their sizes a little bigger. Job done, I thought.

Not so fast, unfortunately. It turns out there are still a few problems with this approach.

  • Uneven browser support: while most “modern” browsers are supported (i.e., major browsers newer than IE6) some important newer browsers like Google Chrome are not supported. Luckily you can specify a fallback font set to use for these browsers, which I did.
  • Costs money: yeah yeah, I shouldn’t complain about this. In any case, there is a free version that allows you to use two fonts on a single website: and that’s what I was using.
  • No support for non-latin characters: a problem as I try to spell Māori words correctly.
  • Many fonts look like crap in Windows.

This last one was the killer. I really was quite shocked to see the difference. (The images below will open in a new window.)

Typekit (Firefox, Mac)Typekit (Firefox, Windows)

I’m not sure exactly what the problem is here: whether it’s Windows font rendering; or the fonts themselves for not being adequately drawn for the screen; or mine for choosing unsuitable fonts for my website.

Either way, I can’t use them like this. Other people with a better eye for font selection, and more time to test out what looks best might have a better experience.

So to my non-professional eye, Typekit is not ready yet. Full marks for effort, but I’ll come back to it in a year or so and see how it looks then.