NewDeal Hot Tip 1411

[Hot Tips for...] Fonts

The Origin of URW Roman Font

There are actually three companies involved in getting URW Roman into NewDeal.

URW in Germany designed the font, but not with PCs and low-resolution devices like dot-matrix or even 300 DPI laser printers in mind--they're more of the 1200 DPI Linotronic crowd. They design the fonts on special workstations using their own software and file format.

DTC (Digital Typeface Corporation) in Minnesota (actually its predecessor company, but I won't go into that here) took the URW design for URW Roman and made a special hinted version of it to work with the Nimbus font rasterizer. It is DTC that added the hints which are intended to make fonts look good at low resolution, and affect the shape of characters up to about 120 points at 300 DPI (e.g. on an HP LaserJet).

Geoworks took the URW font and the Nimbus rasterizer and integrated it into Newdeal, and the result is used to generate characters for screen display and printing on just about every printer we support (PostScript printing is done differently).

Some users have complained about the serifs being too large on some lowercase letters like r and n. We did more looking into the URW Roman fat serif issue, and here's what we found.

We couldn't find any printed samples of URW Roman direct from URW, so we don't know precisely what their original design was intended to look like. They have a Times Roman, but of course that's not the same beast.

The demonstration software and sample URW Roman font from the original Nimbus-Q demonstration disk (this is from way, way back--the disk is from the original development days when we were still trying to decide which rasterizer to license and before LaserMaster had started DTC) show the exact same results as the Newdeal versions. At some sizes, the serifs on n, m, etc. stick up above the bowl of the letter significantly. So it would seem to not be a problem in the NewDeal implementation of the Nimbus rasterizer, or in our version of the font--it's been there since before DTC even existed.

On a related note, the version of Roman that ZSoft includes with SoftType is the same font, I believe. It shows the same characteristic when printed on a LaserJet.

True Times Roman (from Adobe) and ATech's Marin do not show this when converted and printed in Newdeal. The reason appears to be the outline data. When viewed at original size (outline fonts are usually designed on a 1000 x 1000 grid), the serif on the top of the n sticks above the bowl of the n only slightly (or in the case of Marin, not at all). In URW Roman, however, the serif sticks significantly higher than in the other versions.

Given the above, it would appear that this characteristic of URW Roman is intended--the serifs are supposed to stick above the tops of the letters slightly.

Admittedly, at certain sizes, it is unsightly, and probably not what the original designers had in mind when they borrowed the design of Times Roman, although it is significantly taller than the equivalent in Adobe's Times Roman. We don't know why there is so much variation at 300 DPI, nor precisely why it appears to be less of a problem on screen or on a dot-matrix printer. In part, it is probably related to the hinting mechanism, which has more effect at lower resolutions than at higher ones, and so forces the serif to the same height as the bowl. However, at 300 DPI, the hints have less effect, and so the serif is free to go closer to where the data indicates it should.

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Last Modified 2 Mar 1999