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Know If a Font Sucks
Good fonts look right, by compensating for tricks our eyes play. Here's how.

by Thomas Phinney

5. Sharp intersections
When two strokes merge together at a sharp angle, the result can easily make the intersection look heavier than either stroke by itself. The most common approach to compensate for this tendency involves the thinning of strokes, particularly in a curve that merges into a straight line.

(top) Curve joining a straight line; join looks heavy when filled.
(bottom) Curve join corrected.

6. Straight-to-curve transitions
Going from a straight line to a curve should be a gradual thing. Try drawing a straight line which then starts to curve off. Compare that to what happens when you just glue together a line and an arc, which is all too easy to do in a font editing program. The hand naturally gives a gradual transition from line to curve, while gluing the elements together yields a sudden onset of the curve, which doesn’t look right. Well-crafted fonts adjust the curve onset to make it more gradual.

Left shows result of simply gluing curves onto straights; right is corrected.

7. Round vs. straight
Because of the previous principles, the thickness of a round shape is not consistent. It may only reach its thickest point for an instant, with the rest of the curve looking noticeably less thick. To compensate for this, the thickest point of a round element is usually just a tiny bit thicker than a straight stroke at an equivalent weight, and one might also make the thinnest point a tiny bit thinner.

Top has the O and H sides drawn at the same thickness;
bottom is corrected to make the thickest point of the O 5% heavier.

8. Cap vs. lowercase
Typically the stroke weights of caps are heavier than the corresponding lowercase, on the order of 4–10%.

In Myriad Pro Regular, the capital O measures 93 on the vertical and 71 on the horizontal,
while the corresponding lowercase measurements are 89 and 66. Phinney
Thomas Phinney is senior product manager for fonts and typography at Extensis, including the WebINK web font solution, and treasurer of ATypI. From 1997-2008 he did type at Adobe, lastly as product manager for fonts and global typography. His typeface Hypatia Sans is an Adobe Original. Phinney has long been involved in the design, technical, forensic, business, standards and history of type. His interest in forensic typography has led to testifying as an expert witness in court, being quoted in newspapers from the Washington Post to the Dallas Morning News, and being consulted by organizations ranging from PBS (for History Detectives) to the US Treasury. Phinney has an MS in printing from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and an MBA from UC Berkeley.