Archive for pc tag

Typography in 16-bits: System fonts

With the 8-bit system fonts post being so popular I just had to jump right in and look at the system fonts available on the 16-bit machines!

IBM CGA Adapter (1981)

Specifications

Bold serif
6-7 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII+code pages
320×200 (40×25 text)
640×200 (80×25 text)
IBM
Download in TrueType

IBM CGA system font in low resolution IBM CGA system font in medium resolution
The IBM PC’s first color graphics card was known as the Color Graphics Adapter.

Unusual characteristics

  • Mix of serifs and non-serifs depending on space
  • Off centre ‘|+:’
  • Squished ‘Q’ to avoid using descender
  • Wide ’0′
  • Bubbly ‘!’
  • Inconsistent ‘t’ point and lack of serif on ‘j’

Rationale

The large bold letters work well on the low-resolution displays at the time and many of the quirky were unlikely particularly noticeable there.

Influences

Unknown.

Apple Macintosh (1984)

Specifications

Bold sans
1-11 pixels
10 pixels
Mac OS Roman
512×342
Susan Kare
Download in TrueType

Apple Macintosh 'Chicago' system font
Apple’s second attempt at a GUI (after the Lisa) was the Macintosh. The system font was called Chicago initially as a bitmap font which was replaced with a scalable TrueType version. With Mac OS 8 it was replaced with the similar Charcoal typeface and then dropped entirely in Mac OS X which uses Lucida Grande for the UI.

This font was dusted off again in 2001 and with a few minor tweaks became the system font of the iPod (classic & mini) until the higher resolution color display model.

Unusual characteristics

  • Proportional letters not fixed-width
  • Some symbols are not bold at all ‘#%”/\*@^`’
  • Lovely flourish on ‘&’
  • Curve on ‘a’ actually touches the lower bowl
  • Designed specifically to avoid diagonal strokes (jaggies) on the Mac’s low-res screen

Rationale

The high-resolution display let the designers really pay attention to detail and even though it was a 1-bit monochrome display it really looks beautiful for the time. It was little wonder that when Jobs went to NeXT they went with incredibly high-resolution monochrome displays again (at least initially and with 2-bit grayscale).

Influences

It’s unlikely they were digital.

Commodore Amiga 1.x (1985)

Specifications

Bold serif
6-7 pixels
7 pixels
ISO 8859-1
320×200 (40×25 text)
640×200 (80×25 text)
320×256 (40×32 text)
640×256 (80×32 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Commodore Amiga 1.x 'Topaz' system font in low & high resolutions Commodore Amiga 1.x 'Topaz' system font in medium-resolution

The Amiga started with ex-Atari engineers desperate to design a 16-bit machine. It would eventually be purchased by Commodore and offer incredible graphics and sound that put Macs and PCs of the time to shame. Despite shipping with many fonts and supporting proportional text the default system font was a traditional fixed-width font called Topaz/8.

Unusual characteristics

  • As well as some letters touching some symbols such as ‘\/’ touched horizontally allowing nice ASCII art
  • Unusual lower-case ‘g’ somewhere between double and single story
  • Unusual almost comic-like ‘!’
  • Some non-bold pixels for flourishes on ‘t&’
  • Pixels missing on some curves ‘aS’ especially obvious in low resolution
  • Over-extended ‘r’ looks odd in any resolution
  • Alternate Topaz/9e – 10×9 (2 for descenders) – modified some glyphs like ‘g’ and available from Preferences as Text 60

Rationale

The Workbench booted in white-on-blue (shown) and was intended for use either with their own Commodore monitors or home TVs. Despite the choice of a serif font it worked quite well on these displays although interlace was quite unusable without specialized displays.

Influences

Very similar to the IBM CGA system font, very likely to be derived from there.

Technical

The Amiga shipped with it’s own font editor called ‘Fed’ found on the Workbench Extras disk in the Tools folder.

Commodore Amiga 2.x (1991)

Specifications

Bold sans
6-7 pixels
7 pixels
ISO 8859-1
Configurable
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Commodore Amiga 2.x 'Topaz' system font in low & resolutions Commodore Amiga 2.x 'Topaz' system font in medium resolution

Commodore’s update to the Amiga saw all sorts of changes in the ROM and Workbench for the GUI including some revisions to the font and the ability to change what font the workbench used.

Unusual characteristics

  • Over-extended top of ’1′
  • Open elements on ‘%@’
  • Messy ‘Q’ is hard to distinguish
  • Alternate Topaz/9e – 10×9 (2 for descenders) – modified some glyphs like ‘g’ and available from Preferences as Text 60

Rationale

The Workbench booted in black-on-grey (shown) and the new font looked a lot more friendly as well as being a more legible choice for home TVs.

Influences

Obvious modification of the prior 1.x font to remove serifs and improve legibility.

Technical

WBScreen allowed you to choose which font to display in Workbench including some of the proportional fonts included.

Atari ST Low/Medium Res (1985)

Specifications

Bold sans
6-7 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII+proprietary set
320×200 (40×25 text)
640×200 (80×25 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Atari ST system font in low resolution Atari ST system font in medium resolution

The Atari ST was Atari’s answer to the Commodore Amiga after they failed to purchase back the talent and technology. The machine’s GUI was based on GEM from Digital Research.

Unusual characteristics

  • Descenders are cut very short on ‘pq’ despite ‘gy’ not following this style
  • Inconsistent positioning between ‘,’ and ‘;’
  • Ugly braces ‘()’ from the 8-bit font retained

Rationale

The font was very clear and worked well in both square pixel (low resolution) and rectangular pixel (medium resolution) modes.

Influences

Almost identical to the Atari 8-bit font but with the capital letters, symbols and numbers extended a pixel higher (inverse symmetry was no longer a concern) and more consistent/cleaner lower-case letters ‘sj’.

Technical

It is possible to change the system fonts used by the GEM desktop using the ST Font Loader.

Atari ST High Res (1985)

Specifications

Bold sans condensed
6-7 pixels
12 pixels
ASCII+proprietary set
640×400 (80×25 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Atari ST high-res system font

Unusual characteristics

  • Very tall letters – some glyphs 14 pixels high but still only 6-7 pixels wide
  • Avoids every trace of a serif except usual ‘Iil’ monospace hack
  • Short descenders on ‘pq’ still
  • Inconsistent choices for ‘c’ and ‘R’ and ‘w’

Rationale

Given that this screen mode was only available on high-resolution monitors it is very rectangular and failed to really take advantage of the unique situation in which it would be used.

Influences

Very likely based on the medium resolution font with some redrawing.

IBM PC VGA (1985)

Specifications

Bold serif
6-7 pixels
10 pixels
ASCII+code pages
640×400 (80×25 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

VGA DOS system font

Unusual characteristics

  • Very tall letters – some glyphs 14 pixels high but still only 6-7 pixels wide
  • Top bar of ‘T’ is two pixels thick
  • Too-high double quotes ‘”‘ also styled inconsistently
  • Another bubbly ‘!’ like the Amiga’s Topaz 1
  • Inconsistent sizing between ‘,’ and ‘;’
  • Very large ‘$’ even bigger than the capital ‘S’

Rationale

A reasonably nice serif font that gave a serious look if somewhat inconsistent in places.

Influences

Almost certainly based on the original CGA font.

Technical

Can be overridden by tools like fontedit.com.

[)amien