Text fonts on webpages

The web is not an easy medium to use different font types. There is only a handful of fonts that are available on all platforms. Examples of such fonts are Arial and Verdana, fonts that are very usable for text that needs to be read, but lack the visual properties to make your head lines stick out.

Traditional approaches to using other fonts on the web have been to use static text images for your headlines. An example of a site that I have been involved in and uses static images for text headers is www.essent.nl. There are some downsides to using this technique:

  • you need somebody with Photoshop or similar skills to generate the image, instead of just typing the text in a content management system
  • it makes you pages load slower, because of the images
  • the fonts used in images scale as bitmaps, which doesn’t look smooth
  • you cannot select the text
  • search engines typically give less importance to text used in images versus normal text.

You can avoid the first drawback, by using a library that generate the image on the fly. Then you end up with image URL’s like www.site.com/generatetext?Your%20heading.

Off course web designers have looked for ways to solve this problem. Enter sIFR (Scalable Inman Flash Replacement), an intelligent “hack” that uses javascript to traverse the DOM tree and replace the text with an on-the-fly generated image using client side Flash. I found it hard to believe that it can be fast enough for the user not to notice, but it works (see an example). Well known sites use sIFR. sIFR does not have the drawbacks listed above.

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4 Responses to “Text fonts on webpages”

  1. Vasilis Says:

    sIFR does have many other problems. You can use it for small sites but in advanced sites like we make it is very buggy. We are actually using it in some sites that are about to go live. But here at the Concept and Design department we discourage the use of any font-replacement techniques until a good solution is found.

  2. Mark Wubben Says:

    Vasilis, with sIFR 3 you won’t see those issues.

  3. Vasilis Says:

    Mark, do you mean that there are no issues at all with sIFR anymore?

  4. Mark Wubben Says:

    Well, not at all is a bit strong, and not for me to decide. It’s a *lot* better though.

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