Looking good in print: It's cheap, it's easy, it's effective

Personal computers

May 18, 1992|By Michael J. Himowitz | Michael J. Himowitz,Staff Writer

A few years ago, I was sentenced to work in a complex project that required me to deliver proposals and reports to a large and argumentative committee.

A couple of months into the project, I bought some soft fonts for my laser printer. So instead of looking like they came from an office typewriter, my proposals looked like they came from a print shop.

And something strange happened. The same bunch of argumentative people was much less inclined to nitpick everything I'd written. Since they hadn't changed, and I hadn't taken any genius pills, I figured it must have been the way the reports looked.

Later, I found out this is a common psychological effect. If your ideas look good in print, they're much more likely to be accepted.

Luckily, looking good in print has never been easier -- or cheaper. In fact, if you have an IBM-compatible computer than can run the Microsoft Windows graphical environment, you can turn your machine into a veritable print shop for the cost of a couple of pizzas.

The new True Type font technology that Microsoft packages with Windows 3.1 -- and third party products such as Adobe Type Manager, Bitstream Facelift and Atech Publisher's PowerPak -- can give you access to hundreds of typefaces, far more than most printers stocked a decade ago. How many typefaces depends on how much you want to pay, although you can get a remarkably diverse collection of fonts for $100 or less.

Moreover, you don't need an expensive laser printer to take advantage of the new technology. The new generation of Windows software will drive almost any output device, ranging from $100,000 phototypesetters to $200 dot matrix printers.

That doesn't mean your $200 printer will turn into a magazine-quality typesetter. Every printer has its resolution limits. But your business fliers, reports and PTA newsletters can look a lot better than they ever did before.

The new printing technology uses what are known as "outline fonts." Instead of storing each character in a typeface as a collection of dots called a bitmap, outline fonts describe each character mathematically as a series of lines and curves.

These outlines can be scaled to any size, stretched, squashed and otherwise manipulated on your printer and screen, giving a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) display of your document.

The Apple LaserWriter, which used Adobe Systems' PostScript page description language and outline fonts, first brought this power to the desktop in 1984. But PostScript printers, whose electronics include the software to produce type from outlines, were and still are expensive propositions.

But today that font-producing software resides in your computer, where it can drive any printer that Windows supports, in any Windows application program.

The new True Type font technology, developed jointly by Microsoft and Apple, is the first product really designed to bring typesetting to the masses, since it's bundled with each Windows package, along with the two most popular typeface families, Times Roman and Arial (a version of Helvetica).

Here's where the free enterprise system comes in. Because it wants to establish True Type as a standard, Microsoft offers Windows a package of 44 additional fonts in 18 typeface families for $49.95 when you upgrade to Windows 3.1 from an earlier version.

These include variants of classic faces such as Bookman, Century, and Avant Garde, as well as a special mathematical and script fonts.

But the most incredible bargain I've seen is a new package called Typecase from SWFTE International. It includes 131 well-drawn True Type fonts from 51 different typeface families.

The product lists for $99.95, but if you call the company and tell them you're switching from some other package such as Adobe Type Manager or Facelift, you can get it for $49.95.

Considering that in the old days of bitmapped fonts, just a few years ago, a package of four typefaces might have cost as much as $200, this collection boggles the mind.

Besides an extensive variety of classic faces, Typecase comes with several unusual fonts, some of which are hard to find elsewhere.

These include a stylish version of the art deco Broadway font, a Stencil font, and a face called Top Hat, for people who want to make their correspondence look like it came from the New Yorker magazine. There's even a font that prints pictures of letters on computer keycaps.

The only fault I can find with this package is one that confounds the typeface industry -- name confusion. While typeface designs aren't copyrighted, their names can be. So type foundries that design their own versions of well-known faces often use their own names.

For example, Typecase's Padua font is better known in the industry as Palatino. Bitstream's Dutch font is the same as the Times Roman in the Adobe and True Type libraries, and so on. It would have been nice if Typecase had included a font name equivalence table.

For information on TypeCase, contact Swfte International Ltd., Stone Mill Office Park, Box 219, Rockland, Del. 19732.

If you want to learn more about computer typefaces, the best resource I've seen is The Electronic Type Catalog, by Steve Byers (Bantam Books, $34.95). This hefty volume contains examples and descriptions of more than 600 typefaces from a variety of vendors, along with an explanation of typesetting technology in general, and computer typesetting in particular.

While the catalog was published before Microsoft introduced True Type, most of the faces in the catalog will probably be available in True Type format within the next year or so.

For a primer on how to use typefaces to make your documents look good, James Felici's Desktop Style Guide (Bantam Books, $11.95) explains a lot of the jargon, and provides good, common sense rules for document design.

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