Bitmap and Pixel Fonts

Bitmap and pixel fonts are fonts that are designed especially for the screen. Each part of each character corresponds to one of the monitor’s pixels. Because of the way they are designed, even at smaller sizes and at varying screen resolutions, they are clear and legible.

These fonts are commonly used in Flash animations, web navigation buttons and on webpages where clear, small print is required such as photo captions. Oftentimes, a font designed for print will become hard to read and unattractive at smaller sizes on a webpage. Instead, many designers opt to use a bitmap font also known as a pixel font.

Because pixel fonts are created on a grid that duplicates the monitor’s pixels, they should not be scaled, they should never be used at sizes other than for what they were designed (or exact multiples), nor should anti-aliasing be applied to them. Otherwise they will become distorted.

For best results when using bitmap fonts, keep the following in mind:

  • Anti-aliasing should be off
  • Set your page to a 72 ppi resolution
  • Always use the appropriate type size, if the font is designed as a 7 pixel size and you require a 10 pixel size, opt for a pixel font designed at 10 pixels. Do not try to resize the 7 into a 10.
  • Set tracking and kerning to 0
  • Set character width to 100%
  • Choose pixel sizes rather than point sizes
  • Never center the paragraph, it may cause loss of pixels. Instead, justify the text left and later you may manually move the layer to the desired position.

Pixel fonts seem like a throwback to the 80’s when computer screens simply displayed blocky chunks of text and the printers hooked up to those computers were dot matrix printers only capable of spitting out text in a matrix pattern. With the introduction of scalable fonts such as True Type fonts and affordable laser and inkjet printers, pixel fonts fell out of favor. But now that, in many cases, the computer screen is the actual output device, it makes sense to use fonts especially designed to look best on that medium. The trick is to know when to use a pixel, or bitmap, font versus any other type of font.

In cases where the final publication will be printed, pixel fonts are a poor choice. On the other hand, if the screen is the ultimate display device and small fonts are needed, a pixel font is an option that may look the best.

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