system fonts

Avoid if you can, choose wisely if you can’t

As pro­fes­sional writ­ers, law­yers ought to rely on pro­fes­sional fonts. They’re the quick­est and eas­i­est way to upgrade your typog­ra­phy. More about that in font recommendations.

But pro­fes­sional fonts aren’t always an option. Cer­tain projects demand sys­tem fonts, which are the fonts already installed on your com­puter. In printed doc­u­ments, they present three prob­lems.

  1. Many sys­tem fonts aren’t good. The Win­dows and OS X libraries have improved, but they’re still mine­fields of awful fonts. I won’t name names, but my least favorite rhymes with Bar­ial.

  2. Moreover, fonts
    like Georgia were optimized for the
    coarse monochrome screens of the 1990s. As we shift into the
    age of high-resolution color screens, these fonts have a declining
    comparative advantage.

    Many sys­tem fonts have been opti­mized for the screen, not print. This comes at the cost of design details, which have been sanded off because they don’t repro­duce well on screen. Screen-opti­mized fonts look clunky on the printed page.

    Com­pare the two fonts above. In basic appear­ance, they’re sim- ilar. But Geor­gia was opti­mized for the screen; Miller was opti- mized for print. See the dif­fer­ence?

  3. All sys­tem fonts are over­ex­posed. Because these fonts are included with bil­lions of com­put­ers, they’re used all the time. Not every typog­ra­phy project demands nov­elty. But if yours does, look else­where. For instance, please don’t adopt the slo­ganA Law Firm Unlike Any Other” and then set it in Hel­vet­ica.

If you’re lim­ited to sys­tem fonts, con­sult this chart and choose wisely. For print, the A list is best. For screen dis­play, like pre­sen­ta­tions and web­sites, the A and B lists are fine. They’re also suit­able for shar­ing draft doc­u­ments. Avoid the C list if you can. F list, kapu.