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zepto_and_tiny_font_comparison.png

A reader who enjoyed Monday’s post about Ken Perlin’s astoundingly tiny screen font, but was disappointed to learn that the font was not available for use, wrote to point out Domenico Mazza’s “Zepto,” which is available for free over at MyFonts.com. Shown above is a comparison of Perlin’s Tiny Font to Zepto, with the same text, in the same screen area, at comparable size and density. You can see that Zepto isn’t quite as readable as Perlin’s font, but still does pretty well.

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This blown up image shows the key difference: Perlin’s font actually uses many different colors, while Zepto is just black-and-white pixels. I note, also, that the letters in Perlin’s font are not identical—compare lowercase ns, for instance. Which would seem to imply that Perlin’s font, however it works, is not just a set of interchangeable single-letter glyphs. [Thanks, kingdomskingdom!]

Update: Thanks to everyone who commented or e-mailed to clue me in to the trick of subpixel rendering, which is apparently what’s going on with Perlin’s font. Commenter Pelrun explains: “Actually, the glyphs themselves are fixed, but they are rendered to the screen differently depending on what subpixels are at that position. ” And kingdomskingdom points out that subpixel rendering has also been used to improve the YouTube favicon. Thanks, first, for taking the time to educate me, and second, for being so polite about it!

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Finally, I would be remiss not to include this link from commenter ylbissop to Matthew Welch’s delightfully-named “I Shot the Serif,” which is also free to download and use, and probably takes the prize for smallest pixel font with a cap height of just 4 pixels.

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Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. Pelrun says:

    Actually, the glyphs themselves are fixed, but they are rendered to the screen differently depending on what subpixels are at that position.

    There’s a good description of how subpixel rendering works here: http://www.grc.com/ct/ctwhat.htm

  2. ylbissop says:

    not subpixel but a downloadable ttf this font is “a lofty four pixels tall (five if you count descenders), yet it still contains all the printable ASCII characters.”

    http://www.squaregear.net/fonts/tiny.shtml

  3. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    Great comments! I’ve updated the post accordingly.