Font Resources

As a text rendering system, Pango cannot work without fonts. Pango is quite flexible in the fonts it can use. It can render a multi-lingual string by switching between different fonts, or by using a single font that contains all the needed glyphs. Most Pango shapers accept fonts in several different encodings when looking for a font with which to render a given script. In general, Pango does its best to take advantage of all the fonts you have available on your system.

Types of fonts

Bitmap Fonts

Under the X windowing system, bitmap fonts are still the most widely used technology. Bitmap fonts are straightforward to produce, do not require sophisticated rendering technology, and can actually achieve very good results as long as a wide range of sizes are not needed. On the other hand, bitmap fonts are not suitable for art, word-processing, or publishing applications because of the fixed sizes, and do not lend themselves to anti-aliasing or font-smoothing techniques. The X BDF file format also does not have all font metrics needed for high quality rendering of internationalized text.

Type1 fonts

The Type1 format, from Adobe, was the first widely used scaleable font format. The main disadvantages of the format is that it is very difficult to create a high-quality renderer for screen resolutions, the metrics, character mappings, and glyphs tend to be spread over multiple files in an inconvenient fashion, and finally, the metrics information included with a normal Type1 font is not sufficient for all scripts.

TrueType fonts

The TrueType format, which was create about 10 years ago as a collaboration between Apple and Microsoft. In many ways it is similar to Type1, except that rendering well-hinted TrueType fonts acceptably at screen resolutions is much easier. The FreeType project has created an open-source library to render TrueType fonts, which does an excellent job and has been built into recent versions of XFree86.

Recently, the possiblity has appeared that the hinting TrueType outlines may be convered by a patent from Apple, which has chilled their acceptance in the free software community. (The FreeType project is looking at creating a new renderers that use other techniques to produce acceptable screen results. Version 2 of FreeType will be able to render both TrueType and Type1 fonts.)

OpenType fonts

The OpenType format, is the result of a colloboration between Microsoft and Adobe to create a font format with features for advanced typography and internationalization. (It competes with Apple's Quickdraw GX font technology). The basic structure of an OpenType font is the same as for a TrueType font but it can contain either TrueType or Type1 outlines. A number of of additional tables have been added for the purposes of advanced typography and internationalization.

So far, there are few freely available (or otherwise available) OpenType fonts, and very little software can take advantage of such fonts. However, it is a quite nice (if rather complicated) technology and hopefully this situation will improve in the future. The development releases of FreeType 2 already contain some support for advanced features of OpenType.

General collections

  • The most extensive collection of free bitmap fonts available is likely the intlfonts collection created by the Mule project. The collection includes fonts for all the wide range of languages that Mule (and recent versions of Emacs) can handle.

  • In the category of "marginally free fonts", Microsoft has made various TrueType fonts available for download. These are high quality fonts and contain Roman, Greek, and Cyrillic glyphs. These fonts can be downloaded and used, but not redistributed.

Unicode fonts

Various attempts are underway to create fonts that cover wide portions of Unicode.

  • The XFree86 project has extended many of the standard X fonts to include larger portions of the Unicode character repertoire. These fonts are distributed with XFree86 starting with version 4.0. Several new fonts are also included; in particular it include the ClearlyU fonts (see below) and a set of Lucidux Type1 fonts donated Bigelow and Holmes.
    Fonts in XFree86.

  • The ClearlU font, created by Mark Leisher, is an attractive font that covers most of Unicode other than the CJK characters. It is notable for its inclusion of the Arabic presentation forms

  • The purpose of the GNU Unifont font is to create a single font (8x8 and 8x16) to cover all of Unicode. Because of the fixed character cell size, this font is only really suitable for rendering European and East-Asian scripts. However, it is one of the most complete fonts out there.

Last modified 25-Apr-2000
Owen Taylor <>