Posts Tagged 'Images'

January 17, 2012

Web Development - HTML5 - Web Fonts

All but gone are the days of plain, static webpages flowered with horrible repeating neon backgrounds and covered with nauseating animated GIFs created by amateur designers that would make your mother cry and induce seizures in your grandpa. Needless to say, we have come a long way since Al Gore first "created the intarwebs" in the early '90's. For those of you born in this century, that's the 1990's ... Yes, the World Wide Web is still very new. Luckily for the seven billion people on this lovely planet, many advancements have been introduced into our web browsers that make our lives as designers and developers just a little bit more tolerable.

Welcome to the third installment in Web Development series. If you're just joining us, the first posts in the series covered JavaScript Optimization and HTML5 Custom Data Attributes ... If you haven't read those yet, take a few minutes to catch up and head back to this blog where we'll be looking at how custom web fonts can add a little spice to your already-fantastic website.

If you're like me, you've probably used the same three or four fonts on most sites you've designed in the past: Arial, Courier New, Trebuchet MS and Verdana. You know that pretty much all browsers will have support for these "core" fonts, so you never ventured beyond them because you wanted the experience to remain the same for everyone, no matter what browser a user was using to surf. If you were adventurous and wanted to throw in a little typographical deviation, you might have created a custom image of the text in whatever font Photoshop would allow, but those days are in the past (or at least they should be).

Why is using an image instead of plain text unfriendly?

  1. Lack of Flexibility - Creating an image is time-consuming. Even if you have really fast fingers and know your way around Photoshop, it will never be as fast as simply typing that text into your favorite editor. Also, you can't change the styles (font-size, color, text-decoration, etc.) of an image using CSS like you can with text.
  2. Lack of Accessibility – Not everyone is alike. Some of your readers or clients may have impairments that require screen readers or a really large font. Using an image – especially one that doesn't contain a good long description – prevents those users from getting the full experience. Also, some people use text-only browsers that don't display any images. Think about your whole audience!
  3. More to Download – Plain text doesn't require the same number of bytes as an image of that same text. By not having another image, you are saving on the amount of time it takes to load your page.

Now that we're on the same page about the downsides of the "old way" of doing things, let's look at some cool HTML5-powered methods for displaying custom fonts. Before we get started, we need to have some custom fonts to use. Google has a nice interface for downloading custom fonts (, and there are plenty of other sites that provide free and non-free fonts that can suit your taste/needs. You can pick and choose which ones you'd like to use (remembering to always follow copyright guidelines), and once you've created and downloaded your collection of fonts, you'll need to setup your CSS to read them.

For simplicity, my file structure will be setup with the HTML and CSS files in the same root directory. I will have a fonts directory where I will keep all my custom fonts.


My fonts.html file will include the two CSS files in the head section. The order in which you include the CSS files does not matter.

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="fonts.css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="styles.css" />

The fonts.css file will include the definitions for all of our custom fonts. The styles.css file will be our main CSS file for our website. Defining our custom fonts (in fonts.css) is really simple:

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf') format('truetype');

It's almost too easy thanks to HTML5!

Let's break this down into its components to better understand what's going on here. The @font-face declaration will be ignored by older browsers that don't understand it, so this standards-compliant definition degrades nicely. The font-family descriptor is the name that you'll use to reference this font family in your other CSS file(s). The src descriptor contains the location of where your font is stored and the format of the font.

There are several things to note here. The quotes around MyCustomFont in the font-family descriptor are optional. If it were My Custom Font instead (in fonts.css and styles.css), it would still be successfully read. The quotes around the url portion are also optional. However, the quotes around the format portion are not optional. To keep things consistent, I have a habit of adding quotes around all of these items.

An alternative way to define the same font would be to leave off the format portion of the src descriptor. Browsers don't need the format portion if it's a standard font format (described below).

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf');

Like standard url inclusions in other CSS definitions, the URL item is relative to the location of the definition file (fonts.css). The URL may also be an absolute location or point to a different website altogether. If using the Google web fonts site mentioned earlier (or similar site), you may simply point the URL to the location suggested instead of downloading the actual font.

If you've dealt with web fonts before, you may already be familiar with the multiple formats: WOFF (Web Open Font Format, .woff), TrueType (.ttf), OpenType (.ttf, .otf), Embedded Open Type (.eot) and SVG Font (.svg, .svgz). I won't go into great detail here about these, but if you're interested in learning more, Google and W3C are great resources.

It should be noted that all browsers are not alike (no shock there) and some may not render some font formats correctly or at all. You can get around this by including multiple src descriptors in your @font-face declaration to try and support all the browsers.

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.eot'); /* Old IE */
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf'); /* Cool browsers */

Now that we have our font definition setup, we have to include our new custom font in our styles.css. You've done this plenty of times:

h1, p {
    font-family: MyCustomFont, Arial;

There you go! For some reason if MyCustomFont is not understood, the browser will default to Arial. This degrades gracefully and is really simple to use. One thing to note is that even though your fonts.css file may define twenty custom fonts, only the fonts that are included and used in your styles.css file will be downloaded. This is very smart of the browser – it only downloads what it's going to use.

So now you have one more tool to add to your development box. As more users adopt newer, standards-compliant browsers, it's easier to give your site some spice without the headaches of creating unnecessary images. Go forth and impress your friends with your new web font knowledge!

Happy Coding!


P.S. As a bonus, you can check out the in-line style declaration in the source of this post to see how "Happy Coding!" is coded to use the Monofett font family.

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