Transitioning Your Printed Materials to the Web – Part 3: Web Safe Fonts

By Matt Cook
Point Click Media

The following is Part 3 of our series on transitioning your business materials to the web. To review the past articles visit the following links:

Part 1: Layouts
Part 2: Images, Resolution & Color profiling

Learning About Web Safe Fonts

Ah… fonts. Every designer’s best friend and secret love affair. Having access to great typefaces is bliss for us font freaks. We love them and cherish them. It’s a match made in heaven…

*Cue needle scratching across the record*


You see, with printed materials you don’t ever need to worry about a lack of fonts. When the product is printed, that’s it.  It looks great!

“That Awesomesauce-Italic-Bold-Condensed really makes Bob’s fax number POP!“

“That Awesomesauce-Italic-Bold-Condensed really makes Bob’s fax number POP!“

Unfortunately the web is a lot more dynamic and not every computer on the planet has all of the same cool fonts installed that your designer has. Alas, the mighty designer is left with a short list of common fonts referred to as ‘web safe’ to spice things up.

There are only a handful of fonts that are considered web safe, all of which you’ve likely seen in every email you’ve ever received from your grandmother. Yeah, those ones. She thinks she’s being stylish and hip by using bright yellow Comic Sans at size 72 to remind you about the pancake supper at church this Sunday. Unfortunately you’ll be unable to attend as the medicinal eye drops you require after this seizure-inducing invitation won’t wear off until Labour Day. Maybe by then her shoes will match again.

Here’s an official list of web safe fonts. (Pretty uninspiring, I know)

Until now the most common way around this was to turn your fantastic fonts into images. The problem of course, is that now your text can’t be read by search engines. Designers then began building Flash websites with all of their fonts embedded for your viewing pleasure.

“I just sat through 14 hours of pre-loading and my daughter’s wedding to access this guy’s contact information, but it was worth it. Look at those fonts!”

Finally, after much protesting and castrating of internet overlords, the technology exists to embed fonts dynamically into web pages.

photo credit: superfem - "WE'RE SAVED!"

photo credit: superfem - "WE'RE SAVED!"

Not so fast, Pancho Villa. Embedded fonts still increase page load times, and this new technology doesn’t account for older browsers. Remember Comic Sans Granny? That Netscape 4 browser she’s using to explode your retinas has no chance of displaying your fonts correctly. Although web standards are improving by leaps and bounds every day, we still need to realize that it’s just too impractical to be pixel perfect to every last person in front of a computer screen. If you truly want to play it safe, sticking with web safe fonts may be your best bet.

Next week we’ll bring navigation into the equation.

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