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Re: CSS and Type

From: Gťrard Talbot <www-style@gtalbot.org>
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 2012 10:42:06 -0800
Message-ID: <ea2117c296ffb7d4d213791a8af4fb45.squirrel@gtalbot.org>
To: "Matthew Wilcox" <elvendil@gmail.com>
Cc: "W3C www-style mailing list" <www-style@w3.org>

Le Lun 9 janvier 2012 4:16, Matthew Wilcox a ťcrit :
> This mail attempts to truncate an article I'm writing into the core issues
> I have noticed about CSS and type - I'm posting it on the advice of Anton
> Prowse as we were talking about line-height issues in:
> http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-style/2012Jan/0367.html
> tl;dr:
> 1) Type measures should be related to the typeface in use (as opposed to
> absolutely defined)
> 2) CSS's type layout is crippled because it does not know enough about the
> typographic baseline.
> The actual article:
> We need a brief idea of how type works in order to discuss CSS‚€™s
> shortcomings, so lets quickly and somewhat roughly deconstruct type:
> _Anatomy of type_
> Type at its core is about the presentation of letters. Letters which make
> words, sentences, paragraphs, headings, etc. Letters are made of smaller
> parts, and they are these:
> * X-height - which rather conveniently and almost as though cunningly
> planned is the height of a lowercase letter X.

If you are going to write an article on type, CSS and typography, then I
encourage you to use "x-height" and not "X-height".

> * Ascenders and descenders - those are the parts of the letter that go
> above or below the core of the letter. An ascender would be the stem on a
> d
> and a descender would be the stem on a q.
> * Cap-height - which I am sure you‚€™ll be unsurprised to learn is the
> height
> of a capital letter. Interestingly, the cap-height is often not the same
> as
> the ascender height.
> In order to get letters to line-up horizontally when put next to
> each-other
> they have a ‚€œbaseline‚€, which all letters within a given family share
> (much
> like they share the same x-height etc.). The baseline is the invisible
> line
> along which all letters are aligned and from which our descenders are
> descending. It‚€™s the bottom of an x. The baseline is in the same place
> for
> all letters in a family, the purpose being that they all line up nicely.
> Size in traditional type has its own units. One is the ‚€œpoint‚€ which
> is a
> physical measure (1/72th of an inch) and is pretty much irrelevant for web
> designers because we don‚€™t work with physical mediums. So feel free to
> ignore ‚€œpoints‚€. The other unit is the ‚€œem‚€, which traditionally
> was the
> height of the metal slug onto which type was cast. We still care about
> em‚€™s
> despite not having metal slugs with embossed letters on them. For modern
> purposes, an em is not just the height of a letter from top-most ascender
> to bottom-most descender but includes the addition of the space between
> baselines (called leading).
> _How type is set in print_
> In many cases type is the root of the entire page layout and becomes the
> unit against which all else is measured and from which all else is
> derived.
> And at the root of type layout, more often than not, is the typographic
> baseline. The page is divided up into regular lines onto which all type
> must sit and into which all images must fit.

Images must also "sit" on the baseline too. That's one usual difficulty
with CSS beginners. They presume that an image must sit at the bottom of
the line box... but that's not true: image sit on the baseline, just like
the "a" or "m" letters.

An excellent small webpage on this:

Inline images and descender space


Note where the image sits by default: its bottom edge is aligned with the
baseline of the line box.
coming from
How Inline Content is Constructed at Mozilla Developer Network

> By doing this, the page
> naturally feels more clearly arranged, cohesive, and planned.
> A couple of quirks:
> Because of the way type is measured (the em box) it means there isn‚€™t
> any
> real consistency between typefaces, even if the measured units are the
> same. For example, the x-height may be twice the size on one typeface than
> it is on another despite them having the same em height. Which is why
> different typefaces can look smaller than others despite them being the
> same size.
> Another thing that can change inside a font is the baseline. It can be
> lower or higher on one typeface than another. For us web designers, this
> is
> a big problem. But it‚€™s not a big deal in print, because in print you
> can
> guarantee that the typeface you want to use will be the typeface that is
> actually used. Which means you can make any adjustments you like to ensure
> that the wayward font gets adjusted so the alignment of the two typefaces
> baselines match.
> _Issues CSS has that print doesn't_
> One is the availability of a desired font. We can‚€™t ensure that a
> client‚€™s
> computer has the font we want to use, and so we have to provide a
> font-stack with fall-backs that we deem acceptably similar. You might
> think
> that having @font-face mitigates this problem, but you‚€™d be wrong - you
> still need to give fall-backs. You don‚€™t know whether the browser
> supports
> @font-face. You don‚€™t know if the network the client is behind is
> filtering
> out suspicious file formats (colleges often do this). If you‚€™re using a
> hosted font from a font-foundry you can‚€™t be sure that the
> font-foundry‚€™s
> network is going to be available to deliver the font (they may have their
> own network problems). Even if you‚€™re self-hosting the font you don‚€™t
> know
> whether the font was corrupted during transfer (as can happen on mobile
> networks especially). In short, you can never be sure that the browser got
> the font file you want to use. So, define fall-backs.
> Another issue is the fact that from a typographic standpoint CSS is far
> more often used to define rules that will apply to some unknown text than
> it is to apply styling to known text. i.e., the print designer is styling
> an exact heading while we are styling a heading class with no idea if it
> will consist of two words or twenty.
> _The problems with CSS‚€™s type functionality_
> Ignoring some of the typographic subtleties which CSS doesn‚€™t handle so
> well there are two basic problems:
> 1) The way fonts are declared
> The programatic nature of CSS‚€™s type implementation sits at odds with
> how
> type works. In particular, font substitution is a major stumbling block.
> In
> CSS we set a font-family as a list of possible fonts in order of declining
> preference. Then, usually in separate rules, we set things like
> font-sizes,
> weights, margins, and padding on HTML elements.
> The first problem with this method is the font-family list itself; it‚€™s
> a
> pretty sad list because, almost by design, the default system fonts share
> little in common. Thus making ‚€œsubstitution of similar fonts‚€
> something of
> an impossibility. But the larger issue is that should a fallback font be
> in
> use it is highly likely that the apparent size of the font will be wrong,
> the baselines may not match up, and the relationship between the typeface
> and the measures we‚€™ve defined will look wrong.

is supposed to compensate and adjust the variations of size of different

That‚€™s because all of
> those
> measures we set up are based on how our preferred typeface looks, and
> because the font-stack is unlikely to provide similar enough typefaces
> those measures are unlikely to work well with the substitute font.


regards, Gťrard
CSS 2.1 Test suite RC6, March 23rd 2011

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Received on Monday, 9 January 2012 18:45:26 UTC

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