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Following on from this question: TTF and other "modern" font systems, and font size differences

Higher quality fonts contain hinting information, which in short better fits glyph boundaries to a raster grid.

It's commonly used on screen where it reduces anti-aliasing.

But is hinting information used at all by any print devices? If so, which kind (desktop laser/inkjet/imagesetters for litho etc) and when does it make a measurable difference?

I'm looking for direct references to it being used by print devices, and failing that, some empirical measurement (eg comparison of hinted font type /unhinted font type text/converted-to-vector type)

(Why don't I do it myself? I'm no longer in the industry so don't have the tools unfortunately).

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I don't think it REDUCES anti-aliasing on screen. It's merely a custom form of it for that particular font size. It's a good question, though. My understanding has always been that it's for low-resolution raster output (mainly screens, low-res laser printers in the past...) –  DA01 Feb 9 '12 at 16:48
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Any printer driver worth its bytes pays attention to hinting (otherwise the other drivers would take it out behind the boot sector and beat the c*** out of it). Any RIP does, also. Hinting was originally developed for low-res printers (a 300-600 dpi laser printer is a low-resolution device), but used also for on-screen rendering. I found a good article from TUGboat that covers the subject well and simply.

To illustrate the point, here's a test done today using regular office copy paper on a standard non-Postscript office laser printer, directly from Illustrator. The font is Minion Pro Regular at 12, 9 and 6 point. At each size, the text block was copied and the copy converted to outlines. All six samples were set up on one sheet and scanned at 600 ppi:

12pt text:

12 pt text

12 pt outlined:

12 pt outlined

9 pt text:

9 pt text

9 pt outlined:

9 pt outlined

6 pt text:

6 pt text

6 pt outlined:

6 pt outlined

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I'm not sure if I see a difference, but +1 for the effort! –  DA01 Feb 13 '12 at 4:07
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To me it's very obvious, but if you superimpose them (say, as layers in Photoshop) and turn the top one on an off, the many differences are immediately obvious. Look in particular at the serifs, and the vertical strokes (shape of the "legs" of the lowercase n, m and h in particular). –  Alan Gilbertson Feb 13 '12 at 5:56
    
ah, you are correct...especially noticeable with the 9pt type. –  DA01 Feb 13 '12 at 14:18
    
Many thanks Alan for doing the research. –  e100 Feb 20 '12 at 18:20
    
You're welcome, indeed. I love questions that require a bit of digging around, especially when it involves testing some of these "everybody knows" data that tend to go uninspected. :) –  Alan Gilbertson Feb 20 '12 at 21:24
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Check this article at Typotheque: Click Here

Especially Mr. Bil'alk's response to Sebastian in the comments --> here

"...fonts are typically hinted up to 50 ppem (they are usually not needed in higher resolution), hinting effects will be visible in sizes smaller than 12pt at 300dpi, 6pt at 600dpi print, or 3pt at 1200dpi. Sometimes fonts are hinted to to much higher ppem, in which case the hinting will be visible in most text sizes in print."

Hinting is used for any rasterization processes - print or screen. The primary difference between screen and print is how noticeable the hinting, or lack of it, may be.

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Very interesting. I didn't know hinting for screen was much more significiant on Windows than Mac either. Added the key quote to your answer. –  e100 Feb 9 '12 at 12:02
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Actually, font hinting was originally implemented for low resolution printing, not for digital display. This is why they were first implemented in PostScript fonts. And since modern fonts evolved from PostScript fonts, they inherited hinting. So RIPs definitely look at hinting if it's supplied for the resolution in question. After all, hinting is by definition the fine tuning of the raster output of a font, so why wouldn't the Raster Image Processor read it when rasterizing the font? So the question is whether the font designer provided hinting for the dots-per-em being printed. –  Lèse majesté Feb 10 '12 at 6:55
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@Lèsemajesté - this would be better as an answer. –  e100 Feb 10 '12 at 17:33
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@Lèsemajesté -- the RIP reading the hinting was my point. It's a raster processes and that's where hinting is used. It doesn't mater if the raster is for in-screen display, or for printing. If type is to be raster, hinting helps. –  Scott Feb 10 '12 at 19:39
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I think we all agree that the technology is there and it CAN be used for that. But what is being asked is if it's used at all these days for anything above maybe 300 dpi laser printers (which I'm not even sure exist anymore). –  DA01 Feb 13 '12 at 4:05
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