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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
@DA01: It's merely a custom form of it for that particular font size. – While hinting may lead to this, it does not have to be. The most common way of hinting (as far as I can tell) is to include extra information in the font that tells the renderer where stems, baselines and similar are. This is not size-dependent (but less useful at higher sizes). –  Wrzlprmft Jun 16 at 5:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 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
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
@go-me: 1) Why convert the text to outline? – To destroy the hinting information. 2) You won't find any font hinting on your OTF font – I have not tested that particular font, but yer, OTFs and TTFs may contain hinting information. 3) It doesn't lose any quality. – Of course it does; you have to rasterise at some point when printing. –  Wrzlprmft Jun 16 at 5:43
@go-me: As for TTF it's on wiki. No hinting because they're like vector. That’s just wrong: TrueType fonts can contain hinting information, only that its not tons of bitmaps but more intelligent information like stem markers, baseline markers, relevant stem sizes and so on. If your claim were true, reducing a TTF font to outlines should also have no effect on screen rendering, which it cleary does – I just tested it (top: font; bottom: just vector outlines). –  Wrzlprmft Jun 16 at 18:23
@go-me: The font not vectorized is being processed in real-time by your font engine. – Yes, and this process is called hinting, amongst others by the very links you gave. Thus it clearly contradicts your claim that there is “No hinting because they're like vector”. Moreover, I added a third variant in the middle by removing all hinting information stored in the TTF font and just having the font engine do the hinting. And again, it is different (note how the u is out of line). –  Wrzlprmft Jun 16 at 20:17

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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However, this doesn't actually provide concrete evidence that it's implemented on print devices. Would be great to have confirmation of this. –  e100 Feb 9 '12 at 13:59
So, it seems that the answer is that it can be used for any output, though in practice, when it's used, it's primarily for small sizes on display screens. –  DA01 Feb 9 '12 at 16:49
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
@Lèsemajesté - this would be better as an answer. –  e100 Feb 10 '12 at 17:33
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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