Take the 2-minute tour ×
Graphic Design Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Graphic Design professionals, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why do some fonts make the I,l,1 characters look identical?
There are fonts where they don't just look similar - they are the same exact pixel locations. Why were they ever created?

I'm guessing this goes back to something historically, for example printing presses where you had to manually possition all the lead blocks for each page.

So if you had many characters that could all use the same block then it was a saving instead of needing 3 sets of blocks for 3 characters, maybe you could get away with 2.
Does anyone know for sure?

share|improve this question

migrated from ux.stackexchange.com Apr 27 '12 at 18:16

This question came from our site for user experience researchers and experts.

5  
Arial, one of the most common current culprits, was designed for a computer, so it can't be explained with printing-press explanations. It's incredibly frustrating to deal with logins that contain ambiguous characters. I'm just glad when I have control of the font used to display vital information. –  Myrddin Emrys Apr 27 '12 at 16:16
2  
I always thought they just hated the abbreviation for Illinois (Ill). –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 27 '12 at 20:14
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Characters that could be interchanged, indeed, would save money in the days of moveable type.

That said, the '1' and 'l' were given spots in the typical job case:

enter image description here

When typewriters came along, the mechanics dictates that the fewer characters meant the fewer bars needed, which was a huge benefit giving the limited space. As such, early typewriters omitted a '1' key, as the 'l' would suffice.

Today, with digital type, there's no reason whatsoever for characters to look identical other than aesthetic choices or just old habits. It's obviously easier to cut-and-paste rather than design unique characters.

share|improve this answer
2  
Are you implying the creators of Arial were lazy?! Absurd! –  Ben Brocka Apr 27 '12 at 21:41
3  
Big +1 for the hysterical context... :) @BenBrocka: This issue is not limited to Arial. Its parent, Helvetica, has the same issue. In most true sans-serif typefaces, about the only difference between an uppercase "I" and a lowercase "l" is a slight difference in height and/or weight. It's rarely an issue with a "1". Gill Sans is one that comes to mind with perversely unadorned strokes for all three (although the uppercase "I" is chubbiest, lowercase "l" next, digit "1" skinny). But Gill was a bit of a pervert in other ways, too. –  Alan Gilbertson Apr 27 '12 at 22:17
2  
Gill was...umm...an interesting person. That said, the lack of distinction between letters of geometric sans can be blamed on the Bauhaus, arguably one of the biggest proponents of modernism. –  DA01 Apr 27 '12 at 22:19
1  
So, uh...my point...there's various issues here. One is technology limitations (the typewriter). One is efficiency of design/production (cutting and pasting of digital type design). And one is simply style...modernist type families tend to be stripped of all ornamentation and distilled down to the simplest of forms. –  DA01 Apr 27 '12 at 22:20
    
@AlanGilbertson I certainly wasn't saying Arial is the only one to do this, I just couldn't ignore an opportunity to make fun of it :P. They obviously only changed the wrong things from Helvetica –  Ben Brocka Apr 28 '12 at 2:44
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.