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Will a font always print exactly the same, regardless of the print technology?

Example: printing at the local print shop on a laser printer versus the commercial printing of a book.

Here is Linotype's example PDF for their Stempel Garamond typeface.

Here's a book that says it uses Stempel Garamond.

When I look at the book (in the bookstore, not on screen), the result is exquisite. When I print off Linotype's example PDF, it doesn't feel the same. It feels a bit inferior. The strokes don't seem to be as thick, for one thing.

Is this just my imagination, running away with me?

Does modern book printing use a technology which is 'leakier' than an ordinary laser printer, whereby the strokes become a wee bit thicker?

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    If you are asking whether a book printed on a laser printer at home will look exactly the same as one printed on a professional printing press, the answer is no. The quality isn't comparable. – Billy Kerr Oct 26 at 20:16
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    .. also note that many fonts can have the same name but be different typefaces. ITC Garamond, Adobe Garamond, Linotype Garamond, Bitstream Garamond, Paratype, Tilde, etc... – Scott Oct 26 at 21:55
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    No two printer does exactly the same result, not even sane make and model. – joojaa Oct 27 at 5:01
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    Related answer on TeX.SX: tex.stackexchange.com/a/361722/90407 This relates to a font designed for a specific metal, resulting in a "too thin" font nowadays. – ljrk Oct 27 at 10:11
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    The answer to any question about 'printing' that asks 'will things be the same?' is: of course not. Printing is the wild card in all graphic design issues -- color matching, image quality, font appearance, trapping, sizing, proofing, etc. – user8356 Oct 27 at 14:24
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This is a well-known problem with font design; it has been a problem for over a hundred years. Fonts look much lighter when they're printed on coated paper than on uncoated book paper. It's particularly a problem with many early digital fonts which were digitized directly from metal type working drawings. Unfortunately, metal type manufacture leads to more spread compared to the drawings than modern offset litho or laser printing, so the fonts looked way too spindly. Typeforms by Alan Bartram compares early digital fonts with exactly the same font designs in metal, prepared by the same companies, and shows how much spindlier the digital fonts look.

Many digital serif fonts created more recently look a bit darker on the page to get more of the look of classic metal type when printed offset. You might want to take a look at Adobe's Garamond Premier (similar to Stempel Garamond), or maybe Arno, Bembo Book, or Matthew Butterick's Equity, as examples of digital fonts intended to match the density of metal type printing on book paper.

A trick that's become common with super-professional digital fonts, especially ones intended for newspapers, is to issue several "grades", fonts with only slight differences in weight, and no difference in spacing. This lets you fine-tune your font choice to match the exact printing process in your printing facility, and local conditions like air humidity, altitude and temperature which may affect the appearance slightly. Equity is an example of a font intended for what you might call "prosumer" use that has grades, so you could check printing the pdf specimen and see how it looks for you. If you need seriously pro support on this, like you want newspaper ads to look the same as ones printed in a glossy magazine, Font Bureau and Commercial Type have collections of fonts with many grades.

Separately, many digital fonts have the problem that they're often "one size fits all", whereas metal type was designed individually on a size-by-size basis. You can see this in this image, comparing a metal type designed differently for every size with a scaling of the 12pt size. Below 12pt specially designed fonts, called "optical sizes" or "opticals" are needed to get a good appearance. For your query I massively recommend Garamond Premier: it has these opticals, it's in the Garamond style like Stempel Garamond and it looks really good at small sizes; it's free with an Adobe subscription if you have one and it's not that expensive to buy.

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The easy stripped down answer is no. There are so many software variables, print driver variables, and even font VERSION variables, that it is very difficult to say exactly WHY a font looks different.

The longer answer:

But I would hazard a guess that what you are seeing is ink spread when the book is printed. Most books are offset printed on very cheap uncoated paper that allows the ink to spread into the paper once it's on the paper until it dries.

Your laser printer uses a method of printing that doesn't really soak into the sheet, but kind of sits on top and because of this, it doesn't have any gain on the original image.

Here is a VERY crude illustration of the rough concept.

Printing Methods

Imagine the surface of the paper is like a dry sponge. The laser print is essentially like a drop of hot wax on the sponge, it just sits on the surface where it lands and kind of sticks.

The offset printed ink is like a drop of oil, it will spread a little bit following the grain of the sponge making a slightly irregular shape instead of a crisp clean line.

Here is a close up of an offset printed letter, you can see how the edge of the letter sort of follows the grain of the paper.

N

The really long answer is many books of ink and paper theory, surface dyne, paper finish, ink formula, and it goes on and on...

If you are looking for something that you can do at home that might come close, get a cheap $30 inkjet printer and really cheap typing paper and give that a try.

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  • A generally good answer, but I would point out that the degree of ink spread does not depend solely on the "cheapness" of the paper (or the printing device). I can use an extremely expensive paper that maximizes spread, or a fairly cheap coated stock that will minimize spread. Paper type, printer type, ink type, font, and drying conditions are all factors in ink spread. – user8356 Oct 27 at 14:24
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    This is very true, but going into more detail than I think the OP would understand or be of any help to them. Of course a very high-end cotton ragbond has probably the largest fiber and results in one of the largest ink gains. The type of paper generally used for paperback books IS traditionally a very cheap recycled large fiber paper, and for what the OP probably has access to, a cheap 20# typing paper is going to be their best bet, combined with a cheap inkjet printer to get the look they are wanting. – Alith7 Oct 27 at 14:32
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Laser printers can be advertised to have 1200 dots per inch. Or equivalently 48 dots per millimeter. The marketing person hopes you believe a printed dot is 1/48 millimeters wide. But it isn't, it's much wider. There can be 48 accessible dot places per millimeter, but the printed dots are say 1/15 millimeter wide, more than 3 times as big as the marketing person hopes you to believe. Of course he doesn't claim the dot is 1/48 mm wide, he only lets you believe so by saying that we have 1200 dpi.

Printing computer fonts with dots this big surely makes the result inferior when compared to high quality book printing. High quality book printers have equipment which really can produce dots which are 1/48 millimeters wide or even smaller. They can often also place the dots with much denser dot placement resolution, they can have double or 3 times as much accessible dot places per inch as a laser printer.

Then there's difference how the used ink and coated book printing papers work when compared to laser printer toners and papers. And how cleverly the rasterization of the letters is programmed (as fonts the letters are vector images). That's already said by others.

BTW. You said the laser printed text seems thinner. The rasterization software tries to compensate the wider dots. Unfortunately the dots are not uniform, their size and darkness vary and they can be placed with 1/3 dot width increments. An exact placement to produce the perfect vector outline doesn't exist, not even if the letters are moved a little here and there to fit them as well as possible into the available raster. I guess the programmer has selected too thin letters are a better option than somehow bulged letters.

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It's not surprising that you find a print from a home printer inferior to a professionally printed book. Especially if you compare to an offset printed book, but high end digital printers are also superior to a home printer.

When I print sketches on our office ink jet printer I normally experience the text to be bolder than it's supposed to be, but perhaps with a laser printer it's the other way around.

Several things are in play here:

  • The resolution. Your home printer might have a lower resolution than possible professionally resulting in slightly jagged and rough edges on the letters. You might even have set up your printer to print all text and vector as images, which will result in some kind of halftone dots along the edges.

  • The paper. The rougher the paper, the "leakier" the print. Coated paper have low dot gain and will normally have sharper and thinner text than uncoated paper.

  • The way the ink lies on the paper. Most digital printers seems to leave the ink on top of the paper as a shiny surface. With offset and high end digital print, the ink seems to integrate into the paper and have a matte surface. This looks more aesthetically pleasing in my opinion, and increases readability because of the lack of reflexes.

  • The color of the ink. The ink in your printer might be lighter than the one used in professional print or it might be running low. Furthermore, depending on the printer setting, you might be printing black text in all four CMYK colors resulting in a slightly misaligned and blurred text.

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The strokes don't seem to be as thick, for one thing.

Is this just my imagination, running away with me?

Besides the issues of the physical interaction between the paper and ink, it's also worth mentioning that there are some other font issues that could be at play here:

  1. The "Font Family" may be the same, but there are typically multiple weights of it. (Linotype only lists 'Bold' and 'Roman' for Stempel Garamond, but I have plenty that have 'Light', 'Book', 'Normal', 'Semibold', 'Bold', etc.). And you can have infinite variable with multiple master fonts

  2. Fonts may have subtle variations depending on their size. The serifs may be more pronounced at smaller sizes, or the thickness of the lettering may change relative to the line height. In the days before TrueType, you would typically have multiple font sizes for each weight. TrueType and OpenType allow for variation between sizes, but I'm not a font designer, so I don't know how it's done (or if font designers just ignore that these days). The point is, a 12pt font printed at 400% scaling may not be the same as the 48pt font.

  3. Most publishing software allows you to manipulate the fonts to various degrees. You might adjust kerning to save space without changing the letter forms, but you can also make the letters slightly narrower (if there isn't a 'compressed' or 'narrow' variation for that family). Some tools will just squish the whole letter form, but if you had multiple master fonts some could change the width of the font without changing the line width.

And sometimes people make other modifications to fonts ... decades ago, when I did t-shirt printing, we would sometimes outline text in another color. I would generate my own outline for fonts (by changing the fonts to paths, then changing the paths back to lines to give them thickness), so that I could ensure that the screen with the outlines perfectly aligned with the screen for the inner color. I still use that same trick to "bold" highlighted phrases in presentations so that the letters didn't appear to move between slides.

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