6

Computer Modern, a font created by a computer scientist for use with his own typesetting system TeX, has become one of the most frequently used fonts of all time, precisely because of the popularity of TeX. But the question remains whether this font, created by a single person, is even suitable for this kind of popularity? Is Computer Modern, from a design perspective, a high-quality font? Notice that I am not asking if it is a good font; that kind of question would be opinion-based. However, I think it is possible to objectively judge the quality of a font, at least to some degree, just as it is possible to justly give grades at an exam.

enter image description here

  • 3
    Beyond technical aspects - does it contain proper glyphs, does it output well at various sizes, it is kerned properly - whether or not it is "high quality", as you posted, is purely opinion-based. – Scott Jan 31 '15 at 16:47
  • The world (including StackExchange) is a poor place if everything we ever say must be non-opinion based. Then it is opinion-based whether torture is comfortable or not (since you can probably find some masochists who find it nice). So is it so bad to ask for some graphic designers' opinions about a font? People tend to agree a lot in taste anyway, and I think you can probably make some criteria that, according to most graphic designers, determine whether a font is well drawn or not. – Gaussler Jan 31 '15 at 16:56
  • 2
    It's not bad to as for opinion at all. But SE isn't a "discussion forum". There's no rule about what does or does not make a font appear "well drawn". Ask 10 different designers and you'll get 10 different opinions. If you like it... then what difference does it make if others do? – Scott Jan 31 '15 at 16:58
  • 1
    For whatever it’s worth: I always thought that the ligatures look like an accident. – Wrzlprmft Feb 1 '15 at 11:18
7

As one who has typeset a thick mathematical book (written by various contributors), I would make two points in favour of Computer Modern.

First, the lower-case italic v and the lower-case Greek ν are clearly distinguished.

Second, parentheses rise higher than ascending letters, so that items in parentheses look more fully enclosed than in other fonts (e.g. Times Roman).

It is sometimes said that headings in Computer Modern make it too obvious that a document was typeset in (La)TeX. But this is easily overcome by setting headings in a contrasting font, e.g. using the "sectsty" package. When Computer Modern is used as a body font -- if I may lapse into opinion -- I find it reasonably neutral.

P.S. (23 January 2020)

I typeset this paper in a version of Computer Modern, using the sectsty package to set headings in sans-serif, plus the helvet package to change the standard sans-serif typeface to the Helvetica-like "Nimbus Sans L". The relevant lines from the preamble are:

    ⋮
\usepackage{cmlgc,amssymb,amsmath}
  \DeclareTextCommandDefault{\textbullet}{\ensuremath{\bullet}}
\usepackage[scaled]{helvet}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}
    ⋮
\usepackage{sectsty}
  \allsectionsfont{\sffamily\raggedright}
    ⋮

Notes:

  • The appearance of the preview is somewhat browser-dependent; you might need to download the PDF in order to see it correctly.
  • If your setup uses cm-super fonts by default (my latest setup doesn't), then you won't need the cmlgc package.
  • Mea culpa:  I was using the cmlgc version of Computer Modern for the first time, only to discover later that it does not scale optimally. If you use lmodern instead, you get a significant increase in the width, and a barely discernible increase in the darkness, of footnote-sized characters. One possible reason for using lmodern instead of cm-super is that lmodern gives a lower \textasciitilde.
  • Modifying \textbullet sometimes gets rid of font-error messages.
  • The scaled option to helvet adjusts the size so as to allow mixing with the serif font in text.
  • The \allsectionsfont command, provided by sectsty, modifies all section headings at once (which is probably what you want).
  • Yes, apparently helvet needs to come before sectsty.
2

Yes it is! It's well-designed as a text font, and it has small caps and text figures. But it was designed a long time ago and there are a few oddities: - and – are at very different heights and some modern currency symbols are a problem, the € was clearly not added by the font's original designer and ₹ is missing (a common test of fonts to see if they've been remastered recently, that one, by the way). And it has some bonuses many pro fonts don't: the upright italic can allow more creative typography, and I really like the "classical" italic with serifs at the entrance to characters and the non-extended bold, both feel very practical and modern to me, maybe better than the defaults, while the wider standard bold looks great in headings, and in tracked out small caps too.

A few possible alternatives. STIX Two Text is based on Times New Roman, so it's a lot more anonymous, less defined by the style of the nineteenth century, and because it's based on the smaller sizes of Times New Roman's metal type it's particularly good for small sizes. It's free. Commercial Type's Brunel is in the same style, but designed for high-style fashion magazines. So it's got optical sizes for super-large headings, and pushes the design further with bolder-than-bold weights, tons of flourished characters and piles of niceties like small-cap, proportional and tabular figures. HTF's Surveyor is similar, and it's particularly strong in the lightest styles, although if it matters to you it doesn't have text figures.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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