Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Proportional fonts for programming

SnagIt Capture

I'm trying out some proportional fonts (as opposed to monospaced) for coding. The one shown above is Franklin Gothic Demi – it's normally a serious font but the color livens it up a bit. The editor is the venerable jEdit.

Part of the reason I'm paying more attention to fonts this week is that I've almost finished reading Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographical Style. It comments on typography with an authority and grace comparable to that in Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information (on figures and charts).


  • Usually what you write on coding is over my head, but this time, I got every word. As a "typophile," I commend your decision to think about typography more. Just don't let it get to the point where you start identifying each typeface you see - that can get irritating to your friends and family pretty quickly!

    Your post did make me wonder: Why is it that programmers have traditionally used monospaced fonts? Is it just force of habit from older computers, or do they actually help with coding? Because people usually say that they tire out the eyes much faster than normal proportional fonts do.

    By Blogger Reed, at 10/16/2006 3:34 a.m.  

  • Hi Jon,

    I've been think about fonts lately too.

    I wonder what "column width" you use when coding in this style? You can't exactly break at the 80th column.

    @reed - I think the main reason for using a monospace font is that you can't line up long lines with a break in with a proportional font. This is an "in the small" example of the wider point which is that what you write won't look the same to the next guy. If you use a monospace font, it will (within reason).

    By Blogger Thomas David Baker, at 10/16/2006 5:19 a.m.  

  • hejdig.

    I code in Arial, somewhere around 9 points. The only downside I know of is I and l (capital i and non-capital L).

    Not having the code in straight columns enhances the readability IMHO.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/16/2006 9:30 a.m.  

  • reed - a typophile! Beauty! Ha! I shall follow your advice to not obsess about it.

    bakert - read your post - interesting stuff. sIFR isn't great but it has its uses (esp. for headings, as you mentioned). As for column width, I'm torn between disregarding it (and simply using the width of the editor window), and obeying 80 chars. In the screenshot, the vertical line is at 80.

    losmanos - yeah Arial looks quite nice on the screen. A nice change from Courier.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/16/2006 1:04 p.m.  

  • Bakert - Thanks. That clears things up a bit for me.

    Jon - I happen to enjoy obsessing about it, just like, I assume, you must enjoy spending hours coding. Just wanted to warn you that it will take over your life if you're not careful. Re:typophile, in fact, I'm taking the term from, by leaps and bounds the best place for online typography. I'm just an amateur type geek compared to many there - there are even a number of living, breathing type designers who frequent the forums. I'd suggest you take a peak if you have a minute.

    By Blogger Reed, at 10/16/2006 5:17 p.m.  

  • Reed - Sounds like you derive tremendous joy and pleasure from typography. I shall check out now.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/16/2006 9:54 p.m.  

  • @Jon - but what is the meaning of "80 columns" with a proportional font? 80 spaces? You can fit more than 80 "i" characters in the same spaces as 80 "w" characters with a proportional font. So then you will have lines that don't reach your vertical line that are "wider" than 80 chars!

    By Blogger Thomas David Baker, at 10/28/2006 2:41 p.m.  

  • Hi bakert – yeah, I basically ignore that vertical line. I should figure out how to turn it off actually, as it's not very meaningful for proportional fonts.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/28/2006 3:31 p.m.  

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