Procrastination by complaints of nerdy eyeball pain
April 15, 2007 2:50 AM   Subscribe

Which typefaces survive savage photocopying? Are there any designed with this in mind?

As a literature student, I read a lot of badly-xeroxed and multiply-xeroxed pages. Some of those pages are still ok to read and some aren't. Have type designers or other people thought about how to prevent photocopiers from eating chunks of their letterforms? (Maybe Knuth did? Also, I don't find that serifs remain very well.) Maybe I should hole up with a photocopier and find out for myself?
posted by dreamyshade to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Probably not. Maybe fonts designed for OCR would do the trick, though.
posted by beerbajay at 3:04 AM on April 15, 2007

Some fonts are designed with ink traps to counteract ink spread during printing. I have no idea if anyone's targeted photocopying specifically, though.
posted by equalpants at 4:11 AM on April 15, 2007

considering most authors and publishers probably don't want to encourage photocopying i would guess not.
posted by sophist at 4:21 AM on April 15, 2007

Knuth's Computer Modern is notoriously bad at standing up to photocopying, which is unfortunate because it often ends up in expensive journals which need to be photocopied.

Anything with "Fax" in the name is designed to be robust to lo-res scanning and printing, so should be good for photocopying, e.g. Lucida Fax.
posted by caek at 4:42 AM on April 15, 2007

I think the two aims are at cross purposes. Fonts that xerox well have uniform stroke width, minimal serifs and are set with plenty spacing. Fonts that work well in journals have varied stroke widths and pronounced serifs to assist readability at small point sizes.

Factor in the average photocopier's finger and correction-fluid smudged, engagement-ring scored glass, with random grode on the print rollers, and typography stands no chance of survival.

Some large corporations have considered this in their visual identities; I'm thinking particularly of VAG and GE. GE goes and spoils the copyability of their rounded font by making the standard corporate print colour a pale blue, though ...
posted by scruss at 5:29 AM on April 15, 2007

I would second the recommendation for Bell Centennial or if it's hard to find, Bell Gothic.

Also try Scala Sans very functional and also looks great.
posted by jeremias at 7:07 AM on April 15, 2007

Definitely stay away from serifs and fonts that have thicks and thins. You want a typeface that is solid. You'll see fonts like Helvetica and Futura and Avant Garde everywhere for just this reason. They're solid (now-generic) fonts that are very readable and reproduce cleanly. They also have many many weights (light, bold, medium, book, extended, condensed, compressed) so that you can vary the text depending on your needs. If you need something blockier, Impact is used a lot.

Not the most exciting or designy typefaces, but if you just want readability they should work, though.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2007

I know this paints me with the pedantic brush, but I can't help it, it's the teacher in me.

There is a difference between the legibility of a typeface and the readability. You're looking for one which is biased towards legibility, although for longer works such as articles and books, the two should be balanced.
posted by jeremias at 8:12 AM on April 15, 2007

The Helvetica wannabe, Arial.

Basically any seen-on-a-bazillion signs sans-serif typeface are your best bets.

However, given enough photocopying of photocopies, any typeface can be made to fill-in and distort.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:14 AM on April 15, 2007

Wouldn't good 'ole courier be a safe bet?
posted by washburn at 9:47 AM on April 15, 2007

I third Helvetica.
posted by rmless at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2007

As said before, anything with a built-in ink trap and low contrast (like Bell Centennial and Bell Gothic). Christian Schwartz's wonderful Amplitude family should also be quite good for this purpose, even its narrower incarnations.
posted by luriete at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2007

I'm surprised that most people haven't suggested fixed-width fonts. I think that one of the major problems during photocopying isn't just the letters themselves becoming illegible, but also letters blurring together within a word. Variable-width, sans-serif typefaces, particularly ones with lots of nice ligatures, are going to be pretty bad for this I think. It doesn't take much to lose the 'i' in an "fi" ligature after a few rounds of photocopying; if verbatim legibility is the goal I think monospaced is the way to go.

I'd probably go for a heavy Courier-esque font (specifically not Courier New, because it's lighter than regular Courier), or maybe Andale Mono on the sans-serif end. At 12 points or more, it ought to be good for a lot of rounds of copying.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:52 PM on April 15, 2007

Yeah, text for photocopying needs a compromise between legibility (thanks, jeremias) and survivability, so even though Lucida Fax and Courier probably endure, they're not very enjoyable to read. Helvetica and Futura are also a little grating for extended lengths. I was thinking that Gill Sans might work, but it's another one that gets tiring.

Bell Centennial and Scala Sans look nice, though! My ideal typeface would be one that could be used in a journal and then wouldn't mind being xeroxed once or twice, and I think those might be close.
posted by dreamyshade at 4:18 PM on April 15, 2007

caek is on to something, and Robert Bringhurst, author of The Elements of Typographic Style agrees,
"Lucida Fax- a series designed for crude resolution."

Also take a look at the type family Officina, which Bringhurst notes " It is sturdy enough to withstand rough treatment (low-grade laser printing, for example) yet sufficiently well built to prosper under better printing conditions.

From ITC's site on Officina

"When ITC Officina was first released in 1990, as a paired family of serif and sans serif faces in two weights with italics, it was intended as a workhorse typeface for business correspondence."

I will second luriete's suggestion of Amplitude, aside from being a beautiful typeface with inktraps, it is a very functional type family to boot.

I've read a little bit about a typeface named Documenta, which is distributed through the Dutch Type Library most of that's in Dutch unfortunately.

I wouldn't discount serif typefaces altogether. Swift, by Gerard Unger is a very sturdy serif typeface that could stand up to the old xerox.

This really is a question for the folks over at typophile They could help out much more than I can.

Good luck.
posted by Sreiny at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2007

There is a difference between the legibility of a typeface and the readability.

So teacher, what is the difference?
posted by smackfu at 5:31 PM on April 15, 2007

Ah, I see now your Wikipedia link is also on readability.
posted by smackfu at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2007

Inktraps are neat (this is the first I'd heard of them), but I'm not sure how they're adaptive for avoiding xerox damage.

Officina looks really nice, especially because I have access to it. I should have thought that Bringhurst would have something to say on this, too.
posted by dreamyshade at 9:22 PM on April 15, 2007

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