Help understanding Chinese typography
April 22, 2008 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me create easily readable Chinese typography

I am designing multiple items which have display type in both Chinese and English and need to know which fonts to use for the Chinese portion of the text.
I have access to the default fonts on Mac OS X and can probably get others.
Most of my work is to be read on screen (but not in voluminous block), so equivalents to Verdana and Georgia would be nice along with knowing what are the "almighty" fonts like Fruitiger and Baskerville/Caslon of the Chinese font world.

Also can someone point me to a diagram or information on things such as leading and kerning for Chinese text.

I have Chinese bosses who I can show designs to but they know nothing about typography in either language so any help is appreciated.
posted by mule to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The most common Chinese font families as far as I know from my own research for work are Ming (aka Song, because it's based on the Song Dynasty writings), Hei, FangSong (may also be called "Li", I think), and Kai, but there are various varieties. Here are some visual examples available for traditional and simplified characters. For more font examples, see the Twin Bridge font pack. Note that some fonts will only support traditional characters, not simplified - and vice versa, as the encoding is different. Dynacomware is a leading font supplier, check out their traditional and simplified store for a better feel for popular fonts and varieties.

I am not by any means an expert, but I would characterize Ming/Song font varieties as the "Times New Roman" of Chinese - ubiquitous and boring, good for long blocks of text. The ones called "Hei" (lit. "Black") are more along the lines of Arial Black - OK for headlines and short lines of text. The "Kai" style fonts are more like real calligraphy and are much more aesthetically pleasing, but not as legible, with the FangSong/Li being like italics versions (not quite right, though, but I don't know how else to describe it). Going with a Ming/Song font would mean maximum legibility but sacrificing some style, while a Hei font would give you some style with OK legibility.

As for kerning and tracking, I'm afraid I can't really help you, sorry.
posted by gemmy at 11:17 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The world of Chinese fonts isn't as wide and multi-varied as English ones, due to the sheer number of characters in the Chinese language.

This Wikipedia page shows the main Chinese typographic styles available. The 宋体 (song ti) style is the most widely used, I think, although I don't find it very legible, especially at smaller sizes.

This blog post (written in Mandarin) does a good overview on web typography considerations for Chinese characters, touching on issues such as optimum font sizes and line spacings. This also appears to be a comprehensive treatment of Chinese fonts on both Windows and Mac OSes.
posted by hellopanda at 11:58 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chinese is not normally leaded or kerned. In traditional Chinese typography, text is laid out on a regular two-dimensional grid. All characters are assumed to be monospaced, and each occupies the center of its own box, which has certain top/bottom and left/right margins to the adjacent boxes.

Web typography is eurocentric—it makes no allowance for this approach to typography (I think—I've never seen any CSS documentation that relates to this). Of course, with InDesign, you can kern Chinese (the tool doesn't care how you use it), and I've seen it once in a while. It jumps off the page because it looks so weird.

I'm not sure that there are all-purpose "web fonts" for Chinese on par with Georgia/Arial, that you can expect 99% of your audience to have. I'm pretty sure that browsers will respect serif/sans-serif declarations in CSS and show a Ming-style or Gothic-style face as appropriate.
posted by adamrice at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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