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Android and Linux device FreeType fonts get a facelift

May 3, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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If you’re squinting as you read this on a smartphone, here’s some good news: mobile fonts may soon be clearing up. In collaboration with Google and the FreeType project, Adobe has contributed its CFF (Compact Font Format) rasterizer to the open source FreeType font engine.

The open version of CFF is designed to improve legibility of small fonts rendered by the lightweight, resource-efficient FreeType on devices running Android, Linux, iOS, and other Unix-based platforms.

While CFF has been popular on desktop PCs, Apple’s TrueType is more commonly used on mobile devices. By contributing its beta CFF code to the FreeType project, Adobe has improved the open source font library as an alternative to TrueType, claiming it’s now better at presenting the smaller fonts common on mobile devices.

The new CFF-infused version of FreeType supports Android, Linux, Chrome OS, iOS, and other free Unix operating system derivatives. No wonder Google co-sponsored the project along with the FreeType project.

TrueType and CFF are similar in many ways, and are both used in OpenType fonts. According to Adobe, however, while TrueType focuses on font instructions, CFF depends more on the intelligence of the rasterizer. This is said to make the quality of the rasterizer more important.

The new CFF-enabled FreeType fonts should offer a dramatic improvement over the existing FreeType on mobile devices, says Adobe. Advantages include having a smaller file size than TrueType, as well as “hinting” algorithms that enable better rendering in small font sizes and resource-limited devices.

The images below illustrate the improvements when progressing from FreeType’s native CFF, to light autohinting, to the new Adobe CFF (as indicated in the captions). The improvements are noticeable with all languages and fonts, but are particularly evident with multistroke character languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, which tend to look “blobby” when reduced in size, says Google. The CFF rasterizer is said to reduce blobbiness without requiring a “light hint” rasterization effect, which leaves the text too faint.
 


FreeType native CFF rasterizer


FreeType light auto hint rasterizer


FreeType with the new Adobe CFF rasterizer

 


FreeType native CFF rasterizer


FreeType light auto hint rasterizer


FreeType with the new Adobe CFF rasterizer

 

More information and download links for the beta version of CFF for FreeType may be found at FreeType.org. Additional information may be found in the announcements from Adobe and Google, respectively. Adobe’s Compact Font Format specification can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website, here (pdf file).
 

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