Type Service: Typekit

Note Entry

Main Content

screenshot of typekit page

Typekit is:

[A] subscription-based service for linking to high-quality Open Type fonts from some of the worlds best type foundries. Our fonts are served from a global network on redundant servers, offering bulletproof service and incredible speed.

The font service was created by Jeffrey Veen of Small Batch, Inc. and was in an initial beta period during most of 2009 with the final release occurring in November. Since then, the service has been used prominently by major websites, including the New York Times with its Times Skimmer, and a number of blogs and personal sites. Along with a small number of similar services, Typekit makes use of the @font-face CSS property to link to the font files it serves.

My original choice for the body text of this site was Cambria with a fallback of Georgia. Although Cambria had strong aesthetic qualities as an on-screen font it was only available for Windows Vista, 7 and Microsoft Office users. Which meant that most people would see the fallback—the ubiquitously installed system font Georgia. In my search for a typeface with comparable qualities to Cambria I decided to try Typekit. I signed up for their Portfolio Plan and settled on the slab serif, FF Tisa Web Pro, as the default typeface for this site’s body copy.

Mike Davidson, the co-inventor of sIRF, wrote an early overview of the potential of Typekit concluding with:

Typekit is likely the best thing to happen to web design since the re-emergence of browser competitiveness. It will be embraced quickly and fervently when it is released this summer, and its creators should be loudly applauded for doing it instead of just talking about it. There are too many talkers in the world and not enough doers. The team at Small Batch has done an excellent job of taking a problem that a lot of people like to talk about and solving it in a practical, equitable way. It’s a welcome solution to a real issue and a significant step towards a leaner, Veener web.

I would like to echo his comments, but more broadly to encompass other type services and tools which will aid designers and web authors in their efforts to make the web more beautiful and readable. In addition to Typekit, similar services include Typotheque’s Web Font Serivce (which I use elsewhere on this site), Kernest and Fontdeck (a joint venture of Clearleft and OmniTI which has recently come out of beta).

Although Typekit is still relatively new I would like to offer a few thoughts and observations of my experience with the service in the short time I have used it:

  • During testing on my local installation I came across a javascript conflict with Cufón which prevented the display of the headings on the site in Firefox. I never found out the reason for conflict, but I fixed the display issue by tweaking the Cufón font file’s security settings. It was a problem that only affected the local installation of the website.
  • Ligature support is dependent on the next fallback typeface declared in the font stack. Meaning if you are using a system font which does not have a full character set including ligatures, you will not see the ligatures implemented—even if the typeface served by Typekit has them. This occurs when inserting the character references directly into the HTML. Generally, Typekit allows for the auto-insertion of ligatures, when available, if they are supported by the browser. Currently, only Firefox supports ligatures and other OpenType features, although its implementation is spotty.
  • I am still dismayed by the lack of Opera 10 support. I am aware that Typekit withholds the specified font from Opera and applies the fallback fonts declared in the site’s CSS due to technical issues surrounding Opera’s support of the @font-face CSS rule. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon. (Ed. note: Resolved as of July 8, 2010.)
  • Since Typekit uses @font-face, the display of the typeface you specify is dependent on the font rendering of the host operating system and how that rendering translates across browsers. As a practical matter, this means that you have to be careful and particular about which typeface you use on your site since there is a possibility that the font selected will not render well on a Windows computer. Since, I spend most of my time on such a computer, whether laptop or desktop and whether using XP or Windows 7, font rendering on that platform is a concern of mine. Further, even if the typeface served by Typekit renders cleanly on Windows at small text sizes, the font smoothing algorithm used by Microsoft causes the same font to render unpleasantly at larger display sizes. This is the reason why I prefer to use Cufón for the headings on this site.

Overall, I would say my experience has been favorable and will continue to look forward to Typekit’s efforts to improve its service.