4.0925 PC-Dos Fonts: Digi-Fonts Information (1/250)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 22 Jan 91 17:57:11 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0925. Tuesday, 22 Jan 1991.

Date: Tue, 22 Jan 91 10:04:28 MST
From: koontz@alpha.bldr.nist.gov (John E. Koontz)
Subject: DIGI-FONTS Outline Font Information

Information on DIGI-FONTS Products
Based on an untitled catalog apparently dated January 1, 1991

Audience: PC DOS users with HP printers or MS Windows who need
inexpensive (mostly nonstandard) typefaces for Latin, Greek,
Cyrillic, Hebrew, or Devanagari scripts

The DIGI-FONTS company makes a set of scalable outline fonts using an
outline system that they call DF outlines. Bitstream outlines are
another, much better known system of scalable outline fonts. A scalable
outline font is usually used as a master to generate fixed-size
bitmapped fonts for use with HP Laser Jet or Desk Jet printers, or for
use screen and printer use with PC graphical user environments like
Microsoft Windows. There are various other outline systems, most
notably Postscript outline fonts, used directly, as outlines, by
Postscript printers, though now there is software that can use
Postscript outline fonts to generate fixed-size bitmapped fonts for HP
Laser Jet printers and for software like MS Windows, too.

DIGI-FONTS announces in this catalog that they expect to make their
outlines available as Type 1 (unhinted?) Postscript outline fonts this
Spring. They already make them available as HP Laser Jet III
gAutoFont?) outlines.

There are differences among the various outline systems, with respect to
quality, cost, speed, and coverage. Generally the issues that concern
desktop publishers are quality and cost. Bitstream and Postscript
outlines are both associated with high quality fonts, especially those
Postscript outlines that incorporate Adobe's own hinting technology, but
these fonts are also fairly expensive, except to the extent that
Bitstream fonts are available at special prices with new copies of
certain software packages. The only source for Bitstream outlines is
Bitstream, and hinted Postscript fonts from sources other than Adobe are
only just becoming available.

In addition to cost and availability concerns, the usual symbol sets for
Bitstream and Postscript Latin script outlines have very little support
for languages outside of Europe. The exotic characters and character-
diacritic combinations that are offered are very limited. And, once one
leaves the Latin script there is very little available at all,
especially for use on PC systems.

As I understand it, Bitstream outlines actually support free combining
of Latin characters and diacritics, but available commercial software
only supports certain fixed combinations. Bitstream also makes outlines
for various non-Latin fonts, but none of these are made available for
commercial distribution in the United States, as far as I am aware.

Unhinted Postscript outlines for extended Latin scripts or non-Latin
scripts are available in comparative profusion for Macintosh systems,
but none of the vendors seem to be interested in the PC market.
Recently Usenet has carried a number of articles on ways to convert
Macintosh Postscript fonts to PC Postscript fonts, but the process is
complex, and requires expensive graphics software, as well as access to
both kinds of systems. Perhaps this will eventually lead to the
commercial availability of a greater variety of Postscript outlines for
PCs, but for the moment this is not a course of action to be recommended
for the average user.

Given these considerations, DIGI-FONTS' DF outlines may interest
individuals who work with languages for which it is difficult to find
suitable fonts. DIGI-FONTS sells about 400 different outlines for use
in PC environments, mostly Latin fonts, but also Greek, Cyrillic,
Hebrew, and Devanagari fonts, plus symbol and specialty fonts. The
fonts are sold by the disk, with 8 outlines per Latin/Greek/symbol/
specialty disk, 4 per Hebrew disk, and 2 to 3 per Devanagari disk. (The
different faces on Devanagari Disks appear to differ mainly in weight.)
Disks cost $80US for Latin/Greek/Hebrew/symbol/specialty disk, and
$150US for Cyrillic and Devanagari disks. There are currently c. 80
disks in their library. Most importantly, DF fonts allow free
combination of the available outline characters and diacritics. Any
diacritic can be combined with any character, using Digi-duit!, a
program mentioned further below.

Font houses have problems naming their fonts. They want a name that can
be trademarked, and isn't trademarked already, and usually one that is
evocative of the font family that they are implementing. Hence
Bitstream's name Swiss for their Helvetic(oid) font. DIGI-FONTS have
settled for trademarkability only. Their fonts are mostly named for
Colorado towns, resulting in names like "Aspen Black" or "Snowmass
Gothic." Some are named functionally, e.g., "Cyrillic." This means
that users will have to decide themselves, from appearance, what fonts
meet their needs, though perhaps the company will advise on this
problem, if asked.

DIGI-FONTS prices are apparently quite reasonable. The ones quoted
above are the only ones there are, because DF fonts are not available
from discounters. At least this is the company's current policy. I
have seen one Usenet complaint on the quality of bitmaps generated from
DF outlines, especially for small point sizes, but I believe that
DIGI-FONTS quality is adequate for most people for most non-commercial
purposes. On the question of speed, the catalog reports that it takes
c. 40 seconds to generate one 12 point bitmapped font on an 80286 10 MHz

To summarize, DIGI-FONTS will interest users who emphasize low cost or
variety in symbol sets more than quality. I recommend that anyone who
is interested request the DIGI-FONTS catalog and think also about the
demo disk that is available for $5US. The fee for the demo disk can be
applied to later purchases. Expect to have some questions requiring
correspondence or a letter. The demo is aimed at users who want to use
standard symbol sets in standard fonts, but it gives a good idea what
their software and fonts are like.

To use DF outlines you will need a program that DIGI-FONTS markets,
called Digi-duit!. (The ! is unfortunately part of the name.) There
are different versions for use with the Laser Jet Plus or II series, the
Laser Jet II series, and the Desk Jet series. The Plus or II version is
$90US, which includes their outline Disk 00, with the serif font "Rico"
in roman, bold roman, italic, and bold italic variants, plus four other
faces: "Commercial Symbols," "Bailey" (a rather modernistic
sans-serif), "Pine Junction Script" (fancy script, suitable perhaps for
cards), and "Hartsel" (a novelty font, suitable perhaps for posters). I
don't think that Rico qualifies as a Times(oid) font, but I couldn't say
what typeface family it does represent. I think that Telluride on Disk
01 is DIGI-FONTS' Times(oid), but, not being an expert on typefaces, I
haven't identified their Helvetic(oid) sans-serif.

Digi-duit!, plus your choice of outline disks, is enough to create
downloadable bitmapped fonts. However, in most cases you will also need
a tool to generate printer drivers for your particular word processor or
desktop publication program. For this DIGI-FONTS makes a series of
$40US Digi-install! programs, one each for Word Perfect 5.0, Word
Perfect 5.1, MS Word 4/5, MS Windows, Ventura/GEM, WordStar 2000,
WordStar 5/5.5, and WordStar 6. Presumably you will need at most two, if
you use both a word processor, say, and Ventura/GEM.

Since the fonts are standard HP bitmapped fonts (for the appropriate
printer), you can use any other installation program you want, e.g., the
Lodestar Utilities for XyWrite or Nota Bene, or SoftCraft's Laser Fonts
program, which handles Word Perfect 4.2/5.0/5.1, Word 4/5, and Display

Another alternative to Digi-duit! is EZ-duit! a less flexible tool
included with font disks. See the catalog for details of differences.

DIGI-FONTS also provides Digi-kern! ($50US) for making kerning tables,
and Digi-edit! ($250US), for making new DF outline fonts. The editor
is a new offering. It is one of the few outline font editors for PCs,
and therefore important in itself, even though it does not make
(unhinted or hinted) Postscript outlines. The editor can import black
and white TIFF files or PCX files, and autotrace them. It can also
import letters from any existing DF outline. You can draw your own
letters from scratch, too, of course. Editing facilities include
smoothing (various sorts), editing the points constraining the outline
curves, grids, guidelines, ghosts (model characters), merge outlines
(add diacritic), and transformations (slant, widen, narrow, etc.). There
is also a subeditor for bitmapped fonts.

There are some unfortunate limits to the abilities of DF outlines to
deal with "exotic" Latin scripts. For example, the basic character set
has no edh, an oversight that will frustrate Germanists and some
Americanists (edh is used with various Native American languages,
including the ones I work with). The diacritics don't include the
"Polish hook" (ogonek) used in writing nasal vowels in Polish or, again,
by most Americanists. The diacritics provided seem restricted to be
tilde, superposed small circle, grave, circumflex, and acute, wedge
(hacek), breve, macron, umlaut, and cedilla. Exotic alphabetic
characters are limited to o with oblique line, ae ligature, and oe
ligature. You can get characters from other DF outlines, e.g., the
Greek, Cyrillic, and various symbol sets. However, there does not seem
to be a phonetic symbol set of any sort.

It is not clear from the literature how the "kerning" of the base
character and diacritic are handled. It appears that Digi-duit! knows
how to center the diacritic above or below the appropriate lowercase or
upper case letter, but it may not be possible to modify the results
except by editing the bitmaps. It's also unclear whether one can
combine arbitrary characters, e.g., d and dash to produce a
d-with-a-dash-through-it, a common substitute for edh that was used with

Another sort of limit that may be of concern to some users is that the
basic DF Latin character set does not include the entire PC symbol set.
I believe that one can create a complete 10U HP font (one with a symbol
set that matches the PC symbol set), but it will be necessary to
purchase the additional DF fonts that provide the linedrawing graphics
characters and the symbol characters in order to do this.

The address for DIGI-FONTS is:

528 Commons Drive
Golden, CO 80401
United States of America

303-526-9502 FAX

It might be appropriate here to mention a possible alternative for
DIGI-FONTS, if the reader needs fonts for use with variant Latin
scripts, or Greek, Ethiopic, Devanagari, Tai Dam, or Laotian scripts on
the HP Laser Jet series, EGA/VGA screens, or software like GEM. All of
these are supported by the Summer Institute of Linguistics package SIL
Premier Fonts. The Latin script facilities are based on Bitstream
bitmaps and support Bitstream's Dutch, Swiss, Century, and Freeform
fonts, though not all to the same extent. The whole Latin package, with
software and fonts is $900. I believe that additional fonts are c.
$250. The DIGI-FONTS prices compare very favorably with that.

Since the DIGI-FONT products are outline based, they use much less disk
space. The SIL product (with Latin scripts only) needs close on 17MB of
disk space before any fonts are generated. On the positive side it
supports extensive sets of phonetic characters and diacritics, all of
which can be combined as needed, as well as allowing user control of the
kerning of base characters and diacritics. Standard characters and
alternate forms of some standard are provided, as well as things like
undotted i and j for use with diacritics.

SIL Premier Fonts includes the equivalent of Digi-duit! and
Digi-install! for MS Word 4/5, MS Windows, Ventura/GEM, XyWrite, and
GEM. It can also generate screen fonts for EGA and VGA monitors. There
is no font editor, but a number of commercial bitmap editors from other
sources could be used, including the shareware program QFont 1.5, with a
registration fee of c. $80US.

Two major faults of the SIL product are belt-tightening prices and the
bitmap-only approach. The price problem results from licensing
Bitstream products. The bitmap problem may eventually be solved, since
I understand that SIL intends to switch to Type 1 Postscript outlines at
some future date. I don't know if this will also solve the price

Another major problem is the lack of support for the full set of symbols
and graphics characters used in the PC character set. The absence of
parts of the PC symbol set is a particular problem with EGA and VGA
screen fonts. It is not much help to gain the ability to display
accented nasal a, only to lose the ability to display the graphics
character-based boxes so beloved of one's word processing and database
software. To repair these deficiencies in the printer fonts, users can
apparently generate their own collections of the missing characters from
Bitstream outlines, if they have the necessary Bitstream outlines and
software. However, it would be easier simply to rely on the
availability of the missing characters in the internal fonts of the
printer. At the moment I am not sure how to fix the problem in EGA and
VGA screen fonts, where it is more serious. It should be possible to
get the (inexpensive) SIL screen font editor, and perhaps then the
missing items can be added to the screen font by hand.

I have no connection with the DIGI-FONTS company, and also I have never
used their products, though I have gotten their demo, and I have been
following their catalogs for a year or so, in hopes that their Latin
script linguistic support will improve. I have recently had some hands
on experience with the SIL Premier Fonts product, but I have no
affiliation with SIL.

All recommendations explicit or implicit in the foregoing are my own,
and do not reflect the practice or policy of my employers.