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Latin Modern

620 words

OS X's support for fonts is quite good in my opinion. You can simply drop a font file into any of your libraries' font folders without needing to worry too much about TrueType or PostScript, Mac or Windows, bitmaps or outlines. Mostly it 'just works' – changes effective immediately in modern applications. In X.3. we even have the benefit of FontBook for basic management of fonts and previewing them like it were 1993 and System 7 (only slower).

Recently, however, I've bumped into a limitation of the font management: I isn't able to handle 'pfb' PostScript font files which seem to be common on Unix systems – and in TeX, most notably. In the great world of TeX, there is now the 'Latin Modern', 'LM', family of fonts. What is this?

Originally, TeX came with the 'Computer Modern' family of fonts to which there are two limitations difficulties for integrating it into programs other than TeX: Firstly it was available for Metafont only, i.e. given by little programs that'll be turned into and stored bitmap fonts (device-specific nonetheless). That problem was sort of solved since BlueSky vectorised them to PostScript fonts and sold them with TeXtures and they were eventually given away free – thanks to the AMS I think, contributing a lot the efficient and good looking PDF files generated from TeX these days.

The second problem was that in those PostScript fonts, the kerning and character combination information hadn't quite made it – CM will generate à, say, be combining the glyphs a and `, thus making this rather crucial. Hence it still wasn't practical to use those fonts in applications other than TeX.

The LM family contains more glyphs, including properly accented ones, kerning information and is PostScript. pfb file PostScript, which OSX can't process itself. Now that's not too much of a problem as there exists the free font tool pfaedit which lets you design PostScript fonts – and convert them to many font formats. A command line version of the tool is readily available for the Mac as an iInstaller module. That can be used to convert the font files to OpenType 'dfont' format using a script like

with the script automatically being generated by an AppleScript for every font file (for lack of better terminal skills) – and they work.

The strange thing I observed was that doing the same conversion using the graphical version of the application (thanks to X11) will give much better font files that will automatically include things like ligatures and fractions in able text editors. That's pretty neat. However, I don't want to convert all 57 of the fonts by hand. So if there's anybody reading this having more experience than I do with pfaedit, please step forward and offer advice.

Yum, TeX fonts in PostScript goodness.

Ahh, as always after you've written something, I actually solved the problem now... downloading another, graphical, version of pfaedit for the Mac. Perhaps the version I had from iInstaller was outdated? Who cares. Now everything is brilliant,including ligatures, fractions.

Ok, it's not perfect yet. Like kerning doesn't seem to work for 'AV', say and it litters the font menu because each design size – yep, we've got different design sizes – comes as its own family, the fact that selecting a font family defaults to selecting the bold instead of the roman face and that it doesn't use all the nice features you can have, such as providing both old style and normal numerals in the same font. But it is a very good start. I hope it improves further. If you're interested in this but don't want to do the conversion yourself, drop me a line.

November 4, 2003, 11:14


Comment by Nicholas Riley: User icon

OK, that’s truly freaky - I used pfaedit for the first time today too. Mainly because I finally had success using ‘ufond’ to convert my favorite SGI ‘screen’ monospaced font to a bitmap. Unfortunately Cocoa apps don’t recognize the ‘NFNT’ version, and if I use pfaedit to convert to a TrueType/OpenType/’sbit’ representation, then it doesn’t work.

There are some nice TrueType versions of TeX fonts that were distributed long ago with TeXgX, TeX for QuickDraw GX. Since AAT is built into Mac OS X these days along with support for GX format fonts, they work fine with OS X.


Do you have any examples or info about the LM fonts? I’m only procrastinating writing a report (with TeX) right now, but will take a look later if they are decent…

November 4, 2003, 23:24

Comment by ssp: User icon

Hm, I downloaded the fonts you mentioned. How do they differ from what Blue Sky’s cm PostScript fonts offer?

What about QDGX? Did these fonts actually use QDGX’s ability to have different design ‘axes’ in fonts, duplicating the 69 or so parameters in the metafont programs? If so, why didn’t I know about this before. I couldn’t run the program inlcuded with the fonts as my Classic system folder doesn’t seem to have QDGX installed.

I’d like to add here that double clicking the font suitcase in the OSX Finder is a bad idea as FontBook will open a sample window for every single font inside that suitcase, which for some reasons is rather slow.

I haven’t really used the lm fonts yet. I just read about them in the latest issue of ‘Die TeXnische Komödie’, DANTE’s quarterly member journal. The first thing to say is that the lm family looks just like the cm family. That’s its job.

It addresses a couple of issues though. Firstly, they’re PS fonts. But so are Blue Sky’s cm PS fonts. So the other advantage is that they contain more accented characters and each of those is present as a single glyph. The greater number of accented characters will probably only be benficial to you if you’re dealing with things relating to Eastern European languages. The sinle glyphs have to advantage that words with accented characters can be easily found in or copied from the PDF files generated (no more two characters copied per accented character, that’s what the ec fonts were for so far). It may also help hyphenation of words containing accented characters.

There are some more points, like the fk, …, 1/2 and 1/4 ligatures or the existence of the € sign in the fonts. And the fact that they seem to be the incarnation of PS TeX fonts that’s most suited to be used in a non TeX environment I’ve seen so far — e.g. when you’re preparing a figure for a TeX document and you want the font used for labels in there to match that of the rest of the document.

I hope you have enough background on TeXnical stuff for this to make sense.

November 5, 2003, 16:31

Comment by Nicholas Riley: User icon

FWIW, the author of pfaedit is incredibly helpful. He provided me not one but two patches in the space of a few days, and now I have screen working in Cocoa apps.

Using a bitmap-only TrueType font uncovered a bunch of really weird bugs in applications relating to the bold font style. QuickDraw-using apps work fine with the NFNT version, but oddly always pick the boldfaced version when I install the TrueType ones; seems that the style information is not preserved properly. Terminal displays the regular font, but makes the boldfaced font double-width, so I end up with double-bold (!). Other ATSUI/Cocoa apps seem to do fine.

One thing I realized I liked about Screen 11 vs Monaco 10 (my second choice) is that Screen is both wider and less tall than Monaco. That means I can fit a lot more lines of source code on my PowerBook’s screen, while better using the width. And if I want more lines still, I can pick a 7, 8 or 9 point version, all nicely bitmapped.

November 7, 2003, 2:22

Comment by ssp: User icon

pfaedit looks like a pretty cool tool. One of those tools I could spend hours with trying to learn more about fonts and tinker with them.

I wish I were a fresher again, having time for all those things - particularly as the tools we can work/play with these days are much better and more worthwhile than those we had a few years ago.

\begin{getting sidetracked} I left my Atari ST turned on for nights in the early 1990s to compute Mandelbrot sets filling its tiny screen or to generate dc fonts (predecessor of the ec family which partly inspired the lm family it seems) with metafont. I also waited something like a minute per page to run our school newspaper through TeX. All those things are so much faster to achieve these days that they almost make all the old things look like a complete waste of time – except that we thought it was pretty cool back then, I guess. \end{sad-old-sod’s rant}

Your writing about that font make me curious. Would you mind sending a copy. I like Monaco 9 and 10 very much but it’s probably good to be open for new things.

I saw the ‘selecting bold face as the standard font’ thing as well with the lm family of fonts. Did you make any more precise observations on when this happens?

November 8, 2003, 1:21

Comment by Gerben Wierda: User icon

I stumbled across this page. Just to let you know:

PfaEdit has been expanded by George Williams to support this conversion of Latin Modern to Mac GUI use better. This is almost done.

The next upgrade of the TeX i-Package (any day now) will contain the Latin Modern fonts and it will automatically do a complete conversion of the installed Latin Modern type1’s in TeX to TrueType .dfont families in “/Library/Fonts/Latin Modern”


January 17, 2004, 13:10

Comment by Gerben Wierda: User icon

My current TeX redistribution includes Latin Modern. If on configuration, it finds those files and it finds pfaedit of a recent enough version, it will convert the LM fonts for use in Mac OS X apps.

You get a lot of families (for reasons explained in the readme) but it does work.

March 19, 2004, 20:05

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