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Better type coming to a cheap screen near you

Announced at CES 2015, Monotype's Spark font-rendering system promises to bring more readable text to small and low-resolution screens.


LAS VEGAS -- Font technology doesn't excite most people during a slow news week, much less during one of the most high-profile technology shows of the year. But behind the flood of watches and wearables, the commodification of prototyping, and increasingly cost-sensitive electronics production follows the problem of readability on small, cheap, low-resolution displays. Type foundry Monotype has bundled several of its existing technologies and an optimized set of fonts into Monotype Spark, a platform intended for designers and manufacturers to more easily and efficiently incorporate scalable type into traditionally bitmapped font displays.

Bitmap fonts, which are stored and rendered pixel-for-pixel, take up a lot of space. Small devices generally lack adequate memory to store a full bitmap, especially when you factor in non-Latin languages. As a result, engineers frequently have to create a separate set of fonts for each use -- different sized displays and languages. As a result, you can get some pretty ugly or hard-to-read displays. Plus, if you lack the resources of a large company, creating prototypes with attractive text is a pain.

Spark algorithmically renders type, with aliasing and autohinting, for multiple screen sizes and resolutions based on a custom set of TrueType fonts in a memory footprint of 20K and a code footprint of 98K (for an ARM processor), though those can vary depending upon language complexity.

While Monotype provides a set of customized faces, if you have the right -- and the desire -- to modify a font (as you do with many open-source faces) you can roll your own.

Though an automotive partner spurred Monotype's development of Spark for the automotive clusters in its cheaper cars , the fact that the binaries are free to check out and prototype puts it in the reach of anyone who wants to crowdsource the financing for a new product. Commercial licensing will cost you, though.