Website fonts can appear differently on Windows PCs primarily because of the way Windows renders them, which is a frustrating problem for brand consistency, so we use web-safe and web fonts to minimise these issues.
Fonts are the delivery drivers of web design. They do the hard yards all day long, in the background, without hogging the spotlight. They constantly deliver, subtly setting the tone, conveying the message, and even evoking emotions.
But here’s the catch: the same font can look different depending on the operating system displaying it.
When striving for brand consistency this can be incredibly frustrating.
Hmmm… 🤔 Let’s dive in!
Windows vs. Everyone Else…
Differences in font appearance can be due to differences in rendering engines, font libraries, and even screen resolutions.
Windows PCs and other systems use different methods to render fonts. Windows uses a method called ClearType, which prioritises readability on LCD screens.
On the other hand, macOS uses a rendering system known as Quartz, which prioritises the font design, sometimes at the cost of a little readability.
When it comes to mobile operating systems, Android and iOS also have their unique ways of rendering fonts. Android uses a font rendering engine called FreeType, which provides high-quality text rendering, and anti-aliasing (smoothing) for improved readability.
iOS, on the other hand, uses a technology called CoreText, which is designed to provide high-quality text rendering and support for advanced typographic features.
Where Windows Drops The Ball
From a technical perspective, the differences in font rendering are most noticeable on Windows, especially when compared to MacOS, iOS, and Android.
The ClearType technology that Windows uses for font rendering succeeds in improving readability on color LCD displays, but the drawback is that it can make fonts appear slightly heavier or lighter on Windows compared to other systems, especially at smaller font sizes.
Windows ClearType is also optimized for straight lines, and as such can struggle with fonts that are very curvy, leading to less smooth edges compared to other systems, and obvious pixelation.
It’s just one of those annoying areas where Windows is lacking… The specific way it renders fonts can give noticeable differences when viewing the same font on Windows vs a Mac, iOS, or Android device.
In addition, not all fonts are available on Windows as standard. Some fonts are exclusive to other operating systems, and if a website uses one of these, Windows will substitute it with a different font, leading to potential discrepancies.
The Impact on Web Design
These font discrepancies can have a domino effect on web design. For instance, a heading that looks perfect on a Mac might appear too bold or too spaced out on a Windows PC. This can affect the visual hierarchy, readability, and overall aesthetic on a website.
Consider a website with a minimalist design that uses a delicate, thin font. Generally speaking fonts on Windows can appear a bit bolder or more ‘chunky’, disrupting minimalist aesthetic and user experience.
Our Approach To The Font Discrepancy Challenge
We take a strategic approach to ensuring consistent font display across different operating systems. Due to the operating system differences and limitations, it’s impossible to always have identical fonts across all operating systems, but there are some things we can do to minimise the differences.
This includes using web-safe fonts – fonts that are likely to be present on a wide range of computer systems, and web fonts – fonts that are downloaded by the browser while rendering the web page.
The fonts vs operating systems issue can be a frustrating one…. And it won’t be going away any time soon due to the different rendering engines built into Windows and the other operating systems. It makes building 100% identical sites across platforms all but impossible, but with a strategic approach, we can minimise issues the font discrepancy challenge causes and create websites that look great, no matter the operating system.
Get the fonts right and it’s another one of those little boxes ticked… Get all the little boxes ticked and you make a big difference in the end product.