Some experiences, and TODO, about fonts


I don’t know much about fonts, I just use the stock ones that come with my system. From time to time I have issues with docs that others create, and use other fonts. This post is about my plans on learning a bit more and, at least, know how to solve those issues, if it’s possible, while staying in the bright side (the free-software / free font side).

Long version

The context

I use Debian, LibreOffice, sometimes Inkscape, and LaTeX. One of my favorite hashtags is #iloveplaintext, I don’t know much about design in general, and fonts and typography in particular. I didn’t change the fonts in my desktops (only reduced the size in the laptop, to be able to read a bit more in my low resolution screen), I rarely change the font in Writer (maybe from Liberation Serif to Liberation Sans), I never changed the font in a LaTeX document or LaTeX beamer presentation (I write boring documents, I know) and when I paste from the web, it’s usually because I want to read a long article so I paste as plain text in gedit and print it or save it.

So I’ve never felt to learn more about fonts, it just works, and covers my needs, (or not, but I mostly could live with the issues).

Then a friend in the network, Adrián Perales, published a blog post about Typography (in Spanish) that I liked very much, and I began to think (and remember) some of the issues that I have from time to time with fonts.

Issue #1: League Gothic: a free font that was not installed in my system

Today, again in the network, I discover that the FSF published a poster “Privacy is impossible without free software”, in SVG format, but it didn’t look well when I opened it with GIMP, clearly due to some missing font.

Nice that SVG format is a plain text format (XML)! So I opened the file with gedit and searched for the text string whose font was missing. It was “League Gothic” font, of course a free software font, but not packaged in Debian, it seems.

No problem. I downloaded the font, copied the files in /usr/share/fonts and problem solved.

Issue #2: Book Antiqua: a non-free font (must find equivalent)

A document made with Microsoft Word that one friend sends to me so I review and resend (in PDF format) to other people. It’s a leaflet, and it has text in Arial, in Tahoma, and in Book Antiqua. When I open it with LibreOffice the aspect is wrong (the substitutes are not the same size so some breaking lines and so).

Book Antiqua is not free. I learned that it’s an imitation of the “Palatino” font, and that a similar font in the free software systems is “URW Palladio”. In Writer (LibreOffice), I went to Tools > Options > Fonts and declared the equivalence of the two fonts, so the program would use URW Palladio as a substitute of Book Antiqua. I opened again the document and it was quite better, very similar to the original aspect.

I didn’t bother in changing the text in Arial or Tahoma, since the substitutes that LibreOffice used were quite good. But I bookmarked this page: “A Web Designer Guide to Linux Fonts” for remembering the different fonts that I can try to emulate the Windows ones.

I also know that I can install the “Microsoft Core Fonts for the web” since they are packaged for Debian in the contrib archive. But I’ll try to survive without them for now (until now, I didn’t bother, why should I now that I have the substituting guide?). In other news, I got impressed that MS Core Fonts is #4 in “Most downloads all over the time” in SourceForge, with more than 450 million downloads \o/

Issue #3: Installing a new free font in Debian

So I decided to install one of the fonts that Adrián Perales recommended in his blog post, “Linux Libertine”. Since it is packaged for Debian, it’s super easy:

# apt-get install ttf-linux-libertine

(my LibreOffice was opened, so I closed it and opened again, and the font was there ready for use).

Issue #4: Use a different font in LaTeX

Well, as always, there is not one but many ways to do that in LaTeX. My intuition tells me that if there is a LaTeX package for the font that I want to use, it’s probably a nice idea to just use it.

So I searched about “Linux Libertine” in LaTeX and yes, there is a package (and you can find a very interesting font guide in “The LaTeX font catalogue”). I installed the package texlive-fonts-extra, and then, I added two lines in my LaTeX document:


Compiled, and the resultant PDF was using Libertine font instead of Computer Modern.

TODO (and/or wishlist)

When opening a document that uses a font not present in my system, I maybe wouldn’t notice that a font is missing and I see “a substitute” (and maybe not the best one)!. It would be nice that the program tells the user “This file uses the font X, and it seems it’s not in your system. I’ll use font Y as a substitute”.

I’m not sure if there is a standard way to know which package contains a certain font. I use a web search engine to try to find out, and the websites that I linked in the article.

I have to investigate and learn a bit more about free fonts equivalents to the ones that other people use, and fonts in general, so my documents are more beautiful and people gets interested to know about the tools that I use to produce them.

Well, I’ve written a long blog post (thanks if you read until here!), solved some issues, and try some things, but not even capturing a snapshot to show here! It seems that I’m still lazy, forgive me… I hope at least this #plaintext is useful for you 🙂


About larjona

My name is Laura Arjona, I am a libre software user and fan of the free culture. If you want to contact me you can write an email to larjona [at] larjona [dot] net I am @larjona at in the social network. --- Me llamo Laura Arjona, soy usuaria de software libre y fan de la cultura libre. Si quieres contactar conmigo puedes escribir a larjona [en] larjona [punto] net Soy @larjona en el servidor, de la red social
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4 Responses to Some experiences, and TODO, about fonts

  1. Paul Wise says:

    This project will allow mapping between fonts and Debian packages:

  2. If you want to install fonts only for your user, you can copy fonts to ~/.fonts, and maybe specify aliases in ~/.config/fontconfig/fonts.conf to replace fonts system-wide, not only in specific programs.

    It would be nice to have some way to know wich fonts replaces another. In PDFs that has no fonts embeded, you know the name of the original font, but not the replacement.

    Thank you for the web designer guide. I’m glad to see my post inspired you 🙂

  3. Ralph Aichinger says:

    There are people actually preferring URW Palladio to Adobe-digitized Pallatino, because Palladio is closer to Hermann Zapf’s original design to some.

    Bitstream Charter is a X included standard font, and does not quite get the love it deserves.

  4. Np237 says:

    Fontconfig is the library that does the aliasing and can replace one font by another one. If you know of some equivalences that are not present in the fontconfig default configuration, you should definitely ask the fontconfig developers.

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