Buddhist texts and typography on the Web have changed drastically over just a few years. Web fonts are common now, but web fonts for Buddhism are still kind of rare. It seems the world of Buddhism is still kind of asleep, or at least kind of unorganized (although SC is doing very well).
Long ago when the world was young, when IE 6 could still be found, and web fonts were something very new, I wanted a web font for my website that would have all the necessary glyphs for romanized Chinese, Pali, and Sanskrit. I made one based on Droid Serif, and used it for a number of years.
It was very useful at a time when web typography was mostly limited to the system fonts that shipped with Windows XP. I can still clearly remember that the only normal font in Windows XP that supported all necessary characters was “Microsoft Sans Serif,” for which at least two faces were faked in the ugliest ways.
I found, though, that Droid Serif was not as legible as some fonts like Helvetica and Arial, so I switched over. This was at a time when Windows XP was dying, and new versions of Arial shipping in Windows now had all the necessary glyphs.
I wrote a CSS font stack that would carefully and strategically “stack” Helvetica and Arial fonts from best to worst. It was alright, but the results were somewhat inconsistent and some small problems with spacing and diacritics continued to bother me.
So I finally decided to do something about it. Yesterday I made “Helvetii Dharma,” which is a fork of Nimbus Sans L, as used in the GhostScript project, and donated by URW++ (although they used Adobe font sources).
In contrast to my previous font attempt, this one separates every stage of development, and automates the build process with scripts to generate everything, do auto-hinting, and convert to different web font formats.
It won’t win any awards for innovation (Helvetica is an old and widely-used font with a long history), but it’s a general and useful. And no, this doesn’t have anything in particular to do with SuttaCentral, but I tricked you into reading this far!
Just kidding. Check it out here if you are curious. I still need to tweak the diacritic placement a bit, and I will do that gradually in the coming days and weeks.
You can see it in use as a web font here:
I was playing around with some other fonts as well such as Roboto, which already has the necessary glyphs, but I found that the extra spacing hurt legibility a bit, and the letter forms were not as elegant as the older Helvetica.