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The World's Smallest Legible Font

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the because-he-can dept.

Graphics 280

hasanabbas1987 writes "From the article: 'Well 'technically' they aren't the smallest fonts in the world as if they were you wouldn't be able to read even a single letter, but, you should be able to read the entire paragraph in the picture given above... we did. A Computer science professor called Ken Perlin designed these tiny fonts and you can fit 500 reasonable words in a resolution of 320 x 240 space. There are at the moment the smallest legible fonts in the world.'"

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280 comments

Legibility (1)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247182)

Won't the actual legibility of the font have a lot to do with pixel size and spacing? Sure, you can pack that font into a tiny space, but if it's all broken up in jaggies, can you READ it?

Re:Legibility (1)

sholsinger (1131365) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247222)

Also, if your monitor is rotated 90 degrees it becomes significantly less legible. (as mine is)

Re:Legibility (5, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247398)

Tilt your head 90 degrees and you should be alright.

You're welcome.

Re:Legibility (5, Informative)

sholsinger (1131365) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247708)

The problem is that these fonts are designed for LCD displays that are RGBRGB horizontally, not vertically. So rotating any display while using these fonts reduces the legibility due to the sub-pixel optimizations that have been done to make the font legible at it's size.

Re:Legibility (2, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247996)

Even worse, for those who can't read that tiny fonts (whether it is because they have high-DPI displays or just plain bad eyesight), it doesn't help to zoom in on the bitmapped text -- it becomes an illegible mess because it relies on subpixel scaling, which doesn't zoom.

Anyhow, legibility is in the eye of the beholder. What's the smallest legible font for one person won't be for the next. Which is why we let people choose their own fonts these days.
The 1990s are calling -- they want their bitmapped fonts back!

Re:Legibility (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247254)

Not to mention screen resolution.

But yes, pixel spacing is key, and it is not legible on this laptop (1920x1200 native resolution).

Even with magnifying glass (8x) large parts of it are un-readable.

Re:Legibility (1)

IcyWolfy (514669) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247782)

It's quite legible on this laptop (15" screen, 1920x1200 native resolution)
not familiar with the text, but I read the entire thing through with no real hassle.

What is your first-langage, and what portion can't you read?

That's not size. And what about the use cases? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247436)

That's not actual size, that's size in pixels. So while I can strangely read this text even while I'm leaning back, if I printed it with the respective size in pixels, I won't be able to read a thing without a magnifying glass. So this font is only the smallest font for a LCD screen of a certain resolution and when your head is at a certain length from it. If you measure the size in LCD grid (in which the width of this fonts is thrice the length, 960 to be exact) you can get a "smaller" font if the resolution was much lower. When the image is huge, you can probably read text written with less pixels. And if you increase the resolution, you might allow for smaller actual size of the font.

Now, the question, what is the use of this? If it was a paper font, you might say that it might be useful for delivering huge secret messages, but then there is much more to it than a font, and this one won't be suitable. If there are machines on both ends, there are much more efficient ways to represent the same information, even if it is transmitted on paper. So this isn't the smallest one for any task either.

But it's really awesome nevertheless.

Re:Legibility (1)

shoor (33382) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247482)

Sure, pixel size has a lot to do with legibility. Any font is going to be unreadable for a small enough pixel size. I believe the point is something like this:

Get a monitor with pixel size that's just big enough for you to read this font. Now try some other font and see if you can read it as well.

Personally I'm impressed by this. Is it useful? Well, as a casual desktop user who sometimes uses magnify features on my browser, perhaps not. Then again, with ultra readable fonts I might not need to use magnify as much. There are probably situations where it is useful. Some people have sarcastically suggested using it to put things in fine print that you don't really want read, but I would think this is precisely the font you don't want for that kind of thing. If nothing else it's good to probe the limits of human perception.

Re:Legibility (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247594)

It might help if the person who took the screenshot had turned off ClearType.

Re:Legibility (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247644)

No, it wouldn't.

Re:Legibility (1)

Dakman (824764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247956)

It could... depends on what type of display you are using. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_geometry [wikipedia.org]

Re:Legibility (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248080)

No, it wouldn't, because the font relies on subpixel bitmapping.

Re:Legibility (1)

Dakman (824764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248262)

Yes, but it'll only look right if you view it on the same type of display. Otherwise it could just look quite strange and blurry. Just because the font is designed to take advantage of sub pixel rendering doesn't mean that it can't be rendered without it. We haven't even seen the text without clear type yet. There is no telling how good/bad it could look, especially compared to if you are viewing the above image on a different display.

The World's Smallest Legible Font (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247186)

Used for End User Agreements ONLY

Sort of (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247190)

There is the odd word here and there that I can't quite make out.

I would tell you which words those are but...

Re:Sort of (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247852)

>> There is the odd word here and there that I can't quite make out.

They put the word "penis" in a bunch of times to see if the grader actually read it all.

ironic (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247202)

the world's smallest legible font.....peaks the smallest interest in my world

Re:ironic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247476)

This is very important. You are now able to make a site ada compliant when your retarded readers care this little about what you write on your blog.

Declaration of Independence (3, Insightful)

onefriedrice (1171917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247204)

Reading the font is also made easier by virtue of it being a text many of us would recognize. Our minds would fill in the gaps, even if it wasn't completely legible. I suspect it would be harder to read a paragraph with font that small if the text was completely unfamiliar.

Easy to Test (2, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247246)

Just read it backwards, word for word. I have to admit it was a bit harder, but it was still legible for me. Considering that this is maybe three point font, I find it pretty noteworthy.

Re:Easy to Test (4, Funny)

demonbug (309515) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247882)

Just read it backwards, word for word. I have to admit it was a bit harder, but it was still legible for me. Considering that this is maybe three point font, I find it pretty noteworthy.

I tried that, but the first word was "exercise" which just turned me off from the whole thing.

Re:Easy to Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247994)

Mod was supposed to be Funny, but I laughed as I clicked and my hand moved.

Re:Declaration of Independence (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247332)

For legibility testing, it would have been much better if the words of the text had been printed in reverse order. (This is actually also a good trick for finding typos on a page. You read the text from the end backwards)

Re:Declaration of Independence (1)

IcyWolfy (514669) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247796)

Never saw the text before, and it was still quite legible. This was my first time reading those words, and I did have to do a google search to figure out why people were saying it was a familiar text.

Resolution useless, words/square inch needed (2, Insightful)

feedayeen (1322473) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247206)

How many words can fit on the 3 by 5 inch flash card? Equations? Diagrams?

Re:Resolution useless, words/square inch needed (2, Insightful)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247770)

I remember doing that in high school. Teacher said we could put anything on a 3x5" notecard for a math test, so I used Publisher and printed stuff out at font size 4 or so.

Re:Resolution useless, words/square inch needed (3, Funny)

harrkev (623093) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248108)

One time in college, the professor gave out .pdf documents of the class notes. We were allowed to bring three papers with us.

Well, I had this great software that could print four pages on one piece of paper. and the HP laserjet in the lab could do the same thing -- instant 16 pages on one piece of paper. I even brought a loupe [wikipedia.org] into class to help me read such tiny print. Fun days, good class.

I can only read the first line (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247230)

Beyond the first line, the text becomes too dense and I lose track of what line I'm on. I only need that, in order to know what it says, but that doesn't really count.

Fuzzy (1)

meza (414214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247240)

Is there fuzzy-ness built into the font or is that just firefox interpolating when I'm zooming in? One pixel is way to small on my screen to be able to read this, but maybe with larger pixels it would be ok. I guess I have to try to zoom in in gimp.

Re:Fuzzy (1)

meza (414214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247384)

Replying to my self here. Zooming the image up in gimp seems to indicate that there is in fact some fussyness built into the font already. Pretty clever way of getting our brains to fill in the missing gaps, allowing for instance W to be only four pixels wide (not "technically" enough to get all the features). So even though I found it a bit hard to read I must say it's a pretty cool attempt. Would be interesting to read the ideas and thoughts behind it all but TFA doesn't state much.

Original Source (5, Informative)

fotbr (855184) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247242)

Skip the blogspam, go to the source: http://mrl.nyu.edu/~perlin/homepage2006/tinyfont/index.html [nyu.edu]

Re:Original Source (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247304)

But how is that poor blogger going to keep up their ad revenue if Slashdot links the real story and not a third party version?

Re:Original Source (2, Informative)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248228)

And if you don't want to install Java, there's an image of the text [sitepoint.com] (at least I think this is the same, but the author didn't bother putting any on his site so I can't be sure). Not very readable; I think this could be improved on.

Nothing new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247270)

32 lines of text in 240 pixels? That means each character is 8 pixels tall. Nothing particularly new about that. I think some people haven't spent enough time programming a VIC-20.

Re:Nothing new. (1)

La Gris (531858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247428)

Very true. And a similar font existed in varius Apple][ graphic mode rendered text. 5 pixels tall 3 pixels wide + 1 pixel for line and letter spacing and you had the font.

Or if you go for the least pixels, use Braille points. 6 (2x3) points font.

Re:Nothing new. (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247724)

> And a similar font existed in varius Apple][ graphic mode rendered text. 5 pixels tall 3 pixels wide + 1 pixel for line and letter spacing and you had the font.

FTFY.

HGR. 280x190, with color bleed. Vertical lines would be green or pink.
e.g.
http://www.retrocpu.com/apple-ii/images/games/c/castle_wolfenstein.png [retrocpu.com]

> A Computer science professor called Ken Perlin

Understatement of the year -- this guy _invented_ Perlin noise.

Re:Nothing new. (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247842)

8 lines are a "waste." I had a 5 pt font on my HP48SX/GX. Someone even hacked in lower case case. (Technically, 6 pts, since you need 1 line for spacing.)

See the editor included with the "Jazz" assembler.
http://www.hpcalc.org/hp48/programming/asm/ [hpcalc.org]

Why is this even an idea? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247278)

Like the latin, small print is an obvious bad-faith action and should be disallowed. Schools specify allowable fonts and margins, there is NO reason to let lawyers do less than a law professor.

Re:Why is this even an idea? (1)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247484)

Not only that, but what is the point of having a font so small it can barely be read? I can only think this is applicable to a very small display, where space is a premium and readability is of modest concern.

Readability research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247934)

I doubt nobody seriously expects this font to be used for anything. But studying readability of fonts (how small can we go, how readability decreases, what happens at the border cases...) helps us understand more about readabillity of fonts (D'oh) which might then have some real world benefits.

World's most illiterate editors (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247288)

"There are at the moment the smallest legible fonts in the world."

I will give you all about 10 seconds to spot the glaring error.

Re:World's most illiterate editors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247790)

"There are at the moment the smallest legible fonts in the world."

I will give you all about 10 seconds to spot the glaring error.

Figured it out - unless the editors are time travelers from the past, the use of the phrase "at the moment" to describe a page last updated in 2006 is an error.

http://web.archive.org/web/20060824225834/http://mrl.nyu.edu/~perlin/homepage2006/tinyfont/index.html

What do I win?

Please, use proper units. (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247296)

How many pixels would be required to hold one LoC?

Re:Please, use proper units. (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247672)

well just complete assumptions based on 2 min of looking around

142,544,498 items in LoC

~100,000 words per Average book

14,254,449,800,000 words per LoC

This font is 500 words per 320x240 = 76,800 pixels

((14,254,449,800,000/500)*76,800) = 2.18948349x10^15 pixels per LoC

a screen with 46,791,917x46,791,916 resolution per LoC

or 516,387,615 count 30in Dell/Apple Displays per LoC

Warning! Source article image is a JPEG. (2, Informative)

Brit_in_the_USA (936704) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247308)

If the PNG on the Slashdot article is derived from the linked source article then I am concerned that it may not be representative of the actual research as the source article offers the image as a JPEG - which will almost certainly have degraded the image quality.

Re:Warning! Source article image is a JPEG. (1)

yincrash (854885) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248022)

Lossless PNG compression will introduce no changes to how it is viewed in its source JPEG form.

what he's called (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247312)

"A Computer science professor called Ken Perlin"

But that's just what he's called, you know! His /name/ is Guybrush Threepwood.

use gif/png not jpg (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247316)

image compression fail

Nice, but... what about a, e, and o? (2, Insightful)

No. 24601 (657888) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247354)

That's pretty amazing. Except that the letters a, e, and o are nearly indistinguishable. To prove it is the smallest legible font, one would have to show that a long enough sequence of just the letters a, e and o could be spelled back by a reader. aeoeoaoeoeoaoeoaoeeeoaaaoeoaoa. I doubt it.

Practically speaking, that would mean a word like onomatopeia would be hard to identify. Of course, the context in which a word shows up probably accounts for more than half of the reason a reader can identify that word so quickly in a sentence.

Useless (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247400)

It may be 'readable' if I tried, but considering its hardly legible I stopped after the first line.

Fitting more on a page isn't always the right goal, making useful information visible and readable is the goal.

This sort of silly shit is only of interest to advertising agencies who like to put out commercials telling you a bunch of bullshit that isn't true and cover their asses by saying its not true in print so small you can't read it.

Yes, I CAN read it. No, I wouldn't read anything presented too me like that, neither will anyone else, and thats most likely the point.

Legible partly due to the content? (2, Insightful)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247426)

I was able to read it pretty well, but I think that was due in no small part to it being familiar content. If it weren't the Declaration of Independence, I probably would have had to strain a bit, so it probably has as much to do with gestalt theory as anything else.

Re:Legible partly due to the content? (1)

angiasaa (758006) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247702)

I'm Indian, living in India, never been to the US and never read your Declaration of Independence before.

I had absolutely no problem reading this font. I had to get a bit closer to the screen, but at 1.5 feet, it was clear as glass.

I suppose this font would do very well for small devices like PDA's, Smartphones and other hand-held devices. On a computer screen though, it sucks. :) I usually sit with my eyes at least 2.5 to 3 feet from the screen, and at this distance, the font looks slightly fuzzy and I have to focus hard to maintain my word-tracking to prevent losing my position in the text.

Furthermore, I realize that when we actually read text off a page, we tend to maintain our location by tracking the position of the word with respect to the edges of the screen. This helps us especially when re-focusing on textual data. Looking away from the screen and then looking back, we are able to quickly pick up where we left off.

This text won't help us to re-focus on a computer screen. However, on small screens, where the edges are considerably closer, it is highly likely that re-focusing would not be as big a problem.

I think it's a good idea to implement it as an optional package on small screen devices. Let the readers choose. I'm certainly against making it the de facto standard, if that's what they decide to do.

How on earth is this news? (1)

aarggh (806617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247480)

Ummmm... they made a small font! Who cares? How does this crap even make it to tech sites? On another note, I once drew a stick figure with mud when I was a kid!

Re:How on earth is this news? (1)

Americano (920576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247630)

Where's your fuzzy .png conversion of a fuzzy .jpg capture to provie it?

If you don't have a way of showing us a lossless image that faithfully reproduces all of the degradation of the original .jpg compression, I don't think you can expect us to get too excited about this alleged stick figure in mud.

A little late (1)

mtinsley (1283400) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247492)

Hasn't everyone who has ever taken a course where the professor says you can have a 3x5 note card during the exam already discovered this?

Subpixel rendering (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247516)

How about using the positions of the red, green and blue areas of the pixels as their own mini-pixels to make even smaller fonts?

Granted, it would only work on certain display types.

Re:Subpixel rendering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34247588)

Ummm...isn't that what he did? Of course that means his font is illegible on anything that doesn't have subpixels in the same layout as his font expects (like when you rotate the screen).

dom

Flashback to TRS-80 Color Computer days (3, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247518)

That looks EXACTLY like the text I was staring at when I was a kid with my CoCo2 running a 72 column display. The fonts were all artifacted and all that. It was tough but it was at least a good thing that I was a kid and capable of dealing with it comfortably. The machine was originally intended to use a 32 column text display, but the 4 color "high res" display was too tempting for some to resist and they decided to write some word processing and desktop software for the thing. It worked...more or less... sorta... intolerable by today's standards but a feat in those days.

Ken Perlin? (2, Interesting)

kill-1 (36256) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247540)

Of Perlin noise fame?

Re:Ken Perlin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34248012)

The same. He has quite a bit of neat content on his site. I recall seeing this font example a couple of years ago when I was browsing there. He has a lot of rendering/graphics related applets, including a perlin noise example somewhere.

Legible? But what were they trying to write? (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247572)

"When in the poutse of human events it becanes necessarv far pne people to dissoke the pollitical bands which have comectef then widh pnother amd oo assinne annony dne power of the oaritv the soparare anf oquol statipn fo whiich the Lows of Wature anif of Nowre's Gof..."

If that's what the text is supposed to say, then heck yes it's a resounding succeff.

If I wanted a case of eyestrain... (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247580)

If I wanted a case of eyestrain, I'd have bought a shiny new 3D TV which would at least allow me to oogle larger than life boobies while hurting myself.
However, this font may produce some "hi-res" ascii movies... someone should run Deep Throat through the ascii encoder with it.

Well-known: you only need 3x5 pix (4, Informative)

thisisauniqueid (825395) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247598)

Did Ken Perlin not come through the 8-bit era? "Everybody knows" you can fit the entire English alphabet comfortably into a 3 pixel wide by 5 pixel high monospaced grid, it's been done hundreds of times. (Proportional can be even smaller, of course.)

What about Asian Fonts? (3, Informative)

Dracker (1323355) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247654)

One thing I've noticed while studying Japanese is that I need to use a larger font size when reading Japanese than I do when I'm reading English. The characters are just too complex to differentiate at small font sizes. You can't easily distinguish a character with N horizontal lines without the character being 2N-1 pixels tall (one for each stroke, and another for the gap between strokes). There are common characters with as many as 8 horizontal strokes (The kanji for "kaku" for example, which conveniently means to write). Even today's video games (on nintendo DS, for example) have 11x11 pixel Japanese fonts that can be very difficult to read.

Any reduction in font sizes for readability must have separate standards for Asian characters, or the more complex ones will just appear as blobs.

Re:What about Asian Fonts? (1)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248238)

Older Japanese videogames often did not program in enough text fields to translate Japanese words into English equivalents. Japanese words other than jargon are rarely over 4 characters in length and names are typically 2 characters long, so even when the programmers delegated a generous 5 whole characters for name fields, the English translations ended up having chopped-off names. That's why the hero of Chrono Trigger is named Crono in the game. I didn't realize that till years after I played the game.

Legible, under good conditions (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247658)

This is only legible if you have a decent monitor and reasonably good eyeballs. Also helps if your monitors dot pitch is not excessively high and your web browser isn't set to automatically scale images (even minor artifacts are going to render this nigh-unreadable). Even then it's a bit tricky in a lot of places. I certainly wouldn't want to read a lot of text with this font.

High schoolers will love this (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247698)

I remember back in high school, some teachers would allow you to use a 3x5 note card for tests. Anything you could write on the note card, you could use in class. Think how much information you could cram onto it using a font this small.

Re:High schoolers will love this (1)

PRMan (959735) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248126)

I had one class like that. I learned to write really small. 3 lines on the title bar and 2 per ruled line. I fit 3 units' formulas, vocabulary and examples on a single card, front and back. That was about 30 chapters' worth of stuff.

but where do you get this ? (1)

TravisHein (981987) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247792)

Couldn't see a link to actually download it after going thru to the actual original source page.

dissolve the political bunds (3, Informative)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#34247802)

Try again. I bet somebody converted to jpg before converting back to png.

bias (1)

callmebill (1917294) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248000)

I "read" a lot of that text from memory; my brain knows what the words are supposed to be because it's the danged preamble to the danged consitution. If they post a test with unfamiliar prose, I bet I'd have much more difficulty reading it.

Novaterm on the Commodore 64 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34248026)

This looks like the simulated 80-column display (using a 3x7 pixel font) in the Commodore 64 terminal program Novaterm:

http://members.chello.at/wiener.freiheit/nt10help_en.htm

These screenshots are nice and crisp and don't give you any idea how hard it was to read that damn font on a television.

Here's some discussion of the programming tricks to get 80 columns on the Commodore 64's 40-column display:

http://imrannazar.com/Extended-Text-Mode-on-the-C64

N64 games (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34248030)

Used to have to do this for the N64 when I worked on it. Paint your own tiny font for debug output and wot not.

so much for pivot (1)

epine (68316) | more than 3 years ago | (#34248232)

Many small devices detect screen pivot these days, but this is a single orientation font.

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