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Microsoft Typography | Typography on the Web | Specifying fonts... | FONT FACE next


Since August 1995, when the first version of Microsoft® Internet Explorer was launched, designers producing pages enhanced for this browser have had the facility to specify which typeface should be used to render a passage of text. Font names may be specified using the FACE extension to the HTML FONT tag. In July 1996 Netscape started to support the extension in version 3 of their browser.


Adding font support to a passage of text is as easy as enclosing it within the following tags.

<FONT FACE="font name, 2nd choice, 3rd choice"> 
some text goes here

The FACE attribute relies on at least one of the fonts specified being installed on the reader's system. If the first choice of font is not present on the reader's computer then the second choice font will be used. If none of the listed fonts are present then the user's own default font will be used.

<FONT FACE="Comic Sans MS, Verdana">

This renders text using the Comic Sans MS font. If for any reason you do not have Comic Sans MS installed on your system the second choice, Verdana, will be used. If Verdana is not present then the user's default font will be used. Often this will be set to Times New Roman on Windows® based computers and Times on Apple Macintoshes and UNIX based machines.

You can combine FACE with values for COLOR and SIZE. A complete tag might look something like;

<FONT FACE="Arial Black" SIZE=4 COLOR="#FF5050"> 

This would give the following result on screen.

Choosing fonts

One of the main problems with using the FACE attribute is that as a designer you have no way of knowing which fonts will be installed on users' computers. Even in the relatively controlled environment of an Intranet or Internal Web, users may remove corporate or default core fonts from their system. When using FACE you have to rely on educated guesses: you can be sure that most users will retain the core fonts supplied with their operating system so Times New Roman (or Times) and Arial (or Helvetica), are likely to be installed on a large percentage of computers; you can be sure that a high proportion of your potential readers will also have Microsoft Office, Microsoft Plus! and Microsoft Internet Explorer, all of which install with a range of good quality TrueType fonts; and other, less popular products also come with fonts. See our recommended fonts page for a list of common fonts.

As part of a solution to this problem Microsoft provides a selection of high quality TrueType fonts for download and installation. Designers can specify them for use with their pages in the knowledge they are freely available to any user. These TrueType core fonts for the Web are available for Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows based computers.

There is no reason why as a Web publisher you shouldn't commission or design your own fonts for use with your sites. However, even regular visitors may not feel that it is worth their while downloading and installing the fonts you provide. You will have to include different versions for different operating systems and deal with support issues when users have trouble getting the fonts to install and work as required. Providing 'public domain' fonts is also problematic. Unless you are designing the font from scratch you can never be absolutely sure that it is not derived from someone else's copyrighted designs.

Sensible use

There is no 'always use my choice of font' tick box in the Windows based version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 (the latest version of Internet Explorer for the Macintosh does have this option). This means that most users can not override fonts specified using FONT FACE without taking drastic action, such as physically removing the fonts they find offensive from their system. Over-specifying fonts on your pages ignores accessibility issues by preventing users from choosing their own text size and colors, and this in turn can prevent people from reading your content.

In making a decision about the level of FONT FACE use on your pages you need to consider your target audience. The Microsoft Typography site is aimed at people who know at least a little bit about typefaces and typography. We believe that many of our readers are likely to have changed their browser default font from Times or Times New Roman to a personal choice that they find more appealing. For this reason we have only used FONT FACE for logos, headings and captions. The remaining paragraph text has been left unspecified, so that it will be rendered using the reader's specified or default font.

For high-impact or content-free sites, the saturated use of FONT FACE may be acceptable. If, however, you want people to actually read your content, rather than stare at it in dazed bewilderment, more care should be taken.

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this page was last updated 30 June 1997
© 1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Terms of use.
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Microsoft Typography | Typography on the Web | Specifying fonts... | FONT FACE next