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Font hinting is a term that originated about twenty years ago, and became familiar parlance in the mid-1980's. The fundamental problem associated with the digital representation of scalable typeface outlines (such as TrueType) is the breakdown of design integrity at low resolution. Given the relatively high resolution of digital printers nowadays—which are also in great abundance—the problem is now one of concern primarily to those viewing documents on computer monitors.

The problems that arise when digitizing fonts for display at low resolutions are many. At very low resolutions, or with type styles involving thin strokes, gaps may actually appear in characters. A less extreme example is the potential non-uniformity of strokes within a character. For example, given the limited grid on which characters are drawn (the pixels of your computer monitor), the left stem of an uppercase 'H' could end up having a different width from that of its right stem. Similarly, the widths of character elements across multiple characters in a font may also vary. This variation can occur not only in obvious elements like the vertical strokes of uppercase characters ('E,' 'N,' 'U,' etc.), but in subtler ones as well, such as serifs or even parts of serifs.

Another example of design degradation is the non-uniform change in character elements from one size to another; there can be 'jumps' in appearance where there should be smooth transitions. A related problem is the loss of design cohesion across weights and other styles of a family of typefaces.

Of course, we rarely see blatant examples of these problems when using applications on our desktop computers, or when browsing the Web. This is because computer environments in which typefaces are rasterized and displayed, such as Windows or the Macintosh, use intelligent software to draw character images. The intelligence of this software refers to its ability to avoid just the sort of problems discussed above.

It is important to understand that the intelligence also lies in the scalable typeface outlines themselves. Intelligent software does a fairly good job on its own of avoiding the common character-rendering pitfalls. However, it is only when that software is able to make use of intelligence built into the digital typefaces themselves that truly high quality results are to be had. Furthermore, the more intelligence, or hints, built into the typefaces, and the better the quality of those hints, the more able will intelligent software be to produce high quality on-screen character images.

Galápagos Design Group has the state-of-the-art tools, and the talent of experienced type designers and technologists, to produce exceedingly intelligent typefaces in a variety of industry-standard formats (such as TrueType)—typefaces that allow the applications used by your customers to tap into the dormant intelligence of the software used to display them.

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