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Show HN: Glean, a tiny bitmap font for programming (github.com/benwr)
66 points by benwr on Oct 9, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

> This monitor has a lot of pixels by decade-ago standards, but its pixel density leaves much to be desired by today standards. I have accidentally become accustomed to crisp, small fonts by a couple of years of using an old Retina Macbook. Bitmap fonts are better at this than scalable fonts, especially on screens with low pixel density.

IMO these are all the right reasons. I also suffer from a bad purchase: 27" FullHD Monitor, which means 82dpi (if I remember correctly). But even at more common resolutions like 90-100dpi, vector fonts totally suck at small sizes. So bitmap fonts it is for coding work.

However this font clearly suffers from being only 5x10 size. The characters look similar to vector fonts without antialiasing: Random disproportions -- the same line is 1px here, 2px over there.

What's not to like about the default font that comes with xterm (6x13 size)? http://jstimpfle.de/dateisalat/2016-10-xterm-screenshot/

What's not to like about the default font that comes with xterm (6x13 size)?

That's one of my favourites too --- the only "what's not to like" about it is the nonslashed zero, but that's easily fixed with a suitable font or even hex editor.

There is a 5x7 in the same family, but I find it too small for regular use; on the other hand, it looks much like the standard font on embedded systems' character LCDs, which are much lower DPI.

I confess that I did not know about the 5x7 variant - I'll check it out.

Primarily just that it's too tall - 13 vs 10 pixels means the difference between 100 lines and 130. And yep! It's really hard to get an even look at a size this small.

Nice work, but I'll take SGI's "Screen" font over this one any time.

Wow, that's an awesome one I hadn't seen! The best way to get recommendations on HN seems to be "make an approximation of the thing you want - others will point you to the version that you should have made"

This has got to be one of the most refreshingly positive responses to a backhanded compliment I've ever seen. Well done!

No offense to GP. I know "backhanded compliment" seems like a loaded phrase, but I use it for the sake of expediency.

Make no mistake, this was no compliment of the product, but for the effort.

I find this font pretty hard to read, judging by the screenshots.

If you want bitmap fonts, I'd recommend taking a look at the Proggy set of fonts at http://upperbounds.net/index.php?menu=download

Yeah! I was actually using progsole before making this - I'm primarily interested in squeezing legible characters into pixels, and progsole is sliiiightly wider. Even the difference between 5 and 6 pixels can be substantial if you're trying to keep 6 files in your head at once.

> My company has been very generous in giving me two monitors

That's a terribly low standard for generosity that you have there. Basic equipment to get your job done.

Now we just need an IDE that runs in mode 0x13 320x200 VGA.

Another bitmap, programming font I really like is Dina[1]. It's MIT licensed (though this isn't mentioned on the home page).

[1]: https://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Jibz/Dina/

I can see the point of licenses on vector fonts containing nontrivial characters with many complex shapes etc., but at these small pixel sizes it seems like a bit of a fool's errand to talk about licensing/IP at all --- e.g. there's only so many ways to put pixels on a 6x13 grid and make it look recognisable as the letter 'M'. Hence all these small bitmapped fonts are extremely similar, with only slight variations in things like serifs/lack thereof, slashed zero/plain zero/rounded zero/etc. --- which are themselves a handful of pixels' difference. They all look almost like xterm6x13, which is public domain.

All works should have a free license. It's better to be safe (I'll just add a licence anyway) than sorry (I didn't add a license and now users are technically violating copyright). If a court decides otherwise, that's a separate issue. But until that court case, I will continue to license everything I make under free licenses.

Good. You're doing it right.

I'm going to try out Dina in XTerm, by the way.

I liked this style of font when I had an 800x600 laptop or even 1280x800 but with today's screens it's just to small. Making it large enough to look visible works better with a vector font.

I just ported LOAD81 to the PocketCHIP, which has a screen resolution of 480x272 .. I'm going to see how Glean makes it look .. ;)

I don't understand what the employer thinks they're gaining by making you work with two small monitors. I mean they're saving, what, $500? They'd recoup that amount in productivity gains within a week, tops.

Forcing your employees to use blunt saws when sharp saws are cheap is the most shortsighted of false economies.

There's no force involved - the gains of a slightly higher-res monitor aren't worth the $500, even just to me personally. It was worth the time and the (negative cost of) learning, though!

Font Book says the dfont file fails "System Validation", whatever that means, and warns they might cause system disruption. Anyone know what this means? Ignorable?

I ignored it and it works fine. It's even powerline patched!


Oh no! I just exported it using FontForge's default setting - if anyone has more experience with fonts on OS X, I'll gladly accept PRs or suggestions!

5x10 without subpixel support is super limiting, and the result reflects that. I assume you'd get used to it, but I really have to work hard to read this font.

Yeah, that's save up for eyeglasses or your next prescription territory. I'll cheerfully continue to use 16pt Inconsolata.

Why would exercising your eyes make them need glasses?

Exercise involves muscles contracting and relaxing; this looks like just the contracting part, as you squint at too-small things on the screen.

Please, educate yourself about eyestrain before hurting your vision further.

I agree that 5x10 is small and hard to read, but what use would a bitmapped font have for subpixel rendering?

Subpixel rendering would give the font 3x the horizontal resolution. Its just as useful for bitmap fonts as it is for vector fonts. Especially at that resolution, anything that makes the font more legible would be a boon.

Some years back I built a family of fonts around the idea of anti-aliased raster fonts realized as regular truetype outlines - http://pippin.gimp.org/0xA000/ - in which some variants of the family is designed to be crisp on many integer multiples of the base design size.

Yup! It's definitely a niche typeface; I hope at least some people find it useful, but I suspect that most won't.

> Glean is released under version 3 of the GNU GPL, or any later version.

While I love the GPL (and commend you for using it on a non-software work) I would recommend that you add the font exception to the licence (allowing embedding of the font in documents without licencing the document under GPL).

I'm not sure I can - Neep was released under the GPLv2 or later. IANAL though...

What kind of format is BDF? It seems that it isn't readable by any of the font tools on my computer.

It is the original source format for fonts for X11 [1]. There are several command line tools that will work with it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyph_Bitmap_Distribution_Form....

try the .dfont file

For some reason I like the 6x8 font of the windows command prompt.


Click on the pixel button to see it unscaled.

I use a standard vector font in small size, around 5x8 pixels. The inherent antialiasing can give far more visual information cues than just pure binary bitmaps. The high-frequency edges of small bitmap characters are also much harsher, making AA vector fonts easier to look at.


(Liberation Mono, 6pt, greyscale antialiasing, no hinting, default 96dpi setting)

Explore your available fonts to see which happens to scale down reasonably. Make sure to disable font hinting when using vector fonts at small sizes. Hinting absolutely destroys the shapes at those sizes, as the ~1 pixel fudging that lines get is massive relative to the glyph size of just a handful of pixels.

I understand this position, but I don't agree that that screenshot is easier to read than a bitmap font - the fuzziness really bothers my eyes.

Hmm, does anyone know how I can import this font on Ubuntu? Nothing recognizes it.

Oh, Ubuntu has weird rules that prevent you from using bitmapped fonts. There's some configuration file in /etc/fontsomethingorother that you need to delete. I forget the specifics. After that you should be able to drop the bdf files into ~/.local/share/fonts (preferred) or ~/.fonts, run fc-cache, and see it show up in applications.

too hard to read... i am old... :(

I still prefer the Hermit font.

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