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Courier Prime: It’s Courier, Just Better (quoteunquoteapps.com)
444 points by ingve on Jan 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 94 comments

This is a really neat solution to a very constrained problem space. For those who don't know, Hollywood lives and breathes 12 point Courier. It is the standard font for screenplays. Producers won't even look at a script that is set in anything else because it implies the author doesn't know industry culture and norms.

Also, by having a standard font size and metrics, it means that the number of pages in a script directly corresponds to a certain quantity of text. That in turn roughly corresponds to a certain length in time. The guideline is about a page a minute. So people who work in film know that a 90 page screenplay will be about a 1 1/2 hour-long film.

So Courier Prime is trying to improve the readability of that font without touching any of the metrics that the industry relies on or alienating readers who might think anything "not Courier" means "not professional".

Thanks for explaining this. I was having trouble to understand what was the concrete problem this font was trying to solve. That makes a lot of sense. Especially the standardization of text length to determine actual playtime.

didn't the very first paragraph fta make things sufficiently clear?

"Since the beginning, screenplays have been written in Courier. Its uniformity allows filmmakers to make handy comparisons and estimates, such as 1 page = 1 minute of screen time."

Yeah. I read that part, but I didn't know about the idiosyncrasies behind the use of the font, so it wasn't fully clear to me why was important in this industry to heavily rely on a particular font.

Also, read the HN guidelines. Comments like this degrade the quality of the discussions. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

It does, but it's easy to underestimate how important this is to the film industry.

As a non-seasoned complete outsider, I thought this part of the article was somehow being dryly facetious or sarcastic or something. Kinda good to have somebody to provide context, actually.

So there were no screenplays before 1956? (When the Courier typeface was created.)

I would think they were typed on manual typewriters (so the tradition of using Courier probably stems from those days).

I don't see the relationship between text length and actual play time. Plays and movies aren't just people spewing lines non-stop. Text/playtime varies a lot between a Tarantino movie and something like Mad Max: Fury Road. It seems like a pointless metric.

And while I like courier in general, I thought typography experts disliked it because it's not as readable as proportional fonts. I'd expect readability to be important for screenplays too.

Besides, stuff like word count is easy to automate.

So to me it seems that if the industry indeed insists on everything being in courier, that's more likely to be a traditionalist remnant from the typewriter era rather than a rational decision. But I admit I don't know this industry at all.

In addition to using a very standard font, screenplays have a lot of other very strict formatting guidelines involving use of things like particular whitespace rhythms.

It's the combination of the whole, including and especially the whitespace rhythms (which are still connected to font metrics, of course), that lead to the 1 page is approximately 1 minute guideline metric, because scene descriptions and actions have different whitespace from dialog.

Interestingly, compared to your expectation that a Tarantino screenplay would be more dense than the Fury Road screenplay, it is actually dialog that has a lot more whitespace overall in the screenplay format (they are subject to smaller inner columns) than scene descriptions/action descriptions (which use the full width of the page). Word count wise, action involves a lot more prose than dialog and many of the best action screenplays have more overall word count than a more dialog-heavy screenplay. (What I've seen of the Fury Road screenplay read like a novel, though as is pointed out elsewhere it is fascinating because it was written storyboard first, which is the exception rather than the rule.)

The screenplay format really is a fascinating thing to study. There are some great books out there on the screenplay format and how it came to be what it is today.

Any top recommendations for those books? Super intrigued to read more.

The big one that left a lasting impression for me at an early age was Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434. It does a very good job illustrating a lot of the technical mechanics of the format and the Hollywood guidelines and expectations that have built up around it (including the page per minute expectation, and even the expectations on page per act, which is another formula that Hollywood has), and some of why, using an example screenplay throughout.

(Just be forewarned it is not a great example screenplay in the usual fashion of such teaching examples because it is designed more towards the lesson plan than coherency/quality as a story of its own; and also arguably another example of that old weird maxim "those who can't, teach" given Lew Hunter's mostly TV Movie writer IMDB credits.)

> Besides, stuff like word count is easy to automate.

Supposing I hand you a 90 page book and ask you roughly how many words are in it. How are you going to answer that? People hand round paper screenplays, or bits of screenplays, all the time, especially on set. It's much more practical for lots of purposes. Abandoning the minute-per-page rule of thumb (or equally importantly pages-per-shooting-day targets) would create way more problems than it solves.

However, it's also true that if you receive a screenplay that's not in standard screenplay format, it's a very reliable indication that the writer doesn't know what they're doing. Not a perfect heuristic, but there are maybe hundreds of thousands of spec scripts in circulation of which a few dozen a year get picked up by studios. So they can afford to be picky.

Bonus trivia: As it happens Fury Road is a very rare case of a movie that was originally developed as a storyboard, and converted to screenplay format for production purposes. Apparently you can do that if you're George Miller.

> Supposing I hand you a 90 page book and ask you roughly how many words are in it. How are you going to answer that?

Get the digital version. We're talking about a computer font here, so the script exists in digital form.

> As it happens Fury Road is a very rare case of a movie that was originally developed as a storyboard, > and converted to screenplay format for production purposes. Apparently you can do that if you're > George Miller.

And it worked very well. It makes a lot of sense for a very visual movie.

> Plays and movies aren't just people spewing lines non-stop.

Screenplays contain more than just lines.

Even so, using the number of words to describe events to estimate the time those events will take to play out, seems like asking for trouble.

And yet. It's a rough heuristic, good enough for its purpose.

>I don't see the relationship between text length and actual play time.

Agreed. Here's a fun counterexample:

2001: A Space Oddyssey

Screenplay length: 65 pages

Run length: 161 minutes


A movie famous (infamous, even) for it's significant non-verbal presentation? That sounds like an exception proving the rule.

If hollywood producers are so famously picky, I wonder if they will reject a script with this font because it simply looks different.

I don't think you'll be able to explain to them that it is metrically identical, just like you can't explain to your garbage man that you are using a decomposable plastic bag, but they have the strict order to not accept plastic in your organic trash (if you live in the kind of place that separates trash like this).

It could be great after you get your screenplay accepted, if you want to have a nicer copy that matches line-by-line the courier version.

The thing with decomposable bags is that it's a bit more complicated. Take a look at the marketing issues section in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradable_bag

I think that that's the point of it being metrically identical.

You can work in Courier Prime any time you want, and then switch to Courier for submitting your screenplay without worrying about it changing the pagination.

So it can help out any time you are working on your screenplay or working on it with anyone you know won't care, both before and after submission.

This is great.

Also, making it heavier is 1,000% necessary -- Courier has always been so anemic it can actually be difficult to read when printed (and Courier New is even worse). I don't know the history, but I've long wondered if it was because digital Courier was based on the (thin) metal typewriter letterforms, rather than the letters set to paper which would presumably have (thicker) bleed.

Now I just wonder if script readers will react "ooh, I don't know why but this looks nice" or "ugh, something's weird about this script but I can't tell what."

> I don't know the history, but I've long wondered if it was because digital Courier was based on the (thin) metal typewriter letterforms, rather than the letters set to paper which would presumably have (thicker) bleed.

That is precisely why. Courier New was digitised off an IBM Selectric typeball, and they didn't correct for the ink bleed which the typeball was designed for.

Do you know why the people who digitized Courier made that (seemingly grave) omission? It seems like far too big of an oversight to simply sweep under the rug, after comparing the on-screen/printed-from-computer version with the typewriter version.

This is actually a common problem with digitisations of metal fonts, not specific to Courier. Many (although not all; Adobe's been pretty good about avoiding this particular failing, for example) of them are too anemic for screen use at body text size, presumably (although I have no hard evidence) because of not taking account of ink bleed. Victims include Bembo (the first one, not Bembo Book, which partially fixes this), several Caslons, Sabon, Janson, (an extreme example) Simoncini Garamond, and even Computer Modern (where the problem wasn't so much a transition from metal to digital, since Computer Modern was designed digitally, but from METAFONT - which can be parameterized, allowing "blackness" to be adjusted for ink spread - to Type 1 - which isn't).

Speculating a bit, one of the problems that digitisers may have encountered is that ink bleed affects fonts differently at different sizes. At small point sizes, ink bleed is proportionally large relative to the stroke width; at large point sizes, ink bleed has negligible effect. This is actually exactly what you want for readability's sake: at small sizes, you want to avoid thin strokes, and ink bleed does exactly that. At large size, "thin" strokes aren't actually thin any more. But a perfectly scalable digital font does not capture this beneficial effect of ink spread.

Ah ha! I've long thought that of the Garamonds as well, it just never seemed as extreme as with Courier.

The point you bring up with different proportional amounts of bleed at different sizes is also quite relevant.

OpenType fonts have so many options now... I almost wonder if it would make the most sense to have a bleed option built into the rasterizer that could have defaults set by the typeface designer, but also adjusted by the user (e.g. more bleed when using white-on-black). There are so many arcane options on macOS's OS-level typeface options palette, it seems pretty reasonable.

    Now I just wonder if script readers will react "ooh,
    I don't know why but this looks nice" or "ugh,
    something's weird about this script but I can't
    tell what." 
The original announcement that someone posted [1] says that Courier Prime was developed by iterating on blinded feedback from actual screenwriters reading sample screenplay manuscripts, so I'd expect it to be reliably better in practice. Interestingly, and agreeing with the comment chain explaining the history of the font and the failure to take ink-bleed into account, the feature that apparently consumed the most optimization effort was in fact the weight, which had to be refined quite a bit over successive iterations. Neat!

[1]: http://johnaugust.com/2013/introducing-courier-prime

Why does the ř (r with háček diacritic) in the "Europhilic" Czech text sample appear so different from the normal letter r? Is it intentional? It's quite jarring to me.

Screenshot: https://i.imgur.com/h6yNHCo.png

Nice eye, I noticed that too. However, on my browser, the "ř" looks like Times New Roman. Might be a bug with the site's fallback.

strange. mine looks different (but ř is also a totally different shape) https://imgur.com/a/VpiXcGI (Firefox on Windows)

Probably your browser falling back to a default font. Sure that Courier Prime includes that symbol?

probably. and I sure hope so, since they use it as an example.

but why in the world would you have that happen on a font demo site? use an image/svg. otherwise it's risking becoming a demonstration that it's unreliable/you don't know what you're doing. (not that browsers make this stuff easy... but still.)

The fact that it renders in two very different ways for different people suggests this is an error. A pretty bad one indeed for a font demo page. I hope they fix it.

Has this been reported already? If not, I will. (Edit: I reported it on their support page.)

Perhaps the webfont on that page uses a subset and maybe the author of the page has the font also installed locally, so fallback would choose the locally installed font. I can see how it could happen without noticing and most people would not spot a single wrong character on the page when looking at it.

That might explain it. Otherwise, this would be very weird for a "Europhilic" example.

Honestly, it would also be quite weird for a font these days to not have the full set of common-use Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic. So I'd assume a simple mistake here instead of forgotten important glyphs.

Glyph not present in the font, so browser substitutes some other. I assumed the page chooses the sample dynamically based on my location (see also: totally wrong machine translation). If this is hardcoded, then it doesn’t speak well about the author that they wouldn’t notice it (and if shows lack of awareness of non-English, Latin alphabet using, languages).

Practically speaking, of course, a full Unicode font is an enormous undertaking, hence so many fonts lacking diacritics other than Latin-1.

Looks like here's the original announcement, which has more background on motivations and has a comparison with regular Courier:


John August also talks about it in episode 74 of his podcast with Craig Mazin called Scriptnotes: http://johnaugust.com/2013/three-hole-punchdrunk

Although you need to pay to access archived podcasts they have all of them transcribed: http://johnaugust.com/2013/scriptnotes-ep-74-three-hole-punc...

I highly recommend the podcast to anyone even remotely interested in the movie industry. I've been listening for around 6 months now and can't stop.

Thanks for this. Much better explanation, and it's helpful to know this was commissioned by John August who's a legit screenwriter. (He's credited on the Quote-Unquote Apps page too, but without context, I didn't recognize his name.)

That's from 2013. I wonder how successful the font has been in Hollywood over the last 6 years.

Probably good for full-screen writing. Anywho.

Feel free to add an opinion, I've been evaluating and whittling choices of fonts for code development:

So far Monaco and Source Code Pro seem best.

- Fira Mono https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Fira+Mono

- Hack https://sourcefoundry.org/hack/

- Inconsolata https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Inconsolata

- Monaco http://www.gringod.com/2006/11/01/new-version-of-monaco-font...

- Pragmata Pro https://www.fsd.it/shop/fonts/pragmatapro/

- Source Code Pro https://github.com/adobe-fonts/source-code-pro

I think monospaced, sans-serif, semi/bold, large punctuation and disambiguated look-alikes with antialiasing on works best on a low res laptop. Monospaced serifs seem to look better for code online.

Fira Code is Fira Mono with coding ligatures:


I used to prefer Consolas (Inconsolata is a ~clone of Consolas) but the ligatures made me switch.

Ligatures really are neat, indeed.

For coding, I really like Iosevka: http://typeof.net/Iosevka/

It's narrow, so fits more by width; and also quite sharp and easy to read. Plus it has a nice standard set of ligatures for the symbols I use daily.

I cant use any other than Luculent http://eastfarthing.com/luculent (thanks Andrew Kensler).

Finding the Best Programming Font http://webagility.com/posts/finding-the-best-programming-fon...

You're very welcome! I'm glad you like it and thanks for helping to point people to it.

My preferred font is the X 6x13 one (https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/ucs-fonts.html), as I prefer pixel fonts. On Windows I have antialiasing disabled and use 6x13 everywhere. I use a TrueType version (that of course only works at one point size) for programs that don'

On OS X, you can't disable antialiasing, and some programs

InputMonoCondensed: http://input.fontbureau.com/

11pt InputMonoCondensed on OS X is the same size as 6x13. 10pt and 9pt also look good on a retina display, and aren't actively objectionable on a normal-DPI display.

Windows lets you disable antialiasing, so on Windows I do that and use 6x13 for everything.

Ugh, looks like i managed to submit this half baked post that I was writing earlier and intended to discard. Oops!

No has mentioned it yet, but for coding and terminal windows, I've tried almost all of the others listed here, but I prefer and keep going back to DejaVu Sans Mono.

( https://dejavu-fonts.github.io/ )

Might want to add Anonymous Pro to the stable: https://www.marksimonson.com/fonts/view/anonymous-pro

It looks a bit weird in short runs, but is great somehow when used on actual code.

Throwing Hasklig into the ring, as it's my preferred font for programming and seems like not many people know about it.


Its not 'free' but i like Eco Coding for programming: https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/s-core/eco-coding/

I'm not a screenwriter, but Courier Prime Code/Sans seems very interesting. Have to try it out on my various screens.

The italics are a bit distracting. The subjective tilt of letters seem to vary, e.g. 'j' and 'l' may be have the same tilt but the 'l' appears more vertical (as does 'i'). Also the tilt on the center line of 'e' seems weird to me, but that's perhaps an intentional stylistic quirk.

Hack[0] is also a very nice font for coding. I use it on my terminals and IDEs with joy.

[0]: https://sourcefoundry.org/hack/

It would be nice to see a visual diff vs Courier or Courier New, particularly for development purposes.

alangpierce commented with the original announcement, which has a much better close-up comparison: http://johnaugust.com/2013/introducing-courier-prime

Is it just my device or is there something wrong with the r in Europhilic Dobre?

I just made specimen paragraphs in Courier, Courier New, Courier Prime and Prime Code, and Cousine[1]. I believe I much prefer the latter, for code and editing. Also, despite looking beefier, Cousine text takes exactly the same horizontal width as the Couriers do at the same nominal point size.

[1] https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Cousine

I feel really old now that I realize we aren't talking about IMAP servers. Also slightly let down, since that would have been a fun blast from the past.

The Courier typeface actually predates the IMAP server by 40+ years!

IMAP is much more recent than the Courier font, so you should feel young here.

It's less about how old it is, and more about how long it's been out of the general public consciousness. The courier font hasn't been (out of public view) in recent memory, so it doesn't have the same nostalgia factor.

Courier font has been in public memory for a very long time (but most certainly people didn't know its name). It is much more known than IMAP is, and most importantly, has been for decades

It's an industry standard for screenplays, and I think we all remember having seen a screenplay in a movie or picture, with this weird monospace font.

You are certainly an outlier here.

You read my comment as the opposite of what I said. Specifically, I said "The courier font hasn't been (out of public view) in recent memory". That is, there's no nostalgia, because it never left. And I'm not saying anything about IMAP, I'm saying something about Courier IMAP, which even as IMAP goes, hasn't been in favor for a long time.

Being a top level comment, I would assume my comment is read with at least the submission title in mind, as that was my intention. I was noting that I initially interpreted it as referring to Courier MTA / IMAP (and referenced IMAP servers to distinguish which Courier I was referring to).

So, to be very clear since apparently event my clarifications are being misconstrued, the courier font has been in public consciousness for as long as I can remember. I believe the courier MTA is not in the public consciousness any more. If this submission, titled "Courier Prime: It’s Courier, Just Better" was talking about mail servers (specifically, original courier and a cleaned up fork of courier as the title would theoretically allude to), then that would have been a cool blast from the past. It's not about mail servers being things of the past, mail servers was just used as a way to explain what other courier I thought it was originally referring to.

Mailservers are just as much in the public view as they have been historically to be honest.

If IMAP is viewed as nostalgia install postfix/dovecot on something and play around.

Careful reading would have shown I was talking about the courier MTA, and used mailserver only to distinguish it from the other meanings of courier. I made no claim that mailservers are not common.

I'm well aware of dovecot and postfix. And also sendmail and cucipop. Some things are more common now than than they were in the past, and vice versa.

It is a bit confusing that the body text of the site has set Avenir Next as font family.

First, the site for the font isn't itself a screenplay; there's no reason for it to be set in Courier. Second, setting the site in a neutral typeface draws attention to the Courier font in the callouts.

Courier in any incarnation is not appropriate as a body text except in certain contexts. One of those contexts is screenplays as noted in the link, the other is code samples. As a monospaced font it doesn't look good for general text.

The "code" version doesn't seem to work very well for me on a screen. I'm using vim in Gnome Terminal. It seems to be much less crisp than my personal favorites, Fira Code or Hack (https://sourcefoundry.org/hack/)

It's nice, but a quick comparison in VSCode shows me that I still prefer Fira Code to Courier Prime Code.

Adobe has done a good job of this too.

* Source Code Pro | Adobe Fonts || https://fonts.adobe.com/fonts/source-code-pro

This reminds me of my preferred typeface from when I had a Selectric, Prestige Elite. You don't see it much these days, as Courier is bundled with PostScript printers and Windows, whereas Prestige Elite isn't free.

Courier has a pitch of ten characters per inch, while PE runs twelve per inch. Ideal for business correspondence, but probably a bit too dense for scripts (and college papers!).


I installed this immediately in Ubuntu Gnome and set it be the system font for documents & the interface. Courier has, for some reason, always been my favorite font. It looks great!

Some time ago I actually designed a visual identity for an architect using Courier Prime Sans (https://www.behance.net/gallery/60374133/Juliana-Camara-Abit...). In that case I was more interest in its visual attributes - monospaced type that implies technical ability, but with a friendlier, softer character.

Some more detail on courier variants for screenplays. http://www.rolandstroud.com/Fonts-1.html

For trelby[0], we recommend courier 10 point, which renders much better on more environments. [0] https://www.trelby.org/assets/courier10point.zip

After years of switching between programming fonts, I finally settled on SF Mono. Not planning to switch any time soon (and hopefully ever).

I think Courier New is a decent programming font. I think Courier Prime Code is a bit too stylish. I'm currently using DejaVuSansMono. Consolas has been my favorite for it's great LCD sub pixel anti-alias, but it's Windows only and with better pixel density screens we no longer have to use sub-pixel anti-alias.

I was about to write the same thing. I code in XCode and I love SF Mono. I was pretty invested in source code pro but SF mono is so good.

Neat! This post reminded me of a mobile app I started developing, but then abandoned it. I planned to create an iOS app that would cater to drama clubs to help the cast members learn their lines. The motivation for me was to create something that might be beneficial for the arts (in some tiny way), and this app was the only thing that came to mind.

I suppose the issue with Liberation Mono is just that it looks too "different"?

If I'm recalling correctly, it was also metric-compatible with Courier, as that was largely the point of the Liberation fonts.

Italics seem too similar to regular for coding. And anyway terminus or consolas are better for that.

Maybe for screenplays it's the best.

I'm curious as to why there is an extra Cyrillic version. Doesn't the font have glyphs for unicode?

Does it allow me to hit the page count of my essay even easier?

You might be interested in Times Newer Roman. [1] It's like Times New Roman, but 5-10% wider so enables you to write 13% fewer words.

[1] https://timesnewerroman.com/

Times New Roman was designed to fit a lot of text on a newspaper page. Its popularity is completely due to it being an accessible default in early software, not to any intrinsic superiority in presentation. I consider it to be quite ugly, although not as bad as Arial.

Of course that's a thing! Although 13% doesn't sound like a significant amount. The trick I used in high school: Write the essay. If it's too short by 20-30%, increase the verbosity in every place you can until it's long enough. If it's short by more than 30% then you have bigger problems. If your essay only needs an extra page on a 15 page assignment, chances are you can add fluff and easily hit the 15 page mark.

I think I'd have more use for the opposite: a font that's 13% narrower, to stuff more words into a page limit. It's harder to make text more concise than more verbose!

Yes, I agree. Concision is an art, verbosity is a chore.

Essays for academia thus typically insist on word counts.

Albeit they encourage 3/2 or double spacing so they can leave annotations during marking.

>But there’s no reason Courier has to look terrible.

With such small modifications (afaict) it seems odd to claim/imply that it goes from "terrible" to great (or whatever). I like the "y" descender tho. And more Unicode support is basically always good.




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