Fonts are not all created equal.
Before you get into an uproar about why your formatter can’t use your pretty calligraphic font in your ebook, let me explain something.
HTML is meant to be universal, meaning no matter who creates the HTML document or on what machine, that document can be viewable across all web browsers. This same concept applies to ereaders and HTML – what I create in web language can be viewable exactly as it is supposed to be across ALL ereaders (Sony, Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. etc.). This is the beauty of HTML – TRUE CONSISTENCY.
But, there are limitations, as well. Font face is one of them.
Most ereaders on the market currently only support the fonts that come standard. My Kindle has three fonts, all generic (sans-serif, serif), while my Nook supports five nameable fonts like Constantia and Arial Bold. And my Kindle Fire has a couple of different fonts that aren’t listed on the Nook. That’s a wide and varied selection, right? And believe it or not, none of the fonts supported on my Nook or Kindle Fire are Times New Roman, Courier New, or Calibri, some of the most popular fonts.
Have you ever opened a friend’s PDF or Word doc before to find that the headings are some really ugly courier type font? Something generic and bland? Unless it actually says “Courier New” in your font box on your word processor when you put your cursor in the heading, I betcha money that those headings are supposed to be a fancy font – something calligraphic or artsy. So, where is it? NOT installed on your computer, that’s where. If the font isn’t installed on your system’s hard drive, then it doesn’t exist to your word processor, and so the word processor defaults to something else. This concept is the same for ereaders. They only support the fonts at their disposal – saved on their hard drive, so to speak.
Again, before you say “But I uploaded a Word doc just fine with a non-standard font”, let me ask you – did you download a sample of your book and check it out? If you’re arguing your font uploaded just fine, I bet you didn’t, because you’ll find that your “special” font has magically disappeared, to be replaced by your standard ereader font.
There is an exception, I’ve found. I use the Firefox Epub Reader for quick checks on my files as I’m formatting. The cool thing about the Firefox ereader is it will support any font that is installed on your computer – but that doesn’t mean you should try to code fonts into your ebooks. Very few people read on their computers; ereader ownership is growing by the day.
The XHTML commands I give my formatted manuscripts pencil in the instructions for how that book is to be displayed when it opens on the reader’s Kindle/Nook/etc. When it comes to fonts, I don’t USE a specific font (for all of these reasons stated above). Your book is coded with NO font and in such a way that when your reader opens it, your book will display in their already pre-chosen font style. If you own an ereader, you already know that you can pick your own font size and face – my coding allows that reader’s specifications to automatically work in your book.
To quote Guido Henkel (from whom I learned ebook formatting): eBook readers allow users to use their preferred settings. Font size, justification and font type are very personal things and who are we to mess with what people like? By not setting our own values, the eBook device will automatically fall back onto the user preferences and immediately display our book in the user’s preferred way. It may be a small thing, but trust me, it goes over really well with your readers. Usability is key! ALL of his posts on ebook formatting are well worth a read. The man knows his stuff.
Plus, one thing I have found (specifically with my Nook) – when you purchase Smashwords books through Barnes & Noble, and that book was formatted in a font that isn’t TNR, the reader loses all ability to change not only the font face but also the font size. I’ve returned books because of this – I have really bad eyes and need that big font, not to mention I can’t stand reading in a sans-serif font. I know I can’t be the only ereader owner out there with this problem. As mentioned in the Smashwords Style Guide, every manuscript formatted to their guidelines should be formatted using Times New Roman – this is the SW answer to HTML coding to allow for the ereader to display using the reader’s preferences.
All of this is a major reason why you should use HTML for ebook formatting, though it’s only part of the big picture. One of these days, I’ll finish my blog post on why HTML is the way to format.
There is an alternative if you MUST have your pretty font – images. You can create tiny images with transparent backgrounds that display your headings in the proper font. This works wonderfully as an alternative, and you can’t tell a difference.
There is one downside to this image plan – Kindles don’t support transparency. On a white screen, this isn’t a problem. But when your reader chooses to read off a sepia or black screen, they’re gonna see a white square around your heading.
So, in any of these situations, it’s a win some-lose some problem. Almost all of my own books use images as headings; the little white box on the Kindle app doesn’t scare me. One day, my hope is Amazon will get with the program and fix their format and ereaders to support that transparency. I like pretty stuff too much to give up.
But as we move further into our digital revolution, we will see the formats grow and strengthen; that’s the best thing about technology :)
Amended to add: With the new wave of HD ereaders, we’re seeing images supported less and less in ebooks. An image formatted specifically for a regular ereader screen will be entirely too small on an HD screen. I’m looking further into this.