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Old 09-27-2012, 10:17 AM   #1
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Epub - best practice for base font size?

I produce epubs with a custom CSS file, which I am generally happy with. I use relative font sizes for everything. I specify most things in a body definition, and override them for a host of different h, p, and span classes.

However, I tend to specify a bit smaller body text font (which is the base for all other sizes), between 0.8 and 0.9em. This is because some e-ink devices, like older Sony Readers and various no-brand readers, have a limited choice of font size adjustments, especially in the lower end of the scale. The prs-650 at the largest size will display around 20 words per page, while the gaps between the smallest sizes are fairly large.

I feel that a somewhat smaller base size gives the reader a better chance of finding a comfortable size. In software readers I have never had an issue with adjusting to a perfect font size. We embed Deja Vu serif in most books if that's relevant, this is because a lot of our books contain international glyphs, we're not living in ASCII-land, so default fonts don't suffice

What do the gurus think? Is it bad to specify other base sizes than 1em, or is it acceptable to use it as a workaround for limitations in some devices?

Last edited by Man Eating Duck; 09-27-2012 at 10:30 AM.
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Old 09-27-2012, 11:04 AM   #2
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It's bad to specify any default font size (1em or 100% would be OK, but why bother? it's a no-op). If I have a preferred font size, I want that, not 90% of that. If my device has bugs or limitations, let me find the fix, do not impose it on me (and do not impose me a fix for other devices).

Regarding the font embedding, I don't like it either. My device lets me install and choose my preferred font, so I have no problem with non-ASCII characters.
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Old 09-27-2012, 12:39 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
It's bad to specify any default font size (1em or 100% would be OK, but why bother? it's a no-op). If I have a preferred font size, I want that, not 90% of that. If my device has bugs or limitations, let me find the fix, do not impose it on me (and do not impose me a fix for other devices).
That makes sense, your input is appreciated, and I have already changed our templates. On a related note, what would you consider to be the lower bound for relative text size? Is 0.8em acceptable, or too small? Our designers like to use smaller text sizes on some elements like quotes in a whole paragraph. I don't particularly like it, especially for significant amounts of text, but I'm afraid I am already overruled on that one
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Regarding the font embedding, I don't like it either. My device lets me install and choose my preferred font, so I have no problem with non-ASCII characters.
I mentioned it just because it might be relevant for font size. I considered omitting that part, as posters on the forum can become surprisingly animated about font embedding, and I didn't want to start yet another discussion about it

That said (oh no, here I go, feel free to skip the rest), we do it because the vast majority of our readers wouldn't know where to begin if they needed a font which has, for instance, Turkish dotless ı. Power users can and will do what they want, including removing/substituting fonts freely in the file, as most of our books are published without DRM encumbrance (not that DRM will stop anyone). Of course we have no problems with that, I have even provided guidance for a customer who wanted to tweak one of our books.

We chose Deja Vu serif because it works well on small screens, is not hideous, has no licence issues, and includes (so far) every glyph we've ever needed in a variety of academic publications. I know about the pros and cons of embedding, but for us it's pretty much a necessity as too many devices assume that English is the only language on the planet.
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Old 09-27-2012, 01:25 PM   #4
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I would suggest that the smallest relative font size you should specific should be about 60%. If someone chose a 10pt font that would be a 6pt font.

If your books have lots of non-English characters, embedding a font might be a reasonable solution. But the default fonts in ebook readers are becoming better when it comes to unicode character support. I think it would be worth checking whether you really still need to do it.
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Old 09-27-2012, 01:43 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
I would suggest that the smallest relative font size you should specific should be about 60%. If someone chose a 10pt font that would be a 6pt font.
Ok, we're well above that, thanks!

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If your books have lots of non-English characters, embedding a font might be a reasonable solution. But the default fonts in ebook readers are becoming better when it comes to unicode character support. I think it would be worth checking whether you really still need to do it.
The problem is mainly that people have a lot of strange characters in their names

In academic publishing it's completely unacceptable to misspell someone's name; this includes foreign characters and all kinds of accents. For ebooks this also means that we must be very sure that they'll display correctly. I'll have a second look (I already have a script somewhere which creates a list of used characters), but I'm not optimistic.

Edit:
Of course there are probably some of our books that won't need embedded fonts. Do you have any suggestions about what font-face definitions would be suitable for a book without embedded fonts? We use regular, italics, and occasionally bold/bold-italics font styles.

Last edited by Man Eating Duck; 09-27-2012 at 02:20 PM.
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Old 09-27-2012, 04:50 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Man Eating Duck View Post
In academic publishing it's completely unacceptable to misspell someone's name; this includes foreign characters and all kinds of accents. For ebooks this also means that we must be very sure that they'll display correctly. I'll have a second look (I already have a script somewhere which creates a list of used characters), but I'm not optimistic.
That's perfectly understandable, but it's hardly necessary to hijack all of the text because of a handful of special characters in personal name. Just use the embedded fonts where absolutely necessary.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the newer Nooks will circumvent your embedded fonts right out of the box. That's the default behavior. Unless the user knows to go into the settings and enable "Publisher Defaults," they're likely to see question marks in place of those special characters regardless.
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Old 09-27-2012, 05:36 PM   #7
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Another thing to keep in mind is that the newer Nooks will circumvent your embedded fonts right out of the box. That's the default behavior. Unless the user knows to go into the settings and enable "Publisher Defaults," they're likely to see question marks in place of those special characters regardless.
That's crazy, they don't even use the embedded font as a fallback? There are many uses for specialised fonts... Anyway, good to know, thanks!

Thanks to all three of you for useful tips, you learn something every day. I'll consider the options regarding embedded fonts, I promise
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Old 09-28-2012, 08:44 PM   #8
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Well, this is not easy. Some of us publishing techs who remember the old times long for a return to the times of the fixed paper page, when ink on paper never changed

No, not really, not on my part. As an ebook creator in a professional capacity, and an avid ebook reader, as you probably gather, I am very concerned that our readers shall get the best ebooks that it is in my power to create.

The responses from experts such as you guys carry a lot of weight, and I won't ignore them. I'm currently looking into how to isolate books which would not need embedded fonts in our workflow, and also how to isolate certain glyphs which might need an embedded font (or an image, which opens another rather large can of worms). That's a tough one, BTW.

What do you think about a clause on the colophon page saying something like "Please give feedback about technical quality to <email address>"? Is it defeatist, or a good thing? I have never seen neither publishers nor self-publishers use it, but I've given feedback nonetheless at times
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:38 AM   #9
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What do you think about a clause on the colophon page saying something like "Please give feedback about technical quality to <email address>"? Is it defeatist, or a good thing? I have never seen neither publishers nor self-publishers use it, but I've given feedback nonetheless at times
It's just because you do not read French ebooks. Here is one colophon example of it from a very qualified source.

http://efele.net/ebooks/livres/000163/index.html (at least the full EPUB version)
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Old 09-29-2012, 03:46 AM   #10
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and also how to isolate certain glyphs which might need an embedded font (or an image, which opens another rather large can of worms).

[...]

What do you think about a clause on the colophon page saying something like "Please give feedback about technical quality to <email address>"?
[...]
Please, never use an image for a glyph that isn't in any font. Instead, just create a custom font that contains the glyph(s) you need. Unless, of course you can come up with some clever way to get the image to resize correctly with the text... hmm....


I quite like the idea of a technical feedback address. I might add one to my next book.
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Old 09-29-2012, 07:21 AM   #11
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I quite like the idea of a technical feedback address. I might add one to my next book.
I think that's a great idea too. Maybe a link to a website where people could submit issues complete with locations/pages. I've found people seem more willing (for whatever reason) to click the 'submit' button on a web page than they are to compose/send an email.
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Old 10-10-2012, 02:42 PM   #12
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I've moved the posts about subsetting fonts to a new thread over here.
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