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Old 09-20-2009, 09:47 AM   #1
LDBoblo
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Chinese novel typefaces

I've been tinkering around with the idea of setting a nice Chinese novel or set of novels for 6" readers like my PRS-505 and have been trying to figure out quite a few different things.

There are many challenges to typsetting for e-ink screens of this size. Orphans and widows are frustrating to manage if I want to set the text vertically in portrait mode, since they leave a massive blank space at the left side of the page that can't readily be compensated for due to the relatively large minimum font size. That can be partly resolved by typesetting either horizontally (not preferred) or by doing vertical in landscape mode (not preferred either), where the gap will be less obvious.

Anyway, the real beef I've got is with the typeface to use. In virtually all modern publishing, novels are printed with a Ming font. That said, I cannot get PMingLiU or Adobe Ming Light to display well at reasonable sizes (9-11pt). Heavier-weight Ming fonts are fairly high contrast, which means the horizontals remain thin but the verticals are thicker...they do not seem to play very nicely either. Contrast and resolution on e-ink is just too low for this kind of thing. FangSong and Kai fonts are a bit uncomfortable too, though readable at larger sizes like the Mings (11+ starts getting readable).

The standard solution that seems to be going is using Hei/Gothic fonts. I'm not sure I'm too keen on this idea for longer reading materials like novels. I would not use Arial or Verdana or Courier New or even Caecilia for a book, and can't really imagine myself using a Hei font for a Chinese novel.

I suspect there's nobody around that can help me resolve this, but it's worth asking anyway. What typefaces exist that would produce a decent looking page of text on an e-ink reader? Not just "I can read it..." but actually decent-looking. Perhaps a gentle Hei, like a Yuan font (see picture)?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:23 PM   #2
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I myself use Han Nom. Definitely an Arial, or perhaps more generously, a Helvetica of Asian typefaces.

So, my apologies, but I cannot be of help.

I would be very [b]very[/i] interested in a XeLaTeX template that does vertical Chinese typesetting admirably.

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Old 09-21-2009, 05:58 PM   #3
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Interesting on the Han Nom. Seems to be another Ming variant, though I haven't installed it yet to try out.

The best font I've tried so far is one I can't afford and only tried while I was on a professional printer's computer for a bit. It's a Hei font and is quite excellent for a digital reader I suppose. I've not come across much research on readability of line/paragraph with different typefaces...just independent character legibility comparisons where the Hei/Yuan were generally more legible as independent characters. I wonder how/if the serif components of Ming fonts actually facilitate reading lines the way they do in Latin text, since the word representations and spacing are a bit different. I've heard mention with regard to Japanese fonts that some serif versions are less preferable when using horizontal alignment.

I went to the bookstore to check for examples of Hei fonts in novels, but found no examples of it as a dominant body text in a novel. I found it was used as bold text in many books that used a standard Ming face for the body text, but the only books that used predominantly Hei fonts were books on design and art, which are all typeset horizontally. English equivalents all use sans-serif too, including body paragraphs.

I found FangSong to work reasonably well, but fairly weak as a face, and not very clear when looked at closely. Same with the few Kai fonts I've got. Both of those I've seen in novels, albeit quite rarely as dominant text (excepting educational books where FangSong is primary).

As far as TeX arrangements for vertical layouts...I think that's been one of the frustrating things for many typesetters to figure out. Have a gander at this thread in Chinese, or its Google Translate page. It's not 100% clear but it may prove to be a handy start.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:43 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LDBoblo View Post
Interesting on the Han Nom. Seems to be another Ming variant, though I haven't installed it yet to try out.
Sorry... it's been a while since I looked at it. I remembered it as being a Hei font, because initially it was the only kind of CJK font I could get to properly display on my PRS-505. But yes, I find that Han Nom works nicely.

I attached some samples for your inspection... I'm sure they are very far from perfect.

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Originally Posted by LDBoblo View Post
As far as TeX arrangements for vertical layouts...I think that's been one of the frustrating things for many typesetters to figure out. Have a gander at this thread in Chinese, or its Google Translate page. It's not 100% clear but it may prove to be a handy start.
Thanks, I'll take a look at this...

- Ahi
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File Type: pdf sunzibingfa_10pt.pdf (233.0 KB, 99 views)
File Type: pdf sunzibingfa_11pt.pdf (234.5 KB, 85 views)
File Type: pdf sunzibingfa_12pt.pdf (236.0 KB, 83 views)
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Old 09-22-2009, 03:47 AM   #5
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Yeah, those are Ming/Song style. One defining characteristic of Ming fonts is the triangular serif on the right end of a level horizontal stroke like 一. A FangSong and Kai will not display such a thing but will slightly taper on both ends and strive upward slightly. A Hei font will merely be a level horizontal line with no tapering or serif. A Yuan font is basically just a Hei with rounded ends and cutoffs.

Let me show you a very short exerpt from one of the most legible typefaces I found. I like using it at 9pt but I've set it at 10pt in this file. There are 2 weights that are usable at that size so I put them next to each other to compare. The heavier weight is closer to a bold, and I am not sure I'm fond of it, though it seems to handle complex glyphs remarkably well like 龜. I think you'll agree they are far cleaner and clearer than pretty much any Ming font on e-ink can be...and they (so far) seem very readable, not just legible.

Addendum: Here's an image that should help clarify the font nomenclature a bit:
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Last edited by LDBoblo; 09-22-2009 at 05:03 AM. Reason: teehee...forgot kerning :D
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Old 09-22-2009, 11:55 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LDBoblo View Post
Let me show you a very short exerpt from one of the most legible typefaces I found. I like using it at 9pt but I've set it at 10pt in this file. There are 2 weights that are usable at that size so I put them next to each other to compare. The heavier weight is closer to a bold, and I am not sure I'm fond of it, though it seems to handle complex glyphs remarkably well like 龜. I think you'll agree they are far cleaner and clearer than pretty much any Ming font on e-ink can be...and they (so far) seem very readable, not just legible.
I haven't had a chance to look at it on my reader yet... but it certainly looks like it will be considerably more readable.

It also looks a lot better than the texts I uploaded... for reasons I have not yet managed to fully discern. Care to give your opinion?

Is the problem with mine perhaps the quality (or perhaps just the frequency) of punctuation? Or is it too sparsely spaced?

What did you use to make your file, LDBoblo?

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Old 09-22-2009, 01:32 PM   #7
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Of course, the Han Nom (A + B) combination covers over 70,000 CJK characters... leaving you less likely to encounter unicode blank/question-mark boxes in whatever it is you are typesetting.

How many characters does the Yuan font you use have?

- Ahi

Ps.: I understand that most of the additional characters are exceedingly rare and/or in personal names only... but even in my very limited attempts at typesetting Chinese stuff, I've come across unsupported characters a few times (with fonts other than Han Nom).
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Old 09-22-2009, 02:27 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahi View Post
I haven't had a chance to look at it on my reader yet... but it certainly looks like it will be considerably more readable.

It also looks a lot better than the texts I uploaded... for reasons I have not yet managed to fully discern. Care to give your opinion?

Is the problem with mine perhaps the quality (or perhaps just the frequency) of punctuation? Or is it too sparsely spaced?

What did you use to make your file, LDBoblo?

- Ahi
Looks to be the leading is causing the biggest problems in your file. The punctuation is problematic only in how profuse it is in parts, and I suspect that would be the case with any typeface/setting. Open up the leading a little bit, but not too much, and it should start looking clearer. I suspect the Ming font being cramped into such a space makes it harder to look at. Pocket books with Ming fonts are printed quite small. I set the first article from Sunzi Bingfa with a 9pt face and spaced the heading close to the top so as to keep it on one page. See the attachment below.

Believe it or not, I'm using Word for this but Word has been developed quite a bit in the last several iterations with CJK publishing in mind, and for straight-up text without too much extra, it's becoming an unofficial standard of some publishing houses in East Asia. 2010 with moderately decent OpenType features actually performs admirably for this task. It's not TeX, but at its best, it is pretty damn decent. Non-CJK languages are OK with Word but nothing special...TeX still has the goods with paragraphs and hyphenation there.

I think the main problem with the faces I'm using here is that they lend a modern look to what really should be a traditional text.
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Old 09-22-2009, 02:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahi View Post
Of course, the Han Nom (A + B) combination covers over 70,000 CJK characters... leaving you less likely to encounter unicode blank/question-mark boxes in whatever it is you are typesetting.

How many characters does the Yuan font you use have?

- Ahi

Ps.: I understand that most of the additional characters are exceedingly rare and/or in personal names only... but even in my very limited attempts at typesetting Chinese stuff, I've come across unsupported characters a few times (with fonts other than Han Nom).
Unfortunately most professional publishing typefaces have less than 20,000 characters. There can be problems when an odd or arbitrary character appears, but it's rare and is dealt with on a case-by-case basis in publishing it seems. Some of the freebies out there have a tragically pathetic amount of hanzi and include redundant characters and other fluff in their character count. With relatively complete typefaces, I almost never see a character that's not included.

I've been looking at the Wen Quan Yi project: http://wenq.org/enindex.cgi but I'm a little leery about just about any open source font projects.

Addendum: just checked out the Wen Quan Yi MicroHei font and the ZenHei font and it is pretty nice for a freebie. I would have preferred a different punctuation position, and it messes up bigtime when doing vertical typesetting, but it looks pretty good on the 505 compared to the Mings and such.
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Old 09-22-2009, 03:57 PM   #10
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Have you seen this and the same user's other books on here?

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Old 09-22-2009, 04:20 PM   #11
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Have you seen this and the same user's other books on here?

- Ahi
Just took a look. Seems OK, they're using a DynaComWare Kai font. I don't care for the way most Kai fonts look on reader devices...though they are sometimes readable, the poor contrast and hinting really makes them ugly to my eyes. There may be one out there that sings though...I just haven't found it.

Addendum...one more sample file, with a related Kai font (I don't have the exact one they used). 11pt was required to make it readable. This is a weight 5 (normal) face which looks a little light on a reader, and weight 7 variants are a bit heavy/bold. I would prefer it for printing, but for e-ink...I dunno...
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Old 09-22-2009, 04:42 PM   #12
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What would you typeset The Art of War with, LDBoblo?

And how does one locate archaic character forms?

For example, compare the second character of 計第 with the chapter title's second character here?

In my admittedly limited (and doubtless not hugely discerning) attempts, I have not been able to find the correct/original character. Is it simply a simplified chinese/traditional chinese difference? Or is it a genuinely different alternate/historical character form?

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Old 09-22-2009, 05:12 PM   #13
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What would you typeset The Art of War with, LDBoblo?
Difficult question, and depends on the intent of the text. If I wanted an educational version, I'd run it in Kai or FangSong text with annotation in Ming probably. I might do away with punctuation in the original text. There are many ways to approach it, depending on how it's intended to be read.
Quote:
And how does one locate archaic character forms?
I don't know any easy way other than looking through the whole text, unless I'm in a word processor where I can search for any instance of the system font (which will occur in any location where a non-standard typeface fails to produce a glyph).
Quote:
For example, compare the second character of 計第 with the chapter title's second character here?

In my admittedly limited (and doubtless not hugely discerning) attempts, I have not been able to find the correct/original character. Is it simply a simplified chinese/traditional chinese difference? Or is it a genuinely different alternate/historical character form?
I'm not sure what you mean. The character 篇 means chapter/article, and the character 第 indicates ordinal number. Usually it is 第一篇 which means first article/essay/chapter. The name of the article/essay is 始計, which is messed up in some versions. I find 始計篇第一 and 第一篇始計, as well as simply 始計篇.

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Old 09-22-2009, 05:13 PM   #14
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Just took a look. Seems OK, they're using a DynaComWare Kai font. I don't care for the way most Kai fonts look on reader devices...though they are sometimes readable, the poor contrast and hinting really makes them ugly to my eyes. There may be one out there that sings though...I just haven't found it.

Addendum...one more sample file, with a related Kai font (I don't have the exact one they used). 11pt was required to make it readable. This is a weight 5 (normal) face which looks a little light on a reader, and weight 7 variants are a bit heavy/bold. I would prefer it for printing, but for e-ink...I dunno...
This Kai font is very lovely. But yes... I fear I have a fairly good idea how light it will look on the reader.

- Ahi
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Old 09-22-2009, 05:16 PM   #15
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Difficult question, and depends on the intent of the text. If I wanted an educational version, I'd run it in Kai or FangSong text with annotation in Ming probably. I might do away with punctuation in the original text. There are many ways to approach it, depending on how it's intended to be read.

I don't know any easy way other than looking through the whole text, unless I'm in a word processor where I can search or any instance of the system font (which will occur in any location where a non-standard typeface fails to produce a glyph).

I'm not sure what you mean. The character 篇 means chapter/article, and the character 第 indicates ordinal number. Usually it is 第一篇 which means first article/essay/chapter. The name of the article/essay is 始計, which is messed up in some versions. I find 始計篇第一 and 第一篇始計, as well as simply 始計篇.
Ah yes... the danger of meddling with things you barely understand.

I thought that 篇 was an alternate character form of 第.

- Ahi
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