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Making The Most Of Fonts On Your Web Pages

Sandra Prior
Jun 4, 2008
Back in the pre-historic days of the web, when dinosaurs roamed Usenet and people didn't have numbers in their names, Lynx was the slickest browser on the block. In fact it was the only web browser on the block. Veterans will remember browsing many text only pages using its cool blue interface. Back in the days, as elderly Netheads like to call it, there wasn't much call for images, sound and other such multimedia nonsense.

Things have come a long way since Lynx. Modern browsers do handle text formatting a lot better than they used to, but for budding designers, it's still a balancing act trying to get good-looking text on a web site. Here are some of the best tricks to use and by the time you've read this article, you too will know how to improve the quality of text on your new site.

Text Alignment, Typefaces and sizes

Although Frontpage Express looks and works very much like a word processing program, there are some restrictions on what you can do to text. Try typing in a sentence, selecting it and selecting an alignment icon from the tool menu. You can align text to the left, right or center, just like any standard text editor, but there's no 'justify' icon so you'll have to put up with raggy-edged paragraphs.

You'll also notice that there are icons to change the style of your text to bold, italics and underlined. Finally, in common with most word processors, you can change the size and typeface of your text. These aspects need looking at in more details.

Although you can specify which font to use on screen, there's no guarantee that it will show up like that on another user's machine. They will need the same font installed, so it's best to stick to faces like Times New Roman and Verdana that have a good chance of being present in most font folders.

Font sizes are equally tricky. You'll notice that Frontpage Express offers two methods of changing font sizes. The most obvious is on the toolbar. Select a section of text and go to the drop-down menu currently displaying 'normal'. You'll see a variety of terms, none of which seem to have anything to do with font sizes. That's because only half of them do - the ones labeled 'heading 1, heading 2', and so on. The rest relate to other special formats.

The 'heading' options are intended to be used on text headings, spookily enough, and apply a bold effect and fixed size to your text - six being the smallest, one the largest. This option is included mainly for backward compatibility - the 'heading' HTML tag that this option refers to has been largely replaced by the flexible 'font tag'.

As for those remaining arcane options in the formatting drop, a couple are useful while the rest are obsolete or simply repeat the job of other tags. All the options you really need to pay attention to are on the main toolbar.

To use the options associated with the more modern 'font' tag in Frontpage Express, select a selection of text and go to the Format menu, then choose Font. You'll find a range of choices, including some style effects, such as Strikethrough, that don't appear on the toolbar. You'll also notice that you can apply a size to your text from 1 - 7, with a 1 corresponding to 8pt and 7 to 36pt. Note that these sizes are only a guideline - your friend the user may have their web browser set up completely differently. For this reason its best to steer clear of the smallest and largest sizes.

Now that you've familiarized yourself with how Frontpage Express handles text formatting, you must be thinking that it's all a bit primitive compared with traditional word processing and DTP. You'd be right, of course, but the actuality is that Microsoft and Mozilla Firefox have tried to come up with solutions to the problem of formatting text and using fonts.

Both browsers support different methods of embedding real fonts into web pages that download automatically when a user accesses them. Unfortunately, neither method has really caught on. In Microsoft's case there have been problems with the copyright of TrueType fonts. The problems shouldn't take long to iron out. At least we have a little more control over text than authors had in the days of Lynx.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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