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Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition by Jennifer Niederst Robbins

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Typography on the Web

HTML was created with the intent of putting ultimate control of the presentation in the hands of the end user. This principle makes its most resounding impact when it comes to typography. Take a look at your browser’s preferences and you will find that you (and every other surfer) are able to specify the fonts and sizes that you prefer for online viewing.

For anyone accustomed to designing for other media, this loss of font control is cause for major frustration. From the time they discovered the Web, designers (and their corporate clients) have been pushing for ways to control typography in order to produce attractive and predictable web sites.

Great strides have been made in this effort since the early days of the Web and HTML 1.0; however, as of this writing, the font issue is still unfolding. This section discusses possible strategies and technologies (along with their advantages and disadvantages) for designing type in web documents.

You Have Two Fonts

About the only thing you can be sure of when you’re designing web pages with basic HTML is that you have two fonts to work with: a proportional font and a fixed-width font. The problem is that you don’t know specifically which fonts these are or at what size they will be displayed.

Proportional font

A proportional font (called “Variable Width Font” in Netscape Navigator) is one that allots different amounts of space to each character, based on its design. For instance, in a proportional font, a capital “W” ...

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