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Melphi

Why do type designers not create dedicated fonts for film subtitles?

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Melphi

I tried to find out what fonts work best for subtitles, but the stuff people usually recommend is Verdana, Tahoma, Arial, and the like. No, thanks. I then tried to find fonts designed specifically for subtitles, but there isn't much on offer, it seems. There is Tiresias, which many people hate, then there's Netflix Sans that can't be used, but other than that I couldn't really find anything. So, why don't type designers step up to the plate? It seems the demand is there, but the offer — not so much. Or am I missing something?

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Greg Yerbury

There are fonts designed for film sub titles out there and one I immediately can think of is Bluescreens .

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Ralf Herrmann
2 hours ago, Melphi said:

I then tried to find fonts designed specifically for subtitles, but there isn't much on offer, it seems. 

I’m not perfectly sure there are special requirements for this use that a dedicated type design would need to solve. Legibility concerns for example are addressed by many typefaces. 
I am also not sure about the demand. How many are actually choosing a subtitle font and are willing to pay for it, so a custom development is justified? 

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Melphi
25 minutes ago, Greg Yerbury said:

There are fonts designed for film sub titles out there and one I immediately can think of is Bluescreens .

I think Bluescreens is for film posters rather than subtitles. I imagine it wouldn't perform well for the latter.

 

13 minutes ago, Ralf Herrmann said:

I’m not perfectly sure there are special requirements for this use that a dedicated type design would need to solve. Legibility concerns for example are addressed by many typefaces. 
I am also not sure about the demand. How many are actually choosing a subtitle font and are willing to pay for it, so a custom development is justified? 

I think if one were to design and properly market a nice subtitle font, it'd become rather popular, because the niche seems to be empty currently as far as I'm aware. Regarding special requirements, I am not sure either. There's one article on this specific issue (https://www.md-subs.com/saa-subtitle-font), and what I got from it is that subtitle fonts need to have specific weight and spacing, and some aspects of glyph design need to be a certain way (e.g. no oldstyle figures, no ligatures, etc.).

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Ralf Herrmann
13 minutes ago, Melphi said:

 

and what I got from it is that subtitle fonts need to have specific weight and spacing, and some aspects of glyph design need to be a certain way (e.g. no oldstyle figures, no ligatures, etc.).

Sure, but that should already be available among the thousands of available fonts. If anything, it would be more or less a marketing trick to take a fitting design and repackage it as Subtitler Sans Pro. 😉 

I am also not sure what technical limitations there are. What kind of subtitle rendering are we talking about? If I watch DVDs on my Mac for example, I don’t even get outline fonts – I get pixel fonts. 

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Melphi
1 minute ago, Ralf Herrmann said:

Sure, but that should already be available among the thousands of available fonts. If anything, it would be more or less a marketing trick to take a fitting design and repackage it as Subtitler Sans Pro. 😉 

I am also not sure what technical limitations there are. What kind of subtitle rendering are we talking about? If I watch DVDs on my Mac for example, I don’t even get outline fonts – I get pixel fonts. 

Exactly, it'd be a marketing trick. But it might just work — after all, the people who decide what font to use often know nothing about typography 🙂

Pixel fonts are a thing of the past in subtitling. Full anti-aliasing and OpenType have been in widespread use for quite some time. So, no limitations that I can think of other than no support for variable fonts. Well, actually, there is one: many media players and subtitling programs discard the kerning tables' data, so there's that problem.

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Ralf Herrmann
12 minutes ago, Melphi said:

Pixel fonts are a thing of the past in subtitling. 

Well, then why am I seeing them every day when watching DVDs on a MacBook using the latest software version? 😉 

I admit I have no idea how this works technically. How and where are those fonts stored? What comes from the player, what from the video mediums?

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Riccardo Sartori

If you look for “close captions” instead of “subtitles”, you will find there are at least a couple of available options:

 

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Melphi
8 minutes ago, Ralf Herrmann said:

Well, then why am I seeing them every day when watching DVDs on a MacBook using the latest software version? 😉 

I admit I have no idea how this works technically. How and where are those fonts stored? What comes from the player, what from the video mediums?

In DVDs and Blu-rays, subtitles are added either by burning-in (making them part of the image) or as pictures superimposed on top of the movie's image. In the latter case, these images are transparent everywhere except for the area with subtitle text. So, in DVDs the font is chosen by the authoring specialist. If your DVDs have pixel fonts, it means either they were subtitled a long time ago, or the company that produced them hasn't changed its ways in quite a while.

In TV, the subtitle font is decided by the set's decoder. Subtitle and closed captions fonts used to be pixelated, but nowadays Smart TVs have not only Open Type but also a selection of different fonts to choose from in the menu.

In VoD and SVoD, there's usually full Open Type support. Naturally, different services use different algorithms for pulling the font, so there's no one way they're stored and managed — just like in media players.

 

1 minute ago, Riccardo Sartori said:

If you look for “close captions” instead of “subtitles”, you will find there are at least a couple of available options:

 

I've known about Joe Clark and Screenfont for quite a while now. He stopped posting anything font-related almost 10 years ago, though, so the info is only partially useful. And thanks for the Cinecav mention, I'll take a look! 🙂

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Ralf Herrmann
13 minutes ago, Melphi said:

If your DVDs have pixel fonts, it means either they were subtitled a long time ago, or the company that produced them hasn't changed its ways in quite a while.

That’s the font I’m seeing—always. Literally just unwrapped a brand-new DVD to try again. 

Bildschirmfoto 2018-12-27 um 19.14.45.png

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Melphi

That's very interesting! Do you have these fonts for both new film releases and old film re-releases? For old films they often use legacy files and fonts which are pixelated. If it's for new films as well, then I'm not sure.

But at any rate, few people watch films on DVD nowadays. It's mostly TV, cinema, SVoD and Blu-ray (and media players for pirated stuff). Here's what subtitles look like on Blu-ray: link. And Here's Netflix: link.

Edit: I did some googling, and it turns out I was wrong. DVD subtitle pictures can only have four colors, one of them being the "transparent color". This means there can't be any anti-aliasing at all.

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Greg Yerbury

I see what you mean, they both look like Ariel. I think Open sans would be better. 

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Melphi
32 minutes ago, Greg Yerbury said:

I see what you mean, they both look like Ariel. I think Open sans would be better. 

Definitely.

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Riccardo Sartori

Another one: Segoe TV, “designed with characteristics for improved readability on TV screens.”

 

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Melphi
13 hours ago, Melchior said:

I think Lydian would work very well!

Lydian1.pdf

It seems to be non-neutral, a bit medievally even, so it wouldn't work for most cases imo.

 

16 minutes ago, Riccardo Sartori said:

Another one: Segoe TV, “designed with characteristics for improved readability on TV screens.”

 

Oh, interesting! Thanks!

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Melchior
8 hours ago, Melphi said:

It seems to be non-neutral, a bit medievally even, so it wouldn't work for most cases imo.

Not sure what you mean. It has nice contours that look good in reverse (in white), and the roman is darker than most sans-serifs.

Lydian.pdf

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Greg Yerbury

This new font, PT Root is apparently designed for screen reading.

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Melchior
53 minutes ago, Greg Yerbury said:

This new font, PT Root is apparently designed for screen reading.

That's not for 'film subtitles', which is what the OP asked about. I stick by my recommendation, Lydian. Have you ever sat in a theatre and tried to read the subtitles? I have, and these thin ones don't cut it.

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Carl Borg

ITC Weidemann Medium was used for LOTR http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/06/26/90498-the-lord-of-the-fonts-a-guide-to-fonts-in-the-hobbit-and-the-lord-of-the-rings/2/

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Albert-Jan Pool
17 hours ago, Melchior said:

I stick by my recommendation, Lydian.

I like Lydian as a typeface, but when it comes to subtitles, the spacing in the PDF is far too tight. Also, Lydian has a relatively high stroke contrast, meaning that the thins are much thinner than Frutiger et al. Depending on how the subtitles are integrated in the underlying video image, this might be a problem. When the subtitles are written on a black background as in the PDF, it may be OK. When the white letters only have a black outline or blur around them, Lydian is probably not the right choice. I would say that most linear Humanist Sans will do a good job, provided that the spacing is a little looser than one would prefer for text sizes. The weight should be regular or a bit thicker. Recommendations such as ‘no ligatures’ are nonsense, I think. Yes, very few typefaces do have badly designed ligatures, but that may go for some other things too.

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Albert-Jan Pool
35 minutes ago, Carl Borg said:

ITC Weidemann Medium was used for LOTR

Many other low contrast serif typefaces, particularly those in the Garalde / Old Style group, might do a good job as well, provided that the spacing is not too tight, and the counters are open. Blunt wedge serifs usually perform better than Slab Serifs. Check the availability of Caption design sizes and you’ll find some good Serif alternatives to the usual Sans Serifs.

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Greg Yerbury

PT sans & serif both have caption design sizes.

 

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Melchior
9 hours ago, Albert-Jan Pool said:

I like Lydian as a typeface, but when it comes to subtitles, the spacing in the PDF is far too tight. Also, Lydian has a relatively high stroke contrast, meaning that the thins are much thinner than Frutiger et al. Depending on how the subtitles are integrated in the underlying video image, this might be a problem. When the subtitles are written on a black background as in the PDF, it may be OK. When the white letters only have a black outline or blur around them, Lydian is probably not the right choice. I would say that most linear Humanist Sans will do a good job, provided that the spacing is a little looser than one would prefer for text sizes. The weight should be regular or a bit thicker. Recommendations such as ‘no ligatures’ are nonsense, I think. Yes, very few typefaces do have badly designed ligatures, but that may go for some other things too.

I agree the standard setting of Lydian is rather tight, but that's easy to fix with simple spacing controls. The stroke contrast is a little high, but even so, the thin strokes are still rather robust: the face is darker than most sans-serif types, so that objection doesn't carry much weight (😉).

Lydian specimen.pdf

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Albert-Jan Pool
7 hours ago, Greg Yerbury said:

PT sans & serif both have caption design sizes.

Greg, I agree that they are a good choice, TheSans and TheAntiqua B by Lucas de Groot would probably be a bit more original though ;-)

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