The "clean" font family

Dale Schumacher dale.schumacher at
Mon Jun 9 21:24:17 CEST 2008

You may find it interesting to examine the "clean" font family, in the X11
core distribution.  It contains around 30 fonts in fixed-pitch pixel cells
ranging from 4x6 to 8x16 and 9x15.  A few sizes (esp. 8px width) include
bold weights and there are even a couple of italics.  Just fire up an xterm
with the font of your choice and see how it looks, but do note that the
automatic "smear bolding" does not produce good results.

The 4x6 font uses a 3x5 pixel character cell, reserving a single pixel each
for inter-line and inter-character spacing.  The glyphs are all unique, for
the 7-bit ASCII range.  A number of optical illusions make it possible to
read text at this size.  Your brain actually pattern-matches on the shape of
the words.  Larger fonts are always easier to read.  This font essentially
represents the limit of legibility for bitmapped fonts.

Still, I do not recommend using the 4x6 at ~300dpi.  It was designed for
~75dpi.  The whole point of reaching the 250dpi+ range is that the
individual pixels SHOULD become indistinguishable, leading to a
qualitatively different visual experience.  This is similar to the smooth
color rendition we get with CMYK half-toned dots in a magazine.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: "Dotan Cohen" <dotancohen at>
> To: "List for Openmoko community discussion" <community at
> >
> Date: Mon, 9 Jun 2008 20:11:37 +0200
> Subject: Re: QVGA V/s VGA for GTA03 (was something about yummy CPU-GPU
> combos!)
> 2008/6/9 Flemming Richter Mikkelsen <quatrox at>:
> > On 6/9/08, The Rasterman Carsten Haitzler <raster at> wrote:
> > [...]
> >> an 80x24 terminal is possible to make it readable @ qvga - if we allow
> >> scrolling. (and possible in landscape with an ultra-tiny 4-pixel wide
> font -
> >> possible (3 pixels for text, 1 for space). not very nice though.
> >
> > How can u separate @, #, $, S, %, æ, ø, o, etc,  when only using 3
> pixels?
> > 5 pix + 1 pix space is a minimum for good reading, unless some chars
> > take more space than others.
> >
> 5 pix + 1 pix space is a minimum for reading
> There, fixed that for you. Getting by with 3+1 pixels is not reading.
> You may be able to dechipher words, but that is not reading. Reading
> is when the brain skips over large portions of the text and absorbs
> the full meaning, because it is able to recognize familiar shapes and
> derive from them meaning. 3+1 cannot create the different shapes
> necessary for reading.
> 7 pix + 2 pix space is a minimum for _good_ reading
> Dotan Cohen
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