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Typography Nerds Take Note
January 30, 2013 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Courier Prime, a new, updated, better-looking and free (beer and speech) version of Courier has been released. It's been designed for screen plays but very much suitable for other uses, including documents, the web and mobile applications.

But like screenplay writers, software developers have a very special need for monospace fonts.

I've always had a love / hate relationship with this font, and I'm excited to see it getting some updated love. I expect those who look at monospace fonts all day will be excited as well.
posted by jeffamaphone (69 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Courier: it's the new Helvetica.
posted by Catchfire at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2013


Okay, I'll bite. Why are screen plays still printed in monspace fonts? Because "they've always been that way", or is there some technical reason?
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What does the "free (beer and speech)" thing mean?
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2013


This looks really terrific and I hope it catches on.

That said... given how script readers at studios and agencies have been known to chuck a screenplay into the bin within a few pages when its formatting varies even slightly from the norm, I wouldn't dream of using any font other than exactly and precisely what my peers were using. Not yet.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2013


I've been using source code pro for my monospaced needs lately. The lower-case Ls make me happy.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Everytime I think I'm not a typography nerd, something like this comes along which could be useful to me -- and I get all jazzed up about how much better the italics look. Mmmmm, that f and i.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Curious Artificer: Okay, I'll bite. Why are screen plays still printed in monspace fonts? Because "they've always been that way", or is there some technical reason?

They help insure that screenplays adhere to the rough standard of one page of script being equal to one minute of screen time.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:10 AM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I do like the italics on this one. I'll give it a go next time I need something in monospace.
posted by asperity at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2013


What does the "free (beer and speech)" thing mean?

Free as in beer: it costs you nothing.

Free as in speech: generally some version of released into the public domain, creative commons, or the like (I haven't looked up exactly what license they are using). The concept is very popular in the free and open software community.

More info.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:12 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's probably OK if you are (large-) printing out screenplays, but unfortunately for programming use, this seems to crap out and get fuzzy at smaller sizes. 12pt is bad, 10pt is nearly unreadable, where plain old Courier works perfectly at those sizes.
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2013


Curious Artificer: Okay, I'll bite. Why are screen plays still printed in monspace fonts? Because "they've always been that way", or is there some technical reason?

They help insure that screenplays adhere to the rough standard of one page of script being equal to one minute of screen time.


There's an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which basically uses the strict formatting expectations of screenplays as a plot point. Kind of fascinating, really.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:18 AM on January 30, 2013


There's an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which basically uses the strict formatting expectations of screenplays as a plot point. Kind of fascinating, really.

Does a script reader shout "You need me on that wall!"?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:24 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Needs more Unicode.
posted by erniepan at 10:24 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which basically uses the strict formatting expectations of screenplays as a plot point. Kind of fascinating, really.

And yet they went with 30 Rock which simple division would tell you is only half as good.
posted by Talez at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which basically uses the strict formatting expectations of screenplays as a plot point

Didn't using the correct font save somebody's brother from dying in Afghanastan?


(Sorry, I just don't get enough good opportunites to make fun of that show -- which I actually often enjoyed -- anymore.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kinda... and Studio 60 in the same sentence... feels about right DolefulCreature!
posted by ewan at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2013


Should have previewed before I apologized for making the joke...apparently I'm not alone.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2013


It's probably OK if you are (large-) printing out screenplays, but unfortunately for programming use, this seems to crap out and get fuzzy at smaller sizes. 12pt is bad, 10pt is nearly unreadable, where plain old Courier works perfectly at those sizes.

Yeah, I was poking around with Inconsolata last night after the font buzz built up and while I agree that it looks great on my 27" screen at 14pt and higher, if I want the same sort of density I'm used to, it turns into an overly serifed hot mess in OSX Console.

I miss 6x13 fixed.
posted by Kyol at 10:28 AM on January 30, 2013


TPAA, Ye GODS! I dive through terminals... ALL DAY LONG. Source Code looks amazing in Konsole.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 10:30 AM on January 30, 2013


Needs more Unicode.

I hadn't explored the higher code pages. Is there stuff of significance that Courier has that this is missing?
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2013


Seconding Source Code Pro. Excellent monospace font. My favorite.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


given how script readers at studios and agencies have been known to chuck a screenplay into the bin within a few pages when its formatting varies even slightly from the norm, I wouldn't dream of using any font other than exactly and precisely what my peers were using. Not yet.

I know thirty pros who switched to Courier Prime in the last two days. You'll be fine if you use it, and among great company. It also isn't different enough that it'll stand out. I think it looks more "courier" than regular Courier, and it's certainly better than Courier Final Draft.
posted by incessant at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thirding Source Code Pro. Looks good in both iTerm on the Mac and in Putty on Windows.
posted by mrbill at 10:37 AM on January 30, 2013


There's a little more info on the new font over by screenwriter John August's site who it seems had something to do with the development.
posted by cazoo at 10:37 AM on January 30, 2013


The bitstream vera font from the programers fonts list is super sweet - I love the dotted zero. Might make me switch from Consolas.
posted by shothotbot at 10:38 AM on January 30, 2013


Huh, I never see the word "screen plays" with a space in it like that. I thought they were using it as some kind of annoying new word to describe media created for the screen, rather then printed. Not just, you know screenplays
They help insure that screenplays adhere to the rough standard of one page of script being equal to one minute of screen time.
Seems like any mono-spaced font would work. I mean, why are the weird, rounded serifs necessary?

On the other hand, if you look at screenplays all day erry day, it could be that looking at one in a different font might be distracting. Still, I feel like the serifs are a big part of the problem with courier.
The bitstream vera font from the programers fonts list is super sweet - I love the dotted zero. Might make me switch from Consolas.
That's actually what I use.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on January 30, 2013


Yeah, I should have caught the space there on preview. Sorry.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:46 AM on January 30, 2013


this seems to crap out and get fuzzy at smaller sizes. 12pt is bad, 10pt is nearly unreadable, where plain old Courier works perfectly at those sizes.

To make it look good turn on antialiasing. Without antialiasing it looks, as you observed, terrible.
posted by alms at 10:48 AM on January 30, 2013


Okay, I'll bite. Why are screen plays still printed in monspace fonts? Because "they've always been that way", or is there some technical reason?

One page per minute is one aspect of the larger reason -- production people break up scripts into discrete parts, and then they film those parts. And when I say "parts," I mean like paragraphs and sentences -- often a production schedule for a day will have atop it the individual paragraphs in the script that they're filming that day, at that location.

When every script uses the same font (could be Courier, could be Bookman Old Style, could be Garamond, but it all has to be the same), then everyone in production can look at a block of text and instantly know how much "stuff" is there, how long the thought is, and probably also how long it'll take them to film it. Hollywood uses Courier because it's the typewriter font, and all of these production practices go back 75 years. As we moved from typewritten scripts to word processed scripts and using a different font became possible, Courier remained because the transition was gradual, not sudden, and there isn't some governing body of screenwriters and production people who would suddenly say "Let's all change at the same time! Those serifs look funny!"
posted by incessant at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've been using Ubuntu Mono for all my coding needs for a couple years and haven't looked back since.
posted by pmbuko at 11:00 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking as somebody who has done script development work in China, where they don't use a standardized font or format for draft screenplays: without the standard, it's basically impossible to tell what you've got in your hands.

Does that 40 page script need to be expanded to make a sane run time, or does it need to be cut in half? Nobody knows!
posted by zjacreman at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you are finding Source Code Pro glyphs a little too wide (as I did), have a look at Raph Levien's Inconsolata font.
posted by vanar sena at 11:11 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think you need monospace to have a consistent and understandable script length; only standardization is required. Any single font over many sentences will average out to a consistent length, right? Unless you're main character is named WWWWWWWWWWW or something.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think you need monospace to have a consistent and understandable script length; only standardization is required.

Yes, but the standardization started decades and decades ago, when the only font we could select was the typewriter's font -- Courier.
posted by incessant at 12:16 PM on January 30, 2013


Courier is my first love, typographically-speaking, and I love this a great deal.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, thanks for Source Code Pro. I'm going to play around with that one for a while, it's the first monospace font I've seen that's had a shot at ousting Inconsolata as my go-to monospaced font. The fact that it has better unicode support than Inconsolata is a big plus for me. Inconsolata is also a bit of a dog's breakfast at small sizes, as others have mentioned.

Courier Prime is pretty, but it doesn't have some basic things that I expect in a monospaced font like slashed/dotted zeroes, plus the l and 1 look more similar than I'd like. It's probably nice for screenplays and such, but for coding and related work it doesn't look so useful.
posted by Scientist at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2013


(I do love me some monospaced fonts, though. There's something about the neat regularity of them that really appeals. I do almost all my writing in a text editor with a monospaced font, and then move to a word processor afterward for formatting. It is a technique that I highly recommend.)
posted by Scientist at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our Ship Of The Imagination! : What does the "free (beer and speech)" thing mean?

This is an odd use of language that arises from the fact that English packs (at least) two meanings into the word free... it can mean either "no cost" or "liberty", depending on the context. So 'free software' can just be software that someone gives you for free, but that you have no additional rights over, or it can be software that you have the right to modify, change, and further distribute.

Some people refer to this stronger form of "free" as "Libre", although that's not terribly common. Richard Stallman uses capitalized Free. To him, free software is a disk someone hands you, where Free software is when they give you the source code, the right to change it, and the right to grant those same permissions to others.

These distinctions being a little subtle and/or linguistically challenging, the simile that has come into broadest use is describing free software as "free as in beer" (no cost), "free as in speech" (many fewer usage restrictions than normal), or both.

In this case, the "Libre" sense of the word means that you're able to modify and distribute this font, if you wish. You will probably have no interest in this, but font geeks might.
posted by Malor at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my production experience, screenplays and their individual pages tend to get printed out a lot, then xeroxed and distributed -- for example, here are today's suddenly-new pages, copied (regular size) for props, set dressing, scripty, etc. And here are the new pages copied (small size) into sides for the actors and the director and the ADs and PAs. And then sometimes those copies get copied again...and frequently the xerox machine in question is the rented one that sits inside the production trailer and doesn't work too great, and, in short, all those serifs in Courier tend to mean the font stays clear enough, even when you're dealing with a xerox of a xerox.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been using Anonymous Pro as my coding monospace font for a while. You can never have too many monospace fonts.
posted by borkencode at 1:09 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an odd use of language that arises from the fact that English packs (at least) two meanings into the word free... it can mean either 'no cost' or 'liberty', depending on the context.

Couldn't this confusion be avoided by using "free" to mean "no cost" and "open source" to mean "software that you have the right to modify, change, and further distribute"?
posted by kirkaracha at 1:11 PM on January 30, 2013


given how script readers at studios and agencies have been known to chuck a screenplay into the bin within a few pages when its formatting varies even slightly from the norm, I wouldn't dream of using any font other than exactly and precisely what my peers were using.

There is no way in hell that readers are going to be able to tell the difference between Courier and Courier Prime on sight, in a pile of scripts. They look almost exactly the same on the page. That's part of the purpose of this project. It's Courier, but better. Better in ways that are not going to be obviously distinguishable to the casual observer. It'll read better, but you won't know why it reads better.

Also, chances are, if you're writing screenplays, you're already using something that isn't precisely Courier. For example, Final Draft has its own proprietary version of Courier (for no reason, that I can tell). There's also Courier New, which is similarly indistinguishable from classic Courier. If anything, this is a problem that didn't need solving, because it's already been solved by any number of other iterations on the same theme. If August can make a little bank on his proprietary version of a font others already have their own proprietary versions of, good for him, I guess?

Seems like any mono-spaced font would work... On the other hand, if you look at screenplays all day erry day, it could be that looking at one in a different font might be distracting.

This is one of those things where it sort of is the way it is because that's the way it's always been. A big part of it is the minute per page thing, and the specific format that's used. But another part of it is a sort of gatekeeping mechanism. When you open a script and it... doesn't look like a script... you immediately know that you're dealing with a rank amateur. It's an immediate weed-out. A lot of Hollywood is based on immediate clues that someone "belongs". It's unfortunate, but it's true, and it doesn't really hurt anyone.

On the other hand, the Coen Brothers write all their scripts in Times New Roman. Basically because they can.
posted by Sara C. at 1:12 PM on January 30, 2013


It's probably OK if you are (large-) printing out screenplays, but unfortunately for programming use, this seems to crap out and get fuzzy at smaller sizes. 12pt is bad, 10pt is nearly unreadable, where plain old Courier works perfectly at those sizes.

Depends on how good the programmer's eyes are, innit? I rock 16 pt Courier.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2013


I'd never thought about what font screenplays were written in before. Standards or no, I can't help imagining everything James Cameron writes in Papyrus.
posted by maryr at 1:37 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


If August can make a little bank on his proprietary version of a font others already have their own proprietary versions of, good for him, I guess?

August won't be making a penny on this. It's basically entirely free.
posted by incessant at 1:39 PM on January 30, 2013


FWIW, biologists need to use monospaced fonts routinely for DNA and protein alignments. Courier is generally gets used, to the best of my knowledge because that's what BLAST outputs in.
posted by maryr at 1:45 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Beer isn't free where I live.
posted by panaceanot at 1:51 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm an attorney in a jurisdiction where appellate briefs must be typewritten in a monospaced font such as Courier, 12-point or larger size, and the type size of the brief and footnotes must not exceed 10.5 characters per inch. (Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(2) & 1999 Reporter's Notes.)

So thanks for this FPP! Courier Prime may be designed for screenplays, but I'm going to look at it for legal work. I also downloaded Source Code Pro to play with. I avoid monospaced fonts when I can, but when I can't, these might be new options.
posted by cribcage at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2013


Incessant, is it free for corporate/commercial use?

Plenty of fonts are free, and my assumption has always been that they're free like Facebook or Craigslist -- free for the little guy typing away on his screenplay at home, but if you want to bundle it with your screenwriting software, or use it in your ad campaign, someone makes money somewhere. It's not, like, 100% totally altruistic.

Then again John August is pretty cool, so maybe it is completely 100% totally free for everyone, all the time, no matter what.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on January 30, 2013


kirkaracha: Couldn't this confusion be avoided by using "free" to mean "no cost" and "open source" to mean "software that you have the right to modify, change, and further distribute"?

Well, there have been many epic arguments on this score. But, ultimately, 'open source' can mean multiple different things, anywhere from BSD code (do almost anything you like with it) to the Microsoft 'open source' initiatives, where very large customers can inspect the Windows sources, but can't change anything. Open source is just not specific enough a term, and it's often used by companies and entities that aren't really giving you any freedom.

Even "free as in speech" doesn't quite perfectly match any of the available licenses; BSD code requires an attribution if you distribute the code, and GPLed code comes with several responsibilities along with your extra rights, insuring that you transmit as many rights to downstream users as you yourself got. None of that subtlety is captured in the term at all. These are complex ideas, and they're hard to shorten. "Free as in speech" is a bad summary, a poor abstraction, but it's the best I know for someone who just wants a quick thumbnail idea of how GPL and BSD software works.
posted by Malor at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couldn't this confusion be avoided by using "free" to mean "no cost" and "open source" to mean "software that you have the right to modify, change, and further distribute"?

In addition to Malor's comments, some people object to the use of "open source" for anything other than software (the "source" of "open source" originally referring to source code), while "free as in speech" can apply to any number of things whose usage would ordinarily be restricted by intellectual property rights. Even in the case at hand, some would object to calling Courier Prime "open source" as a font is not software.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:44 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Monospaced fonts are also really useful for DNA, protein and any other biopolymer sequence entry and display, so you can visually compare lengths of polymer.....and quickly check for identity/homology/other insights.

Yes, software can do this, but sometimes, you have to see the assembly code yourself.,,,,
posted by lalochezia at 3:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love source code pro, I do, but the lack of an italic version turned out to be too big a flaw for me; I use italics to mark comments in my IDE and missed them too much.

So I tend to rotate between Meslo, Deja Vu Sans mono, Ubuntu mono and Consolas depending upon which system I'm on at the time and the mood I'm in.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:42 PM on January 30, 2013


And yes, all of those are humanist inspired mono fonts. I find them most comfy on the eye. So sue me.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:46 PM on January 30, 2013


RTFA, or I'll just quote it for you:

It’s released under the SIL Open Font License (OFL) license.

FAQ:
Is this free?

Yes. It’s free like beer and free like liberty. You can use it to your heart’s content.


Wikipedia's explanation of the SIL OFL:

"The license is considered free by the Free Software Foundation, which states that a simple hello world program is enough to satisfy the license's requirement that fonts using the license be distributed with computer software."

So yeah. Free.
posted by incessant at 3:49 PM on January 30, 2013


Their Czech example on the "Europhilic" line is spoken by a man, given the ending on the short-form predicate adjective!
posted by Earthtopus at 7:16 PM on January 30, 2013


I do almost all my writing in a text editor with a monospaced font, and then move to a word processor afterward for formatting. It is a technique that I highly recommend.)

Same here but skipping the last step. All our internal documents are pure ascii text files so that they can be saved and revised in Perforce. Once you get used to it, abandoning all font and formatting choices is really freeing. If the only thing you need to worry about is the words themselves, you can write so much faster without getting bogged down by constant worries about appearances.
posted by octothorpe at 7:52 PM on January 30, 2013


Or, if you want to have basic formatting without it getting in your way, there's Markdown too. I write exclusively in Markdown in text editors and convert when posting to the web or producing a document for a coworker.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:10 PM on January 30, 2013


eeek! I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference in a blind test a week from now... Is there something wrong with me? I do like looking at the side to side comparisons though.
posted by Riton at 8:14 PM on January 30, 2013


There's a Markdown-esque syntax for screenwriters, and it was also developed by John August (along with Stu Maschwitz and others). It's called Fountain, and in a profession like ours where formatting software rules our lives, it's amazingly freeing to be able to work outside of that software and know that we can archive our work in a format that will work as long as there's a text editor nearby.
posted by incessant at 8:17 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Octothorpe, I am totally with you and would be all over that if people in my department wouldn't think I was super weird for doing it. I occasionally try to slip a text file in as a document in an e-mail or whatever, and invariably get a reply on the line of "hey, could you put this in an MS Word format for me? I can't read it like this."

Scientists these days...
posted by Scientist at 11:41 PM on January 30, 2013


I've adopted Andale Mono as my go-to font for source code and terminal emulation. What I really don't understand is that's it's available for free through the Core Fonts for Web package (here), but Microsoft sells it through the Andale landing page.
posted by Harald74 at 12:01 AM on January 31, 2013


Fountain is indeed pretty neat. I've only played with it a bit myself, but I love how it gets out of your way, just like MD.

Octothorpe, I am totally with you and would be all over that if people in my department wouldn't think I was super weird for doing it. I occasionally try to slip a text file in as a document in an e-mail or whatever, and invariably get a reply on the line of "hey, could you put this in an MS Word format for me? I can't read it like this."

Yep. Gradually businesses are learning that they don't have to use Word anymore, but only gradually. Mine is thoroughly addicted, and they practically got out the pitchforks and torches the first time I sent out the raw text file of a document I'd been working on for them. I'm amazed scientists have that problem though -- one would think they'd be more than familiar with LaTeX.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:17 AM on January 31, 2013


Also, for those working in plaintext with Dropbox: TextDrop. Access, edit, and Markdown-preview your Dropbox text files in a browser from any computer. Works really really well.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:20 AM on January 31, 2013


I do like the italics on this one. I'll give it a go next time I need something in monospace.

I agree. But the curved serifs kind of make it into a different font. I've seen those curved serifs somewhere, but I can't remember where.

eeek! I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference in a blind test a week from now... Is there something wrong with me? I do like looking at the side to side comparisons though.

Except for the italics, it looks like the difference between a typewriter using a new, crisp ribbon with a new element, versus a fuzzy ribbon with a worn element. This font is heavier than the sort of wispy windows Courier, but not quite as heavy as the Mac one.
posted by gjc at 8:21 AM on January 31, 2013


Today John August was on KPCC, Los Angeles's local public radio station, talking about Courier Prime, where he discusses the history of Courier and why he created Courier Prime.
posted by incessant at 7:37 PM on February 1, 2013


I'm amazed scientists have that problem though -- one would think they'd be more than familiar with LaTeX.

Physical scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are. In my lab, it is a struggle to get my PI to understand why PowerPoint is not an acceptable environment for figure compositing. The absence of preprints and the lack of need for complex equation typesetting results in really bad practices centered around 'whatever I learned in 1995.'
posted by monocyte at 8:16 AM on February 2, 2013


I think that in this modern world, things like basic typography should be taught in school. I mean, if they're going to teach handwriting, they may as well. Picking an appropriate font can be just as important as good penmanship. LaTeX can be a college course. :)
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:55 PM on February 2, 2013


I wish I'd had that training, yeah. I appreciate really good typography but am absolute ass at it.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2013


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