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Behind the painstaking process of creating Chinese computer fonts

However there are tens of 1000’s of Chinese language characters, and a Five-by-7 grid used to be too small to lead them to legible. Chinese language required a grid of 16 by means of 16 or better—i.e., no less than 32 bytes of reminiscence (256 bits) in line with personality. Have been one to consider a font containing 70,000 low-resolution Chinese language characters, the entire reminiscence requirement would exceed two megabytes. Even a font containing handiest eight,000 of the commonest Chinese language characters will require roughly 256 kilobytes simply to retailer the bitmaps. That used to be 4 occasions the entire reminiscence capability of maximum off-the-shelf non-public computer systems within the early 1980s.

As severe as those reminiscence demanding situations had been, essentially the most taxing issues confronting low-res Chinese language font manufacturing within the 1970s and 1980s had been ones of aesthetics and design. Lengthy prior to any individual sat down with a program like Gridmaster, the lion’s proportion of labor happened off the pc, the usage of pen, paper, and correction fluid.

Designers spent years looking to type bitmaps that fulfilled the low-memory necessities and preserved a modicum of calligraphic class. Amongst those that created this personality set, whether or not by means of hand-drawing drafts of bitmaps for particular Chinese language characters or digitizing them the usage of Gridmaster, had been Lily Huan-Ming Ling (凌焕銘) and Ellen Di Giovanni.

behind the painstaking process of creating chinese computer fonts - Behind the painstaking process of creating Chinese computer fonts
Draft bitmap drawings of Chinese language characters for the Sinotype III font.

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

The core issue that designers confronted used to be translating between two radically other ways of writing Chinese language: the hand-drawn personality, produced with pen or brush, and the bitmap glyph, produced with an array of pixels organized on two axes. Designers needed to make a decision how (and whether or not) they had been going to take a look at to re-create positive orthographic options of handwritten Chinese language, equivalent to front strokes, stroke tapering, and go out strokes.

Relating to the Sinotype III font, the method of designing and digitizing low-resolution Chinese language bitmaps used to be completely documented. One of the crucial interesting archival assets from this era is a binder stuffed with grids with hand-drawn hash marks in all places them—sketches that might later be digitized into bitmaps for plenty of 1000’s of Chinese language characters. Each and every of those characters used to be in moderation laid out and, most often, edited by means of Louis Rosenblum and GARF, the usage of correction fluid to erase any “bits” the editor disagreed with. Over best of the preliminary set of inexperienced hash marks, then, a 2d set of crimson hash marks indicated the “ultimate” draft. Handiest then did the paintings of information access start.

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A detailed-up of a draft bitmap drawing of bei (背, again, rear) appearing edits made the usage of correction fluid.

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Given the sheer choice of bitmaps that the crew had to design—no less than three,000 (and preferably many extra) if the gadget had any hopes of gratifying shoppers’ wishes—one would possibly suppose that the designers regarded for methods to streamline their paintings. A method they might have executed this, as an example, would had been to replicate Chinese language radicals—the bottom parts of a personality—after they gave the impression in more or less the similar location, measurement, and orientation from one personality to some other. When generating the numerous dozens of commonplace Chinese language characters containing the “lady radical” (女), as an example, the crew at GARF will have (and, in principle, must have) created only one same old bitmap, after which replicated it inside of each and every personality wherein that radical gave the impression.

No such mechanistic choices had been made, alternatively, because the archival fabrics display. To the contrary, Louis Rosenblum insisted that designers modify every of those parts—continuously in just about imperceptible techniques—to make sure they had been in unity with the whole personality wherein they gave the impression.

Within the bitmaps for juan (娟, sleek) and mian (娩, to ship), as an example—every of which incorporates the girl radical—that radical has been modified ever so reasonably. Within the personality juan, the center segment of the girl radical occupies a horizontal span of six pixels, as when put next with 5 pixels within the personality mian. On the identical time, alternatively, the bottom-right curve of the girl radical extends outward only one pixel additional within the personality mian, and within the personality juan that stroke does no longer lengthen in any respect.

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The bitmap characters for juan (娟, sleek) and mian (娩, to ship) from the Sinotype III font, recreated by means of the creator.

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Throughout all the font, this degree of precision used to be the rule of thumb slightly than the exception.

Once we juxtapose the draft bitmap drawings towards their ultimate bureaucracy, we see that extra adjustments had been made. Within the draft model of luo (罗, acquire, web), as an example, the bottom-left stroke extends downward at a great 45° perspective prior to tapering into the digitized model of an outstroke. Within the ultimate model, alternatively, the curve has been “flattened,” starting at 45° however then leveling out.

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A comparability of 2 draft variations of the nature luo (罗, acquire, web).

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

In spite of the apparently small house wherein designers needed to paintings, they needed to make a staggering choice of alternatives. And each and every the sort of choices affected each and every different choice they made for a selected personality, since including even one pixel continuously modified the whole horizontal and vertical steadiness.

The unforgiving measurement of the grid impinged upon the designers’ paintings in different, sudden techniques. We see this maximum obviously within the devilish issue of accomplishing symmetry. Symmetrical layouts—which abound in Chinese language characters—had been particularly tricky to constitute in low-resolution frameworks as a result of, by means of the foundations of arithmetic, growing symmetry calls for odd-sized spatial zones. Bitmap grids with even dimensions (such because the 16-by-16 grid) made symmetry inconceivable. GARF controlled to reach symmetry by means of, in lots of circumstances, the usage of just a portion of the whole grid: only a 15-by-15 area throughout the total 16-by-16 grid. This diminished the volume of usable house even additional.

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Symmetry and asymmetry within the characters shan (山, mounting), zhong (中, center), ri (日, solar), and tian (田, box).

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

The tale turns into much more complicated once we start to evaluate the bitmap fonts created by means of other firms or creators for various tasks. Believe the water radical (氵) because it gave the impression within the Sinotype III font (underneath and at the correct), versus some other early Chinese language font created by means of H.C. Tien (at the left), a Chinese language-American psychotherapist and entrepreneur who experimented with Chinese language computing within the 1970s and 1980s.

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A comparability of the water radical (氵) because it gave the impression within the Sinotype III font (correct) as opposed to an early Chinese language font created by means of H.C. Tien (left).

LOUIS ROSENBLUM COLLECTION, STANFORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

As minor because the above examples would possibly appear, every represented but some other choice (amongst 1000’s) that the GARF design crew needed to make, whether or not right through the drafting or the digitization section.

Low decision didn’t keep “low” for lengthy, after all. Computing advances gave upward thrust to ever denser bitmaps, ever quicker processing speeds, and ever diminishing prices for reminiscence. In our present age of 4K decision, retina shows, and extra, it can be onerous to comprehend the artistry—each aesthetic and technical—that went into the advent of early Chinese language bitmap fonts, as restricted as they had been. Nevertheless it used to be problem-solving like this that in the long run made computing, new media, and the web obtainable to one-sixth of the worldwide inhabitants.

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