On web fonts, bold and the iPad

Published on Sep 04, 2012

This past weekend I took some time to change the look and feel of the site.

My main focus was on changing the typography of the site to simplify more and more the design.

Choosing fonts

I started playing with TypeCast to try to find a font combination that I liked.

My first attempt was to use the beautifully crafted Quattrocento by Pablo Impallari for all the text and Sorts Mill Goudy by Barry Schwartz for the headings.

After setting the styles and publishing the site with the changes I started to test in different browsers and devices.

Everything was looking good until I tried it on my iPad. Suddenly all my headings had a phantom line under them. Like been duplicated and superimposed.

It was late at night so I decided to leave it along for the next day.

Font style bold on a normal weight font

Came back the next morning and I started to compare the rendering of the fonts on my iPad. The headings were using Sort Mill Goudy, so I opened Google fonts and searched for that font in the iPad, it was rendering with no problems.

While I was still looking at the horrible double render of my titles I noticed a section containing an em tag and here the fonts also had the offending double rendering.

I checked the styling for the em tag and noticed I was setting font-weight to bold.

Could it be possible that Safari on the iPad took exception to using bold in a normal weight font? Headings are always bold in the default style sheet for most browsers, so that made sense.

I decided to test it and remove the font-weight from em and forced the h tags to font-weight: normal. Perfect! Text rendering was back to normal.

Sorts Mill Goudy comes on normal weight only. I was using the wrong font for bold weight.

But headings should be bold (because that’s how I like it)

I had to find a font that have a bold style.

I could have used the bold style of Quattrocento but I wanted some variation between headings and the rest of the text on the site.

After looking around for an hour or so I decided to change to Gentium Book Basic by Victor Gaultney.

I came really close to switch to IM Fell DW Pica instead. I love this family of fonts, but they are all normal weight and it didn’t worked. I really felt the need for bold titles to add some rhythm to the text, Gentium gave me that and is a lovely font as well.

I got the bold style for headings and em and I was rewarded with some perfectly rendered fonts on the iPad and other devices I have available for testing.

Isn’t this obvious?

Well, yes I think is pretty obvious once you think about it; what is surprising is that most browsers actually do a good job faking it.

As far as I can tell Safari on iOS5 is the only one that struggles with it.

I wasn’t even going to write about it but a few hours after fixing it I was reading the blog from a fairly well known developer and noticed the same problem with the titles on his blog.

He is also using a normal weight font for headings and sure enough, the same double rendering problem. The font in his case is a bit more permissive and you can only really tell in lower case “e” and uppercase “G”.

So I think I’m not the only one fooled by this issue, at least now the next person with the same problem may find this article and save a few hours of debugging.