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I'm deciding on the Font Families to use in LyX for a planned novel. Computer Modern is the default (Roman, Sans and Typewriter). I'm interested in the number of font faces and the versatility in styling of text. The number one priority is the ease of reading lots of text, and it not appearing unusual or odd. I don't want something "unique" looking, but rather something that the reader would never think twice about...because they're too busy reading to notice an artistic font. I hear about everyone having a personal favorite and recommending this or that, but never have heard once, "stick with Computer Modern font families"

I can't find a reason to change the fonts from default. After looking over test prints, Computer Modern Roman seems excellent to my eye. I particularly like that there is a very noticeable and distinguishing contrast between regular and bold text. The italics is also noticeably different from a similarly curvy but more vertical font face that I think would be great to use with inset monologues and poetry sections, and there is a decent small caps face.

If someone were to recommend another font, I'd hope its as versatile and readable. I haven't looked at the Computer Modern Italics or Computer Modern Typewriter font families, and so I don't have an opinion on them yet.

MY QUESTION is simple: Did these font families become the default because they've withstood the test of time and no one has been able to argue that CM is inferior to another font family. Or, like so many other traditions, is it the default because it was the first, and no one ever bothered to change it to something that perhaps had the consensus of being an improvement.

And so, understanding that this isn't a discussion forum, but limited to question and answers, please let me know if the Computer Modern font families have ever been lambasted for having defects, or for having a general consensus of being "unreadable" for novel length works.

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Just as a side note, perhaps you'd like to check the TeX Gyre Schola –  Mario S. E. Oct 7 '13 at 17:04
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I think Computer Modern is an OK choice for short technical documents, but I generally find Moderns unpleasant in novels, and with CM there is also an association with technical (and TeXnical) writing. –  Max Oct 7 '13 at 20:41
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I'm writing technical documents, so I quickly rejected a lot of the fonts at tug.dk/FontCatalogue/seriffonts.html, saying "this is for novels". Look around there. –  marczellm Oct 7 '13 at 21:57
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For a "proven" font from the same vintage (and creator), check out AMS Euler which was designed specifically for Mathematical publications. It has a consistent style across Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew alphabets. It is beautifully described in a chapter of Knuth's Digital Typography, which consists of a series of letters between Knuth and Hermann Zapf (yes, as in "Dingbats"). –  luser droog Oct 8 '13 at 3:47
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To me, Hermann Zapf's Palatino (\usepackage{palatino}) is highly readable, with a better stroke width than CM for older eyes. I also like using eulervm and eufrak packages with Palatino. –  Steven B. Segletes Oct 8 '13 at 15:37

3 Answers 3

up vote 40 down vote accepted

Computer modern is the default font for TeX because it was created at (more or less) the same time as TeX by the same author, specifically for that purpose. For some time it was essentially the only font set practically usable with the TeX system.

The defaults in LaTeX or plain TeX never change as you should be able to process a document from last century and get the same page breaks.

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If page breaks are the concern, wouldn't it suffice to have the same metrics? –  Random832 Oct 7 '13 at 19:56
    
@Random832 yes mostly, which is why most distributions have changed from metafont versions of cm to type1 –  David Carlisle Oct 7 '13 at 20:08
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@Random832 -- if you've ever seen "font a" with metrics changed to match those of "font b", you'd immediately understand why simply having identical metrics isn't satisfactory. if you want to read something without getting a headache, letter shapes and "fitting" really matter. –  barbara beeton Oct 7 '13 at 21:45
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@barbarabeeton next you'll be telling us that people look at the pdf output of TeX rather than rely on \tracingall –  David Carlisle Oct 7 '13 at 21:47
    
Note that there is a bit of history behind Computer Modern. It was based on Monotype Modern 8a, which had been used to typeset the The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth wanted to use the same typeface in later volumes. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Jan 25 at 14:03

I believe that Latin Modern (the lmodern package) has superseded Computer Modern, but there are few major differences (If you aren't writing in English, Latin Modern has better-behaved accent/diacritic placement).

A 2013 study by 2 psychologists on the effect of different fonts for dyslexic readers found that Computer Modern performed well as a font with dyslexic readers. The test was done with a novel, so you're likely fine using CM.

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I think it's also the default because the first usage of TeX was for mathematics formulae, and there aren't so many fonts for maths. Nowadays, with XeLaTeX or LuaLaTeX you can use quite easily any open type font you may want to use if it's just text. –  Bernard Oct 7 '13 at 19:37
    
So far I haven't found a font obviously better suited than CM. The project will be in English, no math formula. It's good to know it doesn't trigger dyslexia. I had read in Memoir documentation that 66 characters per line was optimal for a paper with page after page of reading. To get an average of about 66 characters per line, I'm considering font width and height for easiest reading on a page width (5" - 5.5" width X 8" or 8.5" height). Q.2: On TUG, under font catalog, under CM Roman: "\fontshape{ui}\selectfont". This looks like a second italics-like face, nice! Are there more faces? –  user12711 Oct 7 '13 at 20:26
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@user12711 -- if your installation is based on tex live, you can look in the tfm directory for cm. (on a unix system, you can find out where this is by typing kpsewhich cmr10.tfm at the command line.) the font name/style is identified by 3-6 letters, and the size by 1-2 digits. there really are lots to choose from, although not all shapes in all sizes. (and ui = upright italic; it's kind of perverse, but i find it useful to identify editor's notes in tugboat.) –  barbara beeton Oct 7 '13 at 21:53
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@user12711 -- I think the default margins of LaTeX are 66 characters, according to section 6.4 of the not-so-short introduction to LaTeX (An incredibly useful guide!) –  Roger Filmyer Oct 8 '13 at 3:05

Modern typefaces (or Didone, they were modern in the Victorian era) have a long history of being used in publishing, especially scientific literature and mathematics.

Knuth designed Computer Modern typeface after the Monotype Modern 8a typeface that was used in the first editions of The Art of Computer Programing (when it was still prepared using metal typesetting), and has since been the default typeface in plain TeX and most TeX macro packages.

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