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My draft dissertation (google docs link here) shows up remarkably poorly on google docs. It was rendered on ConTeXt MkIV with the default pdf engine (pdftex, I believe.)

What steps do I need to take to make the google docs output more legible at its default zoom?

My guess as to the problem is that it's performing a downsample of the 12 point font rather than rerendering the fonts from the embedded fonts (if the font is indeed embedded) I'm using the default roman font.

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Use another font. CMR is known to be very fragile. There are many, many fonts out there that are especially well suited for downsampling. Try out Lucida Fax, Frutiger, FF Meta and others. The contrast between the horizontal stems and the vertical ones should be low. – topskip May 18 '11 at 17:52
ConTeXt doesn't use Computer Modern. – Philipp May 18 '11 at 21:08
@Philipp Then call it Latin modern or whatever(, which is clearly derived from cmr). That doesn't change the fact that this kind of font is not suitable at all for downsampling. – topskip May 19 '11 at 4:26
@Patrick As Lev's answer suggests, there are important differences between CM, CM-Super, and LM. – Philipp May 19 '11 at 6:05
@Philipp, with these kind of fonts (it doesn't really matter if its cmr, lmr, cm-super, Bodoni or any kind of these), it is really hard to get good results with low-res output formats, especially when they are downsampled from high-res output. This is due to the fact that the vertical strokes are extremly thin and break apart. Even good hinting is not a solution, because you lose the high contrast on low-res output. – topskip May 19 '11 at 16:49
up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are several versions of "the default roman font". There is the bluesky computer modern (cmr), the newer but flawed CM-Super, and the latest latin modern (lmodern).

Your document seems to use latin modern.

See this link for test google documents that I produced with pdftex using each of these 3 fonts. Your opinion may be different, but to my mind it's pretty clear that bluesky computer modern looks the best, cm-super is the worst, and lmodern is in between.

My guess is that google docs pays attention to the hinting in the fonts when converting the files: bluesky is professionally hinted, lmodern is a little hinted but it's not a priority for the project, cm-super is not hinted at all. It may be that google docs leaves the font rendering to the browser, so the results might depend on which browser/OS you are using to access google docs.

Anyway, out of these 3 fonts, my advice would be to use cmr. However, this has some downsides when it comes to writing languages with many accented characters (words with accents cannot hyphenate properly: see this FAQ answer), which you can partially avoid by the use of virtual fonts (in LaTeX you can achieve this with \usepackage{ae}, and presumably there is a ConTeXt equivalent) (see this FAQ answer), although this will mess with copying/pasting and searching for text containing accents.

Your google doc looks somewhat worse than the lmodern version I generated. It's possible you are using an older version of the font (it's still under active development).

Really, the best way to solve all these problems would be to use a different font entirely. For example, I loaded a version of the test document using MinionPro. See what you think. As @patrick commented, all versions of computer modern are well known to be non-ideal for low-resolution rendering, and there even certain fonts that are specifically designed to excel in such a role.

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ConTeXt has no \usepackage. – Philipp May 18 '11 at 21:08
Do you have a link to the minion pro test document? Also, thanks for the fantastic answer :) – Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 19 '11 at 2:23
Oooh, I get to follow the instructions for "installing Expert Fonts..." Thanks! :) (only a little bit of sarcasm there, genuine thanks as well.) – Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 19 '11 at 2:25
The minion pro test document is at the same place as the other 3 google docs. For some reason google forgot to share it before, but you should be able to see it now. – Lev Bishop May 19 '11 at 2:36
I've uploaded screenshots of okular displaying your exemplary PDFs in hi-res: cm-super, lmodern, bluesky. It shows that Blue Sky is not ultimately better, as sollicitudin word (l letter), which looks the same as in CM-Super, looks worse there than in Latin Modern. OTOH consequat word (a letter position) looks worse in Latin Modern. One thing is sure, CM-Super is the worst, which can be clearly seen by looking at least at s letters. – przemoc Jun 30 '11 at 11:23

It was rendered on ConTeXt MkIV with the default pdf engine (pdftex, I believe.)

If you use MkIV, then LuaTeX is used.

For me the quality seems acceptable with the default zoom. The problem could be the screen resolution. A serif font commonly used for printing doesn't display nicely on a low resolution paper. What you could do is, to create two versions, one version optimized for printing and another one for screen display. However, I don't know how google docs handles this.

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