It’s Time for a Typeface Change

[Update, 12/21/07 3:30PM EST: Previously I linked to Word 2003 versions of a document in Times New Roman and the same document in Calibri. I belatedly realized that that would only confuse matters, so I’ve now linked instead to PDFs.]

Brace yourselves—I’m proposing a change of typeface.

The Current Regime

I suggested in this November 2006 post that Times New Roman isn’t a thing of beauty.

And I’m not crazy about Arial either, at least not for purposes of business documents. And not at 10 point, the main advantage of which seems to be that one can cram more words onto a page. (For some background on Arial, see this discussion by the graphic designer Mark Simonson; he describes Arial as “rather homely.”)

But it has come to pass that liberal-arts types flock to Times New Roman and technical types cling to Arial—a trivial manifestation of the “two cultures.” That Times New Roman is so prevalent is due to its having been the default typeface in Windows from version 3.1 until Vista and in Word until Word 2007.

As for alternatives, the comments to my post on Times New Roman suggest Palatino, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, Futura Book, Bookman Old Style … . Whatever the aesthetic merits of these and other out-of-the-mainstream typefaces, they’d represent an idiosyncratic choice. And business contracts aren’t conducive to idiosyncracy.

The Prospect of Change

In my post on Times New Roman I said that I planned on changing typefaces, and I suggested as possible candidates the ClearType Font Collection, which is the new suite of typefaces included with the Microsoft Vista operating system and the Microsoft Office 2007 suite of applications. Now that Vista and Office 2007 have been with us for a few months, I finally decided to resume my hunt.

With that in mind, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to pick the brains of two people at Microsoft—Tanya Moore, senior director of IP licensing, and Simon Daniels, a program manager in Microsoft’s typography group. To the extent that I’ve been able to make sense of this issue, I have them to thank.


The impetus behind the new typefaces is Microsoft’s ClearType technology. Here’s how Microsoft describes ClearType:

ClearType is a software technology developed by Microsoft that improves the readability of text on existing LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays), such as laptop screens, Pocket PC screens and flat panel monitors. With ClearType font technology, the words on your computer screen look almost as sharp and clear as those printed on a piece of paper.

ClearType works by accessing the individual vertical color stripe elements in every pixel of an LCD screen. Before ClearType, the smallest level of detail that a computer could display was a single pixel, but with ClearType running on an LCD monitor, we can now display features of text as small as a fraction of a pixel in width. The extra resolution increases the sharpness of the tiny details in text display, making it much easier to read over long durations.

To help spread the word about the new typefaces, Microsoft produced a book entitled Now Read This: The Microsoft ClearType Font Collection. It explains how ClearType led to the new typefaces:

In the course of our work on ClearType and creating new typefaces for electronic books, we realized that the unique knowledge we have could be used to design new typefaces which took advantage of the way ClearType works.

We are committed to excellence. So it was obvious that if we wanted to create new ClearType-optimized typefaces, we should work with the best designers in the world. We asked type designers to submit draft designs to be judged competitively; we commissioned complete designs and then built computer fonds using the highest-quality technology we had—ClearType has evolved a great deal since we invented it in 1998.

The new Western fonts in this book are the result of that project.

Is ClearType worth the fuss? Now Read This cites a recent study that concluded that reading ClearType was, on average, slightly more than 5% faster than reading without ClearType. That might seem like a modest difference, but cumulatively it would have a substantial effect, particularly as a drafter is likely to read a given draft much more on screen than on paper.

The ClearType Font Collection

Here are the new typefaces:

  • Constantia (serif)
  • Cambria (serif)
  • Corbel (sans-serif)
  • Candara (sans-serif)
  • Calibri (sans-serif)
  • Consolas (monospace)

This Poynter Online article provides a convenient overview. Calibri has been designated the default for body text in Office 2007, and Cambria has been designated the default heading typeface.

Aesthetic Considerations

First, let’s consider the aesthetics. Given the resources that Microsoft has devoted to the new typefaces—Now Read This says that Bill Gates has made improving reading on the screen one of his personal “Top 5” priorities—I’m not surprised that I found them all to be attractive.

Of the serif typefaces, for purposes of business documents I have a slight preference for Cambria, as being more formal.

But the sans-serif typefaces were the real revelation. I found them all more agreeable than Arial, but the one that particularly caught my eye is Calibri, which is distinguished by its rounded ends. Generally, it could be described as a “humanist” sans-serif, in that it offers some variation in line width and so should be more readable than more severe sans-serif fonts. I found that label appropriate, in the way it suggests a mix of what draws technical types to Arial and liberal-arts types to Times New Roman. To my surprise, I’d be happy offering Calibri to both groups. It’s what I’d like to switch to.

But see for yourselves: click here to see a PDF of a sample page of a contract using 12-point Times New Roman; click here to see a PDF of the same page using 11-point Calibri. I used 11-point Calibri because that’s Word 2007’s default font.

(Note that Calibri in a PDF document is nowhere near as clear on screen as Calibri in a Word document with ClearType. Also, note that the Times New Roman document uses underscore for emphasis whereas the Calibri document uses bold; for more on that, see today’s other post.)

One feature of Calibri might make it more palatable to drafters than the other new sans-serif typefaces—as a default, it uses lining numerals rather than old-style numerals. (Click here for a comparison of lining numerals and old-style numerals.) For one thing, users of Times New Roman and Arial would be used to lining numerals. And although old-style numerals blend well with lowercase letters, in contracts you generally want numbers—whether used to state amounts or used to enumerate blocks of text—to stand out.

Space Considerations

Of the two sample pages that I link to above, the version with Calibri squeezes a couple more lines on the one page than does the Times New Roman version. If both versions used 12 point, the Times New Roman version would be the one fit a couple more lines on the page. That’s because, in typographer speak, Calibri has a slightly larger x-height, wider letter-spacing, and more in-built interline spacing (also known as leading).

I may tinker with Calibri’s size, to see if I prefer 12 point. But for the sake of simplicity, and in order not to scare off anyone who doesn’t like the idea of changing to a font that takes up more space, for the moment I’m happy sticking Word 2007’s default, 11-point Calibri.

Compatibility with Word 2003

The notion of changing typefaces raises the issue of cross-platform font compatibility.

My first question in that regard was whether only those who’d installed Office 2007 would be able to use the new typefaces. That’s not the case—I realized that although I haven’t yet installed Office 2007, the new typefaces were available to me in Word 2003. That’s because I’d installed the Microsoft Office compability pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 file formats. Anyone using older versions of Word or even a competing word-processing program can do so too, in only a few clicks.

Mac Compatibility

A less tractable issue is compatibility with Macs. If you send a Mac user a document that containing any of the new typefaces, they’d be able to open it, but it would probably display in a fall-back font such as Lucida Grande. That by itself would be a nuisance, as it would interfere with, for instance, exchanging signature pages. Furthermore, it would complicate negotiations, as the line breaks and page breaks in the recipient’s version would likely be different from those in the sender’s version.

Here’s my take on this: Macs have only a toehold at law firms. (Click here to read a recent Lawyers Weekly article about this.) So the life-enhancing quality of working with a classy typeface that’s designed to work with ClearType far outweighs the inconvenience of having to switch back to Times New Roman or Arial on those rare occasions when you’re dealing with a Mac user.

And a couple of factors could turn this from a minor issue to a non-issue. First, the Mac user you’re corresponding with might have elected to run Windows as well as the Mac operating system. And second, the upcoming 2008 versions of Mac Office will likely resolve this issue.

Printer Speed

Times typefaces are embedded in laser printers. That makes for quicker printout, as you don’t need to download Times New Roman to your printer each time you print a document.

In theory, that means that if a large organization were to switch all at once to one of the new typefaces, users might notice a drop in printer speed.

But with the speeds offered by current hardware, this is less of an issue than it once might have been. And I gather that discussions are ongoing regarding licensing the new typefaces to printer manufacturers. That would resolve the issue entirely.

Weighing Change

So in favor changing to Calibri (or, if you prefer, one of the other new typefaces) you have aesthetics and the fact that unlike Times New Roman and Arial, it was designed to work with ClearType. In favor of standing pat you have trivial cross-platform compatibility issues and … inertia. Sounds familiar.

I would remind those inclined to cling to Times New Roman that its current prevalence has nothing to do with its inherent qualities. Instead, it has everything to do with decisions made at pivotal moments in the recent past by companies responsible for developing our reading and writing technologies.

Similar factors favor a more worthy candidate, Calibri. Seeing as it’s one of the default typefaces for Office 2007, opting for it couldn’t be considered a nonconformist decision.

Furthermore, changing typeface would be a lot easier than changing contract language, in that the other side would have no basis for objecting to the change. And within any given firm, the change wouldn’t have to be made lockstep—any lawyer could make the change whenever he or she has the urge.

But I won’t do anything irrevocable—such as asking Payne Consulting Group to revise the MSCD options in the Numbering Assistant—until I’ve digested any feedback I receive.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

31 thoughts on “It’s Time for a Typeface Change”

  1. I’m hesitant on this. I certainly see the benefits of it (particularly the 5% factor), but using a font that most lawyers don’t yet have on their computers is a little aggressive. As much as we pass documents and drafts back and forth, it seems like it would create a lot of headaches that would continue on for a long time. Our firm considers itself a “leader” in technology, but even we’d have a lot of headaches and updating to deal with internally, much less with opposing counsel.

  2. CB: If, as I suggest, the technical obstacles are slim to nonexistent, I don’t see why any headaches should arise, other than headaches at the very thought of change. Ken

  3. Thanks for throwing the Mac users to the side. What a disappointment. I guess I won’t buy your book after all. No worries for you, though, I’m just an “inconvenience”. I’ll be sure to let the more than 500 members of the Mac in Law Offices group and the more than 1000 members of the MacLaw list know that you think so little of their chosen technology.

    For more on typography, I suggest Robert Bringhurst’s _The Elements of Typographic Style_.

  4. NCLawGuy: I assure you that I’m entirely agnostic in the great Mac versus Windows wars; I’m just responding to the facts on the ground. Given that (1) Mac has a very modest presence in the legal landscape, (2) any compatability issue is likely to disappear soon enough, and (3) if there is a compatibility issue, the parties can simply revert to Times New Roman, Arial, or whatever other typeface they wish means that I don’t think what I’m recommending is particularly contentious. Ken

  5. Change isn’t possible if people refuse to change. I think it’s terrific that Microsoft has commissioned real type designers to create high-quality new fonts and to distribute them widely through their new OS. Kenneth Adams has bravely decided to be an early adopter here, and I hope he will influence others in his field to do the same as well.

    Meanwhile, I also hope the Microsoft will find a way to distribute these typefaces to us Mac users as well, as we are a big force in moving typographic change forward.

  6. Call me stodgy, but I think Callibri looks unprofessional. Notwithstanding its scientific merits, which I don’t doubt or dispute, I would be embarrassed to give a client a formal legal document that looks like your sample page. I might use it for a Christmas card or something meant to be informal, but I can’t see myself using it for a contract or business letter. For me, it’s just a matter of aesthetics.

    I’m not opposed to change, mind you. I don’t use Times New Roman if I can avoid it. I’ve settled on Bookman Old Style and Garamond as the best available alternatives, and I’d gladly switch to something else if it presented a better overall value. But for me, anyway, Callibri ain’t it.

  7. Ken: You know that I appreciate your ability to forward-think on contracting issues. But I think you’re going down an incorrect path on this.

    First, I have to confess that I’m a Mac user whenever I’m not forced to be a Windows user. So I do agree with the other commenter that you did seem dismissive of all Mac users. I would suggest that is not a good course of action.

    Second, I’ve never been pleased by Microsoft’s behavior that declares a new standard of any kind. So I am hesitant to accept anything that comes from Redmond because while the vast majority may have ACCESS to what they’ve handed out, that doesn’t make it better.

    Third, from a typographic perspective, I don’t think a sans-serif font is the easiest to read. Calibri itself just looks “wrong” but I’m not able to put my finger on why. I’m not necessarily in love with TNR by any stretch – but I would think there needs to be more than what sounds like a dislike of TNR to make everyone switch.

  8. BSells: First off, I’m not insisting that everyone share my affinity for Calibri. Pretty much any of the typefaces in the ClearType Font Collection, with the obvious exception of the monospace Consolas, would be an improvement on Times New Roman and Arial. And who know—over time I may gravitate to one of the other typefaces.

    And when one’s dealing with typeface selection, I think there’s something to be said for restraining one’s unfettered notions of taste and instead approaching the choice from a broader perspective. Deciding whether one likes a given movie, or butter on one’s popcorn, is an entirely personal decision. By contrast, one’s documents are shared with others. Lucas de Groot, who designed Calibri, says that it’s suitable for documents, and Microsoft has made it the default for Microsoft Office. That should perhaps give you pause before spurning Calibri.

    And people rationalize all sorts of questionable decisions—such as using justified text in word-processing documents—by declaring that their choice is the “professional” one.


  9. Jeff: Regarding your first point, I won’t repeat my response to NCLawGuy. “Dismissive” might suggest some kind of animus on my part, and that’s not at all the case. I don’t care who wears the white hat and who wears the black hat in the computer world. My only interest is what works best for the entire contract community.

    Regarding your second point, I’m not recommending the ClearType Font Collection in general, and Calibri in particular, simply because Microsoft has served them to me on a platter. Instead, I’m recommending them because they represent an improvement. The fact that they’re broadly accessible, and will presumably be accessible to Mac users too soon enough, simply makes it feasible for users to adopt that improvement.

    Regarding your third point, the notion that sans-serif typefaces are, across the board, harder to read would come as a surprise to the many people who wouldn’t dream of drafting a contract with anything other than Arial. I’m not going to start any in-depth research in to readability, but I can believe studies that show that people can read just fine whatever typeface they’re used to, whether serif or sans-serif. And I’m willing to defer to Microsoft in this—if they made Calibri their default for body text, I assume that their A-list typography team thinks that Calibri is plenty readable.

    But more to the point, if you don’t like sans-serif typefaces, then let me introduce you to Cambria.

    Finally, why shouldn’t dislike of Times New Roman be an appropriate reason to switch? Particularly since we’re not talking about some quirk of my personal taste—I challenge you to find any professional typographer who regards Times New Roman as superior to the new typefaces. And I think one might want to factor the benefits of ClearType into the equation.


  10. To be clear, I don’t think the choice of typefaces is (or should be) *merely* an aesthetic decision. For me, anyway, the concerns of interoperability and readability — both of which you cite in favor of Callibri — are major factors in addition to aesthetics. That’s why I suggest that I’m still looking for something that presents a better “overall value” than what I use now: Bookman Old Style and Garamond. While Callibri may beat both on readability and may soon equal both in terms of interoperability, it falls far short on aesthetics in my view.

    Surely aesthetics must play *some* role in the process, if not the dominant one.

    I’ll give Cambria and the other ClearType typefaces a look in a few years when I “upgrade” to Office 2007.

  11. The Calibri is certainly prettier and easier on the eyes than the Times New Roman. My only quibble is the same one I have with most sans-serifs fonts: I can’t tell an upper-case “i” from a lower-case “L”. Verdana makes these two letters easily distinguishable.

    But regardless, you’ve persuaded me to give the ClearType fonts a good look as soon as I make the necessary technical upgrades.

  12. Ray: You’re right that the ClearType fonts don’t distiguish between an upper-case “i” and a lower-case “L” as clearly as does Verdana. In typing “Illinois” in Calibri, I observed that the lower case “L” is, unsurprisingly, a little taller than the upper-case “i”. (Please forgive my lack of typographer lingo.) I think that deals with the principal possible source of confusion. All told, I’m not inclined to worry about this. Ken

  13. RE: That Times New Roman is so prevalent is due to its having been the default typeface in Windows from version 3.1 until Vista and in Word until Word 2007.

    Ken — I disagree. Times was a very, very popular typeface long before anyone ever heard of Bill Gates. And there’s good reason for its popularity: not only is it very readable, it’s also dense (lots of characters per inch).

    Arial is — more or less — a knock-off of Helvetica. It’s a display face, and it’s not suitable for body copy.

    My advice is this: if you want to see how to set type, go to the bookstore. Take a look at the hardbounds. Notice that just about all of them use a serif face for the body copy, and a sans serif face for headings. There’s a reason for that.

  14. Mister Thorne: Clearly Microsoft didn’t invent Times New Roman. On the other hand, lawyers throughout the land didn’t elect to use Times New Roman after conducting an exhaustive survey of typefaces. Instead, they elected to stick with what had been handed to them on a platter.

    I wouldn’t take it upon myself to diss Times New Roman but for the fact that professional typographers have done so before me. I discuss that briefly in my post on Times New Roman; I include a link to it at the top of this post.

    As I suggested in one of the earlier comments, if you don’t like sans-serif typefaces for body text, then I recommend you have a look at Cambria. Up to now, I’ve strictly been a serif person, unless a client required otherwise, but Calibri’s humanist characteristics have prompted me to consider changing.

    And regarding which are easier to read, serif or sans-serif fonts, I repeat what I said to Jeff: what little research I’ve done in this area suggests that people can read just fine whatever typeface they’re used to, whether serif or sans-serif. Microsoft obviously feels the same way. I’ll see if I can get further information on this.


  15. Years ago, when I was just starting out in publishing, I worked for a textbook publisher. I was talking to a production editor, and I suggested that a sans serif face like Helvetica would probably be more readable for youngsters. But I was wrong. She produced a heap of studies that showed that — young or old — readers prefer serif faces. They’re more readable. That’s why book publishers use them (almost exclusively) for body copy.

    I wouldn’t consider Microsoft an authority on typography or typesetting. But I would consider Apple and Adobe to be authorities on those topics.

  16. Mister Thorne: Immutable orthodoxies have a way of unnervingly shifting over time. My recent reading is more equivocal than the studies you recall. Ken

  17. >She produced a heap of studies that showed that — young or old — readers prefer serif faces.

    Preference does not equal readability – they’re separate things. And someone could just as easily produce a stack of research to support sans-serif. Book publishers are a pretty conservative bunch – look at the type you read every day outside of traditional print publishing (newspapers, magazines and books) – sans is dominant. You picked Microsoft’s Verdana for your web site for a reason, right? ;-)

    >I wouldn’t consider Microsoft an authority on typography or typesetting. But I would consider Apple and Adobe to be authorities on those topics.

    Maybe, but Microsoft is the only one of these three companies that is conducting research in this area and the only one investing in new typefaces in an effort to improve the on-screen reading experience.

  18. I agree that Times is a poor choice for most documents for all the reason Ken lists in his earlier posts. But I haven’t been thrilled by the ClearType fonts either. Calibri is very readable on screen, but I think it looks strange when it is printed out. Cambria and Constantia (the two serif fonts) both have an odd, almost compressed look to them. I say its odd because they are typographically far less compressed than Times.
    My favorite alternative, and one I haven’t seen mentioned here, is Minion. This font improves on all Times deficiencies, but it is not jarringly different. In fact, I’d bet that an unwary reader might not even notice the substitution unless he or she held the Times and the Minion documents side by side.
    And Minion is available for free if you download Adobe Acrobat Reader. It is buried under program files\adobe\reader\resources\font. Try it instead of Times or the ClearType fonts. I bet you’ll like it.

  19. Gabriel: I’m not enough of a typography buff to attempt to suggest where the ClearType fonts rank in the typeface pantheon. What matters to me is that they’re an improvement on TNR, are designed to work with ClearType, and pose few, and soon will pose no, cross-platform compatibility issues. Minion doubtless meets the first criterion, but not the second or, I suspect, the third. Ken

  20. Though the legal world might not quite be ready for it – the world is increasingly drifting towards the electronic sharing of documents. And along with that, can come an increased appreciation of respecting the reader as an individual by allowing the reader to choose the font they are most comfortable reading, including both the typeface and the size.

    With the exception of true copy work such as advertising and graphical design – the exact positioning of words on a page can be fairly irrelevant. Sure its nice to be able to refer to “the second paragraph of page 2” – but you can just as easily label such things with section numbers and text headings. And if one is viewing the document electronically, creating links within the document and an easy-to-use search function can make the specific location of any section of text even more irrelevant.

    Respecting the reader brings along many benefits. The reader can choose the typeface that works best for them. Additionally, the reader can select the font size – larger or smaller – depending on the device they are using to read the document, and their visual acuity. This parallels to the concept of “Universal Design” when it comes to accommodating disabilities. Rather than just designing the space for a wheelchair bound individual, it is better to design the space that works for all, regardless of abled/disabled status.

  21. TisDone: I understand your point, but the flexible approach to fonts that you propose would make it more awkward to ensure that counterpart copies of a signed contract are in fact identical. Ken

  22. A brief response … I imagine a day in the not-to-distant future where existing document sharing tools mature just a wee bit to allow for fully-authenticated, and permissions managed, sharing of documents to occur. Of course, such a system would ensure that as documents were edited, all appropriate revisions were shared with all parties, and that the final ‘signed’ version was verified to be identical and represents a true meeting of the minds.

    The technology to do such things exists, but as separate, awkward to use pieces. Once it is packaged in a way that makes it routine to use, I hope it will soon become a standard.

  23. Interesting post to read. I’m happy to have discovered your blog and look forward to reading as much of it as I can find.
    All of that said, I have two points to make.
    The first is that at least one New York appellate court has done its own study of readability and has issued a rule requiring that briefs filed with it be in a serifed font. 22 NYCRR 670.10.3. I’ve heard from people who have spoken with the clerk of the court that they have determined that serifs make a difference in how easy it is to read a document. I know that there are studies on both sides of this, but some of us have found a judicial thumb on the scale. And it might be worth thinking about whether the institutions that have to do more reading than any others have something to teach us.

    The second point is that it’s hard to square your platform agnosticism with your dismissive remarks about Apple computers. I’m a happy Mac user after having used every version of Windows from 3.0 through XP and think that if you find a way to look at the number of law practices, as distinguished from lawyers, using Macs, you might find that we are a larger force in the community than you might believe.

    Calibri looks nice on screen but I don’t know what it will look like in print in a long document and I am nervous about anything that issues from Redmond, no matter how benign it may appear at first. I believe that MS put things into Windows that were there to sabotage WordPerfect and that it has consistently made sure that its office suite for Mac is not perceived as faster than its office suite for windows. So I see this font as slowing printers (as you’ve suggested) and creating other potential problems and issues that we don’t yet know about.

    My takeaway from this is proceed with caution.



  24. On a Mac, the Windows versions of Microsoft’s ClearType fonts can be used. Just drop them into your fonts folder, either the one in your Home folder (~/Library/Fonts) or the one in the system-wide fonts folder. The only wrinkle is getting the fonts: The compatibility pack is Windows only, so they must be installed on a Windows PC and then copied over to the Mac. But they seem to work fine for me using Mac OS X (v10.5).

  25. It is a pleasure to see that folks really care about the typeface they use. I am a Mac and PC user and also approach anything from Microsoft with great skepticism. Calibri is however a fine sans serif face. I have tried many sans serif faces for routine legal correspondence, but always fell back to Palatino. Calibri will now be my standard. Now, if we can just get the Florida Supreme Court to change its brief style rule to count words instead of requiring “Times New Roman 14-point font.”

  26. Ken, it’s my first visit to your blog and I think it is awesome.I am a contract attorney working in-house for a major Greek bank. I think that you may have inadvertently touched a (Mac) nerve here, as most of the comments to this article are Mac, Win or MS oriented. I was a Mac evangelist myself back in the ’80s and I had to turn to Windows due to compatibility problems (especially in Greek lang documents)so I know how attached Mac users are with the Apple platform. For me Calibri was a welcome change after years of poorly translated TNR(Greek)and harsh-edged Arial(Greek).I have actually experimented many times with various commercially available fonts, namely Palatino, Charter, Franklin Gothic and Garamond, only to find out that it was not practical to use them when exchanging drafts with other lawyers who did not have those fonts installed in their system (although Word has an option to save documents with the fonts embedded, this leads to very large files). All in all, I think that the new ClearType font collection is quite remarkable and the concerns voiced by your readers will either go away as early adoption matures into mainstream practice or will stay on as aesthetic remarks (which are of a subjective nature-not all people liked TNR in the first place).


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