/The Oldschool PC Font Pack v2.0 Released: 133 fonts added, online font index

The Oldschool PC Font Pack v2.0 Released: 133 fonts added, online font index


The Ultimate Oldschool PC Font Pack (v2.0) – Documentation

About

The Ultimate Oldschool PC Font Pack started out with the idea of paying tribute to ancient PCs and their bitmapped, pre-GUI typography (if you can call it that). It was inspired by similar efforts that cover other vintage machines: classic system fonts from the Amiga, C64, Apple II, Mac, ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit/ST etc. are all celebrated. On the other hand, the IBM PC and its clones seem to get little love… except for that one VGA text mode font (which has been remade numerous times, to varying degrees of success).

This collection is here to remedy that, and to bring you pixel-perfect remakes of various type styles from text-mode era PCs – in modern, multi-platform, Unicode-compatible TrueType form (plus straight bitmap versions).

Although the goal is to make it a complete resource, the main focus is on hardware character sets: the kind that’s located in a ROM chip on the system board or graphics card, which is what you’d see by default when working in text (or graphics) mode. Software-loadable fonts are also within the scope of this collection (if associated with a particular machine or display system), so some of these have also made it in.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What’s with all those weird prefixed versions of each font? Which one(s) do I want/need?

A. The font name starts with two letters which signify the rendering:

  • When crisp appearance is important, you’ll want bitmap rendering. This is available with the ‘Mx‘ (‘mixed-format’) and ‘Bm‘ (bitmap) variants.
  • When perceptual fidelity is important, you’ll want the true aspect ratio of the original fonts. This is available with the ‘Ac‘ variants (‘aspect-correct’, or maybe ‘accurate’, take your pick).
  • Wherever the above formats don’t work (well), you can use the ‘Px‘ (‘pixel outline’) variants, which are TrueType fonts with a square-pixel aspect, and should be the most compatible.

The rest of the prefix specifies the character set:

  • 437‘ includes all 256 characters available in the IBM PC’s original encoding (codepage 437).
  • Plus‘ has a greater selection (some 780 characters in total) to support more scripts and symbols; a lot of them are custom additions, so this was only done for a few selected fonts.

Q. Okay, and the suffixes – “-2x”, “-2y”? What are these all about?

A. These indicate how the font is scaled. In many cases, the original video hardware would double or halve the width of the text by modifying the pixel clock that drives the display. For example, take 80-column vs. 40-column text modes: the number of characters per row varies, but each row takes up the same width on the screen. In other words, what changes is the horizontal pixel aspect ratio.

To reproduce this effect, some of these fonts come in additional double-width and/or half-width versions. Generally, the “parent” font (without a suffix) is the one with the pixel aspect closest to square, “-2x” is for double-width (2:1) versions, and “-2y” signifies half-width (1:2). For the lowdown on how those different versions were used originally, see the detailed info page for each font.

Q. The TrueType fonts don’t look good on my end (badly aliased, too bold, distorted, etc.) – what’s the deal?

A. These fonts duplicate the original bitmap characters, with their right-angled pixel outlines, which don’t scale smoothly. That means they’ll only look good at the original pixel height (or at an integer multiple of it); this size is noted for each font in the font list. E.g. for an 8×16-pixel font, the TrueType version should be displayed at a height of 16 (/32/48/64/…) pixels.

Most current software determines text sizes in points (pt), not pixels. The conversion depends on resolution, so the size you’ll want to select may vary with your OS, monitor, and DPI settings: more info below.

Q. Will you add [insert font name]?

A. If it’s within the scope of this collection, then sure! In other words, if:

  • It’s a bitmapped text-mode charset (no GUI stuff),
  • It originates with some kind of IBM PC-compatible video hardware, and
  • It’s different from any of the fonts already included.

It’s not hard science, so there are naturally some borderline cases, but without these guidelines the scope would become certifiably insane (it’s pretty deep into the rabbit-hole as it is). If you can contribute anything that does meet these criteria, it would be more than welcome – please let me know.

Q. Will you add bold / italics / programming ligatures / etc.?

A. No, there are no plans to do that. Such modern GUI concepts don’t square very well with fonts that were originally designed with pure text mode in mind, so they wouldn’t really work visually. Most current text renderers can already simulate bold/italic styles by fattening or slanting the glyphs, but if you’ve tried that you should see what I mean.

Q. How about raw binary versions of these fonts? For use in real VGA text mode, homebrew hardware projects, etc.?

A. Check out my DOS-based VGA font editor Fontraption – the download includes most of these oldschool PC fonts in raw binary format. The few exceptions are those that are too large for VGA text mode (i.e. more than 8/9 dots wide).

Q. Is every single font here 100% faithful to the original raster typeface?

A. No, not *every* single one. For a start, the ‘Plus’ versions with the expanded character sets often include many custom glyphs that weren’t there originally. Even with the ‘437’ variants, there are cases where some changes were called for: a few of them are *remapped*, since they’re based on e.g. Japanese fonts, and the originals only had the lower (ASCII) half of the codepage present. These remaps are clearly noted in the font index (and by “re.” in the font name). Others had obvious errors, like a curiously wandering baseline, or misaligned box-drawing characters – these cases are listed under “diffs & errata“.

I’m all for accuracy, but this isn’t purely a preservation project; these fonts are meant to be used, not to just function as museum reproductions. When one of the original charsets has an issue that hampers usability, I tend to fix it and note it as such.

Q. Is this even legal? The original fonts are not yours. Do you have the right to distribute these versions?

A. Short answer: as far as I was able to research, there is nothing illegal or infringing about this collection. The raw bitmap typefaces are not copyrightable, unlike fonts in specific formats such as .fon and TrueType (which qualify as software); at least this is the case in the US, where this site is based. For a longer and far more boring answer, see the legal stuff section below.

Font Formats / Variants

Fonts in this pack come in a few formats, identified by the prefix on the font’s name (“Ac437”, “PxPlus”, etc.). Version 2.0 introduces even more of these variants, so in order to not just confuse everyone, here’s the gist on what they’re all for.

‘Px’ (pixel outline) TrueType fonts

This is the same TrueType variant used in v1.x of this pack. The outlines in these fonts follow the pixel grid of the original raster characters: each pixel in the original is represented as a square region in the outlined glyph, so the character forms can be replicated nicely on a square-pixel display (i.e. practically every monitor and display device made today).

The ‘Px’ prefix is followed by the character set, either ‘437’ or ‘Plus’. ‘Px437‘ fonts cover the selection of 256 characters established by the original IBM PC, also known as Code Page 437. ‘PxPlus‘ fonts cover a wider selection of characters to support more scripts and symbols; both of these varieties are 100% compatible with Unicode environments. See Charsets & Encodings below for details.

‘Mx’ (mixed format) TrueType fonts: outlines + bitmaps

These are basically the same as the ‘Px’ fonts, but besides the outline forms, they also contain bitmap versions of the characters. At the correct size (i.e. the same as the original oldschool charset), this provides a 1:1 pixel-based reproduction of the original, without any grayscale or subpixel “smoothing” artifacts that tend to show up in ClearType/FreeType/etc.

Although not widely used, this is actually a standard feature of sfnt containers (the basis of the .ttf format): an outline font can have embedded bitmap ‘strikes’ tuned for particular sizes, and the renderer is supposed to use them whenever available. The whole mess of rasterizing an outline is bypassed, and you get a perfectly sharp rendering.

This sounds like the ideal setup for reproducing oldschool bitmap text, so you may ask yourself if it doesn’t make the ‘Px’ variants redundant. If the same format can handle both outlines and bitmaps – and bitmaps are vastly preferable for *our* purpose – then what’s the use for the outline-only ‘Px’ format? Why not just use the ‘Mx’ fonts everywhere and spare us the disk space and the confusion?

The prosaic answer is that specifications are one thing, and real-world support is another: the bitmap part of the deal just isn’t correctly implemented everywhere. Namely, making these fonts compatible with Windows required an ugly hack, because Windows ignores the spec *unless* the fonts meet certain undocumented(!) criteria. The upshot is that Windows behaves weirdly with the ‘Mx’ fonts: they may show up with “@” prefixes in font lists, and more annoyingly, you cannot select the “DOS/OEM” script. This means that they won’t display correctly for text that uses a real 8-bit OEM encoding – e.g. CP437 text files from DOS that use non-ASCII characters (.NFO artwork and such). For this, the ‘Bm’ fonts (8-bit .FON) are more compatible. I haven’t tested extensively on Linux, but over there things seem to depend on the rendering engine, the desktop environment, and the individual programs themselves.

In practice, the ‘Mx’ fonts seem to work just fine in Windows and Linux when the encoding is Unicode, and the full range of CP437 (DOS/OEM) characters is available with the ‘Mx437‘ fonts. As with the other formats, some fonts also have ‘MxPlus‘ variants that support a wider range of scripts and symbols.

‘Ac’ (aspect-correct) TrueType fonts

‘Px’ and ‘Mx’ font variants are tuned for square pixels, which is what current displays are based on, and is the default assumption of practically all common GUI environments. This makes it easy to ensure 1:1 reproductions of the oldschool glyph *shapes*, but in most cases, the aspect ratio isn’t the same as the original.

That’s because the original fonts were shown on CRT or LCD monitors that *didn’t* necessarily have square pixels. CRTs were generally 4:3, but the pixel aspect ratio depended on the resolution, which varied with hardware and with the chosen display mode. LCD or plasma panels (for portable machines) came in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes.

So alongside the simple square-pixel versions, these fonts have ‘Ac’ (aspect-corrected) variants to reproduce the original appearance; both the “square” and “corrected” pixel ratios are listed for each font in the index. Some fonts *did* use square pixel ratios originally, and other cases were close enough that the difference is negligible. For these fonts the square-pixel versions should be good enough, so no ‘Ac’ variants are provided.

When the aspect-corrected versions are shown on a current display, the outline of the characters is still rasterized onto a square-pixel grid, so the trade-off is sharpness/quality. On high-DPI monitors, or at the right text sizes (with good subpixel anti-aliasing), the result can still look pretty good – you can try it out on this site if you select a font from the index and play around with the preview options. See Aspect Ratio below for more details about these fonts.

Just like with ‘Px’ and ‘Mx’, these fonts come as either ‘Ac437‘ (covering all CP437 DOS/OEM characters) or ‘AcPlus‘ (the extended multi-lingual charsets).

‘Bm’ (bitmap) fonts, FON format

‘Bm’ fonts are in plain bitmap format, so they aren’t subject to rasterization issues and are always rendered as 1:1 pixels. Unfortunately there’s no widely used bitmap format which is universally supported everywhere; for now these fonts are available only as Windows .FON files, but other formats may be added at some point.

Since the .FON format doesn’t support Unicode, it cannot be used for the extended ‘Plus’ charsets, so this family includes only ‘Bm437‘ variants which follow the old-style DOS/OEM encoding; they can still be used in Unicode programs since Windows maps the code points behind the scenes.

In Windows, these fonts may be more useful than TrueType in certain situations:

  • Bitmap fonts always snap to the display’s pixel grid, and aren’t subject to grayscale or subpixel (ClearType) anti-aliasing, so they’re always as sharp and crisp as they can be.
  • The character set of the .FON format (in this case ‘DOS/OEM’) always seems to be interpreted correctly, with no ifs or buts. Some programs may turn up their noses at ‘DOS/OEM’ .ttf fonts, so these versions can effectively force them to play nice with CP437 data.
  • Some programs/use cases still don’t support TrueType fonts properly; for example, this used to be the case with the Windows console (unless you edited the registry). Windows 10 seems to have corrected that particular issue, but others probably still exist.

‘Web’ (webfonts), .woff format

Basically these are versions of the ‘Px’ TrueType fonts, optimized and compressed for web usage. All major current browsers already support plain .ttf fonts natively, so having yet another version may seem like a waste of space, but there are a few things to consider:

  • The compression does make the .woff fonts much smaller, i.e. better for remote delivery.
  • Sizing is much more straightforward and intuitive in the .woff versions. Thankfully, web usage remains free from the typical OS’s insistence on irrelevant units like ‘pt’ (points), on limiting the sizes you can select, and other such silliness.

    CSS lets you specify any desired font size and line height independently, in either em or px units; so the .woff versions make the em size always equal to the line height, which can always match the font’s original pixel height. If the original font had an 8×14 character size, the web version should simply be used with a font-size *and* a line-height of 14px (which then becomes equal to 1em) – simplicity itself.

  • With webfonts, there’s no need to have separate fonts for the ‘437’ and ‘Plus’ character sets. That’s because charsets/encodings are handled at the document level, not at the font level – the browser cares only whether the glyphs you use are present or missing. For fonts that have ‘Plus’ charsets, the .woff version simply contains all the glyphs from the ‘Plus’ versions (which already include the full CP437 set); for fonts that come only in ‘437’ charsets, the .woff will contain just that. This removes unnecessary duplication, and spares you from yet another dilemma of which version to use.

So, why make web versions for the ‘Px’ variants, but not for the others? The reasoning is:

  • If you want aspect correction (as in the ‘Ac’ variants), you don’t really need a separate font with the correction baked into it – you can always do it yourself with CSS transforms. That’s what this site does in the font preview pages.
  • If you want bitmap glyphs (as in the ‘Mx’ or ‘Bm’ variants)… alas, no can do. The format technically *does* support the ‘Mx’-style method of bitmap embedding, but current browsers seem to run all incoming webfonts through something called the OpenType Sanitizer, which validates the fonts and gets rid of Bad Things. As of this writing, embedded bitmaps are thrown out with the trash, although there is an open issue for a possible fix. If this gets resolved (either on the browser end or on the Sanitizer end), then bitmapped versions may yet happen.

Summary / tl;dr version

To put the above wall of text a little more succinctly, it works sort of like this:

VariantBit­map?Out­line?Char­setPixel aspectFor­matNotes
Px437DOS/­CP437SquarettfTrueType w/1:1 pixel outlines
PxPlusExte­ndedSquarettfTrueType w/1:1 pixel outlines
Mx437DOS/­CP437SquarettfTrueType w/embedded bitmaps
MxPlusExte­ndedSquarettfTrueType w/embedded bitmaps
Ac437DOS/­CP437OriginalttfTrueType, aspect-corrected
AcPlusExte­ndedOriginalttfTrueType, aspect-corrected
Bm437DOS/­CP437SquarefonBitmap (.FON, Windows-only)
Web(Eit­her)SquarewoffAspect is flexible using CSS

Confusing? Probably. I *wish* there was a way to roll all of these into a single convenient font format that just worked everywhere, but we’re not that lucky, so I’ve tried to cover as many bases as possible.

Encodings and Character Sets

Fonts in this collection come in two character sets, as noted in the font name prefix.

  • ‘437’ (available for all fonts): this features the classic set of 256 characters established by the original PC, also known as Code Page 437 (or “PC ASCII”, “Latin-US DOS/OEM”, and other catchy names). The character mapping to Unicode aims for maximum compatibility with the original codepage, so in addition to normal usage, these fonts should also let you view CP437 text in its original encoding.
  • ‘Plus’ (for specific fonts only): on top of the CP437 range, these support extended Latin, Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew scripts plus a bunch of additional glyphs and Unicode symbols. The extra characters were taken from international versions of the original hardware (if available), or designed to closely follow the existing ones.

    There are 782 characters in total (more than the Windows Glyph List v4 — in fact the entire WGL4 range is there). A handful of the CP437 glyphs had to be remapped (read below for why), but they’re all still around.

The ‘437’ Character Set

In most cases, code page 437 was the original character set of the source fonts. This pack’s converted versions are still standard Unicode fonts – they just don’t include a whole lot of the Unicode range.

CP437 can’t really be mapped to Unicode in a simple 1:1 manner. The culprits are characters 00h-1Fh and 7Fh, which can be interpreted either as control codes or as graphical symbols. Thus there are two widely used mappings: the standard IBM/MS map (which does the former), and Unicode’s “IBMGRAPH” map (which does the latter). Trouble is, software that expects one of them may not always play nice with the other one.

As a solution, these fonts cover both bases in one mapping: the ambiguous characters are duplicated so that your program will find them at either placement. Windows detects the fonts as “OEM/DOS“, and you can use them in any program or environment that understands this charset (including the Command Prompt). The same will be true on other platforms, as long as your software is properly configured — RTFM, GIYF, etc.

Codepage 437 mapped to Unicode

Codepage 437 (value = column + row) mapped to Unicode; all values are hexadecimal.
* = these characters are also duplicated at the Control Code points (Unicode value = CP437 value).

The ‘Plus’ Character Set

A few selected fonts also come in multi-lingual versions with an expanded character set. These ‘Plus’ versions don’t strictly duplicate the original hardware/software, which almost always used sets of 256 characters. Rather, they combine characters from various sources.

In some cases, I’ve had access to multiple code pages of the original fonts – e.g. from non-US versions of CGA/MDA boards, from multi-lingual ROMs (like the Amstrad or Tandy 1000 sets), or from IBM’s Adapter Interface font data; these were all pulled into the ‘Plus’ versions. Mostly however, they had to be fleshed out with custom additions, and for those extra glyphs I’ve tried to match the original font’s style as closely as I could.

The full ‘Plus’ charset (along with the supported Unicode ranges):

PxPlus extended Unicode character set

A few things that may (arguably…) be useful to know:

  • Alternate number forms: there’s a flat-top ‘3’ Ʒ mapped to U+01B7 ‘Latin capital letter Ezh’, which is more easily distinguished from the Cyrillic letter Ze З. Also, two alternative zeroes (dotted and slashed) are mapped to U+2299 ‘circled dot operator’ and U+2300 ‘diameter symbol’.
  • Cursor shapes: Unicode character U+2581 ‘lower one eighth block’ can be used to mimic the classic text-mode cursor appearance. U+2584 ‘lower half block’ and U+2588 ‘full block’ could also stand in for those respective cursor forms.
  • Remapped codepage 437 glyphs: The ‘PxPlus’ fonts still include all the original glyphs from the CP437 (DOS/OEM) versions. However, they also include a full Greek alphabet, which takes over the code points that Unicode assigns to the CP437 Greek/Math characters, and the new glyphs don’t necessarily look the same.
    Instead of just dropping the CP437 originals, I tried to retain them at remapped code points for the sake of completeness. Here are the changes:

    CP437 glyphCanonical Unicode valueModified ‘PxPlus’ mapping
    ɑ (E0h) α (03B1/Greek small Alpha) ɑ (0251/Latin small Alpha)
    ϐ (E1h)* ß (00DF/Latin small Sharp S) ϐ (03D0/Greek Beta symbol)
    (E2h) Γ (0393/Greek capital Gamma) (1D26/Small capital Gamma)
    (E3h) π (03C0/Greek small Pi) (1D28/Small capital Pi)
    (E4h) Σ (03A3/Greek capital Sigma) (2211/N-ary Summation)
    ơ (E5h) σ (03C3/Greek small Sigma) ơ (01A1/Small o with horn)
    (E7h) τ (03C4/Greek small Tau) (1D1B/Small capital T)
    ɸ (E8h) Φ (03A6/Greek capital Phi) ɸ (0278/Latin small Phi)
    ϴ (E9h) Θ (0398/Greek capital Theta) ϴ (03F4/Capital Theta symbol)
    (EAh) Ω (03A9/Greek capital Omega) (2126/Ohm symbol)
    (EBh) δ (03B4/Greek small Delta) (1E9F/Latin small Delta)
    (EDh) φ (03C6 Greek small Phi) (2205/Empty set)
    (EEh) ε (03B5/Greek small Epsilon) (2208/Element of)

    * inconsistent: looks like a Beta in some fonts (β/03B2) and like a Sharp S in others (ß/00DF). Both of those have their own code points, so the new mapping simply preserves the original (whatever it looks like).

Display Considerations

Size Matters

Outlined TrueType fonts are by definition scalable, so in theory they can be used at any size. But to reproduce oldschool raster characters, the outlines follow the contours of the original pixel glyphs, so the rendering will be optimal only if the outline snaps to the pixel grid of your target display; otherwise you *will* get fugly scaling artifacts. To make a long story short, they’ll only look best at their native pixel sizes, or at integer multiples thereof.

With the bitmap (‘Bm’) fonts this is less tricky, since there are no outlines – they’re always rendered on grids of whole pixels, so the correct sizes are easy to find and the result should always appear sharp. The mixed-format (‘Mx’) fonts also include embedded bitmaps, but these bitmaps are only used when the native size is selected: other sizes will display as outlines.

It *should* be easy to determine this native pixel size, because it’s clearly spelled out for each font in the index. Problem is, most current GUI environments make it more difficult than it should be – sizes may have scaling factors applied, may not be easily selectable, and are often not measured in pixels at all.

This doesn’t matter very much for displays with ultra-high DPI resolutions (say 200 or higher), because they make scaling artifacts much less noticeable so you can often get away with arbitrary sizes, but most current monitors aren’t like that.

Pixels, Points, and DPI Resolutions

One obstacle is that most operating systems tend to measure text sizes in points (pt), a unit used in print and typesetting, rather than pixels, the physical unit that display devices operate with. This oddity is with us today largely for historical reasons: computer GUIs were becoming popular right when Desktop Publishing was all the rage, and the assumption was that if you bothered with the sizes of on-screen text at all, it was because you wanted a hard copy on dead trees.

That’s where this particular unit came from, but there was a more general reason to separate type sizes from the physical characteristics of the monitor: the concept of device independence mandates that things should always have a consistent appearance, regardless of your output device. A swell idea in theory, but in practice little attention was paid to mapping logical to physical units. Monitor resolutions kept varying, but Windows settled on the assumption of 96 DPI (where 1pt = 0.75px), Mac OS chose 72 DPI (1pt = 1px), and others went their own ways.

Decades later, we still have to deal with GUI scaling that never actually matches the monitor’s physical resolution, with applications that may or may not be aware of DPI adjustments, with mobile devices that make their own assumptions, and a whole bunch of fun problems like that. None of it really helps with our use case (finding the optimal sizes for pixel-outline fonts), which is naturally marginal and was never really considered.

The Bottom Line: Optimal Sizes

In a nutshell, you’ll have to experiment, but a good guideline would go something like this:

  • Find out how your OS converts points to pixels for your particular display settings. For most fonts this should be enough, and you can simply select the size that corresponds to the original bitmap font’s height in pixels.
  • For other fonts the desired size will differ a little bit. Sometimes an integer pixel size results in a fractional point size – e.g. in Windows at 96 DPI, 19 pixels = 14.25 points; Windows text rendering seems to work at 0.5pt increments, so you can’t quite get there. Even when Windows can *render* the right size (e.g. 14 pixels = 10.5 points), you can’t always *select* it, because the default font dialogs simply don’t accept fractional numbers.

    To get around these hassles, font metrics for certain sizes have been tweaked, so that the size you want to select might differ from the naive pixel-to-point conversion.

  • Basically: if the original charset’s pixel height divides by 4, you’re good – just select the corresponding point/pixel size. If it doesn’t, round up to the next multiple of 4, and treat the font as if it were that size.

    For example, if the original oldschool character size is 8x14, round the height up to 16 pixels, and select the size that corresponds to that (at 96 DPI, that’s 12 pt). For 8x19, round up to 20 pixels (=15 pt at 96 DPI). This holds true even when you’re selecting the size in pixels rather than points.

All of the above applies to .ttf fonts only. Bitmap fonts (.fon) naturally come with the right pixel sizes built-in; web fonts (.woff) can always be sized flexibly using any supported CSS unit, which includes pixels, so these metric adjustments weren’t necessary.

Aspect ratio

As discussed somewhere above, modern displays have square pixels as a rule. However, the original fonts were (mostly) used in various non-square pixel resolutions, so 1:1 pixel reproductions do not preserve the aspect ratio: most of these fonts will be somewhat squashed vertically, compared to their appearance on original hardware.

Version 2.0 includes aspect-corrected (‘Ac’) versions of the TrueType fonts, each according to its original pixel aspect ratio (both the “square” and the “corrected” ratios are noted for each font in the index). The outlines in these fonts similarly follow the pixel grids of the original characters, but here they aren’t square, so in general the rendering on a modern display won’t be 100% crisp. With good sub-pixel anti-aliasing however (such as ClearType on Windows, *if* it’s tuned properly) the result can still be quite good.

Only the .ttf fonts have aspect-corrected versions, since:

  • Aspect correction doesn’t really work with .FON bitmap fonts. Technically the format *does* support it, because it was created way back when pixels still weren’t uniformly square, and allows you to specify separate vertical and horizontal resolutions. The results are pretty horrible however – the renderer seems to interpret this as a green light to distort the fonts out of recognition if the desired aspect ratio doesn’t precisely fit the physical pixel grid. So, no go with bitmaps.
  • The web fonts (.woff) really don’t need separate aspect corrected versions, since you can always do it yourself using CSS.

So how was the “correct” aspect ratio derived for each font? Knowing the original resolution (“SAR” – ‘storage aspect ratio’), and the intended aspect of the display area (“DAR” – ‘display aspect ratio’), you can derive the “PAR” (pixel aspect ratio): PAR = DAR/SAR. Whenever this ratio is too unwieldy, I’ve chosen to round it to a close enough number which is easier to work with.

  • Example: standard VGA text mode runs at 720×400 on a 4:3 monitor, so the pixel aspect ratio is (4:3)/(720:400) = 20:27 = 0.740740…; for practical reasons I’ve rounded this to 3:4 = 0.75.

Certain fonts *were* originally used in square-pixel resolutions, and for others the pixel aspect was close enough to square that the difference is barely noticeable. For these fonts aspect-corrected versions aren’t included.

  • Example: 40-column text mode on the Philips :YES runs at 320×256 on 4:3 monitors, so the pixel aspect ratio is (4:3)/(320:256) = 16:15 = 1.0666…; close enough to 1, so it’s treated as square.

Some of the original fonts were seen in more than one display mode, so the resolutions and pixel ratios could vary. To avoid going completely overboard, in these cases I simply selected the most common pixel aspect as the “correct” one.

(Incidentally: a pixel aspect ratio like “3:4” means you can still get an ideal display on a square-pixel monitor, if you render the text at 4x its original pixel height: the rectangular blocks enclosed by the outline will always be 3 pixels wide by 4 tall, so you shouldn’t get unseemly pixel-fraction artifacts. Of course, for most normal usage this isn’t very practical.)

Anti-aliasing

Current operating systems usually apply some sort of anti-aliasing (“smoothing”) to scalable text. With a proper algorithm (hinted sub-pixel AA, not grayscale) and when configured correctly, this does improve legibility; I wouldn’t really recommend disabling it completely, although if that works for you then by all means go ahead and turn it off. In the specific case of TrueType fonts based on pixel outlines, however, it mostly hinders rather than helps. In some cases you may get a sort of smearing/fringing effect on the TrueType fonts, even if you pick the right size to perfectly align them with your monitor’s pixel grid.

In recent Windows versions this happens even with ClearType, which usually produces sharper rendering than other algorithms. For a nice crisp appearance, you should stick to the font’s “native” pixel size and use either the ‘Bm‘ (bitmap-only) or ‘Mx‘ (mixed-format) variants, whichever plays nicer with your application.

In most Linux distros you should be able to use fontconfig to control the anti-aliasing of text, and the advantage here is that it can be enabled or disabled on a per-font basis: you can keep your smoothed-out text, and turn off AA only for pixel-based fonts (like the ones in this collection). If your application or rendering engine isn’t handling the ‘Mx‘ fonts properly, this sort of fine-tuning can compensate for the lack of bitmap-only versions for Linux.

On the Mac, at least on macOS >=10.14, AA is grayscale-only and you cannot turn it off globally. Embedded-bitmap rendering doesn’t seem to be supported, so the ‘Mx’ fonts won’t help out there. As icing on the cake, “font smoothing” (enabled by default!) doesn’t do what it says on the tin: it simply makes all fonts artificially bolder, which is generally a bad idea, and even more so with fonts like these.

Specific Mac applications (e.g. iTerm2, MacVim) *can* be configured to disable anti-aliasing, so that’s your best bet wherever it is supported – as long as you’re using the ‘Px’ fonts, it’ll look just fine. For all other cases, just ensure that “font smoothing” is off. In any event, the aforementioned advice about native/optimal font sizes still holds true. (Thanks to kerframil for these findings.)

Miscellaneous Usage Notes

Windows Console / Command Prompt / Terminal

At least in Windows 7 and earlier, only bitmap (raster) fonts can be freely selected for use in the Windows console. TrueType fonts require a registry edit – to add them to the list, you’ll have to start regedit.exe and open this key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionConsoleTrueTypeFont

You’ll probably see two fonts defined (Lucida Console and Consolas), as “0” and “00” respectively. To enable more TrueType fonts, add a new String Value with one more 0 in its name (the first one you add will be 000, then 0000 and so on). In the Value field simply enter the font’s name, e.g. MxPlus IBM VGA 9×16. Hit OK and exit the editor. The font will now be available in the Properties dialog for console windows.


In Windows 10 this no longer seems to be the case. Monospaced TrueType fonts *are* selectable for console windows; in fact, as of this writing, “v2” of the Console Host (activated with the ‘ForceV2’ registry setting) does not support bitmap (raster) fonts at all.

There is also the newer Windows Terminal; I haven’t tested it too extensively, but Microsoft’s own docs showcase a font from this pack, so apparently it’ll work just fine. 🙂 The JSON settings to specify the font face and size can be seen in the linked page.

Web usage

For embedding these fonts in web pages, the .woff format is recommended. You simply need to define a CSS @font-face rule as follows, and then specify the defined ‘font-family’ as usual:

@font-face {
font-family: ‘IBM VGA 8×16’;
src: url(web_ibm_vga8x16.woff) format(‘woff’);
font-weight: normal;
font-style: normal;
}

Most of these fonts only include the 256 characters present in DOS code page 437; if your web document contains characters outside this range, they will usually be displayed using a fallback font. To control this, you can specify a second @font-face rule for one of the ‘Plus’ fonts – preferably one with the same size as your main font – and then set it as your fallback font like so:

.vga8 {
font-family: ‘Verite 8×16’, ‘IBM VGA 8×16’, monospace;
font-size: 16px;
line-height: 16px;
}

In this example ‘Verite 8×16’ contains only the CP437 characters. Non-CP437 characters like the Euro symbol ‘‘ will be taken from the ‘IBM VGA 8×16’ font, since it’s specified as the second priority, and contains ‘€’ as part of the ‘Plus’ charset. If the character doesn’t exist in the ‘Plus’ font either, the browser will move on to the third priority specified (your default monospaced font).

The webfonts implement only the square-pixel variants – if you want aspect correction, you can simply use a CSS transform. As a general rule, you should always do your scaling on the horizontal axis, to take advantage of subpixel anti-aliasing where available. For instance, ‘IBM MDA’ has a 2:3 pixel aspect, so you’d want to do it like this:

.mda-scaled {
font-family: ‘IBM MDA’, monospace;
font-size: 14px;
line-height: 14px;
transform: scaleX(0.6667);
}

As for sizes and line heights, for best results you should always use the same pixel height as the original typeface (or an integer multiple). It’s still a good idea to keep in mind that in CSS, a pixel is not a pixel; but that distinction applies mainly to high-DPI screens and devices – where it doesn’t matter very much if you stray from the optimal font size, since scaling artifacts are much less apparent. On most monitors with a normal resolution, where size does matter, a CSS pixel generally *is* a physical pixel.

Working with CP437/DOS Text Files

Text-based material which originates with DOS can be difficult to handle properly in a current OS, especially if it uses non-ASCII/graphical characters. This is usually the case with .NFO/ASCII/ANSI artwork, for instance. To display and edit it correctly, two things have to happen:

  • Your viewer/editor needs to support the encoding (code page 437).
  • The font you’re using should have the ability to display it.

On Windows the ‘Px437’, ‘Ac437’ and ‘Bm437’ fonts in this pack fulfill the latter condition; they’re recognized as supporting the “DOS/OEM” charset. The ‘Mx’ (mixed outline/bitmap) fonts also include ‘Mx437’ versions, but disappointingly enough, the same trick which forces Windows to display them properly also prevents it from recognizing them as DOS/OEM fonts. Unless and until Microsoft chooses to support embedded bitmaps without requiring this sort of insanity, they can’t be used for CP437 text.

If your software doesn’t support the CP437 encoding, or doesn’t know how to map it to something like UTF-8, you can use a converter: a nice one can be found at CodeLobe.

On the web things are even more problematic, since most browsers don’t support CP437. In fact WHATWG’s encoding standard decrees that user agents *must* not support it, as it’s missing from their list of kosher encodings. A particularly silly decision when other DOS charsets – even less common ones! – coexist happily enough in the approved list.

Luckily, solutions exist: I can recommend the RetroTxt browser extension, which not only converts CP437 text to UTF-8 for display, but comes with a big bunch of tweakable options (and includes a few of these oldschool PC fonts built-in).

Older Windows versions (95/98/ME/NT4)

As far as I know, .ttf fonts from this package won’t work in Windows versions earlier than Windows 2000. The reason is that they actually use OpenType tables (like most TrueType outline fonts in the wild these days), and OpenType wasn’t supported out of the box before Windows 2000.

If your retro system is running one of these Windows versions, it’s *possible* that installing ATM Light from Adobe will make these .ttf fonts usable, but I haven’t tested this myself.

Diffs & Errata

This section lists instances where the versions in the Font Pack differ from the original raw bitmap designs. This doesn’t cover custom additions, like in the remapped and ‘Plus’ versions, which are noted separately. Items here represent only errors and obvious visual issues with the original glyphs, which I’ve tried to spot and correct, in the interest of usability.

  • Acer VGA *x8: fixed misaligned box drawing character (#190/0xBE)
  • DG One Alt (and -2y): fixed misaligned box drawing character (#208/0xD0)
  • DOS/V re. PRC16/19: fixed erratic baseline for ‘p’, ‘q’ and several characters in the #128-#165 block
  • Paradise132 7×9: fixed misaligned characters ‘g’,’p’,’q’
  • SeequaCm (and -2y): fixed surplus floating pixel over block character (#220/0xDC)
  • Tandy2K (and -2x): fixed misaligned box drawing character (#208/0xD0)
  • Trident 8×11: fixed inconsistent baseline (characters #128-#172)

Version History

v2.0 (2020-07-12)

  • 133 new font families added, from 52 different sources (hardware/firmware/software)
  • 3 new font variants added:
    • Mx‘ – Mixed-Format: TrueType versions with embedded bitmaps (for sharper rendering)
    • Ac‘ – Aspect-Correct TrueType versions
    • Web‘ – .woff web fonts

  • These fonts have been renamed, to keep things more consistent and less confusing (“*” = wildcard):
    • AmstradPC1512* renamed Amstrad PC* (other Amstrad PC models use the same font)
    • IBM EGA8/EGA9/VGA8/VGA9 now specify the full size (IBM EGA 8×14 etc.), as more 8/9-dot sizes have been added
    • IBM PS/2thin* renamed IBM Model3x Alt* (not all PS/2 models have it)
    • IBM ISO* renamed IBM DOS ISO*
    • Kaypro2K* renamed Kaypro2K G* (as it’s specific to graphics modes)
    • TandyOld* renamed Tandy1K-I (there’s ‘Tandy2K’ as well now, and the video chipset in the early 1000 series was officially named ‘Tandy Video I’)
    • TandyNew* renamed Tandy1K-II (likewise)
    • For all Tandy1K fonts, TV* also becomes 200L*, and 225* becomes 225L*
    • VGA SquarePx renamed AST Premium Exec (other square-pixel VGA fonts have been added, and the name should indicate the origin)

  • These fonts have been removed, or rather replaced with better/fuller versions:
    • AMI BIOS* fonts are superseded by AMI EGA 8×8*
    • ITT BIOS* fonts are superseded by ITT Xtra*
    • ToshibaLCD 8×8 is superseded by ToshibaTxL1 8×8
    • ToshibaLCD 8×16 is superseded by ToshibaTxL2 8×16

  • Bugfix: corrected all font styles to “Regular” across the board
  • Adjusted the Ascent metric for certain fonts taller than 16 pixels, to make size selection more consistent

If you’re upgrading from v1.x: Due to the above changes, I strongly recommend uninstalling all older “Bm” and “Px” fonts before you install any from v2.0.  Otherwise you’ll end up with duplicates and an inconsistent set.


v1.01 (2020-04-22)

  • Bugfix release: fixed single-character errors in the fonts ‘ITT BIOS’/’-2y’ (Px437/Bm437), ‘IBM BIOS’/’-2x’/’-2y’ (PxPlus), and ‘IBM CGA’/’-2y’ (PxPlus)

v1.0 (2016-01-06)

Credits & Acknowledgements

Font adaptations, documentation, website: VileR

Thanks to:

  • John Elliot, MinusZeroDegrees, ripsaw8080, Ardent Tool of Capitalism, Great Hierophant, NewRisingSun
    – for helpful information
  • alecv, alexanrs, Robbert van der Bijl, Rich Cini, John Elliot, fs5500, Yossi Gil, jesolo, Jo22, keropi, Olivrea, per, Thomas Schneider, SomeGuy, Svenska, Foone Turing, VGA Museum
    – for providing/verifying sources and ROM dumps for several charsets, off real hardware and localized video cards
  • Rebecca G. Bettencourt/Kreative Korp
    – for responding to my inquiries with a surprise open-source release of the awesome Bits’n’Picas vectorizer
  • Felix Rosén, erkcan, kerframil
    – for testing and bug reports

Tools used:

Contact

I can be reached at:   email - viler/ΑΤ/int10h/DΟТ/org
                         www - http://int10h.org
                        blog - https://int10h.org/blog
                        
If you have an interesting machine or video card, which fits the scope of this project, and it has a non-generic text mode font (i.e. it doesn't just duplicate the IBM charsets), please contact me - contributions to this collection are always appreciated.

Legal Stuff

I do not claim any rights to the original raster binary data charsets, which this work is based on. Credit for these goes to their respective designers.

The font files in this pack (TTF and FON remakes and enhancements) are my own work, hereby licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

“tl;dr” version (which is not a substitute for the license):

  • You may freely share and adapt / transform / enhance them for any purpose
  • You must give appropriate credit (which includes the author’s name and a link to the original material)
  • If you distribute your own adaptations, do so under a compatible license
  • No warranties are given – whatever you do, I will not be held liable

Enjoy!


In addition, there are a couple of points that should be made quite clear. Out of all the comments I’ve received about this collection, a small minority of people have assumed a priori that its legal status is dubious at best, that the original binary charsets are protected by copyrights (which are being infringed), and/or that I act in bad faith by taking credit for my work on it.

It should be noted that I’ve done quite a bit of research into this issue, and everything I’ve turned up supports the conclusion that there’s nothing illegal about this work. US law (which happens to have this site under its jurisdiction) does not consider typefaces to be copyrightable material, and making derivative versions does not infringe on anyone’s intellectual property. If I was re-distributing the original programs which render these fonts onto a computer screen – such as firmware/driver code, or TrueType files that were the *original distribution format* – that would’ve been a different story. However, all fonts here were originally simple bitmap data; I am providing new software to reproduce these old glyphs in different (and sometimes expanded) formats.

There’s enough material online to consult on this subject if you wish (the comp.fonts FAQ is a good starting point). It’s probably safe to consider the lack of past precedents, too. The most commonly-seen of these fonts are the ones from IBM, which have been duplicated bit-for-bit by countless manufacturers in their own hardware – from Hercules to nVidia – and sold with this hardware practically everywhere on the planet. I couldn’t find information about a single lawsuit resulting from that (as opposed to, say, companies that infringed on IBM’s BIOS code). By itself, lack of precedent is not a sufficient argument, but it does support the one already made – and precedents for NON-infringement certainly exist (e.g. Eltra Corp. v. Ringer).

As for bad-faith arguments (“you just ripped a bunch of fonts and repackaged them!”), rest assured that there’s more to it than that. Creating this collection has involved a lot of hard research, conversion and optimization work to ensure that the originals are represented both faithfully and usefully, something that is far from trivial; there are also my own additions in the ‘Plus’ versions and the remapped charsets. This work surely merits *some* credit, and that is the only credit I claim.

– VileR, 2020-07

Original Source