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Orp Bitmap Fonts for X11 (xterm, urxvt, etc)

Orp makes X font creation and installation easy. This package includes a few small fonts to get you started. If you don’t fall in love with them, you can use this package to quickly create your own.

Use of this package presupposes a few things:

  1. You want a small font (so you can optimize screen real estate).
  2. You hate antialiasing of small fonts.
  3. You care about mixing in fonts like bold (and probably even italic).

Orp with clojure/solarized

This is a simplified extension/fork of the Unicode fonts and tools for X11 project.

Inside you’ll find five newly invented 6x12 bitmap fonts.

  • Orp Medium (adapted from Pro Font with various changes)
  • Orp Italic (not perfect but can’t do perfect bitmap italic)
  • Orp Bold (only possible readable 6x12 bold; most compelling piece of package)
  • Orp Book (like Bookman Old Style; slightly ugly but nearly optimal)
  • ProFont (pretty close to the original)

The vertical height on all has been lowered by 1px. In practice this causes no problems.

About the name: Given that I am definitely not a “Pro” typographer, I’ve named this Orp.

Quick start

Arch Linux

There is now an AUR package.

% yaourt -S pro-font-git

From source

If you just want to start using the provided Orp fonts without tweaking glyphs or moving things around, all you need to do is run:

% cd orp-font
% xset +fp $PWD/misc

You should now be able to fire up an xterm (or better: urxvt) and see the new Orp you just “installed”:

% xterm -fn '-misc-orp-medium-r-*--*-*-*-*-*-*-iso10646-1'

Put the xset line (hard-code expanded $PWD) into your ~/.Xdefaults and you’re now permanent! Read on for tweaking details, philosophy, and anecdotes…

Why a project out of a single font?

“It’s just a console font; why bother with this?” To some, a beautiful monospaced bitmap font is a way of life. Many of us need to tweak fonts, add glyphs, or totally redesign a font. So this project exists because:

  1. My ideal font. I finally have what I consider a perfect enough programming/do-everything font.

  2. Ease of installation. It’s been non-trivial to create, build, and install your own X11 font.

  3. Font hacking. At some point in your life you’re going to long for a tweak to your font, or addition of some wacky glyph you’ve dreamed up.

  4. Pontification. There’s not a lot in here, but this README serves as a place where I can rant about my font ideals, and explain the importance of being able to view less common characters and the ability to view a lot of text at a time.

Over the past decade I have spent several days here and there fiddling around with finding good small fonts. Although I’ve been pretty (though not perfectly) happy with 6x10 in an xterm, I’ve come across files where I needed to read/use characters that were not available. So I had to move to 6x12. But it just felt too big or inefficient, and I wasn’t able to view enough lines of code on my screens. It also had a few things I didn’t like (jagged slashes, skinny zero, some inconsistent characters). It also had an extra pixel of spacing per line, which was wasting 10% of the screen.

I’ve taken my very favorite existing monospace font, Pro Font, adapted an xterm friendly BDF for it, and enhanced some of its glyphs to be slightly more friendly. Plus, I’ve added a few other derivative fonts that make up the Orp family.

All you need to understand

A BDF file is the ‘source code’ of your font. It is modifiable via a tool called gbdfed (Gtk BDF EDitor), which is pretty easy for any n00b to start whacking glyphs with. After you’re happy with your BDF you run it through a bunch of tools that create an output (gzipped) PCF file. Finally you tell X to start using the font/directory.

There are two major type systems in X: Core and Xft. Core fonts are "bitmaps" and are what you want in a terminal. They come in the form of BDFs (and are compressed as PCFs). Xft fonts are antialiased and you don’t want these unless you’re looking at larger fonts. You’ll recognize them as TTFs. Actually, you can selectively turn off antialiasing of TTFs, but still doesn’t solve the lack of bold/italic offerings.

Included in this repo

  • *.bdf — A few fonts that you may like or want to change/use as baseline.

  • xfont-install.zsh — The little glue script that could. Though tiny, it does the full build, plus installation and setup.

  • xfont-test.zsh — Dumps an glyph-intensive test file to the screen. Could do some other tests in the future.

  • *.pcf.gz — I’ve included the Orp fonts in complied form since they’re tiny, and some will simply want to install them without tweaking/building. They will be rebuilt if you recompile.

And things you shouldn’t care about:

  • — You’ve probably already got this on your system, but this newer version is from Markus’ package and provides the recent support for some of the ISO10646 stuff (I think that’s what it does). Anyway, the system version doesn’t work for this, so I’m copying it in.

  • Auxiliary stuff for building.

How to create, build, and install a font

  1. Install some prerequisites.

     % aptitude install xfonts-utils gbdfed
  2. To create a new font, just copy a base font (you’ll likely want to start with Orp Medium)

     % cp orp-medium.bdf my-font.bdf
  3. Fire up gbdfed, hack some glyphs, and set up your new font’s properties. Just hit C-P to get to properties and make sure your font family name is ‘my-font’.

  4. Build and install to CWD with

     % xfont-install.zsh my-font

    The font tools magic happens via the few commands in there, but you shouldn’t need to worry about it.

  5. Figure out what your new font is actually called.

     % xfontsel

    Make sure your new font shows up under ‘fmly’ and select it. You can paste that crazy -*-my font-*-… string into your ~/.Xdefaults-$(hostname) file. My preference:

     *font:       -misc-orp-medium-r-*-*-12-*-75-75-*-60-iso10646-*
     *boldFont:   -misc-orp-bold-r-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-iso10646-1
     *italicFont: -misc-orp-*-i-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-iso10646-1

    You can see it and other fonts on the system with xlsfonts (and maybe fc-list).

  6. Test your new font

     % xfont-test.zsh
  7. Make it permanent by ensuring you’ve done the steps in the Quick Start section above.

Why bitmap? (vs truetype)

There are many glyphs that are not available in any but the standard X11 fonts. Use xfont-test.zsh as a test.

For small font rendering it’s highly undesirable to have subpixel smoothing.

It probably goes without saying, but it is truly shameful to be writing code, looking at data, or doing much of anything in an editor or terminal with a variable width font. Programmers depend so much on indented and tabular formatting that the world would fall apart without monospacing.

Note to book publishers: Please, please always use monospace fonts for your code samples.

Why a bold font?

Bold is beautiful too. But it’s often the ugly step-child of an existing system font. You’re probably used to seeing it rendered algorithmically as an adaptation from its ‘medium’ canonical cousin. This results in fonts that become too heavy (e.g., solid block ‘m’ and ‘#’) and come out unreadable. However, the 6x12 set can be manually crafted as bold, to a lesser degree of boldness, and yet still be bold. (This is less of an issue with larger fonts.)

You can see some of the basic effects in limited color with this:

% for c in {1..7}; do echo -e "\e[0;$c;3${c}muNitErest1n6 5tR|ng"; done

Presentational variation is important in the code/documentation you read/write. If you forgo bold fonts you’re really missing out on distinguishing of some inherent formatting semantics. Possible variations in a console include…


This is pretty obvious, as any syntax highlighter will make liberal use of color differentiation.

You can even take color to an extreme level by doing standout/inversion, but it’s rare to want this.

Font/weight (bold vs medium)

Terminals don’t usually allow multiple fonts, but bold can be mixed in and actually can be a different font.

Bold is great for distinguishing files in ls listings, standing forward important pieces of code, documentation headings, and several other cases.


Underline is a bit strong for most things, but for exceptional bits can be helpful. Examples: FIXME comments, definitions, error messages, class/interface/module names.


This is almost always unwanted. However, I have found it useful for very glaring things, like failing test output. Essentially, for things that need immediate attention.


Sadly, most terminals (including xterm) don’t offer much in the way of these.

But there’s great news!! Very recent versions of urxvt enable activation of several fonts at a time. My older Ubuntu required application of a patch to get full 256 colors, but I suspect newer systems will already have a sane build of urxvt installed.

Why xterm (family)?

  • True bitmap fonts
  • All the ISO-10646 glyphs (for math, prompts, drawing, etc)
  • Lightweight
  • 256+ (RGB) color
  • All Properties (bold, underline, inverse) work as expected (except oblique)
  • Alt/Meta actually work and are easily configurable

Glyph details (for the tweakers)

You rarely want to spill pixels into column 6. On occasion I find it’s acceptable to do so for one pixel on a couple letters. Since col-6 is used as the ‘spacer’ between characters, it’s pretty essential to keep intact.

Glyph tops should form a uniform line at row 5. Avoiding a lot of deviating curves from there maximizes readability.

The ‘i’ and ‘l’ are altered to be more dissimilar to ‘1’ and ‘|’. They have an added left shoulder and missing left foot. Somewhat a personal preference, but this is an important characteristic of the highly popular Monaco, Lucida, Andale, Deja Vu, and Bitstream Vera, and even generic web browser monospace fonts.

Numbers (0/6/9) have a dot added to their middle to make them more obviously numbers.

Some special ‘operator’ characters were shrunk a bit. The * has been turned into more of a small dot, as it is often used for bullets and multiplication, which can be often better expressed in small dot form.

Other operators follow that small trend: #$%. I’ll probably increase the % since it too closely resembles an x.

I like that the original 6x12 uses a strong 2x2px square for dots in various punctuation. I’ll probably revert the % to use them.

The ProFont is close to the original but has been tweaked to disambiguate some of the glyphs.

Other languages, extensions

I’ve already added support for the 12 Esperanto ‘hat’ characters. Other language accented characters will render fine, but might lack a bit of the Orp panache.

The vim-powerline fancy glyphs are supported in medium (I think the only place they're needed), using the following somewhat original symbols:

[2b60] Branch symbol
[2b61] LN (line) symbol
[2b62] FT symbol 1
[2b63] FT symbol 2
[2b64] Padlock (closed) symbol
[2b80] Hard right arrow
[2b81] Soft right arrow
[2b82] Hard left arrow
[2b83] Soft left arrow

To make use of these you’ll need to set in your ~/.vimrc:

let Powerline_symbols = 'fancy'

Areas for extension/improvement

Many will not prefer a font as small as 6x12. It might be nice to recreate Orp for larger sizes. But once you get into larger fonts, smoothing becomes less of an issue, so it may be moot, as you can just go with a smoothed font.

If you really want to economize on screen space, you could reduce your ascent by another pixel. The font set could possibly even be tweaked to fit into shorter vertical size, like 6x10.

It’s kind of amazing to think how much variation can be accomplished in a 72px grid. I’ve tried creating other alternative characters (sometimes accidentally) and found that there are probably several other glyph designs that could work well. So feel free to experiment with new variations.

Orp-Italic still needs an italicization treatment for its capital letters.

It would be nice to support the exotic vim-powerline glyphs.

Why not just use Markus’ package?

Maybe you should; that’s what I did before arriving here. There’s nothing wrong with it – we are greatly indebted to its existence. However, its process of building a single new font individually is cumbersome. It’s also not maintained in git (AFAIK) and it doesn’t have Orp. I wasn’t able to get a response from Markus in email to get Orp included, so it lives here.