Just what exactly is 12 point sans serif type?

This column is being typed on a Windows XP computer using the Microsoft Word 2003 word processing program and the 12 point sans serif typeface Arial normal. Wow, what does all this mean and is it important?

Arial is a font or typeface that comes with Microsoft Windows along with dozens of other fonts. When we type a document, we are able to select among these dozens of fonts to make the appearance of our writing as we wish. In Word, we can select fonts by going to Format and then clicking on Font. Down comes a window showing Word’s font selection. And we can make any one of these fonts the default font by simply clicking on the Default button. Simple. My default font is Arial 12 point normal because I like its appearance and size when I type.

With the advent of personal computers it became evident that users would want to be able to use typefaces that were different from those they were used to on their typewriters. Times Roman on an IBM type element was boring and if you wanted larger or smaller type, the element had to be changed. Too much work for a computer.

In the 1980s, Adobe had developed a line of computer fonts called Post Script. They wanted to license these fonts to Apple and Microsoft but these two companies didn’t want to pay royalties to Adobe so they set about developing fonts of their own. A computer font needs to have “character,” and it needs to be “scaleable.” That is, the computer needs interesting looking fonts and it must be able to make the type larger or smaller by software. So engineer Sampo Kaasila of Apple developed a line of type now called True Type that both Apple and Microsoft use to this day.

On my Windows XP computer I can see all the True Type fonts by going to Start, Control Panel and clicking on the Font icon. My font folder has 279 font files and takes about 43 megabytes of disk space. Each font represents something that the various Windows programs can use. Word, Excel, Front Page and even Notebook allow us to select different fonts.

Sometimes however our printers may not support all the fonts that are available. Thus Word, for instance, may not show all the fonts that are in our font folder. Microsoft has done this to make our word processors work faster but with modern printers this may not be a limitation.

It also is possible that our computer lets us select a font that may not be available on a friend’s computer. If we email a document to this friend, they may get a message that their computer has “substituted” a font so they can read the document.

If we don’t like the Windows font selection, it is possible to go on-line and purchase specialized fonts to make our documents unique. These can be added to the Microsoft font folder and become available in our programs.

This may be more than you ever wanted to know about fonts, but they are some of those things that we take for granted on our computers.

If you would like to hear more about the fonts, or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit. And visit my blog at

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


For more on computer fonts, visit or search Google for “computer fonts”.

To see some of the fonts for sale, visit or

Google searching “Gutenberg” brings up some fascinating history on how he started all this in the year 1450.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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