Sexy, smooth fonts on (K)Ubuntu

typewriter

One of the things that we take for granted when we work on computers is the way text looks. Fonts are just “supposed” to look good, irrespective of what operating system you’re using. There’s been a lot of debate of late about Windows and OS X font rendering and which is better. There are some basic differences in the way fonts are rendered on both the platforms, and there isn’t really any ‘absolute’ better technique — it all comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer Microsoft’s ClearType font rendering (or no anti-aliasing at all), and others prefer OS X’s smoothly-rendered fonts.

A lot of people seem to think that font rendering on Linux is crappy. And judging from some of the screenshots you see online, I wouldn’t blame them. My first encounter with Linux was about three years ago, when I installed openSUSE. The way fonts were rendered on that was terrible, and that made for a really bad user experience. I hated opening Web sites or a text document on openSUSE. Needless to say, I got rid of it quite soon, and decided that I wasn’t going to touch Linux again for a long time, especially if the font rendering, something which is (and should be) taken for granted, was that bad.

After a while I started using Kubuntu. The installation was extremely painless (as opposed to the five-CD install of openSUSE), I was able to set up a dual-boot system within 15 minutes (I’m not kidding, and I usually manage to screw up these things). The default font rendering on Kubuntu wasn’t great either, but then I started looking for ways to make it better. That’s the thing about Linux — if you don’t like something, anything, you can change it. I was quickly able to find some tutorials online that helped me fine tune the font rendering, and now text looks excellent. Arial has never looked so good.

Here are some screenshots so you can see for yourself:

- PCWorld.com on Windows XP
- PCWorld.com on OS X
- PCWorld.com on Kubuntu

As you can see, the font rendering on OS X and Kubuntu is similar, but I prefer Kubuntu’s font rendering slightly more. But again, that depends on your personal preference. It was quite easy for me to tweak the settings and make fonts look that good.

If you’re using Kubuntu, or its GNOME counterpart Ubuntu, and if you want your fonts to look that good, I’m going to make it really simple for you. I am offering my font configuration file for you to use for free. You can download the text file by right-clicking on the image below (Save Link As, fontsconf.txt).

Download

Once you’ve downloaded the file, do the following:

1. Move the file to your user home directory (/home/user/). For example, if your username is ‘joe’, copy or move the file to the /home/joe/ directory.

2. Rename the file (through the right click menu, or press F2) from ‘fontsconf.txt’ to ‘.fonts.conf’ (note the period at the beginning).

3. Restart X (press Ctrl + Alt + Backspace).

Now when you log in again, you should be looking at super-smooth, great-looking fonts. It’s that simple. If you do download the file and use it, please post a comment here and tell me what you think.

Edit: Alex has posted a Spanish version of this guide on his blog. You can find the translated guide here.

This technique should work on other Debian-based distributions as well, but I haven’t tested it properly. I have only tested it on Kubuntu and Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). If you’d like to test it on other Debian-based systems, please go ahead and tell me whether it works.

Published on July 15, 2007

Comments and stuff.

49 people have imparted their err... wisdom so far. What do you think?
  1. h3sp4wn thinks:

    Pretty trivial what it does (XFCE does this just with the gui if requested). What does make fonts look massively better is the patches included in the gentoo xeffects overlay.

    http://wiki.gentoo-xeffects.org/Font_Rendering

    (You would have to provide 3 rebuilt deb’s but it would be worth it). I know font rendering is annoying :/

  2. Suavizado de fuentes en (K)Ubuntu | notes3es thinks:

    [...] The Masterplan nos presenta una solución muy sencilla para conseguir un buen suavizado y renderizado de fuentes bajo (K)Ubuntu, la solución que nos propone es que bajemos y un fichero de configuración de fuentes y lo instalemos en nuestro usuario. La única cosa de la que nos advierte el autor es que solo esta probado sobre kubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), aunque dice que tendría que funcionar sobre otras distribuciones basadas en Debian, pero que no esta probado apropiadamente, así que si alguien lo hace sobre otras versiones,por favor que diga algo y así se amplia la información. Aquí podéis ver una captura de pantalla de como se ven las fuentes, usando este archivo de configuración. [...]

  3. Dean thinks:

    Nice. The Linux screenshot that you posted looks the best IMO. It’s not pixelated like Windows, but not as bold as Mac.

  4. pranav thinks:

    thanks for that! it’s almost as good as being back on a mac! :D

  5. Leslie thinks:

    This is great! Other tutorials have worked for Ubuntu, but, for some reason, not for Kubuntu. Yours did the trick. Thanks!

  6. Dan thinks:

    Hi there I love the theme, but I was wondering if you ever did a port of it for wordpress-mu, or failing that if you’d know anything about whats needed to convert it !!
    In anycase looks great :)

  7. Jauhari thinks:

    This is what I looking for, thanks

  8. sdibias thinks:

    dude, that is much better! coming from Windows and it’s cleartype font rendering the defaults in Kubuntu 7.10 were not so good.

    Thank you ;)

  9. Ghost thinks:

    Damn dude that shit woke my pc up man. It really looks good. I’ll be looking at the contents of the .fonts.conf soon,(too busy enjoying the view). Thanks alot for sharing this ;)

  10. The Sha thinks:

    You have got to be kidding me.

    Just ran this and all of a sudden I feel like I’m on a Mac. Although I did quite a few things in the past to ‘tweek’ my font rendering, I never thought I’d be able to view websites like I do on a mac or even windows for that matter.

    But this CLEARLY (no pun intended) made my linux box even that more capable of being a dev box for web design.

    This is awesome and I’m left pretty speechless at the differnce noticed. If only the ubuntu, gnome, kde, whoever else is interested would take your tid bit and make it the default in all releases it would only help.

    Thanks again…

  11. Sparky thinks:

    This works fantastic! I was resigned to Ubuntu looking like crap; I can’t believe that the solution is this simple! Why in God’s name wouldn’t they make this the default?

  12. Siddharth Puranik thinks:

    This is wonderful work by you.This worked wonders on my laptop.Great job buddy…!!

  13. pat5star thinks:

    Wow. Add me to the list of satisfied Kubuntu users now! I was searching google for tips to improve fonts and your page was near the top. I followed your instructions and it worked beautifully. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this for the rest of us :)

  14. Eric thinks:

    Can’t thank you enough. Just switched from Ubuntu to Kubuntu for the improved appearance. While I liked most things better, I could not for the life for me get the fonts to look right as I had done in Ubuntu. I am a Linux n00b - but I was ready to give up and go back to Ubuntu until I found your page. Thanks again!

  15. chris thinks:

    Thanks! I love Linux, Kubuntu especially, but it’s the most mundane stuff like this, that requires some googling for helpful stuff from helpful people like you, that will continue to hamper its adoption by the masses. I’m pretty confident, though, that Kubuntu isn’t too far off from being usable by the general population out of the box.

    Again, thanks for the file.

  16. vaal thinks:

    Your guide was really helpful and gave to my pc some really nice and smooth fonts. Although I have an issue with non KDE applications, where the fonts looks reallh bad (almost unreadable) eg firefox, open office.

    If anyone could help would be appreciated.

  17. lbvsx thinks:

    Impressive “two clicks” solution. I’m shocked. Supposed, ugly fonts was a nature of X. Now I love *nix again :)

  18. kevin thinks:

    does exactly what is says on the tin, cannot recommend highly enough. many thanks

  19. Countman thinks:

    Vaal, you need to make your GTK apps use KDE (Qt) fonts. See the following website:
    http://gtk-qt.ecs.soton.ac.uk/

  20. Carlos Arana thinks:

    It works on mandriva also , thanks

  21. Larry Lim thinks:

    looks more close to os x font rendering now. Font rendering with chinese character not as clear as os x, but notice a drop in cpu resource when surfing chinese websites, which is great

  22. Sid thinks:

    Does it work on the KDE 4.1 version too ?

  23. Port_Null thinks:

    Looks a.. ma.. zing!

  24. Sunil thinks:

    It works great on Arch linux with kde4.1..

    should be the default font settings for distros.

    optimised font sizes will be appreciable as well

  25. Alex Engel thinks:

    Hi, great tip on the font setup!

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m adding this information to the Linux Mint wiki. If this isn’t okay, please let me know.

    -Alex

  26. Randy thinks:

    Its not really fair since you don’t have a picture of Windows with cleartype. I tried your trick, but it left my fonts looking overly washed out - thick and fuzzy. The default sub pixel hinting in Linux Mint (Ubuntu) looks better.

  27. donec thinks:

    I use Mepis and while the text on Mepis is better than that found on Ubuntu your super smooth font script has improved the fonts for Mepis also.

  28. Tweak Your Font Rendering for Better Appearance | Tombuntu thinks:

    [...] more complex .fonts.conf file, available for download at this site, produces very smooth and bold fonts similar to those in OS X. Here’s a [...]

  29. Andrewsha thinks:

    Great!
    Sexiest look!
    ubuntu 8.04

  30. Fonts in Linux • Blog Archive • Magnus thinks:

    [...] on font rendering in linux, test for yourself, I think it made a difference (for the better). The Masterplan About this [...]

  31. zaba thinks:

    I came here via Jeremy Zawodny’s blog (http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/010655.html) and the difference in fonts is just amazing. Thank you so much for your conf file.

  32. James thinks:

    Thanks dude,
    Now my fonts in Ubuntu-8.10 looks really impressive.
    Thank you so much.

  33. Rodmera thinks:

    It’s works on my Kubuntu 8.10!

    Thanks.

  34. Unklephunky thinks:

    Finally made the plunge and ditched windows this weekend. This little gem has made it a much more pleasant experience than when I last tried 3 years ago. Good work, Sir.

  35. Anup thinks:

    Many thanks for this. My old laptop died (Kubuntu 8.04) and it rendered fonts beautifully (like you, I preferred it to the Mac, though very similar). My new laptop (Kubuntu 8.10) looked great for KDE apps, but GNOME apps (e.g. Firefox) didn’t look quite right. Don’t know what I did in 8.04 to get it right, so your fonts conf file helped me no-end! Now I can get back to enjoying web development again :)

  36. DENNIS thinks:

    Thanks, I was looking everywhere for this. It worked for my Ubuntu 8.10

  37. Henock thinks:

    It works in my land and it is cool thing

  38. niken lestari thinks:

    how do i return to previous look? i can’t find .fonts.conf in my /home/user directory anymore…thanks. i prefer my previous look though

    cheers
    niken

  39. enrailed » Blog Archive » How to get smooth fonts like Safari on Ubuntu thinks:

    [...] you want the whole explanation, go to this article, but if you just want the fix, all you have to do is [...]

  40. Umut Uygar thinks:

    exactly what I was looking for. Thanks a lot…

  41. petruz thinks:

    NICE work dude. The past 3 weeks I was fiddling with font hinting … and the fonts weren’t getting better. Your unbelievable simple script has changed my “linux experience” totally and saved me a nervous breakdown.
    This script should be standard in every distribution.
    Many thanks man !

    Linux mint Felicia 1440×900

  42. Luthier thinks:

    Many thanks. After spending hours trying different tweaks, I ran across your page and tried the files and it looks the best since upgrading to 8.04. Now if only the dev boys would incorporate this as default.

  43. MonkeeSage thinks:

    The best font rendering I’ve ever seen is with libfreetype6-2.3.7 (current version in Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex).

    First I ran:

    sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig-config

    I chose “Native” on the first screen, “Automatic” on the second, and “No” on the last.

    Then I used the following ~/.fonts.conf:

    false

    rgb

    true

    hintslight

    true

    (You may need to log-out first, or restart apps before you see the changes–in Intrepid they apply automatically a few seconds after you alter ~/.fonts.conf)

  44. Mark Sq thinks:

    I’m sorry, but i can’t download “fontsconf.txt”. May you make available it this?

    Before i use it configuration, i think it’s wonderful, amazing!

  45. Tweak Your Font Rendering for Better Appearance | .:: tik..tik..mencoba belajar ngetik ::. thinks:
  46. Harald Korneliussen thinks:

    “Why in God’s name wouldn’t they make this the default?”

    Patent worries.

    It seems the link to the file is dead now, that’s a pity.

  47. Hypercritic thinks:

    Great! The link in this page to Kubuntu_fonts does not seem to work. But got the actual contents of the file from Mint Linux wiki. Wonderful. Stunningly beautiful font effects. Thanks.

  48. proft thinks:

    Download does not exist!

  49. Arun Kale thinks:

    Okay, I’ve updated the download link. The download should work fine now. Sorry for the inconvenience!

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