Thursday, April 7, 2011

Free Software alternatives to Trajan Pro

With the image and font table well below I have tried to find out free small caps and fallback font alternatives to Trajan Pro, a very popular Roman-style font known for its style and legibility. With free, I have in mind the context of free software, so free as in freedom.

The reason for this was that I was fixing the design of a simple website and its original designer had specified Trajan Pro as the font for the site's menu text, only that Trajan Pro is proprietary and non-free, which means that not everyone has it and I had to find out the necessary fallback fonts.
A fallback font means that I specify multiple fonts in the font-family CSS property: If a web browser can't find the first font, it shows text in the next specified font or uses the browser default.

I recently discovered that a similar trick can be used in documents, where I'd specify two or more fonts and separate them with a comma. OO.o also has the means to set fallback and replacement fonts in its options.

Requirements for matching fonts:

• Roman typeface.
• Must have small caps, just as Trajan Pro does /capital letters should then be bigger;
• Must look good and legible in bold weight (this was the site requirement) at default size (12pt/16px) and I only chose ones that looked good enough;
• Must contain the ü character /implies that other Latin-extended characters are also contained.
N., 06.09.2012 update:

A large number of primary fonts are already 'Roman' or like by their looks, and nowadays' CSS conventions should allow transforming text into uppercase with a favoured font. Alas, there are sites that are likely to use Trajan Pro, and so there need to be fallback fonts that are similar.


I found most of the interesting fonts from (one large page contains several hundred images of font examples, so beware), an otherwise fabulous resource for all who want to seek free software fonts.

As I was seeking only small caps fonts, I only downloaded these.
In the process it occurred that that some of those fonts wouldn't show properly, because space marks were visible. Since shows fonts with all their subsets, I made a half-educated guess that some of the small caps fonts I downloaded were also subsets, which therefore didn't require to have spacemarks in them, because any rendering software would fall back to the main/primary font for symbols that were not used in the subset. Another reason for visible spacemarks might be that the fonts that I got from the above site were not compiled for Windows, but Linux and Unix in a wider sense, so this could also be the reason.

As it turned out some of those fonts displayed on were indeed subsets of TeX fonts, which are listed here (if not with the same extensions, like ttf, then still with the same filenames), so skimming over that list should help in distinguishing the fonts that should not be downloaded in the first place, unless you know exactly what you want. The fallback system in TeX is called Metafont, so spaces are probably there, too.
Furthermore, when creating the table, it turned out that the text had to look good both in high contrast (black on white) and in lighter incarnations. I haven't put that yet as a requirement.


The following is a quick-and-dirty preliminary report, as I have yet to do more research on small caps fonts on the subject.

The fonts I included in the table are only those that passed the requirements, well, somehow:
• Whether any example resembles the cut-into-stone effect of Trajan, is debatable, at least they're Roman;
• They must be reasonably light even when in boldface;
• The winners' most common denominator is that their small caps really are what they say they are, unlike with Trajan, where actual capitals are only slightly larger, which makes the alternatives metric-wise imperfect.

Fonts in the results image and table are in medium size, which defers to the browser and operating system default (typically 12pt). Since even small caps are small, then any smaller-sized text with some of these fonts is very likely to be less legible.

In the image, I've avoided using the actual Trajan Pro font, which is non-free, and resorted to using contours of the text that use it. In a table below the image, the Trajan Pro row text is formatted in that font, but the font is displayed only when a client computer actually has it (otherwise the browser will defer to the blog's default body text font). To fully comply, I've formatted the heading row with the Liberation Sans font (with fallbacks to Helvetica, Helv, sans-serif).
Trajan Pro FOSS alternatives
Results table
Font name
Test wordNotesOverall mark
Trajan ProKülalisteraamatReference
Romande ADF Style StdKülalisteraamat++++
LMRoman10-CapsKülalisteraamatSlightly fatter+++
Berenis ADF No2 StyleKülalisteraamatLegible, but small caps are small...++
The below fonts are fallback fonts with small caps. Conga might be a non-free font, although it's been included in a version of Knoppix.
CongaKülalisteraamatKnoppix 4.0.2, fallback
Copperplate Gothic LightKülalisteraamatWindows, fallback
CastellarKülaliste­raamatWindows, 2nd choice fallback /note that "lower-case" capitals are level with "upper-case" capitals
Felix TitlingKülalisteraamat
Perpetua Titling MTKülalisteraamat
The below fonts, while having "small" caps, were found in Windows, but they don't qualify because of various visual aberrations.
Copperplate Gothic BoldKülalisteraamatWindows, fallback /Ugly when bold, but small caps are smaller
Engravers MTKülaliste­raamatWindows /Too large
AlgerianKülalisteraamatWindows /Too ugly
I intend this post to be a work in progress of sorts, so I hope to make further updates.

N., 06.09.2012. update:

Fonts with small caps that didn't make the cut:

Aegean /incomplete
Akkadian /incomplete

Computer Modern Roman Regular Small Caps / CM Roman /ugly
TeX Palladio L Small Caps & Old Style Figures / TeX Palladio L

Irianis ADF Style Standard Regular / Irianis ADF Style Std
Linux Libertine O Capitals / Linux Libertine O C

Text about Free software alternatives to Segoe UI was moved to a separate post.

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