Scott Hanselman

I was annoyed by the web font issues at won't believe what I did next!

August 16, '14 Comments [21] Posted in HTML5
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Sorry about the title, I had to. ;)

I was running Windows and Google Chrome and I clicked on a link to an video. When I go to Upworthy recently (don't judge me) I've been seeing this weird font for the last few months. It's obnoxious, and I was surprised they'd let this fly.

Upworthy has weird fonts

Later, though, I looked in another browser, and it looked fine.

Upworthy rendered in IE

Ok, time to F12. According to IE's Developer Tools there are three webfonts coming down and they each are downloading completely.

IE dev tools say the WOFF file is fine

Interestingly Chrome says the same thing:

Chrome agrees

What's the DOM expecting the font to be? Well, basically all of them. ;)

That's a long font-family

Seriously, though, IMHO pick a font or font family and move on. There's really no need to make a list of 11 font types in the order you'd prefer them. Either your web font works or it's Helvetica time.

Gill Sans? I don't see a Gill Sans available here. Gill Sans is a Mac OS X system font, but it seems that Google Chrome on Windows REALLY don't like being asked for it. ;)

I took each of the downloaded WOFF files and tried to open them at to see if one was Gill Sans. Of course, none contained any of the first their fonts they're asking for. Unless you explicitly download a web font, a list of fonts like these are a just a designer's wish list.

Web Designers: Design for the web, not the cool fonts you have on your machine.

On 99% of Windows machines you're going to end up with Segoe UI with this CSS font-family as most folks won't have those first three fonts. It seems that Chrome gives up (?) after a few tries (not sure?) but if I remove Gill Sans as the first item it renders fine.


The font is correct with a smaller font-family

I tried to find a bug on this in the Chromium bug database...I'm not sure if it might be this one?

I hope a CSS person at Upworthy sees this and solves the mystery! What are your thoughts, Dear Reader?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014 12:01:56 AM UTC
9 Fonts to make your web site look trendy. You won't believe number 6!
Sunday, August 17, 2014 12:34:57 AM UTC
Actually "font-weight" property is important in this case too. You didn't show it, but it's set to "font-weight: 400;". It seems in this specific combination browser tries to match first available "400" version font-family. If first one (Gill Sans) is not introduced with "400", the browser would try to find next one until it finds first good match which can be wierd one :) So to solve it just try to cross-match all font-family vs. font-weight combinations. I end up with Segoe UI on Windows anyway :)
Monday, August 18, 2014 12:18:43 AM UTC
You are killing me with the title of this post! :) Can't wait for this trend to die!!
Monday, August 18, 2014 6:58:08 AM UTC
I've seen this across multiple browsers here.

In the end, browsers prefer the first font listed.

And I had installed Gill Sans, with the only variant being wide-extra-bold. Removing that font removed the problem. I have no idea where that Gill Sans variant came from, presumably some application (or maybe printer driver).

The root cause here is assuming installed fonts always come in the same set of variations.

("Gill Sans MT" and "Gill Sans Std" don't match "Gill Sans", so they're still in place.)
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 2:25:32 PM UTC
Please post the page views of this post compared to others, just to see if these kind of titles work as expected ;)
Friday, August 22, 2014 5:06:42 PM UTC
Awesome title. :) Very baity.
Monday, August 25, 2014 6:58:15 PM UTC
Now you need to get Downworthy for Chrome.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 3:08:06 PM UTC
Hi Scott,

Found your article while researching this same rendering problem in our application.

There is apparently a "Gill Sans Ultra Bold" problem out there on the Web. It comes back to some pretty complex stuff regarding how fonts are managed by Windows!

Mozilla found this and implemented a workaround to prevent FireFox from subsituting the heinous "Gill Sans Ultra Bold" for the very nice "Gill Sans" or "Gill Sans MT". Much more detail here:

In my opinion, css font strings are a good thing. If the font isn't there, it should move on to the next. In this case, the problem is that browsers are grabbing the wrong Gill Sans and not moving on to the next preferred font.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 3:17:28 PM UTC
Also if others are coming to this site (due to scott's massive search engine affinity) due to the Gill Sans Ultra problem, please vote for a bug fix in Chrome here:

Click the star icon!
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.