Bitstream Vera Fonts – April 16, 2003

Please upgrade to the final fonts (under the final copyright) now that they are available, and discard the beta test versions. Please read the release notes before reporting problems with the fonts.

The fonts are now available here.

Note that the Vera copyright is incorporated in the fonts themselves. The License field in the fonts contains the copyright license as it appears below. The TrueType copyright field is not large enough to contain the full license, so the license is incorporated (as you might think if you thought about it) into the license field, which unfortunately can be obscure to find. (In pfaedit, see: Element->Font Info->TTFNames->License).

Our apologies for it taking longer to complete the fonts than planned. Beta testers requested a tighter line spacing (less leading) and Jim Lyles redesigned Vera’s accents to bring its line spacing to more typical of other fonts. This took additional time and effort. Our thanks to Jim for this effort above and beyond the call of duty.

There are four monospace and sans faces (normal, oblique, bold, bold oblique) and two serif faces (normal and bold). Fontconfig/Xft2 can artificially oblique the serif faces for you: this loses hinting and distorts the faces slightly, but is visibly different than normal and bold, and reasonably pleasing.

On systems with fontconfig 2.0 or 2.1 installed, making your sans, serif and monospace fonts default to these fonts is very easy. Just drop the file local.conf into your /etc/fonts directory. This will make the Bitstream fonts your default fonts for all applications using fontconfig (if sans, serif, or monospace names are used, as they often are as default values in many desktops). The XML in local.conf may need modification to enable subpixel decimation, if appropriate, however, the commented out phrase does so for XFree86 4.3, in the case that the server does not have sufficient information to identify the use of a flat panel. Fontconfig 2.2 adds Vera to the list of font families and will, by default use it as the default sans, serif and monospace fonts.

Release Notes

During the testing of the final Vera fonts, we learned that screen fonts in general are only typically hinted to work correctly at integer pixel sizes. Vera is coded internally for integer sizes only. We need to investigate further to see if there are commonly used fonts that are hinted to be rounded but are not rounded to integer sizes due to oversights in their coding.

Most fonts work best at 8 pixels and below if anti-aliased only, as the amount of work required to hint well at smaller and smaller sizes becomes astronomical. GASP tables are typically used to control whether hinting is used or not, but Freetype/Xft does not currently support GASP tables (which are present in Vera).

To mitigate this problem, both for Vera and other fonts, there will be (very shortly) a new fontconfig 2.2 release that will, by default not apply hints if the size is below 8 pixels. if you should have a font that in fact has been hinted more aggressively, you can use fontconfig to note this exception. We believe this should improve many hinted fonts in addition to Vera, though implementing GASP support is likely the right long term solution.

Font rendering in GNOME or KDE is the combination of algorithms in Xft2 and Freetype, along with hinting in the fonts themselves. It is vital to have sufficient information to disentangle problems that you may observe.

Note that having your font rendering system set up correctly is vital to proper judgement of problems of the fonts:

  • Freetype may or may not be configured to in ways that may implement execution of possibly patented (in some parts of the world) TrueType hinting algorithms, particularly at small sizes. Best results are obtained while using these algorithms.
  • The freetype autohinter (used when the possibly patented algorithms are not used) continues to improve with each release. If you are using the autohinter, please ensure you are using an up to date version of freetype before reporting problems.
  • Please identify what version of freetype you are using in any bug reports, and how your freetype is configured.
  • Make sure you are not using the freetype version included in XFree86 4.3, as it has bugs that significantly degrade most fonts, including Vera. if you build XFree86 4.3 from source yourself, you may have installed this broken version without intending it (as I did). Vera was verified with the recently released Freetype 2.1.4. On many systems, ‘ldd” can be used to see which freetype shared library is actually being used.
  • Xft/X Render does not (yet) implement gamma correction. This causes significant problems rendering white text on a black background (causing partial pixels to be insufficiently shaded) if the gamma of your monitor has not been compensated for, and minor problems with black text on a while background. The program “xgamma” can be used to set a gamma correction value in the X server’s color palette. Most monitors have a gamma near 2.
  • Note that the Vera family uses minimal delta hinting. Your results on other systems when not used anti-aliased may not be entirely satisfying. We are primarily interested in reports of problems on open source systems implementing Xft2/fontconfig/freetype (which implements antialiasing and hinting adjustements, and sophisticated subpixel decimation on flatpanels). Also, the algorithms used by Xft2 adjust the hints to integer widths and the results are crisper on open source systems than on Windows or MacIntosh.
  • Your fontconfig may (probably does) predate the release of fontconfig 2.2, and you may see artifacts not present when the font is used at very small sizes with hinting enabled. “fc-list -V” can be used to see what version you have installed.

We believe and hope that these fonts will resolve the problems reported during beta test. The largest change is the reduction of leading (interline spacing), which had annoyed a number of people, and reduced Vera’s utility for some applcations. The Vera monospace font should also now make ‘0’ and ‘O’ and ‘1’ and ‘l’ more clearly distinguishable.

The version of these fonts is version 1.10. Fontconfig should be choosing the new version of the fonts if both the released fonts and beta test fonts are installed (though please discard them: they have names of form tt20[1-12]gn.ttf). Note that older versions of fontconfig sometimes did not rebuild their cache correctly when new fonts are installed: please upgrade to fontconfig 2.2. “fc-cache -f” can be used to force rebuilding fontconfig’s cache files manually on older fontconfig installations.

If you note problems, please send them to fonts at gnome dot org, with exactly which face and size and unicode point you observe the problem at. The xfd utility from XFree86 CVS may be useful for this (e.g. “xfd -fa sans”). A possibly more useful program to examine fonts at a variety of sizes is the “waterfall” program found in Keith Packard’s CVS.

$ cvs -d login
Logging in to
CVS password: <hit return>
$ cvs -d co waterfall
$ cd waterfall
$ xmkmf -a
$ make
# make install
# make

Again, please make sure you are running an up-to-date freetype, and that you are only examining integer sizes.

Reporting Problems

Please send problem reports to fonts at gnome org, with the following information:

  1. Version of Freetype, Xft2 and fontconfig
  2. Whether TT hinting is being used, or the autohinter
  3. Application being used
  4. Character/Unicode code point that has problems (if applicable)
  5. Version of which operating system
  6. Please include a screenshot, when possible.

Please check the fonts list archives before reporting problems to cut down on duplication.

Bitstream Vera Fonts Copyright

The fonts have a generous copyright, allowing derivative works (as long as “Bitstream” or “Vera” are not in the names), and full redistribution (so long as they are not sold by themselves). They can be be bundled, redistributed and sold with any software.

The fonts are distributed under the following copyright:


Copyright (c) 2003 by Bitstream, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Bitstream Vera is a trademark of Bitstream, Inc.

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of the fonts accompanying this license (“Fonts”) and associated documentation files (the “Font Software”), to reproduce and distribute the Font Software, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, merge, publish, distribute, and/or sell copies of the Font Software, and to permit persons to whom the Font Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright and trademark notices and this permission notice shall be included in all copies of one or more of the Font Software typefaces.

The Font Software may be modified, altered, or added to, and in particular the designs of glyphs or characters in the Fonts may be modified and additional glyphs or characters may be added to the Fonts, only if the fonts are renamed to names not containing either the words “Bitstream” or the word “Vera”.

This License becomes null and void to the extent applicable to Fonts or Font Software that has been modified and is distributed under the “Bitstream Vera” names.

The Font Software may be sold as part of a larger software package but no copy of one or more of the Font Software typefaces may be sold by itself.


Except as contained in this notice, the names of GNOME, the GNOME Foundation, and Bitstream Inc., shall not be used in advertising or otherwise to promote the sale, use or other dealings in this Font Software without prior written authorization from the GNOME Foundation or Bitstream Inc., respectively. For further information, contact: fonts at gnome dot org.

Copyright FAQ

  1. I don’t understand the resale restriction… What gives?
    Bitstream is giving away these fonts, but wishes to ensure its competitors can’t just drop the fonts as is into a font sale system and sell them as is. It seems fair that if Bitstream can’t make money from the Bitstream Vera fonts, their competitors should not be able to do so either. You can sell the fonts as part of any software package, however.
  2. I want to package these fonts separately for distribution and sale as part of a larger software package or system. Can I do so?
    Yes. A RPM or Debian package is a “larger software package” to begin with, and you aren’t selling them independently by themselves. See 1. above.
  3. Are derivative works allowed?
  4. Can I change or add to the font(s)?
    Yes, but you must change the name(s) of the font(s).
  5. Under what terms are derivative works allowed?
    You must change the name(s) of the fonts. This is to ensure the quality of the fonts, both to protect Bitstream and GNOME. We want to ensure that if an application has opened a font specifically of these names, it gets what it expects (though of course, using fontconfig, substitutions could still could have occurred during font opening). You must include the Bitstream copyright. Additional copyrights can be added, as per copyright law. Happy Font Hacking!
  6. If I have improvements for Bitstream Vera, is it possible they might get adopted in future versions?
    Yes. The contract between the GNOME Foundation and Bitstream has provisions for working with Bitstream to ensure quality additions to the Bitstream Vera font family. Please contact us if you have such additions. Note, that in general, we will want such additions for the entire family, not just a single font, and that you’ll have to keep both GNOME and Jim Lyles, Vera’s designer, happy! To make sense to add glyphs to the font, they must be stylistically in keeping with Vera’s design. Vera cannot become a “ransom note” font. Jim Lyles will be providing a document describing the design elements used in Vera, as a guide and aid for people interested in contributing to Vera, when he gets back from a well-deserved vacation.
  7. I want to sell a software package that uses these fonts: can I do so?
    Sure. Bundle the fonts with your software and sell your software with the fonts. That is the intent of the copyright.
  8. If applications have built the names “Bitstream Vera” into them, can I override this somehow to use fonts of my choosing?
    This depends on exact details of the software. Most open source systems and software (e.g., GNOME, KDE, etc.) are now converting to use fontconfig (see to handle font configuration, selection and substitution; it has provisions for overriding font names and substituting alternatives. An example is provided by the supplied local.conf file, which chooses the family Bitstream Vera for “sans”, “serif” and “monospace”. Other software (e.g., the XFree86 core server) has other mechanisms for font substitution.
Jim Gettys