How to enable bitmap fonts on Ubuntu Karmic and Ubuntu Lucid?

This blog post gives instructions to enable bitmap fonts for GNOME and other Xft X11 applications. The instructions given have been tested on Ubuntu Karmic and Ubuntu Lucid, but they might work on other Unix systems as well with minor modifications. The reason for enabling bitmap fonts is to get crisp font rendering in dialog boxes, menus and window titles.

Run these commands to install some bitmap fonts from package:

$ sudo apt-get install xfonts-mplus xfonts-bitmap-mule xfonts-base
$ sudo apt-get install xfonts-75dpi{,-transcoded} xfonts-100dpi{,-transcoded}

Run the command to install some Microsoft vector fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, Verdana). Installation might take a few minutes, because the font files have to be downloaded form an external site.

$ sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts

If you are using Ubuntu Karmic or earlier (not Ubuntu Lucid or later), then run these commands to install some QT configuration tools (needed for Skype):

$ sudo apt-get install qt3-qtconfig qt4-qtconfig

Run these commands to install some useful fonts (fixedsc is the classic 6x13 xterm monospaced bitmap font helpfully renamed to FixedSC, and helxetica is the Helvetica bitmap font helpfully renamed to Helxetica, for QT):

$ wget -qO- https://raw.githubusercontent.com/pts/fonts/master/helxetica.tgz |
       (cd / && sudo tar xzv)
$ wget -qO- https://raw.githubusercontent.com/pts/fonts/master/fixedsc.tgz  |
       (cd / && sudo tar xzv)

Enable bitmap fonts (this works in Ubuntu Hardy, Ubuntu Intrepid, Ubuntu Jaunty as well as in Ubuntu Karmic and Ubuntu Lucid):

$ sudo rm -f /etc/fonts/conf.d/70-{yes,no,force}-bitmaps.conf
$ if test -f /usr/share/fontconfig/conf.avail/70-force-bitmaps.conf
  then sudo ln -s /usr/share/fontconfig/conf.avail/70-force-bitmaps.conf /etc/fonts/conf.d/70-force-bitmaps.conf
  elif test -f /etc/fonts/conf.avail/70-force-bitmaps.conf
  then sudo ln -s {../conf.avail,/etc/fonts/conf.d}/70-force-bitmaps.conf
  else sudo ln -s {../conf.avail,/etc/fonts/conf.d}/70-yes-bitmaps.conf

The if above is needed, because /etc/fonts/conf.avail/70-force-bitmaps.conf has been introduced and /etc/fonts/conf.avail/70-yes-bitmaps.conf was made almost empty in Ubuntu Lucid. The correct (non-empty) contents are:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!DOCTYPE fontconfig SYSTEM "fonts.dtd">
<!-- Accept bitmap fonts -->
     <patelt name="scalable"><bool>false</bool></patelt>

Run these commands to rebuild the font filename cache (so it will find all bitmap fonts, including the newly installed fonts):

$ sudo rm -f /var/cache/fontconfig/*
$ rm -rf "$HOME/.fontconfig"
$ sudo fc-cache
$ fc-cache
$ fc-list | grep -E 'Helxetica|FixedSC' | sort
Helxetica:style=Bold Oblique

To have crisp fonts in dialog boxes, menus an window titles, then in System / Preferences / Appearance / Fonts, set the following font settings (on Ubuntu Lucid, use Helxetica instead of Helvetica):

  • Application font: Helvetica | 9
  • Document font: Arial | 10
  • Desktop font: Helvetica | 9
  • Window title font: Helvetica Bold | 9
  • Fixed width font: FixedSC | 10

To make the GNOME Panel reload its menu font, you have to restart it. Run

$ killall gnome-panel

In Applications / Accessories / Terminal / Edit / Profile preferences, make sure the Use the system fixed width font is ticked.

On Ubuntu Karmic and earlier, press Alt-F2, type qtconfig-qt3, press Enter, then wait for the Qt Configuration window to appear. In the tab Fonts, change the Family: to Helxetica (sic, it's not Helvetica), and the Point Size: to 9. In the menu, choose File / Save, then File / Exit.

On Ubuntu Karmic and earlier, repeat the previous paragraph with qtconfig-qt4 instead of qtconfig-qt3.


  • There is no need to log out, restart Skype, restart Firefox restart Nautilus, restart the GNOME Terminal or restart the GNOME Panel. All these applications pick up the font changes immediately.
  • The Fixed (6x13) had to be renamed to FixedSC, because the original 6x13 font has the tag semicondensed, which makes it impossible to select in the GNOME font selection dialog (or in any fontconfig-based app).
  • The Helvetica bitmap font had to be renamed to Helxetica, because QT4 applications (such as Skype 2.1) cannot render non-latin-1 characters properly (they will find a substitution font for those characters, even though the characters are available in the Helvetica font).


Anonymous said...

Awesome! This was driving me crazy. I had different reasons for wanting to do this, but this was exactly what I was looking for.


Brandon Thomson said...

Thanks very much. This works well enough on 11.04 to at least get the bitmap fonts working in tcl/tk for git gui, which is good enough for me.