Going Beyond Courier

by: Scott Nesbitt | 17 October 2017

My journey to living and working in plain text started in the 1990s. I have to admit that it didn’t go well in those early days. It wasn’t a matter of mindset or tool — I was doing a lot of work in plain text (mostly HTML and, later, XML), and was comfortable with a variety of text editors.

What kept turning me away was a font. That font? Courier, and its newer and slightly flashier cousin Courier New.

I don’t know about you, but I think that Courier’s ugly. It’s always been hard on my eyes. It’s hard to look at and hard to read.

And, before you asked, I did try using a number of proportional fonts, like Helvetica and Times and Gill Sans. But they never looked right in a text editor. And I couldn’t find a monospaced font that I liked. So, it took me quite a while to really get into the plain text life.

All because of a simple font …

Why Monospaced?

So why use a monospaced font in the first place? A good one makes anything in plain text — especially code — easier to read.

That’s fine if you’re a coder or working with a markup language. Believe it or not, a good monospaced font can make even plain, unadorned text easy to read.

Nowadays, there are some great monospaced fonts that put Courier and its relatives to shame. They combine the utility of a good monospaced font with the lines of a nice sans-serif font. And, better still, many of them won’t cost you a cent.

Some Recommendations

I know that more than a couple of typography snobs out there will pooh-pooh the fonts I talk about below for a variety of technical and aesthetic reasons. Let them. These are my choices. This is what I like.

First up, DejaVu Sans Mono. This font has a very pleasing look, while retaining the readability of a monospace font.

Some text in DejaVu Sans Mono

Next up, Liberation Mono. It’s a font that I think lies somewhere between Courier and DejaVu Sans Mono, and which has a smooth look.

Liberation Mono in action

This will be kind of contentious, but I actually like Droid Sans Mono. It’s a typeface designed for mobile devices running Android, and it comes from hand of the designer behind the Liberation fonts.

A sample of Droid Sans Mono

I’ve been using the Ubuntu flavour of Linux for a long time. Something I’ve always liked was the typeface used with its logo. The folks at Canonical have made the font available, and the monospaced version is great for general use.

It's Ubuntu Mono

What if you actually want something that’s like Courier? You’re in luck. There’s Courier Prime, which is billed as Courier, just better. And it is. Much better.

Courier Prime, the better Courier