Smooth Criminal

Update: I’ve found my joy. It’s easy to override the CSS font-smoothing property with a custom CSS file. First, paste the following into a text editor:

* {
	-webkit-font-smoothing: subpixel-antialiased;
	-webkit-text-stroke: 0;

Some sites use -webkit-text-stroke to disable subpixel antialiasing. Remove the second line if you miss having text-stroke elsewhere. Save the file anywhere you’d like, with the extension .css. In Safari, go to the Safari Menu → Preferences → Advanced. Under “Style Sheet,” select the CSS file you just created. Then close and restart Safari. Try visiting a site that uses the font-smoothing technique, like the Safari Extensions site. If you don’t see wispy, uneven text rendering, congratulations!

I’ve tried to keep from climbing atop my soapbox on this blog, but since no one seems to share this particular pet peeve, I have to vent. I’m a sucker for new CSS techniques, so using a WebKit-based browser like Safari is a no-brainer. WebKit simply has the best CSS support of any browser available, and the team is constantly adding new techniques. This was a good thing up until they introduced webkit-font-smoothing.

Left: The Safari Extensions web site with weak antialiasing. Right: what it should look like.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the technique per se. It’s a great idea — let web designers specify either no or basic font smoothing in addition to the default (on Mac OS X) subpixel antialiasing. And sure, there are situations with some uses and some typefaces that would call for such a change. The problem is with web designers using it in situations which most certainly do not call for it — one such situation would be anywhere white text appears on a dark background. Unfortunately Apple themselves have succumbed to temptation and are now using this new technique to do terrible things to the text, as illustrated above, on the Safari Extensions site.

I’m not trying to stand in the way of progress. I know not everyone loves OS X’s default behavior. I just ask that you use it judiciously. Don’t break the readability of the web. At least not until someone makes a Safari Extension that lets me overrule you. Break away! I’m covered; see update above.

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