# OpenGL OpenGL fonts, what is the best way to go?

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I've already read some tutorials about font rendering using OpenGL, and implemented 2D Bitmap Fonts (NeHe lesson 17). Now, I'm starting a new project, and want to know if this is really the best way to follow. I know a interesting alternative: - GNU Freetype library: seems very good to me, but from what I've read from NeHe it has a somewhat bigger overhead than other methods; What do you think is the best way out? What do you currently use in your projects to output text? I'm safe with FreeType? Thanks!!! PS.: the project I'm working on must be multiplatform, thus I can't use "wgl" or other OS dependent stuff.

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For most practical purposes, you can simply make an image of the words you need and manipulate them. If I need anything larger, I usually use bitmap fonts, although I use vector arrays rather then display lists like nehe does.

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glFont works great.

http://students.cs.byu.edu/~bfish/glfont.php

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Quote:
 Original post by BinomineFor most practical purposes, you can simply make an image of the words you need and manipulate them. If I need anything larger, I usually use bitmap fonts, although I use vector arrays rather then display lists like nehe does.

As I will also use text output for debugging purposes and character "speech", image words seems not to be the best way to go.

Thanks, Binomine!!!

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Quote:
 Original post by Vampyre_DarkglFont works great.http://students.cs.byu.edu/~bfish/glfont.php

Very interesting, Vampyre, but I can't rely on a specific operating system, and this solution seems to be not so flexible.

Thanks anyway!!!

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texture fonts was the only cross platform font i could find. but its also really flexible, you can make it any color and scale and rotate it just like any other quad. check out this NeHe tutorial.

if you dont want to do that, google for "GLFT", i heard it is a good library for fonts.

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I use SDL_TTF, this implies you're using SDL, and if you're going multi platform I highly recommend it. It looks nice (AA) and supports Unicode(you can write in japanese), and it's easier to change fonts (and font size).

The problem is getting it to work (handling character returns, tabs, and getting the data to a texture) and work fast. For instance generating a new texture every frame for a fps counter will kill the fps, so you need to update the texture (or better just a subsection of it). It took me a while to get it to a nominally cost.

Bitmap fonts tend to be good enough for most peoples needs though, and they're pretty easy to get working well.

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Since I could never get SDL_TTF to work with OpenGL (More specifically I couldn't work out how to convert an SDL_Surface* to an OpenGL texture) I use BMF_Font http://trenki.50free.org/bmf/
But if something better comes along Im happy to use it.
I heard that the Freetype library is pretty hard to use.

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Quote:
 Original post by sand_manSince I could never get SDL_TTF to work with OpenGL (More specifically I couldn't work out how to convert an SDL_Surface* to an OpenGL texture) I use BMF_Font http://trenki.50free.org/bmf/But if something better comes along Im happy to use it.I heard that the Freetype library is pretty hard to use.

Very interesting, Sand_man! And, to convert as SDL_Surface to an OpenGL texture:

void C_Texture::createTexture( GLuint *texture, char *textureName ) {    // SDL_Surface *textureImage;    if ( textureImage = SDL_LoadBMP( textureName ) ) {        glGenTextures( 1, texture );        glBindTexture( GL_TEXTURE_2D, *texture );	glTexImage2D( GL_TEXTURE_2D, 0, 3, textureImage->w, textureImage->h, 0, GL_BGR, GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, textureImage->pixels );	glTexParameteri( GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_MIN_FILTER, GL_LINEAR );	glTexParameteri( GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_MAG_FILTER, GL_LINEAR );    }}

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Quote:
 Original post by CocalusI use SDL_TTF, this implies you're using SDL, and if you're going multi platform I highly recommend it. It looks nice (AA) and supports Unicode(you can write in japanese), and it's easier to change fonts (and font size).

Very interesting!

Quote:
 The problem is getting it to work (handling character returns, tabs, and getting the data to a texture) and work fast. For instance generating a new texture every frame for a fps counter will kill the fps, so you need to update the texture (or better just a subsection of it). It took me a while to get it to a nominally cost.

Ah, using glTexSubImage2D...

[/quote]
Bitmap fonts tend to be good enough for most peoples needs though, and they're pretty easy to get working well.[/quote]
Yes, they are fine.

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As for that cost of using SDL_TTF and creating each frame new SDL_Surface through SDL_TTF and then converting it to GL texture, there is one good solution for this problem.

Say, you are creating fps counter that can rapidly change from frame to frame. You don't want to generate new texture every frame cause that would kill your performance, so what do you do? During font loading you instruct your FontMgr to generate all of 0-9 digits so that each will be prerendered on *separate* texture (1 will have its own, 2 will have its own etc.), and if you're using this font and use special function for rendering, renderer should automatically glue appropriate textures together.

So if you pass "123" using that font, renderer will render texture that "1" owns, at initial position, then it will add "1" texture width to initial position and render at that point texture for "2" etc. This gonna save you hellovalot fps.

Also, if you're sure that specific string won't change over time (ie. player or level name) then just render it once on texture and later on use that texture, no need to recreate it etc. This gonna save you even more fps.

HTH

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A much better way is to make the font one big texture, and then alter the texture coordinates...

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Ups, Nife is truly right - it's much better cause your memory won't be fragmented.
However, there is one "little" problem - for some fonts which must be generated with really big characters there is a chance that you will run out of max texture width ie. when trying to render them all horizontally. And there is no easy (and not taking too much cycles and memory) solution to this problem, because in SDL_TTF there is no easy way to tell how much space this particular character will take when rendered without actually *rendering* it, which would allow for rendering characters in rows :-/ (or am I missing something??)

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I've never worked with this library, but it seems like you could render each char to get its dimensions, and then create a single texture from the individual ones (or just rerender the bigger texture). You are going to need the dimensions for each character anyway to set up the texture coords. If you did this at startup, or even offline, the speed shouldn't be an issue.

You will absolutely want only one texture for the font however. This way you can put all your text into a single vertex array, bind only one texture, and draw everything in one go.

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Quote:
 I've never worked with this library, but it seems like you could render each char to get its dimensions, and then create a single texture from the individual ones (or just rerender the bigger texture). You are going to need the dimensions for each character anyway to set up the texture coords. If you did this at startup, or even offline, the speed shouldn't be an issue.

That's why I wrote "and not taking too much cycles and memory". I've thought about it, problem is that creating new texture (ok, in reality SDL_Surface) for every glyph (more then 100 in ASCII?) for every font will take very much memory, which in turn (allocating, merging, deallocating) will be cycle expensive. Also it should be done at startup, so in theory you need to hunt throughout all your game code for font definitions and move them to startup code, which sometimes can turn to serious troubles and hacks.
Though it seems that's one of the best approaches.

Quote:
 You will absolutely want only one texture for the font however. This way you can put all your text into a single vertex array, bind only one texture, and draw everything in one go.

For some games that would be true, but in my case - no, it can't be done. Not to mention GUI, where each control can have it's own font type, font size, font color, font attributes etc.

Anyway, thx for the info.

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Quote:
 Original post by KoshmaarFor some games that would be true, but in my case - no, it can't be done. Not to mention GUI, where each control can have it's own font type, font size, font color, font attributes etc.

You're right, my method is only good if you're using 1 size and 1 attribute for each font (which is what I'm using). The color can always achieved by real-time coloring..

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If you want an idea of the cost of SDL_TTF, I tested my app,

with a fps counter (updated every frame) with SDL_TTF (an ostream I feed the fps into, an some other data, which totals 8 calls to SDL_TTF rendering function), with glTexSubImage2D and no mipmaps I get 1.80984ms per frame

with no fps counter at all, I get 1.5713133 ms per frame.

So the fps counter cost me about 0.23852 ms. or the difference between 60 FPS and 59.153 FPS. But it took me a while to tweak it (I use SDL bliting to combine the separate text pieces so I only call glTexSubImage2D once a frame).

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Hmm, for my font rendering, i spent quite alot of time tweaking/optimising on writing a font rendering solution.

Basically, the user defines a font like this:

Font myFont;

Basically the first parameter is the texture containing the font, the second stores the font widths and the last is self explanatory.

Each Font Object has a dynamic buffer/mesh which grows/shrinks based on what is required to be rendered for any one frame.

In my main loop i just need to do this

myFont.draw("Hello World!", 100, 100);
myFont.draw("Another line of text", 200, 200);

What happens is that everytime a draw call is made, the dynamic buffer is appended with quads/UV coordinates based on XY positions. The font does not immediately render upon executing the draw call.

When it's time to draw the frame, the font simply sets the font texture once and sends in 1 large vertex array. I use a vector for the buffer and do not deallocate the buffer at the end of the frame, i simply reuse it, this means 0 allocation/deallocation of memory. The exception is when the total characters for any 1 frame is larger than the previous.

1 draw call per font. (Remember draw calls are extremely expensive)
Texture fonts (I believe they are the fastest way to draw text)
Flexibility (Just change the texture for a new font, use a bigger texture for bigger fonts)
Extremely fast

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Lately I've read interesting approach to font rendering, here's quote from mail of Bob Pendelton from SDL mailing list:

Quote:
 (...) For outline fonts I usually render each glyph/size/color once when it isfirst used by the program and convert it to a texture at that point.Then I draw text by texture mapping the rectangles for each individualglyph in a string. Doing that spreads the time cost of rendering stringsout so you don't have the long pause caused by rendering every glyph ina font. It also means you only have a texture for each glyph that hasbeen used. It is surprising how few glyphs are ever used. Then to, itsaves time by never rendering a glyph/size/color more than one.Typically, if you are rendering a number of strings and you render allof each string using SDL_ttf you will render the same glyph/size/colormany times. It seems to be a good way to render antialiased text. (...)

Later on I've asked about that memory fragmenation issue that have been discussed here, and Bob replied:

Quote:

Now that's what I call good explanation :-)

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Try Here

Here's something I knocked up which should probably mean I'll never have to write another text rendering utility ever again(as long as I stick to OpenGL). It loads the glyphs dynamically, so(with error trapping aside):

fontUtil->GetFace("Tahoma")->Select(12)->RenderText("Hello World",GLFonts::DefaultOutputOpts);

The tahoma face will be loaded automatically if it doesn't already exist, then you select which point size you need, then simply the text you wish to render, with output operations to select italicized text, alignment, etc). It still needs a bit of cleaning up as it stands, but I hope it's some help :)

The calling for rendering might seem a bit lengthy, but a quick wrapper for selecting a default font shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to knock up :)

Also note you can use friendly font names, like "Courier New", instead of locating the TTF file yourself, you can also type in the filename if you so wish(in the case of having custom fonts you distribute with your app). Only problem with this is, that this feature is Windows only, it's easily removable from the rest of the text output util, though.

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Quote:
Original post by nife
Quote:
 Original post by KoshmaarFor some games that would be true, but in my case - no, it can't be done. Not to mention GUI, where each control can have it's own font type, font size, font color, font attributes etc.

You're right, my method is only good if you're using 1 size and 1 attribute for each font (which is what I'm using). The color can always achieved by real-time coloring..

You could use a simple caching scheme; its unlikely that most gui's are going to want more than one font in perhaps a couple of sizes (I mean, look at windows or a desktop linux [without a word-processor open, that's cheating!])

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What about unicode-enabled font rendering functions in OpenGL? I looked thru here, OpenGL Font Survey, but I saw nothing that either confirmed nor denied that unicode does/does not work with any of these font renderers. I'd really like to have unicode support in the game I'm writing right now, and we're using SDL so SDL_ttf is always an option, but I'm concerned about the overhead costs in converting the SDL font surfaces to OpenGL textures. (I don't have an extensive graphics background btw). We were planning on going with FTGL until we found out that it doesn't mention anything about Unicode. Thanks!

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Quote:
 but I'm concerned about the overhead costs in converting the SDL font surfaces to OpenGL textures. (I don't have an extensive graphics background btw).

If you are doing it every frame, then even for small texts it's gonna bite you for no good! Ie. I've coded little application using my engine, just black screen and nothing more. It run at 70 fps (with vsync enabled), stats were displayed at upper window border. Ok, I've added 2 strings that would display coordinates of mouse cursor, ie. "122 243" etc. It was done with theese functions:

void SC :: Renderer :: RenderText(const char * _text, const char * _fontName, usint _size, const TScrPoint & _position,                     uchar _r, uchar _g, uchar _b, ulint _style, eTextPosition _justify, eTextRenderMode _rMode) {       	          TextObjHandle renderedText = CreateTextTexture(_text, _fontName, _size, _r, _g, _b, _style, _rMode);           TScrPoint pos (_position);        if (_justify == tp_Centered)  // center text     pos.x = pos.x - (renderedText.width)/2;         if (_justify == tp_Right) // justify to right          pos.x = pos.x - renderedText.width;         boundTexture.id = renderedText.id;    boundTexture.width = PowerOfTwo(renderedText.width);    boundTexture.height = PowerOfTwo(renderedText.height);           	    RenderTexture(pos, renderedText.width, renderedText.height, 1, TScrPnt(0,0), renderedText.width, renderedText.height);        FreeTextObj(renderedText); }SC :: TextObjHandle SC :: Renderer :: CreateTextTexture(const char * _text, const char * _fontName, usint _size, uchar _r,                                                         uchar _g, uchar _b, ulint _style, eTextRenderMode _rMode){ TTF_Font * font = getFontMgr.GetFont(_fontName, _size); TextObjHandle textObj; textObj.id = 0;    if (!font)   {    logError2("Renderer", "Couldn't find font to output text:")    return textObj;   }      TTF_SetFontStyle(font, _style);       SDL_Color clrFg = {_r, _g, _b, 0}; // color of text       SDL_Surface * tmp;          if (_rMode == trm_Solid)       tmp = TTF_RenderText_Solid( font, _text, clrFg);   else if (_rMode == trm_Blended)    tmp = TTF_RenderText_Blended( font, _text, clrFg);      if (tmp == 0)    {     logError2("Renderer", "Couldn't create texture for rendered text")     return textObj;       }       // -------------------------------------------------    // OpenGL need to use the surface with width and height expanded to powers of 2    usint w = PowerOfTwo(tmp->w);	usint h = PowerOfTwo(tmp->h);							SDL_Surface * image = SDL_CreateRGBSurface(SDL_SWSURFACE, w, h, 32,	0x000000FF,	0x0000FF00, 0x00FF0000, 0xFF000000);		if ( image == 0 ) 	 {      logError2("Renderer", "Couldn't create texture for rendered text")	  SC_ASSERT(0)	  return textObj;	 } 	     // copy the tmp into the GL texture image    SDL_Rect area;	area.x = 0;	area.y = 0;	area.w = tmp->w;	area.h = tmp->h;		SDL_BlitSurface(tmp, &area, image, &area);	 	      // create an OpenGL texture for the image 	glGenTextures(1, &textObj.id);	glBindTexture(GL_TEXTURE_2D, textObj.id);	glTexParameteri(GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_MAG_FILTER, GL_NEAREST);	glTexParameteri(GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_MIN_FILTER, GL_NEAREST);	glTexParameteri(GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_WRAP_S, GL_CLAMP);    glTexParameteri(GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_WRAP_T, GL_CLAMP);   	glTexImage2D(GL_TEXTURE_2D, 0, GL_RGBA, w, h, 0, GL_RGBA, GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, image->pixels);		     	           // set texture for use    textObj.width = tmp->w;    textObj.height = tmp->h;        SDL_FreeSurface(tmp);    SDL_FreeSurface(image);        return textObj;}

As you can see, it's SDL_TTF & OpenGL version (sure, it's crappy and not optimized, but IMHO nothing great can be achieved by optimizing theese, because slowliness is caused by external code and hardware limitations). So every frame RenderText was called twice. And FPS fall to 65 - that's 2,5 frames for every rapidly changing text. As you can see, cost is really high :-/
Also, I've tested whether it was fault of dynamic texture creation or some screwed OpenGL code in RenderFont, so I've used this:

struct TextObjHandle    {     GLuint id;         ulint width, height;    };  bool SC :: Renderer :: CreateTextObject(TextObjHandle & _handle, const char * _text, const char * _fontName, usint _size,                                          uchar _r, uchar _g, uchar _b, ulint _style, eTextRenderMode _rMode) {  _handle = CreateTextTexture(_text, _fontName, _size, _r, _g, _b, _style, _rMode);            return (_handle.id != 0); }    void SC :: Renderer :: FreeTextObj(TextObjHandle & _handle) {   glDeleteTextures(1, &_handle.id);       _handle.id = 0;   }     void SC :: Renderer :: RenderText(const TextObjHandle & _handle, const TScrPoint & _position, eTextPosition _justify) {       	                     TScrPoint pos (_position);        if (_justify == tp_Centered)  // center text     pos.x = pos.x - (_handle.width)/2;         if (_justify == tp_Right) // justify to right          pos.x = pos.x - _handle.width;             boundTexture.id = _handle.id;    boundTexture.width = PowerOfTwo(_handle.width);    boundTexture.height = PowerOfTwo(_handle.height);    glBindTexture(GL_TEXTURE_2D, _handle.id);                                   RenderTexture(pos, _handle.width, _handle.height, 1, TScrPnt(0,0), _handle.width, _handle.height);      }

Created 2 static (non changing) strings, erased old ones and tested again. And you know what? It was 70 FPS :-/

In this situation you'll realize that for any serious project that uses fast changing texts with SDL_TTF & OpenGL, Bob Pendelton's solution that I've posted here before is really neccessary (obviously I will use it in my engine).

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Koshmaar: Not to be mean or anything but your test is really flawed, first testing with v-sync on is generally bad, The difference would have been huge with it off.

And it looks like you didn't use glTexSubImage2D, which is a MASSIVE optimization for this (the glGenTextures is the real problem). I went from ~16ms per frame to ~1.6ms per frame (or 60fps to 600fps).

I use ms for performance, because fps can be a misleading way to find the cost of functions, for example the difference between 1200 fps and 900 fps is the same as 60 fps and 59.016 fps. So if you write some cool function earlier in you project that's called once per frame and doesn't depend on the complexity of the scene (fps counter is a good example), but you decide to drop of it because it cost you 300 fps (when your app runs at 1200 fps), then late in your project you try to remake it and it only cost you 2 fps (when your app now runs at 60 fps), you in fact wasted your time making a slower function and would have been better off keeping the first one.

I'll say texture map fonts are probably faster in most cases and definitely easier to use efficiently. Although with a huge block of static text, SDL_TTF's ability to do it in 1 quad could be better than texture fonts, but that's an unlikely case in a game. But the cost of SDL_TTF isn't really that bad if you tweak it right (I gave 0.23852ms for a fps counter), but tweaking it is tricky, glTexSubImage2D is the biggest improvement, also huge font sizes can be become costly.

As for the Unicode thing I know SDL_TTF can (In spite of my compiler not being setup for Unicode I did get it to print out some Japanese fonts from a ttf file). And for full Unicode normal texture fonts could be be costly in texture memory. For example 2^16 different fonts at 16x16 would be 16777216 texels, for a 8 bit (for alpha blending) texture that is 16MB for one font map (64MB for 32x32 fonts, 256MB for 64x64 fonts).

From reading some of this posts I'm thinking that using a texture for a font cache from the SDL_TTF rendering function (using glTexSubImage2D to update it) could be a good system (the cost of large font sizes would be low), the tricky part (that I can see) would be handling the varying width's (ie the cache could become fragmented), and how to handle font changes (one texture per font or one texture for the system). It would loss the the 1 quad per text block of SDL_TTF (I don't think it's that helpful), and could gain a fair speed boost (I'm assuming the time for the render function is a linear to the length of the string, ie rendering "abcd" takes 4 times as long as just "a"), but you would get all the other advantages of SDL_TTF.

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