For years, I’ve been using Terminus as my day-to-day programming and terminal font. It’s a well-known pixmap font, which makes it crisp and clear at the sizes it was designed for. I was using it in 16 pixels.
My genetic background, however, and years of spending hours in front of a computer screen have taken a small toll on my eyesight, so a few months ago I decided I needed a bigger font. In my opinion, however, Terminus looks too thin as it not that easy to read in sizes beyond 16 pixels. I needed something a bit thicker but readable.
As part of my search for a new font, I also switched from xterm to gnome-terminal. gnome-terminal is pretty simple to use and carried a very small list of additional dependencies that needed to be installed in my already-running system. At the same time, it supported Freetype and I could use a wider variety of fonts.
I evaluated DejaVu Sans Mono, Droid Sans Mono, Fira Mono, Source Code Pro and Ubuntu Mono, and I stayed with Ubuntu Mono. I’ve been using it for two months already and it’s very comfortable and easy to read.
The most frequent complaint about the font is that its “round” design and appearance make it look a bit too informal and, indeed, its style sometimes reminds me of the much-criticized Comic Sans font. It was only after I read a bit about it on Wikipedia that I learned its designers include Vincent Connare, the Comic Sans creator. Those aspects would be important if I was using the font as part of a professional document or to convey information to others, but I’m using it on my own screen. Its simple features show off when using the font in a low-resolution computer screen. In higher DPIs and sizes, the font is not as pretty as some of the competitors I mentioned above.
As a matter of fact, a few months ago I also had to choose a monospace font for a large decorative “Hello, World” sign and I chose DejaVu Sans Mono, which looks great, modern and serious if you can display the shape of its glyphs in detail.
DejaVu Sans Mono and Droid Sans Mono also look pretty good on screen for the resolution and size I was aiming for.
Fira Mono and Source Code Pro were disappointing, however. I love their proportional sans serif counterparts, Fira Sans and Source Sans Pro, but the monospaced variants have several drawbacks. Fira Mono has a serious problem in its lowercase R glyph. The whole font is sans serif but somehow the lowercase R turned out to be serif-esque. In addition, its at and ampersand signs have unusual and distracting designs, and those come up on the screen often while programming or on the command line. Source Code Pro looks nice in lower resolutions, like Terminus, but its glyphs are a bit too simple as soon as you increase the font size and, more importantly, it’s the widest font of the ones I tried, and it’s not able to fit as many columns of text in the same width as its competitors. By comparison, all other fonts feel more “square” without being too compact.
Many people won’t try Ubuntu Mono because it has “Ubuntu” in its name and for a variety of other reasons. It’s a bit too informal and smaller than other fonts (I normally increase the font size a bit to fit a similar number of characters on the screen compared to other fonts). In any case, its characters have simple shapes, like Terminus does, and are easy to tell apart and read. It can be used for hours and you won’t get tired of it. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you give it a shot.