All About Hangul Fonts

Written by on July 3, 2014 in Arts, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

Anyone who’s studied Korean or lived in Korea even for a short time probably knows some basic facts about Hangul.

Hangul is the phonetic Korean alphabet, developed during the Joseon Dynasty in 1443 by King Sejong and his team of specialists. Because Hangul is a phonetic alphabet, it is much easier than Chinese to learn. And because Hangul contains only 24 basic letters, it is also technically easier to learn than both Japanese or even English!


Hangul vs. Other Languages

  1. Chinese: 1000s of must-be-memorized characters
  2. Japanese: TWO 46-letter alphabets + Kanji (Chinese characters)
  3. English: 26 letters uppercase or 52 letters including upper and lower case
  4. Hangul: 24 basic letters

Winner: Hangul

No wonder Korea’s literacy rate is around 100%.

However, for as easy as the letters are to learn to read, the method by which they are combined into syllables makes designing fonts in Hangul exponentially more difficult than designing English fonts.


Hangul vs. Other Fonts

Hangul’s 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels can combine together in box-like syllables, left-to-right and top-to-bottom, to form a total of 11,172 possible blocks! This means that there are also 11,172 Unicode characters necessary to digitally represent every possible combination of Hangul letters on the computer. Now compare this to other fonts:

  1. Chinese: 1000s of Chinese characters
  2. Japanese: 46 letters – written left-to-right + 1000s of Kanji (Chinese characters)
  3. Korean: 11,172 Unicode characters for Hangul + 1000s of Hanja (Chinese characters)
  4. English: 24 uppercase letter or 52 upper and lowercase

Winner: English

No wonder there are so many English fonts available from sites like:


Where to Find Hangul Fonts

Hangul fonts are hard to come by but I have found TWO quality Hangul font sites – both from Naver:

hangul-fonts

Naver Software FREE Fonts Collection

  1. Naver’s Nanum font collection (4 varieties)
  2. Naver Software collection of FREE fonts (extensive collection)

And if you take a look at this screenshot from Naver’s Nanum site, you can see WHY Hangul fonts are so hard to come by. Check out the number of characters represented in some of the fonts!

nanum-font-stats2

  1. Nanum Gothic Regular, Bold, Extra Bold / Hangul 11,172 characters, Hanja 4,888 characters, English 94 characters, (Medical?) 986 characters
  2. Nanum Gothic Light / Hangul 2,380 characters, English 94 characters, (Medical?) 986 characters
  3. Nanum Myeongjo / Hangul 11,172 characters, English 94 characters, (Medical?) 986 characters

Why English fonts are easier to find

Consider the following facts:

  1. The most basic set of characters for an English font is only 26 (all upper-case letters)
  2. One of the most complete sets of characters for an English font is 1,675 (Minion Pro)
  3. The most basic set of characters for a Hangul font is 2,380 (Nanum Gothic L above)
  4. One of the most complete sets of characters for a Hangul font is 17,140! (Nanum Gothic R,B,EB above – including Hangul, Chinese, English, and extra characters)

(Take a look at the full character set for Minion Pro and HY-Gothic Medium (20,287 characters!!) on this website.)

English reads strictly left-to-right, and the basic building blocks of English words don’t change their sizes or positions in written words. This makes English fonts much easier to design for. All you need to do is make a single representation of each character, and the computer can easily put those together left-to-right.

But Hangul is put together into syllabic building blocks consisting of letters. So, although the building blocks of Korean words also read left-to-right, the letters themselves have multiple combinations, positions, sizes, and placements within each syllable block. Therefore, Hangul fonts must be designed with EACH possible combination of EVERY letter in EVERY position joining with EVERY other letter.

As you can see below just with the different variations on the first letter in the Korean alphabet, “kiyuk” (ㄱ), each letter may have a slightly different design depending on its position within a syllabic block.


Basic Hangul Font Types

Latin (Western) fonts are generally classified into 4 types:

english-fonts

  1. Serif (with decorative “serifs” or “tags” on the ends of the letters – like Times New Roman)
  2. Sans-serif (“sans” means “without” – without serifs – like Helvetica and Arial)
  3. Script (Handwriting – like Comic Sans among others)
  4. Monospace (each letter takes up the same horizontal space – this usually looks like computer code – like Courier New)

Hangul fonts also have distinct classifications like so:

korean-fonts

  1. Batang (Myeongjo) = Serif
  2. Dotum (Gothic) = Sans-serif
  3. Gungche (Brush) = Script

So, which one is your favorite font? Mine is Merriweather, a beautiful serif (also now sans-serif) that’s great for print and web design due to the height and size of its lower-case letters.

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About the Author

Aaron

I'm an Intermediate student of Korean, looking forward to increasing my fluency in the language as well as my enjoyment of the culture (through language acquisition). I like to write about anything related to the Korean language at www.keytokorean.com. I particularly enjoy posting about culturally relevant topics or practical How-Tos for getting around efficiently in Korea.