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Why is Courier the standard font for scriptwriting?

Everyone knows that if you write and format a script, you do it in Courier. It's the industry standard for both stage and screenwriting. But why?

Is it a nostalgic homage to the good old days when scripts were typed on actual typewriters? Well, maybe. It's nice to feel at least a superficial connection to the golden age. But in reality, it's more about consistency. That's not as romantic sounding, but there it is.

A brief history of Courier

Courier was created by a designer named Howard Kettler for IBM, in 1955. It was used on the Selectric line of typewriters and became the standard typewriter font for decades. IBM specifically did not trademark the typeface, which made it royalty-free for use in any medium. Interestingly, the typeface was almost named Messenger. But Kettler wanted something more elegant. He said of the name, "A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige, and stability."

Mono a mono

Courier is a monospaced font (sometimes called fixed-width). That means that every letter is given the same amount of horizontal space. A capital I is allotted the same width as an M. Not a very efficient use of space, and not very attractive.

Here is an example, typed in Courier. Zzzz......

Most fonts you see online and in print are proportional fonts -- the letters take up only the space they need. Easier to read, visually pleasing.

So how did something so ho-hum become the what's what of the who's who in Hollywood?

You're so predictable.

Back to Courier and consistency. Monospaced fonts, which may look boring to you, have the advantage of being predictable. Scripts -- TV and film scripts, particularly -- depend on this. A page of a film script needs to have 55 lines and equal about one minute of screen time. If it is typed in 12pt Courier, it will. If it is typed in 12pt Times New Roman or Curlz MT, you can't rely on its accuracy.

Also, film scripts notoriously pass from writer to writer to writer to writer. If you're called to revise a script and you get the file, it needs to open and paginate exactly the same no matter what computer or OS you are using. If it is typed in 12pt Courier, it will. You can type a script in Final Draft on your Mac, and someone less fortunate can open it on Windows, and the pagination will be exactly the same.

Note: other variables are important here, like margins. That is why there are industry-standard templates for scripts, and why they should be followed.

Back to BASIC

Early computers relied on monospaced fonts like Courier, when memory limitations were a thing. Caveman PCs could display 40 columns of text on your green monitor, or 80 if you were rich. Printers also used 80-column standard widths. I had a daisy-wheel printer with three "fonts," led of course by Courier.

Nowadays, if kids see Courier they assume something is broken. The proud font that revolutionized typing has become the font of error messages. But Courier still has its place, in the hearts and Macs of writers.

Courier on!

So here we are, with Courier solidly entrenched as the industry standard typeface for both stage and screen. I think that's great. Besides the advantages of consistency, it just looks scripty and cool. And in a way, typing on a screen using Courier is sort of a connection to the craft -- I suppose like a musician feels, playing with a vintage instrument.

Some "modern" play formats allow Times New Roman, but those look like fake scripts to me. Real scripts use Courier.

And now you know why.
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I write plays and lyrics. I design for print and web. I blog about apps, Mac stuff, and writing.
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