Scalable Font Sizes in Internet Explorer

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

A few weeks ago I doscovered that font sizes specified in the stylesheet in points (ie, “font-size: 10pt;”) will not scale in Internet Explorer. (IE 5.5 and 6.0 for Windows are the only ones I’ve tested.) Meaning: If I format all of my paragraph text to be 7pts tall, going up to the View > Text Size menu and selecting Largest will not affect the size of the text displayed in the browser. It should. And it does in recent versions of Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape.

Fonts specified in pixels (ie, “font-size: 12px;”) will also not scale.

Percentages (“font-size: 120%;”) and em-widths (“font-size: 1.2em;”) will scale, but they calculate the font size based on the size fo the parent — not ideal because someone using my stylesheet might, for example, nest several unordered lists. And I don’t want the fonts growing or shrinking to absurb levels if the nests go three or four levels deep.

The only way to specify a font size that is not dependant on the parent and that will change when the user selects View > Text Size in IE is to use the text labels: xx-small, x-small, small, medium, large, x-large, and xx-large.

Here’s what they look like:








“Medium” is about as large as any text on this page, meaning that if I use this method, I am limited to five usable sizes. It seems like a lot, but it’s not enough to get the level of precision I want with my font size choices. Especially for my job, where we need to strike a careful balance between packing lots of stuff on the screen and making everything readable. I do not consider “xx-small” above to be readable enough under normal browser conditions.

So what to do? The visual designers I’m working with (self included) would prefer to have more control over their designs. They always do. But the folks who make sure we remain accessable want us to make sure that the View > Text Size menu will work properly in IE.

Any suggestions? I really am quite puzzled about what to do.

And let me say once more that the more I use Internet Explorer for Windows the more frustrated I get with it. If we could develop for only Netscape/Mozilla our productivity over here would probably double.