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Startup puts Taiwan back onto the Chinese character font design map

Taiwan was a design center for traditional Chinese character fonts in the 1990s but its role declined as designers failed during the dotcom crash of 2000 and Internet piracy further eroded business.

Now a Taiwanese company is trying to bring font design back as China and Japan also test their luck.

Justfont, a typography company based in Taipei, has designed a suite of fonts that it calls Jin Xuan. The idea has a patriotic as well as practical tilt.

"It is a shame that this country, as a proud champion of traditional Chinese characters, has to rely mostly on foreign designs when it comes to font types," Justfont co-founder Su Wei-hsiang said.

Five new fonts were invented in Taiwan over the past 10 years while China has come out with about 300 and Japan, which also uses Chinese characters, has produced thousands, Su estimates.

He started the company in 2012 a week before graduating from college with a major in Chinese.

A year ago September, Justfont raised NT$26 million (US$818,400) from crowdfunding in a month.

In August this year, the company released a font called "Jin Xuan Half Sugar." In October 2017 it plans to release the "Jin Xuan 1/3 Sugar" and a year later the "Jin Xuan 1/7 Sugar."

The numbers refer to widths of strokes in the characters. Sugar is a spoof on ordering coffee where customers can tell the baristas how sweet to make their drinks.

With the spread of ethnic Chinese people around the world, the written language has evolved into two styles in use today.

China uses simplified characters, part of former strongman Mao Zedong's promotion of literacy. Singapore has also adopted simplified Chinese.

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and other ethnic Chinese hotspots have stuck to the complex forms that Justfont uses.

Complex characters have more pen strokes on average and are considered closer to their original pictographic meanings.

But Taiwan has lost its share of the market for Chinese fonts, the character-based equivalent of Times New Roman, for example, because it cannot join international anti-piracy agreements.

Political rival China blocks Taiwan from joining agencies and conventions that require statehood.

The fonts released in August have generated user complaints about the installation process on computers.

The Jin Xuan Half Sugar set requires downloading a cloud-based font manager to verify user identities. Two days after the set's release, users found they also needed another app, the "Justfont store," before receiving any font files.

The store app protects the font's copyright -- an issue in the context of Internet piracy -- and ensures that users get update.

But consumers with certain operating systems have said they cannot download the fonts or prefer not to download a program just to get use them. Online users of the character set also doubt the setup will stop piracy.

Justfont told Business Next it had also given users a website to download "Jin Xuan Half Sugar." Downloads from the site will require membership.

The company indicted it will keep improving its user software.