Update 2013-06-23:

Updating to the 0.3.4 version of dblatex has fixed many of the issues detailed in The Aftermath (end of this blog post). See the blog post for more information.

The Problem:

You’re writing a book in DocBook XML, publishing it with dblatex, and you dislike (or want to customize) the fonts it uses in the rendered PDF.

You hunt around the internet and find a nice family of fonts you want to use in your final product. Best of all, they’re free and released under the Open Font License!(Thanks, Adobe!)

The dblatex documentation shows you how to set your fonts, but you can’t seem to get it to work.

  • What do you put in for the names anyway?

  • Do spaces matter, or do you enter file names?

  • Where do you install the fonts?

  • OTF, TTF? What type of font must they be?

  • Does the TeX engine even support this?

The Solution:

1. Find The Family Names

Caveat: I can verify that this solution works for TTF type fonts, I can not comment on how well it works for other font types.

First, you will need to identify the actual family name of the fonts you want to use. If your font is not installed on your system there is a command called otfinfo that can tell you the family of the font file (despite sounding specific to OTF fonts, this works on TTFs as well). The otfinfo command is provided by the lcdf-typetools package:

[gist id=5314443 bump=1]

If your desired font is already installed on your system you can use the fc-list command instead to find the same information (fc-list is provided by the fontconfig package):

[gist id=5314447 bump=1]

2. Install New Font Files

If this is a new font on your system then you’ll need to install it. There are (at least) two locations that work:

  • $HOME/.fonts

  • /usr/share/fonts/truetype/

The Font Manager application (package: font-manager) also provides a graphical way to install font collections.

(Optional) Rebuild Font Cache

Rebuild your font caches with the **fc-cache -f -v** command. If I recall correctly, you need to have super user permissions to run this. I may be wrong though.

3. Configure dblatex

The necessary changes to consume your custom fonts isn’t difficult. Assume that up until now you’ve been rendering your PDFs from XML source like this:

  • dblatex -o output/Virtual-Disk-Operations.pdf Virtual-Disk-Operations.xml

We need to use XSLT stylesheets to define what our chosen font families are going to be. In this example I’m using Source Sans Pro for the body font and Source Code Pro for monospaced sequences.

First, make a directory called xsl and put a file like this in it:

[gist id=5314239 bump=1]

Next, slightly modify the command you run to build your PDFs (new parts are in bold text):

  •  dblatex **-p xsl/dblatex-pdf.xsl -b xetex** -o output/Virtual-Disk-Operations.pdf Virtual-Disk-Operations.xml

-p xsl/dblatex-pdf.xsl: This tells dblatex that we’re providing a “user stylesheet” to use when transforming the XML. This stylesheet only has our font customizations in it, but you can put much more in them than just that.

-b xetex: This tells dblatex that instead of rendering our PDF with pdftex we want to use a different backend driver (or “TeX engine”). Specifically we want to use the xetex driver. We choose the xetex driver because of it’s superior font handling abilities via the fontspec LaTeX package. When we use the xetex engine dblatex will insert some special macros into the intermediate LaTeX document it generates, this process is transparent to the end user:

[gist id=5314759 bump=1]

After this, dblatex runs any custom post-compilation scripts, and then hands the intermediate file off to xetex where it is finally transformed into PDF format.

4. The Aftermath

In my case there were some unexpected side-effects from switching backends. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

  • remark elements no longer appear in PDF output

  • The DRAFT watermark no longer appears

  • screen elements no longer show a ‘wrapping character’ in long lines

[caption id=”attachment_425” align=”aligncenter” width=”300”]Compare new formatting with old On the left is the book rendered with xetex and the new fonts. On the right is the book rendered with pdftex and no special font customizations.[/caption]

The only thing that really bothers me is the broken word-wrapping character. I can deal with the others breaking. I had intended to remove them from the final product anyway.