Rich Accessible Typography – FIR and sIFR

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 3 minutes.

Many people who have worked on websites know that standard HTML and CSS allows the webpage author to assign any font of their choosing to a text element on a page. However, they also know that there is no guarantee that the element will show the desired font, as the browsing user may not have the same font, or set of fonts, installed on their local system. More often than not, only a set of “common” fonts are installed, for example Arial on the PC and Helvetica on the Mac. This has been a significant issue which has been addressed by two methods: the Fahrner Image Replacement (FIR) method and the Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) method.

Fahrner Image Replacement (FIR):

Fahrner Image Replacement (FIR), named after Todd Fahrner, one of the original creators, is a Web design technique that uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to replace text on a Web page with an image containing that text. It is intended to keep the page accessible to users of screen readers, text-only web browsers, or other browsers where support for images or style sheets is either disabled or nonexistent, while allowing the image to differ between styles.

How it works:

FIR replaces short passages of text by surrounding the text in two sets of HTML tags. At runtime, CSS is used to hide the HTML element and replace it with a background image containing the exact words as an image.

FIR has come under fierce criticism from the opponents, such as Quirksmode, as it bloats the use of CSS, and Joe Clark for its failure in screen readers. FIR has largely been superceded by the Scalable Inman Flash Replacement method.

More in-depth detail can be found at the following links:


Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR):

Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR), originally conceived by Shaun Inman, is an open source JavaScript and Shockwave Flash based technology that enables the replacement of text elements on HTML web pages with Flash equivalents.

How it works:

sIFR is meant to replace short passages of plain browser text with text rendered in your typeface of choice, regardless of whether or not your users have that font installed on their systems. It accomplishes this by using a combination of JavaScript, CSS, and Flash. Here is the entire process:

  1. A normal (X)HTML page is loaded into the browser.
  2. A javascript function is run which first checks that Flash is installed and then looks for whatever tags, ids, or classes you designate.
  3. If Flash isn’t installed (or obviously if javascript is turned off), the (X)HTML page displays as normal and nothing further occurs. If Flash is installed, javascript traverses through the source of your page measuring each element you’ve designated as something you’d like “sIFRed”.
  4. Once measured, the script creates Flash movies of the same dimensions and overlays them on top of the original elements, pumping the original browser text in as a Flash variable.
  5. Actionscript inside of each Flash file then draws that text in your chosen typeface at a 6 point size and scales it up until it fits snugly inside the Flash movie.

This all happens in a split-second, so all of the checking, replacing, and scaling is not visible to the user. It is not uncommon to notice a very short delay as the Flash loads, but to the user, none of the internals of this process are exposed.

More in-depth detail can be found at the following links:


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