A fontset is a thing that describes which fonts Emacs is supposed to use for characters in a certain encoding.

Emacs knows what CharSet each character comes from. You can check it yourself, too, using `C-u C-x =’. What Emacs doesn’t know is which font it should use. This information comes from the fontset currently active.

Emacs comes with three fontsets: The startup fontset, the default fontset, and the standard fontset. You can add more using ‘create-fontset-from-fontset-spec’:


See DisplayingNonAsciiCharacters for some debugging info.

Finegrained Fontset Control

If you are content with Emacs’ default fonts and just want to change the font for a particular character set; you can use the predifined fontset “fontset-standard” and change only that character set from Lisp:

    ;; Use the predefined fontset "fontset-standard"
    (set-face-font 'default "fontset-standard")
    ;; In "fontset-standard" use "misc fixed" for the charset
    ;; `mule-unicode-0100-24ff'
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-standard"

You can have even more finegrained control and make such changes only for a range of characters within an Emacs charset. The following sets characters from the Unicode code charts “Greek and Coptic” and “Greek extended” to ‘palatino linotype’:

    ;; "Greek extended"  U+1F00 - U+1FFF
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-standard"
                      (cons (decode-char 'ucs #x1f00)
                            (decode-char 'ucs #x1fff))
                      "-*-palatino linotype-*-*-r-*-14-*-*-*-*-*-iso10646-1")
    ;; "Greek and Coptic"  U+0370 - U+03FF
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-standard"
                      (cons (decode-char 'ucs #x0370)
                            (decode-char 'ucs #x03ff))
                      "-*-palatino linotype-*-*-r-*-14-*-*-*-*-*-iso10646-1")

Which other Unicode block ranges to choose from can be seen in Wikipedia's block overview.

As documented in the emacs online help you can specify fonts for X in four ways. You must not use X Logical Font Description, as in the examples above.

Here is an example of using fontconfig’s font name for a font, specifying the “Siddhanta” font for Devenagari scripts (distributed across three Unicode blocks):

    ;; "Devanagari"  U+0900 - U+1097F
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default"
                      (cons (decode-char 'ucs #x0900)
                            (decode-char 'ucs #x097f))
    ;; "Devanagari Extended"  U+A8E0 - U+A8FF
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default"
                      (cons (decode-char 'ucs #xa8e0)
                            (decode-char 'ucs #xa8ff))
    ;; "Vedic Extensions" (Devanagari) U+1CD0 - U+1CFF
    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default"
                      (cons (decode-char 'ucs #x1cd0)
                            (decode-char 'ucs #x1cff))

The “Siddhanta” font is a rather classic looking font (i.e. rather “calligraphic”) which actually looks nice in emacs. You can download Siddhanta here. Another more “sans serif” font is “Lohit Devanagari” and it also displays nicely in emacs, but it does not yet cover the “Vedic Extensions” block. (Both these fonts fix an annoying display bug in emacs 23 and 24 for the default font selected for devanagari in Debian (FreeSans), for example wildly displaced diacritic u.)

In the same manner, for Greek and Classical Greek you could use the nice font “GentiumAlt” or the monospaced “Ubuntu Mono”, just using these font names in the two script snippets for Greek above (you must change both Greek and Greek extended for consistent font display).

Specifying just the fontconfig’s name for the font in this way you can use emacs commands for changing font size with ‘C-x C-+’ or ‘C-x C--’. If you want a specific font size regardless, you could for example use “Lohit Devanagari-13” in the code snippet above.

Or you can specify a relative font enlargement or reduction relative to the standard font size, while ‘C-x C-+’ and ‘C-x C--’continue to work. For example, to enlarge the Devanagari and Greek fonts used in the examples above:

    (setq face-font-rescale-alist
           (".*Lohit Devanagari.*" . 1.1)
           (".*Siddhanta.*" . 1.15)
           (".*GentiumAlt.*" . 1.2)
           (".*Ubuntu Mono.*" . 1.2)

(This example is based on a tip in this blog.)

For X systems using fontconfig, you can see which font names are available with the command (CLI):

    fc-list : file fullname family style

To check which font emacs actually selected for you, click on a character in the buffer and use the command ‘C-u C-x =’.

Choosing a fontset

Use ‘S-down-mouse-1’ (shift mouse-1) to see the font and fontset menu. Emacs starts with the startup fontset. Switch to the standard fontset for maximum internationalization and check the HELLO file using `C-h h’.

If you can’t find the fontset menu, here is a little ‘defun’ that puts it in the top left corner of your selected Frame.

    (defun my-fontset-menu ()
      `((0 0) ,(selected-frame)) 
      (append x-fixed-font-alist
        (list (generate-fontset-menu)))))

Emacs 24 has the command mouse-set-font that does the same thing.


You can create new fontsets in you .emacs file. Usually this is not necessary because you can just switch to the standard fontset. If you are using NT Emacs, you can either check the NT Emacs FAQ (see OnlineResources) or read FontSetsForNTEmacs. It all comes down to using ‘create-fontset-from-fontset-spec’. The same thing can be accomplished using .Xdefaults or .Xresources.

.Xdefaults or .Xresources

Here is an example setting by MichaelLee for .Xdefaults or .Xresources. Usually .Xdefaults is used when you start X via xdm or a similar manager, while .Xresources is used when you start X via the startx command.

True Type Fonts were used for the various coding systems. You can use True Type fonts in Emacs as long as your X server supports True Type or you are using a working font server.

Note that for this example to work, you actually need the same fonts that MichaelLee is using. If you have different fonts, you need to adapt this example accordingly.

 Emacs.Font: fontset-global
 Emacs.Fontset-0: \

For another example, see the ClassicalGreek page.