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Making the Move to Open Type Fonts

Streamlining fonts on the front end relieves headaches later



Over the years I’ve written a lot about fonts, mostly pointing out that it is no accident that “font” is a four-letter word. It’s fair to say that font use and management in the print industry has caused more of those other four-letter words to be uttered on the production floor than just about any other topic. If you haven’t had a job completely and utterly ruined by a font-reflow or substitution error, you are probably not working in the print industry.

Hence, when representatives from Cornell University informed me that they took my advice (not that my advice was the sole reason for their decision) and purchased the entire Adobe OpenType library, mandating that their designers use those fonts and only those fonts, I was absolutely delighted. Now, I should point out that Cornell, because it’s an educational institution, gets a very generous discount on the purchase of the Adobe library; the library would run the rest of us around $5000 for the full contingency of 2200 OpenType fonts. But, it was readily apparent to the Cornell folks that font issues were costing them a serious pile of money, and this decision would benefit their bottom line in the long run.

The reasons for font problems

Font problems have been a painful fact of life since the dawn of the digital age. And after all these years of digital workflows, you might think that font issues must have been solved by now. They have not, however, and the reason is fairly simple: Just because fonts have the same name doesn’t mean they’re the same exact font.

You probably already know that almost every application and piece of hardware comes bundled with some fonts. Often, these are “standard” fonts: Helvetica, Times Roman, Palatino, and so on. What you may not realize, however, is that few of these bundles actually contain identical fonts. For instance, there are several hundred versions of Helvetica alone out there, and none of them are exact matches. There are also hundreds of fonts that look a lot like Helvetica-such as Swiss and Arial-that are decidedly not Helvetica. The same applies for any font you may own, and it’s fair to say that the more widely used a particular font is, the more imperfect clones ofthat font exist. Therefore, these “standard” fonts are actually the ones most likely to cause you trouble.

Many other reasons for font problems also come into play:


* Several font types are available, including TrueType, PostScript, and OpenType.

* Some programs allow users to change a font, adding special characters and ligatures to their fonts. Thus, you might be working with a font that has been, in a very real sense, “genetically altered” without your knowledge. This is why print service providers often insist clients send the actual fonts used in a file along with the file for output. But as your operators have probably experienced, those files are often incomplete.

* Many times, “phantom” fonts may have been used as a space somewhere in the document or used on the pasteboard, only to come back and disrupt production at output.

* Your client may opt to send you a screen version of a font-a font expressly designed for on-screen use-rather than the printer version of a PostScript font.

* Finally, Mac and PC fonts are often different-even fonts with the same name made by the same manufacturer. The problem lies at the heart of the different operating systems. A lot of fonts were created years ago at the dawn of the digital age when resources were scarce and downstream compatibility was rarely a consideration. We’re still living with that legacy.

A couple of other font problems also can confuse operators and designers. The first: Apple’s infamous dFonts. In the case of dFonts, unload any that are not absolutely vital to the operating system and replace them with OpenType versions on your production machines. The second problem: Adobe Multiple Master fonts. From Adobe’s website: “Adobe stopped making new MM and Type 1 fonts in 1999, and there is no equivalent to MM in the newer OpenType format. From late 2002 to mid 2003, Adobe phased out sales of multiple master fonts.” There’s a reason for that: Don’t use them. In fact, Adobe will give you half off if you convert your old Multiple Master Fonts to an OpenType version (


The OpenType solution

OpenType fonts, however, eliminate every single font issue I’ve just noted. Absolutely identical on Macs and PCs, no matter which operating system is being used, OpenType fonts comprise a single file, including the screen and printer font, plus room for those wonderful ligatures and special characters the font designer wants to include (that is, there is more room for the data within the structure of the font itself).

Developed by Microsoft and Adobe, OpenType fonts first appeared on the scene in the late 1990s. Today, the major font producers have developed or are developing OpenType fonts. OpenType fonts make the life of anyone involved in file output in any print environment significantly easier.

I suggest that print providers make a point of advocating the use of the OpenType format. It doesn’t have to be Adobe, although they certainly have the largest library out there, and their fonts are by far the most widely used. As indicated earlier, many other manufacturers have adopted the OpenType format. It’s still probably a good idea to stick with the most reputable type libraries, keeping in mind that there are a lot of very reputable independents out there.

You might want to consider buying the entire OpenType library. It’s expensive at $4999 (the best discount I could find was $200 off), but maybe if enough people jump all over Adobe for a better price, that cost might move a bit. Another idea is to join the Adobe Solutions Network (ASN), which ranges from free to $995. Once a member, perhaps you can use your leverage to get a better deal. In any case, running all your jobs without font problems could pay back your investment pretty quickly.

It’s doubtful most shops can “require” OpenType fonts, even if it might be a good idea. But it might be possible to write into your basic contract a clause that relieves you of responsibility for type problems if font types other than OpenType are used.


I know the industry is not likely moving to OpenType overnight. In fact, I’m sure Cornell University will have some stragglers turning in files with PostScript and TrueType-and even an occasional dFont for some time to come. But, to me, the sooner we get to fully OpenType workflows, the better for everyone concerned.

Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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