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Making the Move to OpenType Fonts

(August 2007) posted on Mon Aug 06, 2007

The cure to a painful fact of prepress life.

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By Stephen Beals

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, but it's fair to say that the more widely used a particular font is, the more imperfect clones of that 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.