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Making the Move to Open Type Fonts

(August 2007) posted on Mon Aug 27, 2007

Streamlining fonts on the front end relieves headaches later

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By Stephen Beals

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.