Font Formats Defined

When searching for free fonts or fonts for purchase on the internet, you’ll run into an alphabet soup of font formats from which to choose. First you’ll see major font developers like Adobe, Microsoft and Apple along with formats such as TrueType fonts and PostScript fonts. Next, you might see subcategories such as Type 1 or Type 3 fonts, you will even see other font formats including Multiple Masters. How do you know which font format to download?

It often comes down to the type of machine and software you are running or the end product you are producing and your printer’s font requirements. Let’s take a look at the major font formats you might come across.

Adobe PostScript font format predates the TrueType font format by about six years. PostScript fonts came on to the scene amidst a variety of digital font formats that shared no common standardization. Apple adopted the PostScript page description language (PDL) for its LaserWriter in 1985, this coupled with the introduction of and resulting popularity of desktop publishing software caused page layout technology to take off. Soon the PostScript font format became the industry standard.

The PostScript Type 1 font format is built in to just one operating system, OS/2. The installation of Adobe’s Type Manager allows use of PostScript Type 1 fonts on alternate operating systems.

Type 1 fonts and Type 3 fonts are part of the PostScript line of font formats. Modern font formats use a font technology called hinting that controls the font’s appearance on a variety of devices and at different pixel densities. Type 1 fonts are the most common of the PostScript font line and takes advantage of hinting technology. PostScript Type 3 fonts are the same as Type 1 fonts however they do not use hinting. These two font formats are both scalable and can be run on any PostScript interpreter with Post Script Type 3 requiring a full PostScript interpreter. Because Type 3 fonts do not use hinting, they are easier to create but at a cost of lower qualities at lower resolutions.

You may be wondering about PostScript Type 2 fonts. Yes, they exist as do numerous other PostScript Types such as Type 4, Type 5 and above. These PostScript font formats are not generally encounter by users as their typical purpose is to be used within PostScript files and interpreters.

Apple Computer, in an effort to avoid font royalty payments to Adobe and to overcome some of the obstacles Type 1 font formats presented, developed TrueType fonts. The technology behind TrueType fonts includes hinting and more specific instructions that allow for better control of the fonts than PostScript. The TrueType font format was licensed to Microsoft in the early 1990s making the TrueType font format compatible on both Macintosh and Windows operating systems. Today the TrueType font format is evolving into the TrueType Open format.

Evolution doesn’t always guarantee success. The Multiple Masters font format is the evolution of PostScript Type 1 font, an extension allowing for two design extremes to be encoded into a single Multiple Master font. As long as the Bezier control points line up, users can create unlimited variations to the font such as width, height, weight and optical size. Despite these advantages, this font format has struggled. Adobe introduced most of the Multiple Masters fonts on the market but stopped developing them in 1999. Today, only a small number of Multiple Masters fonts remain on the market.

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