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  OpenType® Fonts

OpenType Fonts - A New Font Format for Macintosh® and Windows®

OpenType is a new font format developed jointly by Microsoft® and Adobe®. The OpenType font format is designed to overcome cross-platform compatibility problems by making one font format that works on Macintosh and Windows. OpenType also makes a more efficient workflow possible with the addition of special typographical features that circumvent the need for multiple font variants.This eliminates the necessity for alternate fonts (fonts having alternate characters that differ from the regular version) and expert sets (fonts with special characters that don't appear in the traditional typeface such as fractions, symbols, ligatures, titling characters, swash characters, oldstyle figures, etc.) Features such as these can now be included in a single OpenType font file making it much easier to add a more professional touch to your layouts.

Figure 1: One OpenType font = Several Regular Fonts

OpenType for TrueType® and PostScript®

OpenType is an extension of the TrueType format. All OpenType fonts exist as a single font file that is compatible for both Macintosh and Windows. OpenType fonts are available in two “flavors” – TrueType or PostScript. TrueType OpenType fonts have a TTF file extension and PostScript OpenType fonts have an OTF file extension. PostScript OpenType fonts use the CFF (Type 2) “Compact File Format” developed by Adobe Systems. This format allows a large number of glyphs to be stored in a relatively small file size. With OpenType you can use PostScript fonts in your page layouts and not have to worry about mismatched or missing screen font / printer font pairs. Plus you can use the exact same font file on either platform.

Figure 2: OpenType TrueType Icons – Windows XP

The Windows XP operating system has native support for OpenType. In Figure 2 please notice that even though the file extension of all these fonts is the same (TTF), the operating system can tell the difference between them. It will assign the correct icon, depending on whether the font is an OpenType or regular TrueType font.

One of the biggest problems faced by graphic designers and service providers is having to deal with font incompatibilities when porting page layouts from Macintosh to Windows and vice versa. Macintosh Classic fonts are fundamentally different from Windows fonts (click here for more info). Prior to OpenType, when porting layouts across platforms, the fonts had to be available in both Macintosh and Windows formats. Otherwise, one was forced to use a font conversion utility like TransType or CrossFont to convert Macintosh fonts to Windows fonts or vice versa.

Application Support for OpenType

As of this writing, the only applications that take advantage of OpenType special typographical features are Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator (please refer to the OpenType User Guide for a full list of supported features for each application). Even though there are not many applications that take advantage of OpenType extended typographical features, any font should be able to port to the OpenType format. Using OpenType will allow designers to use them like existing fonts and still take advantage of their cross platform compatibility.

Just because an application does not provide support for OpenType's special features does not mean that you can't set type in the application with OpenType fonts – you can. For example, QuarkXPress 4, 5 and 6 does not support OpenType special features, but you can still use OpenType fonts in your QuarkXPress layouts.

OpenType fonts can coexist alongside existing fonts in all your documents. The developers were careful not to force designers to abandon all their existing font collections. Already, the OpenType font format has been in existence for several years and I imagine it will take several more years for type designers to provide them and for software developers to build support for them into their applications. Additionally, Adobe includes a hefty collection of OpenType PostScript fonts with their Creative Suite package. This provides a nice starter set of feature-rich OpenType fonts.

Operating System Support For OpenType Fonts

The newer operating systems (Mac OS X, Windows 2000 and Windows XP) provide native support for OpenType fonts so you don't need to use ATM or any other font manager. Although older operating systems do not provide native support for OpenType fonts, you can use ATM Lite or Deluxe to manage them. Use ATM Lite or Deluxe version 4.6 for Mac OS 8.6 to 9.2 and ATM Lite or Deluxe version 4.1 for Windows 9x and Windows ME (Millenium Edition). If you want to use a font manager such as Extensis™ Suitcase™ or Font Reserve™ to manage OpenType fonts in a Macintosh computer, the minimum system requirement is OS X. These font managers will not recognize OpenType fonts in older Macintosh systems because they require support from the operating system. When using ATM to manage OpenType fonts in Mac OS 8.6 to 9.2, you must install the fonts in the System:Fonts folder Adobe also recommends that you update your PostScript printer driver when using OpenType fonts (please refer to the OpenType User Guide for a complete description of system requirements and recommendations).

Adobe OpenType “Pro” vs. “Std” Fonts

Adobe has an OpenType “Pro” version and a “Std” version. The “Pro” designation is for OpenType fonts with central European (CE) language support and the “Std” designation is for OpenType fonts that do not have central European support. Depending on the version, the word “Pro” or the word “Std” appears in the font name and appears on the font menus. Ref: OpenType® User Guide for Adobe® Fonts.

Unicode – How to get all those glyphs into a single font file

Older one byte fonts use one byte per character and are thus limited to a maximum of 256 characters (click here for more info). OpenType fonts are based on Unicode encoding. Unlike older one byte fonts, Unicode encoding uses two bytes per character so it is possible to have a font with up to 65,536 characters. This is how OpenType can support all those extra glyphs – even whole alphabets – for small caps, swash characters, foreign languages, etc. Figures 3 and 4 below show screenshots of fonts opened in FontLab (please click to enlarge). Figure 3 shows a screenshot of Adobe Garamond Pro and Figure 4 shows a screenshot of Adobe Garamond Regular. There are more than 3 times as many glyphs in the OpenType font as the regular font!

Figure 3: Adobe Garamond Pro (two byte Unicode OpenType font)
click to enlarge

Figure 4: Adobe Garamond Regular (one byte font)
click to enlarge

Although OpenType provides support for all these extra glyphs in a single font, it is possible for a one byte font to be ported directly to OpenType and have no more than 256 characters. It will install and work just like any other OpenType font. It just won't have the special features.

OpenType Special Features

Following is a table of just a small sample of special features available in OpenType fonts. These are from a few of the Adobe OpenType "Pro" fonts included with the Adobe Creative Suite.

Figure 5: OpenType Special Features

Discretionary Ligartures
Small Caps
Standard Ligatures
Stylistic Alternates
Swash Characters
Ordinal Characters

What I Think About OpenType

Personally, I think OpenType fonts will make it easier to produce more professional results. With traditional fonts, I believe only a small percentage of designers go to the trouble to use expert sets or alternate fonts. When special characters are built into OpenType fonts such as tilting or swash characters, oldstyle figures, small caps or other special features, they will more likey be utilized because it is simply easier and more convenient. I think more and more designers will incorporate these features into their layouts, where they had not before.

I also think we will see more layouts done in Windows with OpenType fonts whereas, up to now, most printers and service providers preferred (or required) layouts in Macintosh format. Even if files prepared on Windows systems are handed off to service providers using Macintosh computers, they should port more easily with OpenType fonts than with regular Type 1 fonts. The fonts have always been the biggest problem in these situations. The actual font files can be handed off with the job and they should work the same on either platform.


Main page: http://store.adobe.com/type/opentype/main.html
OpenType Readme: http://store.adobe.com/type/browser/OTReadMe.html
OpenType User Guide: http://store.adobe.com/type/browser/pdfs/OTGuide.pdf

Main page: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/otspec/
OpenType overview: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/otspec/otover.htm
OpenType specification version 1.4 self extracting archive [about 1.5Mb]:



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