Font of Wisdom

SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - You've followed every piece of cross-platform advice, from naming files with the eight-dot-three convention to using programs that are the same on Microsoft Corp. Windows and Apple Computer Inc. Macs. Yet when someone opens your file on a Windows system, the document looks like a jumbled mess. Courier may show up where you specified Copperplate. Lines of text may reflow right off the page. Font incompatibilities can make hay of your careful planning when people on both sides of the platform divide must work on documents.

Some cross-platform font issues are unavoidable, but you can solve a lot of problems once you know the basics. For example, just as you can't install a Windows .exe file on a Mac, you can't use a Windows version of a font on a Mac, or vice versa. Fortunately, most foundries (companies that sell and design typefaces) offer versions for both operating systems. Sometimes you get both versions when you buy a font, but you may have to pay twice.

As Close As Possible

When type must look the same across platforms, these tips will help.

1. Install the same type format of the same face from the same foundry on both platforms. There are two primary font formats: TrueType and Type 1 (commonly called PostScript). If your documents are destined for a professional printer, stick with PostScript on both platforms. When the documents are headed for desktop printers, the Web, or presentations, TrueType is acceptable. No matter what your final destination, never mix PostScript and TrueType fonts in one document--it could seriously confuse the system.

Make sure you purchase the font from the same foundry as the original. Fonts from competing foundries may have the same names, but don't be fooled--they're different, and those differences can be enough to monkey with your layout. An incomplete list of foundries that sell cross-platform fonts is at the end of this page.

2. Beware extended characters, such as ligatures, fractions, and some mathematical symbols. Even in typefaces that meet the strictures of step1, the Mac and Windows versions may not share all characters. When an operating system can't match a character, it will substitute another, with possibly disastrous results.

You're safe when you stick to the alphabet, number sets, and common symbols such as % and $. When you must use an extended character that's not cross-platform, try to fake the missing character. For example, you can mimic the look of real fractions using the superscript and subscript functions of most desktop publishing software.

Close Enough

Sometimes you don't need identical twins, but you still want documents to look similar across platforms. In those cases, you can take the following steps.

1. Apply bold or italics to characters from an application's style menu instead of specifying a typeface (such as Helvetica Bold) from the font menu. Although using bold and italic typefaces is important when a job will be printed professionally, Windows colleagues who don't have the same fonts won't see the bold or italics. Use an application's style menu, and everyone will get your point.

2. Don't use system fonts. The Macintosh operating system comes with typefaces that don't exist on Windows; Windows also has its own system fonts. If you inherit a file with system-specific fonts, substitute similar typefaces.

The system-font pairs below have the same character widths and look similar (except Zapf Chancery and Monotype Corsiva).

Some Cross-Platform Font Sources

Adobe:, 408/536-6000

Agfa Monotype:

Bitstream:, 800/522-3668Emigre:, 800/944-9021Font Bureau:, 617/423-8770FontHaus:, 800/942-9110International Typeface Corporation (ITC):, 212/949-8072Phil's Fonts:, 800-424-2977.

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