Each font has a unique look which differentiates from font to font. These letter shapes are called glyphs, which are made up of a series of defining points. These points create outlines, which are scalable. When a font is processed to an output device, such as a monitor or printer, the glyphs are rasterized into a grid pattern of dots. It is the method of how the font is processed from outline to output which determines the type of font — PostScript, TrueType or OpenType.
In this article we’ll talk about the differences between fonts and talk about some of the rules and regulations behind them. In the design world, typography is a major thing. You’ll want to know a lot about this topic even though it may seem silly to a beginner designer. So let’s explore.
Developed in 1984, PostScript fonts are based on the Adobe PostScript language. A high-quality digital format, they are widely used in the professional typesetting and desktop publishing genres. There are different levels of PostScript fonts, which have evolved over time ( Type 1, Type 2, Type 3), with Type 1 being the most common. PostScript font files consist of two files — a screen font with bitmap information for display purposes on monitors, and a file with outline information for printing the font. Built into the fonts were hints to help improve rendering on low-resolution devices. For commercial printing, both font files must be included with the application file. Due to differences in how the font is built, Mac and Windows PostScript fonts are generally not cross-platform compatible.
The TrueType technology was originally developed by Apple in the late 1980s, but was adapted by Microsoft and has become the standard for Windows platforms. With TrueType fonts, the single font file contains both the screen and outline information, making them easily portable, using the rasterization process built into each operating system. There are slight differences for the Mac and PC platforms in how they rasterize the TrueType font and in how they read the “hinting” – but overall, the fonts are relatively cross-compatible. The downside of the TrueType font format is that it is limited in its scalability, and will often display differently on different systems.
Like TrueType, a single file contains all the outline and bitmap data for an OpenType font, but it also contains either PostScript data or additional TrueType data within the font, which in the PostScript case, makes the font truly scalable and exacting. OpenType fonts are cross-platform compatible – rendering the same on either a Mac or PC. One of the benefits of OpenType is that it offers extended character sets and more advanced typographic controls. Obviously there are only 26 characters in the alphabet (A-Z), 10 numbers (0-9) and a handful of extras, like punctuation, currency signs, and various others (@#%^&*, etc.) But, since the format offered additional storage for characters that far exceeded the number of characters that the average user would ever need, designers had the ability to add extras like:
- Small caps
- Alternate characters
- Old-style figures
OTF is undoubtedly the more robust of the options. It has more features that are intended to allow typesetters and designers flexibility to provide incremental changes designed to improve the overall look of a piece, and is more commonly used today.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
Many people do not understand the law governing the use of typefaces and fonts. Others incorrectly assume that they can freely use any typeface or font for any project. The purchase of a commercial font/typeface basically gives you, the buyer, a certain right/freedom to use it as you see fit, for both commercial and non-commercial works. Again with the variety: some fonts come with 1 licence, some come with 1-5 Licences. A font that comes with 1 Licence basically means you can only install the font on one of your own computers.
Somewhat confusingly, free fonts for download can come with quite restrictive font licence, and other free fonts are complete with zero-free restrictions. Do not assume just because a designer has generously made the font for free, that it’s also then permissible for you to use the font in a commercial sense. Oftentimes, if you read the licence, you’ll notice that this particular free font can be freely used in private works, but cannot be used in commercial works, except with express permission from the designer. So for peace of mind, it’s certainly worth reading a free fonts license.
The above image is a screenshot taken from a website called dafont.com. This website has a bunch of fonts, but if you look closely to the right side of each image right above the download sign, you’ll see the rights of the font. “Moonlights on the beach” says Free for personal use. That’s pretty self explanatory – don’t use this font for commercial use. “Bebas Neue” on the other hand says 100% free, which means no matter what this font is free. So even though in the end both fonts are free to download, you don’t want to use Moonlight for a clients project without speaking to the author, just to keep yourself out of any legal issues.