The magazine of the Melbourne PC User Group
Understanding Font Substitution in Word: Part 1
In this two-part article, Brett Lockwood explains how font substitution occurs
in Microsoft Word documents, how to check for substitution,
and how to reduce or
avoid problems caused by substitution.
It is very easy to use fonts in a Word document without knowing what occurs when
the document is subsequently opened on a computer that does not have the same
fonts installed. When this happens, Microsoft Word substitutes fonts on the
destination computer for the fonts that were specified on the source computer,
to enable the document to be used. This is a little-known process.
The procedures in this
article have been checked for versions of Word up to and including
Word 2000 (PC) and Word 2001 (Mac)
Font substitution is happening more frequently. An increasing number of people
are using Word to prepare material for all types of publications, from books to
community newsletters. Many of them work outside the traditional publishing
sphere, as administrative staff, publicity officers, or community group members.
Similarly, more people are now using desktop publishing applications such as
QuarkXPress, PageMaker, and more recently InDesign, than was true even a few
years ago. These are applications into which Word files can be imported and
which comprise the final publishing vehicle.
Also, using Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs from Word documents -in other words using Adobe Acrobat as a publishing
vehicle - is becoming commonplace. Also, the pervasiveness of e-mail means that
people can exchange Word documents with ease, instead of having to transport
them physically on media like floppy disks - which (in hindsight) once
restricted the movement of electronic documents between
users - and this means that more Word documents are being used on (and printed
from) computers other than the original source computer.
In addition, there is now a huge range of fonts for use, particularly TrueType
fonts, many of them freely available, and a user can easily have fifty or more
fonts installed on a computer. Another point is that TrueType fonts (the
standard Windows fonts) and PostScript fonts (traditionally used in desktop
publishing applications) that are installed on the same computer will often
appear as a combined listing in the font drop-down list on the Formatting
toolbar in Word, causing PostScript fonts to be used in a document by people who
may not - and often do not - realise the implications.
Word Doesn't Alert You
When these apparently isolated factors are combined, one upshot is that more and
more Word documents are now opened on computers that don't have some or all of
the document's fonts, and then Word - very quietly, without telling you - uses
font substitution to enable the computer to display the document text and print
In a manner of speaking, Word says, "Look, you're asking me to use the Palatino
font for this document, but it's not here, so I'm going to try and help you out
by using Book Antiqua to display and print text that is set in Palatino - but no
promises, mind you, so if there are a few errors in the conversion, and if the
page layout changes as a result, don't come running to me with your complaints,
and because this whole thing can be a little dicey at times, I'm not even going
to tell you what I'm doing". There's a bit of Gollum in Word.
It Can Cause Errors
Font substitution can cause text errors in a document. It can also cause
confusion for the user, because (substituted) fonts used to display and print
the text will be different to the (missing) font names indicated in such places
as the Font box on the Formatting toolbar (if the cursor is placed into text
formatted with a missing font) or in the Font dialog box for the same text
Format|Font on the main menu). The names of missing fonts remain in the document
and appear in these locations.
Substitution and Styles
There is another major factor making font substitution more likely now than it
used to be. Word styles are increasingly being used to format documents, and a
font is a basic element of a style (a style must contain a font name as part of
its description). In conjunction with this, Word templates are increasingly
being used, particularly templates containing styles. Templates are a special
type of document. They have a .dot extension, and can supply components such as
text, styles and toolbars to a "standard" document (by being linked to the
latter). A template is often designed on one computer and then used on several
other computers. These other computers may have only some, or may not have any,
of the fonts applied to the text (if any exists) held in the template, or
contained in style specifications stored in the template.
Font substitution occurs when a "standard" Word document or a Word template is
opened on a computer that does not have installed on it all of the fonts
specified in that standard document or template. I use the word "specified"
rather than "used" because text does not have to be tagged with a style (a font
does not have to be "used") for that style to cause substitution.
Font substitution can be complicated, but checking for the presence of
substitution is simple. The aim of the material presented here is not so much to
provide solutions to all possible problems, but to provide alerts to the types
of problems that can appear.
When font substitution occurs a process known as font mapping is applied. This
means that Word automatically replaces missing fonts with fonts from the
"destination" computer that it assesses as being "similar". This occurs as the
document is opened. For example, the Times font in a Mac Word document may be
replaced with the Times New Roman font when the document is opened on a PC. You
are not notified if font substitution occurs. Unexpected or strange characters
or symbols appearing in the document represent the typical type of error
encountered. One example I have experienced is (about three hundred instances
of) an opening quotation mark (") being replaced by the character é.
Also, font substitution can cause a document to paginate differently than it did
originally (page breaks occur in different places), because the font metrics
(size characteristics) of the two fonts will probably differ. Often, the exact
layout of a Word document is not important to the user. Nonetheless, the
preservation of page layout can be important, particularly where the final
format is to be a PDF document published directly from Word.
The Dimensions Of Substitution
There are three dimensions to font substitution.
Firstly, substitution can occur with any document in three ways:
Secondly, font substitution can happen with documents that are:
- where text in a document is directly formatted with a font (normal text use)
- via style descriptions
- where a symbol is inserted from a font using Insert|Symbol and using the
Thirdly, font substitution can happen:
- used on one PC and opened on another PC
- used on one Mac and opened on another Mac
- exchanged between Macs and PCs, and vice versa.
All this means that the only necessary criterion for the occurrence of font
substitution is that one or more fonts specified in a standard Word document or
a Word template cannot be found on the computer on which it is opened.
- with "standard" (.doc) files (documents)
- with standard documents linked to templates (.dot documents) (whether the
document-template link is established by creating a document from a template or
attaching a document to a template).
Font Versus Character Set Issues
When a document is opened in Word, symbols are converted into characters using a
process called a "character definition standard", a method of defining a
character set. Word uses a relatively new character definition standard named
Unicode. Other word processing applications and other Windows applications use
WordPerfect uses a character definition standard called OEM. The result is that
when a document created in another application is opened in Word, character sets
may not map correctly, especially symbols and characters other than standard
keyboard characters. For example, the fraction 1/4 in a WordPerfect document can
convert to the numeral 3 in Word.
This is a process separate from font substitution. From the perspective of the
present article, the main point about character set mapping is that when a
document is opened in Word, text errors may result that are not due to font
substitution. Also, it can be difficult to tell whether a text error is due to
font mapping or character set mapping.
However, this does not detract from the value of understanding how font
substitution occurs, and learning how to minimise it, make allowances for it, or
Checking For Substitution
To check for font substitution in a document, open it and use one of the
following menu sequences:
Tools|Options, Compatibility tab, then click the Font
Word 2001 Mac:
Edit|Preferences, Compatibility tab, then click the Font
Figure 1 shows the Options and Font Substitution dialog boxes for a Mac document
opened on a PC and containing fonts not installed on the PC.
You need to keep in mind the logic of this process when checking documents for
font substitution. Remember that Font Substitution dialog box information may
vary if you open a document on one computer and then on another computer. For
example, if a document containing Marlett is opened on a computer that does not
have Marlett installed, Marlett will be listed as a missing font. If the
document is then opened on a computer that has Marlett installed, Marlett will
not show up as a missing font.
The Font Substitution box allows you to change substituted fonts, or permanently
replace a missing document font with a substitute font. You should be careful
about using either of these features (more on this next month). Figure 1 is
presented primarily as a means of showing how you can confirm whether font
substitution has occurred, and how you can make sense of document text being
displayed in different typefaces to those you expect.
Figure 1. Checking for the presence of font substitution: a
Mac document opened on a PC
and containing fonts not installed on the PC.
So, if strange characters appear in a document, or the layout is different to
what is expected, the Font Substitution dialog box may be a good starting point
for diagnosing the problem. If this process is important to you, it can be good
practice to check for font substitution whenever you receive a document to work
on. A surprising proportion of the documents I get have a missing font list.
And what happens if no font substitution is required? If all the fonts in a
document are installed, clicking the Font Substitution button in the Options box
does not produce the Font Substitution box. Instead, a message is generated
saying that no substitution is needed (Figure 2).
Figure 2. If no font incompatibility exists, clicking the
button produces a message to this effect.
Feedback on this article is welcome.
Part 2 of this article will discuss ways of minimising substitution, the various
aspects of viewing substituted fonts, and the permanent conversion of
About The Author
Brett Lockwood, has been a freelance editor since 1981, and has worked with
computers since 1976. He is president of the Society of Editors (Victoria) and
teaches on-screen text editing (using MS Word). E-Mail
Reprinted from the October 2003 issue of PC Update, the magazine of Melbourne PC User Group, Australia