Why doesn’t my printer’s font match the one I specified?

I sent out a job containing Times Roman Italic and the printer called and said they needed the font. I told them to go ahead and substitute their own Times Roman, but when I got the proof back, the text was all rewrapped. Why would that happen?

Many print buyers have learned to lump "font" with certain other four letter words. In fact, font issues are the single most common source of printing problems. Although you might think all Times Romans are alike, it unfortunately is simply not true. Believe it or not, the so called "printer fonts" - those fonts that reside in most printers are not even all the same. When printers substitute THEIR font for YOUR font, it may not have the exact same metrics. Most of the time, no one would ever notice because the differences are minute, however they can be just different enough so one character on one line "overflows" and suddenly all the type re-wraps.

But there is another problem. Make certain the Times Roman ITALIC is not a plain Times Roman font with an italic style applied to it in the page layout program. One of the reasons the newest InDesign products do not even allow users to apply type styles is that doing so can foul things up. A Times Roman (style applied) is NOT the same as Times Roman Italic (the actual italic version of the font family). A stylized font might not take the exact same amount of space as the actual font, and changes in line endings and rewraps can result.

There are quite literally dozens of fonts available called Times Roman, and all of the most common printer fonts (Times, Helvetica, etc.) have the same potential problem. One of the reasons "system" fonts (those that are bundled with the operating system and are sometimes needed by the system) and "printer" fonts (those bundled with printers) can cause problems is that designers make the false assumption that they are all identical.

Any time you substitute fonts, you run the risk of changing the overall appearance of the text on the page.

Always furnish ALL fonts for every job to be output. Your license covers you when the printer uses YOUR font to output YOUR job. It is really the only way to make absolutely certain that the fonts print correctly with no rewrap surprises. But be careful that no one misuses your license.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at stephenbeals@mac.com.
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