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Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs

Mar 24, 2009 11:27 PM


I was hoping someone might be able to help me understand how fonts work in PDFs.

Sometimes when I create a PDF in InDesign, I get a warning message "only fonts with appropriate permission bits will be enabled". (Having said that, I've been PDFing old files like mad to get it to happen, and can't reproduce the warning message...)

Can someone explain what this message means? Does it relate to ill-gotten fonts, because as far as I know, I only have purchased fonts (including ones that come with applications) on my system. Does this message mean that some fonts in my PDFs may appear differently on other people's systems? I was under the impression that all fonts are embedded in a PDF.

Finally, what does this mean for free fonts, like from - do they have appropriate permission bits? Are permission bits related to preventing illegal use of fonts?

If anyone can shed some light on this, or point me in the direction of some online information, I'd be most grateful.

Sorry for raving like a madman, but I'm concerned that my PDFs might not be appearing the way I intended.


  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 25, 2009 4:34 AM   in reply to stevenwild

    A font creator can determine if they wish to allow their font to be
    embedded into a pdf file or not. This is permission is embedded within
    each font using the so called permission bits. If permission to embed a
    font is not given, there is nothing you can legally to have the font
    embedded within the pdf file.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 25, 2009 7:51 AM   in reply to stevenwild
    To expand a bit on Michael Kazlow's comments.

    There is (was?) a bug in Fontographer, which for many years was the
    font creation program of choice, that defaulted the embedding
    preferences to "no embedding". The result is that there are thousands
    of otherwise free fonts out there that cannot be embedded into
    documents. Personally, I see nothing ethically, morally, or legally
    wrong in changing the embedding flag in such fonts.

    Commercial fonts are another matter. Most professional foundries allow
    their fonts to be embedded. Some have produced fonts that
    inadvertently (because of the Fontographer bug or incompetence)
    prevented embedding, and there's at least one paranoid current foundry
    that intentionally sets its fonts to "no embedding". AFAIK, with PDF's
    rapidly becoming the lingua franca of document exchange, that makes
    their fonts completely useless.

    More details on the four different embedding levels (none, readable,
    editable, and installable) as well as means of changing them, can be
    found with appropriate google searches. You'll find a free Microsoft
    utility that can change embedding levels, but only to make it MORE

    - Herb
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 25, 2009 3:09 PM   in reply to stevenwild
    The 'make pdf minimum size' is an Acrobat/Distiller option and only
    one of many that people might choose. It goes right along with
    high-compression terrible resolution compressed jpegs images.

    You asked if there's a way to tell what the embedding attribute is for
    a given font. YES!

    For Windows, there's an extremely useful free Microsoft font
    properties extension that shows the embedding flag for TTF and OTF
    fonts. When you right-click on a font file (in explorer or in the
    fonts folder) it has nine or ten additional font properties tags you
    can display. Download it here:

    - Herb
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 25, 2009 11:42 PM   in reply to stevenwild
    Just to clarify, the bug in Fontographer was actually that the embedding bits were set to an illegal setting. This left Adobe in the interesting position of trying to decide what to do with fonts with bogus embedding bit settings.

    Initially in Acrobat 5 I think it was they decided to not embed such fonts at all. However, starting maybe in 5.05 they treated such fonts as embeddable.

    However, font vendors who either intentionally or unthinkingly set those bits to "no embedding" still yield fonts that can't easily be embdedding in PDFs.

    Embedding bits are primarily present in TrueType and OpenType fonts. The ability to include them in Type 1 ("PostScript") fonts is a recent innovation.


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