6 Replies Latest reply: Mar 25, 2009 11:42 PM by Thomas Phinney RSS

    Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs

    stevenwild Community Member

      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 dafont.com - 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.


        • 1. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
          MichaelKazlow ACP/MVPs

          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.

          • 2. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
            Community Member
            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
            • 3. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
              stevenwild Community Member
              Thanks to you both for your replies. Is there any way I can check the fonts on my system to see if any of my fonts are set to "no embedding"? I use a dual core PC, but also have a G4 iMac, in case there is some software that can be used.

              On Herb's advice, I've had a look on the web, and found this statement:
              >"Your two possible suggestions led me to examine the settings used to create the PDF and I found that the one for "smallest size PDF" was inadvertently chosen. This led to the font not being embedded."

              Can you confirm that this is correct? It seems rather silly that any PDF created for web will end up with the fonts not displaying correctly. I have a feeling that this isn't correct because I have created a lot of PDFs for my company's website and, even though I haven't viewed them on computers with a different font set, I'm sure there would have been problems with the appearance of the PDF if fonts had been substituted. Does text reflow/overset in a PDF if fonts are substituted?

              Thanks again,

              • 4. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
                Community Member
                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
                • 5. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
                  stevenwild Community Member
                  Thanks Herb, that's great. I'll make sure from now on that my workflow includes checking the permissions of any fonts I plan to use.


                  • 6. Re: Need help understanding how fonts work in PDFs
                    Thomas Phinney Community Member
                    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.