A guide to fonts in print

Due to a recent request, here is a recap of some technical points (pardon the pun) about typography in the real world of print

This article doesn’t deal with the design side of typography, we’ll approach that in a future post.  This article is concerned with the technicalities and real-world considerations a designer faces before the work goes to print.

People are often annoyed and confused when their carefully-chosen typeface does not resemble that which has been printed and delivered to them.  We try to avoid this by proofing all of our work and warning clients if there are font problems, but let’s get to the root of the problem.


The problem

The assumption is that what you see is what you get (referred to as ‘WYSIWYG’) when it comes to fonts—much like colour, layout, resolution etc.—which simply isn’t the case unless you know what you’re doing.

In reality, the fonts you’ve chosen for your design only look the way they do ON YOUR SYSTEM, because you’ve used fonts which are INSTALLED on your system.  They may happen to be installed on the printing company’s system and then there’s no issue, but it’s more likely that they will change subtly or will be substituted for another font entirely.

Many fonts are practically universal and should not cause a problem, but there’s no real way to be sure that the printer has the exact same font as you.  The problem is exacerbated by the use of unusual fonts or those which you have yourself downloaded and installed.  Luckily, there are ways around this.


System fonts

Some fonts are included in virtually all systems and are known as system fonts.  These fonts include Times, Arial, Courier and some others, which should not cause a problem with printing.  They are, however, utterly boring and massively overused.  They should only be used for large bodies of text where appearances are not important, such as a legal text.

Problems arise when you want to use something a little more interesting or unusual, or a ‘display’ font used for headings, etc.  If you want to make your design look interesting, you must consider a few points.

The antithesis of using system fonts, and the bane of the print industry, is using fonts downloaded from a website somewhere, created by someone who wanted a font which looks like snow.  These fonts will NOT be available to the printer and will be substituted by a standard system font.


  • Universal
  • Boring but functional
  • Arial, Times, Lucida, Palatino, Georgia and others


Embedding fonts

The simplest way to solve the font problem is to properly embed the fonts into the PDF you send to the printer.  This is done at the PDF creation stage and is usually built into the PDF presets appropriate for printing, i.e. PDF/X-1a for litho and PDF/X-3 for digital printing.  These presets ensure that, even if the printer does not have the same font as you, they will have the relevant ‘glyphs’ (characters) supplied in the PDF file itself.

If you do not have access to the PDF/X presets you may still have the option to embed fonts in your PDF. Look for this setting in the options.


  • Use PDF/X presets or
  • Find the option to embed fonts in the PDF


Outline fonts

Fonts are actually like live programmes, adapting and shifting according to the requirements of the host programme. This is why they must be installed on the computer reading the file.  If they are not, one way to ensure that they print as desired is to turn the ‘live’ text into rendered illustrations of the text, or ‘outlines’.  This is not the same as giving the text an outline, or stroke.  They will no longer be editable but they will be locked into the intended appearance.  In proper design programmes such as InDesign or Illustrator, you select the text you want to outline, go to ‘Type’ and select, ‘Create Outlines’. It is more complicated in Photoshop, but you shouldn’t be using Photoshop for text anyway.

image for live text

image for outlined text

Once text is outlined, it can be selected as any other vector illustration, recoloured, resized and edited without limit, EXCEPT that it cannot be edited as text or corrected.

image for outlined edited text

Outlining the fonts for supplying the file to the printers is good, but only if you are absolutely sure the design is finished.  Any changes will require resubmission and you had better hope that you didn’t save the original artwork with the fonts outlined!


  • Type > Create Outlines
  • Text will no longer be editable as text
  • It is now a vector illustration and behaves as such
  • Be sure that you are happy with the design
  • Do not save your original artwork with fonts outlined


Supply the fonts

This is often the best way to solve the problem in high-end design.  You can find the font file itself on your system (Control Panel > Fonts on Windows; Library > Fonts on Mac) and send it along with the PDF for print, explaining to the printer that you have used a non-standard font and here it is.  If you supply the original artwork, proper design packages allow you to ‘Package’ your file, which includes the images and fonts used.  You can then zip it all up and send it off.

image for font file


  • Find the font file you’ve used
  • Windows: Control Panel > Fonts
  • Mac: ~/Library/Fonts


As always, don’t be afraid to ask about fonts.  At FirstpointPrint we have many fonts on our system or are happy to install your supplied font, provided you have the legal rights to its use.