Choosing Fonts for Office

When you choose fonts for Office, it takes a different approach than selecting typefaces for an InDesign document. One obvious difference is that you only need to install the font for a design document on the computer where it’s being created. Using the same font in an Office program will require the font to be installed on every computer using the document. Clearly, this is a much more costly solution. Aside from that, let’s look at the pitfalls of choosing fonts for Office templates.


Choosing Fonts for Office – Designer Vanity

Designers from different geographic areas spec fonts differently. As one example, Toronto designers tend to focus on the practicalities of electronic document distribution. As a result, they will often choose Arial or Times New Roman for the user-filled portion of a template. By contrast, designers from New York focus on creating a distinct visual appearance. They choose unusual designer fonts. This creates logistical problems for their clients. They must spend money licensing for all workstations and then take time to install the fonts for each user.

Test fonts from small foundries to licensing a lot of copies. I’ve written about this issue before: Cross-platform Fonts from Small Foundries: Beware! In a mixed Windows/OS X environment, a poor quality font will not display correctly in documents that move between Mac and PC. One typical symptom is Italic text that displays as Roman or Bold when viewed on a different OS, or some similar weight/style mixup.


Choosing Fonts for Office – Collaboration

If the client uses Office documents for collaboration (Don’t know? You should be asking these questions!), you should seriously reconsider a “designer-y” font choice. When the documents arrive at your client’s client, that computer will not have the fonts and the document appearance will change drastically. Unlike web pages, Office documents do not have a font fallback setting. There is no practical way to preset which font will be substituted when the original is missing.

I know what you’re going to say next: “What about if we embed the fonts?” Here’s are several reasons why that probably will not work.

  • Embedding only works with TrueType and TrueType-flavored OpenType. But you shouldn’t be using PostScript or PostScript-flavored OpenType for Office anyway. Microsoft’s support for that format is going away.
  • Embedding doesn’t work at all in Office for Mac. OS X users cannot embed fonts in documents. Neither can they see the correct fonts in documents where the font is already embedded.
  • Most typefaces have restrictive embedding permissions. So even if you can embed the font and your client can see it, they will not be able to edit the document using the embedded font. You can get around this if you contact the foundry and request a version with Editable or Installable permissions. Expect to pay a surcharge for this. Some foundries charge a lot for this service, because they’re concerned about losing sales to possible piracy.

Choosing Fonts for Office – Font Families

Designers are used to Single versions of fonts. The is where each font variant appears as a separate entry in the font list in Office. If you want to change to bold or italic, you select a different font from the list. Office doesn’t usually work this way and Office users are not used to this method.

Choosing Fonts for Office - Font Family Installed

When all four faces in a font family are installed, using the bold and italic buttons has the intended effect of switching fonts.

Instead, Office users are familiar with Family fonts. This is where where a group of (usually 4) fonts is linked. To get bold or Italic variants, they click on the Bold or Italic buttons, leaving the font name the same. The foundry usually creates the font families, though there are some type utilities available that let you make a family out of single fonts. RoboFont is one that works. Some other popular utilities do not do this correctly. Use them and you’ll end up with a family that only works on Windows or OS X, but not both.

Choosing Fonts for Office - Base Font Installed

If the font is not set up as a family-style font, then using the bold and italic buttons fakes the look with stroking and/or slanting the roman. The result is a disastrous visual effect.

In OS X, it’s not obvious when you are using single versus family fonts. OS X creates family groupings on the fly. In Windows, it’s easy: install the fonts, then look at the font menu in an Office program. A font family will only have one entry for the family, while singles will list every font variant. In this screen shot, the Arials are families. Arnhem and ATC Arquette are collections of single fonts:

Choosing Fonts for Office - Windows Font Menu

The Arials are families, while Arnhem and ATC Arquette are singles.

The logical conclusion to the font family approach is that your client should almost never be licensing just one or two typefaces. If four family members are not installed, Office will fake them by stroking the font for bold and slanting it for italic. As you might guess, this looks ghastly and completely off-brand.

The exceptions to this rule are:

  • If the document is a fillable form in Word or Excel. Those documents are typically locked so the user can’t change the font or its attributes.
  • The the font is used only for Headings. These are usually bold and stay that way, so there is less chance of a user applying attributes.

In either of these 2 situations, you should be able to get away with licensing a single typeface instead of a complete family.

Choosing Fonts for Office - A font family

A font family with all 4 members installed. The bold and italic button work as expected.


Choosing Fonts for Office - Roman only installed

Here is a family-style font with only the Roman installed. Using the bold or italic buttons gets you this dreadful look, plus an out-of-memory warning from Office.

If your design calls for an unusual mix of weights, like Light and Demibold instead of Regular and Bold, contact the foundry to request a custom family. There is normally a small charge for this service. However, if the licensing deal is large enough, the foundry may waive this.


Choosing Fonts for Office – 2 Solutions

To sum up, for each different font used in your design, your client should be licensing a complete family of 4 typefaces in TrueType or Truetype-flavored OpenType.

Brandwares is a font reseller and we’ve been speccing type for Office for years. If you choose us to create your templates, we can also source your client fonts in the correct format and family. This service includes free tech support. We’ll help your client with any installation or usage issues and communicate with the foundry, if necessary.

Working on your own? A simple way to eliminate all these issues is to design with the fonts that are already installed by Office. There are many faces more interesting than Arial and Times New Roman in this collection. The fonts that come with Office don’t require any additional licensing fee. They are already installed and they have relaxed embedding permissions to make collaboration easy. They are all high-quality typefaces licensed from major foundries like Monotype. Here is a list of the families that are useful for business communications (we left out Comic Sans!). For maximum compatibility among all versions of Office, use a font that is checked in every column.

Useful Office Fonts

Click to open PDF

5:21 pm

One thought on “Choosing Fonts for Office

  1. This is an excellent article and PDF resource — thanks John!

    As you say, the safest approach is to use MS Office fonts wherever possible. This is obviously best for portability and compatibility, but also means you can confidently set heading/body fonts in the XML or theme.

    If a client is supplying their own we’ve found that Truetype format works best, but have had mixed results with Opentype (even if Truetype-flavoured). Sometimes the Opentype fonts behave better if converted to .ttf using something like http://www.fontconverter.org/.

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