How to Make Use of Open Type Fonts (Windows)

For our upcoming wedding, my fiancée and I thought it might be neat to license a really awesome font and use it throughout the various texts inherent in this sort of event (invitations, place cards, thank you cards, etc). Using a designer font turned out to be a little more interesting than I expected, and I found help online to be spotty at best, so here’s a listing of facts I figured out while getting a beautiful open type font to render and print correctly in Windows (I tested XP and Win7).

Step 1: Finding a great font.

We looked around for a bit and eventually took a liking to Biographer, a font profiled on I love Typography as one of the better fonts created this past year. This isn’t a free font, but it’s gorgeous… and after looking at the current landscape of free script fonts, we decided that having a totally unique font across all the type in our wedding was worth $85.

Tip #1: A great way to find interesting fonts is by checking out a few typography blogs. There are tons out there, and they can really help make the sea of available typefaces a lot easier to navigate.

Tip #2: It’s ok to pay for a font. Typography, like any form of design, is an area where you often get what you pay for.

Step 2: Downloading and installing a font.

I bought our font license through a website called Veer. They’re a pretty popular reseller, and it was easy and straightforward to purchase and download the font files. I’m not sure if all font-selling websites are like this, but I can certainly recommend this one.

Installing the font was a breeze. If you’re not sure how to install a font on your system, a quick query on Google will sort that out for you in no time. Here’s the page I used: Installing Fonts in Windows.

Tip #3: Do your research, and only buy fonts from reputable websites. This goes without saying, but the internet can be a scary place to enter your credit card number. Bonus points if the site uses a purchasing framework such as PayPal.

Step 3: Using an open-type font’s special characters.

This is a huge hassle. Biographer has a lot of alternates for its characters; there are multiple versions of letters with elegant, swooping tails like ‘h’, ‘p’ and ‘k’. Regular word processors aren’t able to access these. The most common-place application I heard of that could was Office 2010, but I didn’t have that so I had to get creative.

The first thing I tried was the Windows character map. This shows all unicode characters, so surely my alternates would be there and it would be easy to insert them into something basic like Wordpad. Yeah, not so much — they simply aren’t there. If anyone can explain why, I’d love to know; this really surprised me. After giving up on getting any help from the OS, I decided I’d need a serious word processor to tackle this one.

The next things I tried were Office 2007 (where I managed to eek out a few ligatures, but still no alternates) and Open Office. To be fair, I didn’t actually download and install Open Office, but their own FAQ was kind enough to inform me that my efforts would have been in vain. This was getting frustrating. It’s 2010, people! How hard is it to support a few extra fancy characters?

Getting desperate, I tried to install LaTeX — I think. Maybe I was just installing some prerequisite libraries or some sort of command-line utility, I’m still not sure. This was the most confusing software setup I’ve ever experienced, and I bet I could write an entire post called Things that Suck about Installing LaTeX if not for the fact that I’m in no mood to put up with that much headdesk-inducing hassle. Moving on:

Finally, I downloaded a free trial version of Adobe’s InDesign, software that is made explicitly for desktop publishing. This worked like a charm. Straight out of the box it varied which versions of each character were used as I typed, and if I wanted to specify an exact variant to use, I could do that through the remarkably intuitive glyphs menu. I highly recommend this approach if you’ll only need to be able to work with the font for a short period of time and/or you’re willing to shell out $700 for InDesign.

Tip #4: If you want to use the special characters of your open-type font in Windows, your best bet right now is either Office 2010 or Adobe InDesign. If you can’t get a license for either, InDesign has a free 30-day trial.

Tip #5: Only attempt to install LaTeX if you are a grad student or a masochist, or you have absolutely no other options (and even then, you should try to find a grad student or a masochist to help you get it up and running).

Step 4: Printing with an open-type font.

InDesign provides a pretty fantastic printing experience, so I didn’t have to struggle at all in this regard. I set up my new document to be exactly the dimensions of the card stock I was printing on, and it went through my standard, off-the-shelf printer without any trouble. I seem to remember reading some sort of horror story about needing to manually tweak printer drivers to get them to recognize a new font, but thankfully that’s not something that happened to me (and sadly, I can’t find the relevant link).

Tip #6: You might have printing issues. A good word processing tool will mitigate this as much as possible, but God help you if you’re using LaTeX or anything equally obscure.

I hope this will be helpful to at least a few people out there. And in case you were wondering, our invitations look down-right incredible, and we’re looking forward to printing the rest of our wedding-related copy over the next few days.

If you have a similar story regarding font manipulation, or a question that I didn’t answer above, I’d love if you left a comment.