episode 5: Oh, Font


Oh, font! That’s our topic today and we have a lot to say about it. Microsoft standard fonts, Adobe TypeKit, Google Web Fonts, custom fonts from websites, what is a presentation to use? Will a font work on a Mac, Windows, iOS, or Web app presentation? What are the advantages and pitfalls of using custom fonts? Are Microsoft Office fonts safe to use, can you use Mac OS fonts everywhere? Troy, Nolan and Sandra have a great discussion on best practices for font use in presentations.


Fonts Overview

  • Nolan:  For most desktop software of any kind, fonts exist separate from the program and from individual files. In order to use a specific font in PowerPoint or Word or Photoshop or anything, it has to live somewhere on your computer. And, if you move your PowerPoint or Photoshop file or any file to a different computer, things may not look the way you want them to if that computer does not also have the proper font separately installed. Most people know this, but we all still have clients who just don’t understand that presentation files and font files are two totally separate things.
  • Troy: Print design, where TLC began, is much more evolved in font use than any of the current presentation apps. InDesign, the industry standard for print and layout design and an application we spend a lot of time in at TLC, has a different approach to letting users know about fonts and potential issues before they surprise you.
    • First, the primary output of InDesign is a print ready file that has everything, including fonts, locked in. This can be an image or, generally, a very high resolution PDF. Adobe PDFs has a great feature of embedding fonts into the document and not encountering the huge issues of embedding fonts into a PowerPoint file – we’ll talk about those a bit later.
    • If I am sending an editable InDesign file to a someone, usually a printer, I use the package option. This does not embed, but gathers every linked asset: images and fonts, and copies them into a new folder that is ready to hand off, so everyone has one place to find everything needed.
    • If an InDesign file is opened and something is not there, the user experience in InDesign is setup to make everyone aware of issues, like fonts not being available, before there is an issue – like printing 40K brochures only to find a missing font reflowed all of the text, ruining the print piece.
    • When a document is opened, in almost any Adobe application, there is a notice about missing fonts. Then, options to find the font, which is pointing to the external font file Nolan referenced, or replace the font, or best is walk you through the document so you can see exactly where the missing font is used so you can make an informed decision.
  • Sandy: PowerPoint and Keynote simply don’t have the ability to include fonts the way Adobe programs or PDFs can, although we’ll get into embedding, outlining and other solutions shortly.


What is a Microsoft standard font?

  • Nolan: Very often, when it comes to PowerPoint specifically, you’ll hear people recommend you use only “Microsoft Standard” or “Safe” fonts. What are those?
  • Troy: Even the idea of ‘What is a Microsoft Standard font’ is not standard any more. A few years ago, when everyone worked in their own bubble, Safe fonts were those fonts that were installed either with the OS or the Office suite on that platform.
  • Sandy: We are in a cross-platform world where we all work on many devices, on several Operating Systems. We have Windows desktop, Windows mobile, Windows web apps, Mac desktop, iOS, Android and more when it comes to environments where we expect our files to work, no matter where they were created.


What is a custom font and why would a custom font be used?

  • Sandy: We generally call a font “custom” when it is not a Microsoft standard font or a font that is not typically installed on a computer by default.
  • Troy: Custom Fonts are great for making a design unique, different, or aligned to a corporate style guide. If I know a file will not be distributed as a Microsoft file – either as a one-off presentation we control, or printed collateral such as distributed as a PDF, these are all good options for adding some design flair without increasing the risk of display failure.


Do you use custom fonts in your presentation projects?

  • Sandra: Very rarely. Usually only for one-off keynotes/presentations where I can control the installation of a font on a production computer. I’ve learned that is just too risky on a corporate level. Some companies have been willing to purchase fonts, but then there are limitations on what can be sent outside of the organization. There is no guarantee that a font can be embedded in a presentation, so, basically, you can’t send presentations outside of the organization. It becomes a huge hassle for the everyday user.
  • Nolan: Sometimes, but not as often as I would like. It is simply not worth the headache or the inevitable problems of making sure every computer that might run a presentation has the font installed; even in presentations I create that only I will give myself, I have been moving away from custom fonts for simplicity and the security, in case I need to show my presentation on someone else’s system.
  • Troy: If it is a client style guide font, yes. But, only yes if I know the end use of the presentation is going to clients that have that spec’d font on their corporate computers. Like Sandy, one-off presentations where we are in control of the presentation design and event computers. If it is a general use presentation, I am going to advice against it to limit display failure situations.


What resources do we use for custom fonts when we decide they are needed for a project?

  • Nolan: Mostly from my personal database of fonts purchased and collected over the years, including the Adobe Font Folio. Occasionally, I’ll purchase or download a free font.
  • Sandy: Mostly from my clients. If they spec it, I’ll buy it.
  • Troy: We use Adobe TypeKit because it is available to the whole team. Over the years, TLC has amassed a huge font library from type libraries we have purchased, so, we have a big internal resource. But, another resource is the client that has a corporate font or one they spec’d for the project.


No matter what the file format, for styling fonts are divided into 3 categories

  • Sandy:
    • First Category: Serif, which are letters and symbols that have the little lines attached to the end of the stroke.
    • Second Category: Sans Serif, which if French for “without,” means the letters do not have anything at the end of the stroke.
    • Third Category: A catchall, generally called “Fancy,” which are all the fun, cursive, or others that do not fit the corporate mold.


If you are looking for a quick reference on Fonts

  • Troy: In the month of May on thepowerpointblog.com, we’ve created blog posts on how to install custom fonts for each device, or if you can even install a custom font on Operating Systems for use in applications. Links to the exact posts will be in the Resource links below.


Which apps can use custom fonts?

Nolan: The good news is, almost every app has been developed to recognize all the industry standard font file formats we have mentioned. There are a few exceptions:

  • PowerPoint desktop – Windows can use TrueType and Open Type font formats, but not Post-Script.
  • Fonts do need to be installed before PowerPoint is opened. If you install a font while PowerPoint is open, you need to close and reopen after the font is installed for PowerPoint to see it.
  • Keynote can useTrueType and Open Type, and Post-script.

Troy: In the less common apps things change:

  • Prezi has their own font library of 50ish fonts. They all have their own name, so, you want to go to the Prezi support site to find the comparable. For example, Prezi says the Arial equivalent of their font is Arimo.
  • PowerPoint iOS is doing something new. It is using a new Microsoft dynamically loading font option. So, there are a few fonts that are available when Office for iOS is installed. This keeps the download size smaller. Then, if you are creating a presentation, the font drop down list first shows what is on the device and available. Then, it shows additional Microsoft fonts that will download and install on the device. Last, it shows the iOS fonts available on that device. A best practice if presenting on an iOS device is to open the presentation when wifi is available and buffer non-installed fonts to the device.


What apps, of those we just listed, do you use?

  • Troy: We are really focused on PowerPoint for Windows. I personally use IOS PowerPoint on my iPhone a lot in reviewing decks. But, with a diverse project load, I can say almost every app, or a project on every device OS, is used for at least a few projects each month.
  • Nolan: Cross-platform PowerPoint mostly.
  • Sandra: Mostly PowerPoint for Windows .


Adobe Type Kit fonts

  • These are Adobes font library, one of the largest collections available, and included with their Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
  • Adobe moved their entire font library, thousands of fonts, away from local install to web-based install on a local system. So, slightly different than Google Web Fonts, and similar to the way Microsoft is doing the mobile device fonts we mentioned.
  • Our upcoming blog post for May 4, 2016 at The PowerPoint Blog is all about Adobe Type Kit, what apps can use them (Hint: PPT can), and more info, check the Resources below for a direct link.

Do you use Adobe Creative Cloud?

  • Nolan: Yes.
  • Troy: Yes.
  • Sandy: Yes.


Embedding Fonts in PPT – pros and cons, do you do it?

  • Nolan: Never. I’ve been too scarred by permanently corrupted and irretrievable files using it in the past.
  • Sandy: I haven’t embedded fonts for a long time, but I do it on rare occasion for use in small, controlled environments. The really big deal is that you can’t embed fonts in PowerPoint templates and that’s the environment that I work in. Similarly, even when you do attempt to embed fonts (in presentations — not templates), PowerPoint doesn’t warn you if the font is not embedded, so, you really have to test your presentation on a computer that does not have that font installed before distributing the presentation.
  • Troy: It is literally written in our internal best practices as something we never do. File saves take longer. File size get larger. Not all fonts can be embedded, and inciting riot levels of rage when a user tries to open a presentation with embedded fonts and cannot, or can only view but not edit the slides, is something I have learned to absolutely avoid.


Where do you use custom fonts most often?

  • Troy: The opening theme or title slide is a great place to add some design flair. It is not a content critical area with dense text to read and if something goes wrong, it is not a presentation killer. For projects we control, it is nice to use a slightly different font for the overall font theme, and there are so many great fonts to work with.
    • Tip: For using a custom font in one instance, I use the custom font in PPT. Then when the presentation is approved, I copy and paste special as a .png so font is not needed on viewer computer. Hide the text box in selection pane so there is an editable option if needed for revisions, or delete in the client version.
  • Sandra: For what I call graphic text. You know, text used as a graphic element (vs. text as body copy).
  • Nolan: Handwritten fonts for things like a notation on a Polaroid image effect or sticky notes.


What are some of your favorite fonts?

Nolan: The biggest question about fonts that I get from people is which specific ones to use. For standard fonts, I tend to keep going back to Century Gothic and Georgia, and I think they work well together; I think Arial Black is a great headline font. With non-standard fonts, I tend to shuffle between thin Sans-Serif ones like Univers, Avenir, Helvetica Neue, sometimes Gotham. My favorite handwriting font is something called “Complete in Him” which I think you can find for free.

  • Sandy:  I like Tahoma and Georgia (although the numbers drop below the line and can be a little frustrating for some) and Georgia. I also like Microsoft’s Segoe.
  • Troy: Microsoft safe fonts, I use a lot of Century Gothic and Tahoma. Calibri is the new Arial, the general purpose corporate font. I like Sans-Serif fonts in general, so, Proxima Nova is a custom font with a lot of weights that I use on many projects.



Wrap up

  • Troy: Fonts are part of the design and styling of a presentation. I just feel that, at this current time, all presentation apps need to evolve and expand their font capabilities to make this a rewarding experience, not a failure or frustration experience. That being said, fonts are like animation, there is such a thing as too much.
  • Nolan: If you ask any graphic designer how many fonts they have on their computer, they’ll say thousands. Then, ask them how many they use on a regular basis. I’ll bet it’s no more than 4 or 5. Less is more.
  • Sandy: Putting it kindly, Microsoft has an immense opportunity for improvement when it comes to fonts. I’m going to limit my use of any non- Safe font until PowerPoint can be on par with other programs. I won’t hold my breath (although I do have hope that they’ll take care of this huge problem with the program).



Resources from this Episode:

  • ThePowerPointBlog.com
    • 05/02/16- Fonts You Can and Cannot Use in PowerPoint:  Link
    • 05/04/16 – Using Adobe Type Kit Fonts  Link
    • 05/06/16 – Can I use Google Fonts?: Link
    • 05/09/16 – How to Install a Custom Font: Link
  • Custom Shape placeholder in PowerPoint:
    •  Julie Terberg blog post on placeholder shapes: Link
    • Geetesh Bajaj blog post on placeholder shapes: Link
    • Geetesh Bajaj blog post on Text-to-Outline: Link
  • Font Embedder at the Mac Store: Link
  • “Complete Him” font: Link
  • Proxima Nova Font: Link
  • Johanna Rehnvall’s blog post on fonts: Link
  • Prezi Support page for fonts: Link
  • Building PowerPoint Templates Book by Echo Swinford and Julie Terberg: Link


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