Postscript Type 1 fonts have too small a character set and are not supported by browsers and mobile devices. Despite this, Postscript Type 1 fonts are used in a large proportion of print products – often even as CI fonts. In January 2023, Adobe will end support for the font format from the 1980s. Dirk Simanek from Artoption GmbH told us why this is a real problem for print service providers, brand managers and creatives, and how the impending font disaster can be avoided.
What is actually the problem? Back in January 2021, Adobe announced that it would no longer support PostScript Type 1 fonts starting in 2023. This font format was developed in the early 1980s and spread to all areas of communication with the advent of desktop publishing. Although new font formats emerged as early as 1996 that delivered greater stability, offered larger character sets, and were supported by new browsers and mobile devices, PostScript Type 1 fonts can still be found: in catalogues, product information, advertising brochures – and yes, sometimes even as corporate identity fonts.
Why is that? Not because companies and institutions have developed an emotional attachment to the typeface format from the very beginning. Quite the opposite, as Dirk Simanek, founder and chief executive of automation specialist Artoption tells beyond-print.de. “Most don’t want to deal with it because they know it will cost real money,” he says. Simanek has been in the graphic arts industry for more than 40 years and knows from his own experience that the topic of fonts has always been – and still is – looked upon with a stepmotherly eye in most companies.
Spot checks in which he and his team examined actual documents from large corporations and institutes confirmed his thesis that PostScript Type 1 fonts are not only still widely used, but in some cases even used as in-house fonts. “More than 85% of the major corporations we looked at are still using Type 1 fonts,” he explains.
Whether in product brochures, flyers, advertising mailings, or catalogs: If the old font format is used in these, it will be time-consuming starting next year; or expensive – but probably both. Because as soon as Adobe discontinues support for the PS Type 1 font format – as has already happened with Adobe Photoshop this year – the Indesign or Illustrator documents in which this font format is embedded can still be opened and printed.
However, as soon as a change is necessary, the dilemma becomes apparent, because the Adobe software then no longer allows exactly that – indicating missing fonts. A simple price correction, for example in the product sheet of a car or in the spare parts catalog, is then no longer a matter of two minutes, but a problem that can even take days.
This is because fonts are part of the corporate identity of a brand and therefore cannot be replaced at random – especially not if a company operates internationally and needs not only print products from time to time, but hundreds or even thousands of them, in different versions and languages, and on a regular basis. Changing them “just once” requires a great deal of manual effort and visual control of the typeface.
It concerns everyone
But anyone who thinks that the font issue only affects the marketing departments of large corporations is mistaken. Because, regardless of where the original creation of a file took place – in order to make (short-term) changes to it or to set up new documents, the PostScript Type 1 fonts must be adequately replaced. If there is no replacement – or if the effort to update the file becomes too time-consuming, it is not possible to print. That’s why print shops, too, and above all, should have the topic on their agenda – and ideally they should tackle it proactively.
“What happens there from next year onwards can really lead to a disaster, and for everyone in the graphic arts industry,” Simanek therefore never tires of emphasizing. “It’s like a cycle that affects everyone: not just printers, but agencies, marketing departments, industrial companies – everyone who creates print PDFs with Indesign and other Adobe programs.”
Not all type is created equal
Want an example? “If a company is planning to participate in a trade show in April and, as in the past, the data for the required brochures, price lists and catalogs from the previous year is already available at the print shop and only needs to be adjusted ‘quickly’ – for example, due to rising raw material and energy prices – this quickly becomes a problem for the entire production process. After all, printing the documents shortly before the trade show may be a thing of the past. When you open the Indesign document, Indesign will prompt you to load a parallel font. But especially if it’s a CI font, you can’t just load a new font. Porsche or Audi would certainly not be thrilled if you simply loaded in a Helvetica. And even if the print shop has an Open or True Type font on the computer that appears to be very close to the original, the problem is not solved. Because even if the font is called the same, that doesn’t mean it will run the same,” explains Dirk Simanek. “That is, it may be that the font is cut off in some text boxes, that separations run differently, manually inserted divisions suddenly appear in the middle of the text.”
A huge effort
So, every document should be opened, checked for Type 1 fonts, and those replaced. But the replacement font must first be found, and, in a pinch, a license purchased. Depending on the importance of the source font for the client, this can not only take several days, but also cost a lot of money. The keyword here is font licenses – which can also be charged by the workstation and thus become really expensive.
Broken down to a single, simple document, this may all seem like a minor problem. But hand on heart: how many print files does a print shop usually keep for its customers? Hundreds? If not thousands? And with what page counts? “How many workers does a print shop need to check all these files and coordinate the parallel fonts with the customer, buy font licenses, and then look for surplus text,” asks Dirk Simanek rather rhetorically.
Doing nothing and waiting is no solution – and neither is converting.
One thing is certain: Not addressing the issue is not a solution. After all, by January 2023 at the latest, when Adobe has finally discontinued support for PostScript Type 1 fonts (which, by the way, has already been reported on in Publishing.blog), the challenges will become apparent – and production planning will not be adhered to, which could ultimately cost print shops even more than buying additional font licenses.
According to Dirk Simanek, saving the new or modified documents in a “smaller” Indesign file or simply converting the fonts to an Open or True Type format is also not a solution. Firstly, because Adobe is discontinuing support for all Creative Cloud products, including software versions that are already seven or eight years old. Secondly, because important information about the font is lost during conversion, such as information about the strength of the H or B stroke in different resolution devices. That’s why, incidentally, converted fonts sometimes look thicker in digital printing than in offset. But the biggest problem, explains the expert, is the fact that converting fonts is probably a breach of license and could possibly lead to criminal prosecution.
Small automation tool – big help
So what to do? “As far as alternatives to Postscript Type 1 fonts are concerned, we clearly recommend Open Type fonts,” Simanek explains first of all in general terms, “because they are platform-independent and thus work equally well on Windows and Mac computers.” Artoption GmbH has contacts with all the important font manufacturers and designers and can easily mediate here, which alone can be helpful in finding an adequate replacement font – and also in terms of licensing fees – and speeds up and reduces the cost of the process.
But alternative fonts alone do not help. This is because, in the beginning, all – really all – recurring documents have to be opened and checked before PostScript Type 1 fonts can be replaced and the typeface checked.
Dirk Simanek and Artoption GmbH, however, have come up with something to automate precisely this manually laborious process and have written a PitStop profile that makes it possible to search for Type 1 fonts in print PDF. The font report that the so-called AO-Font-Quick-Finder spits out can be passed on by a print service provider to his customers as a service and important information. But more on that later.
The PitStop profile from Artoption can either be purchased individually or installed together with a PitStop server or an Enfocus switch workflow. In this case, the customer does not necessarily need a PitStop server license – because Dirk Simanek and his team also offer everything as a service via remote. The same applies to Switch. Here the AT-Font-Quick-Finder was developed with two special Indesign or Indesign server scripts to a Switch flow.
The solution, which can work according to the hotfolder principle, among other things, automatically checks all desired Indesign documents for PostScript Type 1 fonts and provides each document with a so-called Font Report, which lists the critical fonts found. “The user also receives a CSV file in which he can assign and enter an alternative font for each Type 1 font found. The list processed in this way is read by our script and the fonts in the document are also automatically replaced according to the specifications from the CSV file. In addition, the typo is also automatically checked for overhang text,” explains Dirk Simanek. “This means we relieve the service provider – whether it’s an agency, marketing department or print shop – of all this opening, checking, replacing. It certainly saves a company a good 70 percent compared to the manual procedure.” Only the visual check for misaligned divisions or the adjustment of the overhang text still has to be done manually afterwards.
Turning necessity into a virtue
Sounds complicated? It is – at least for those who do not take action now and then have to find a very quick solution next year. For all others, Artoption’s AO Quick Font Finder offers a simple way to get an overview of the fonts in use and to implement the important processes automatically. And even more, as the expert explains: thanks to the font reports that the small tool outputs, and which can even be branded, print shops can even turn the tables.
So instead of just reacting to the problems in the new year, print service providers should already check the documents of their most important customers now and approach them with the help of Font Reports to clarify which fonts can be used as alternatives. Especially where an old PostScript Type 1 font is used as the in-house font, early clarification and possible licensing of a replacement font is important. In this way, the print shop can proactively present itself as a solution provider – in the sense of customer loyalty – and at the same time ensure complication-free production next year.
By the way: If you want to know more about the background and the individual functions of the AO Font Quick Finder, you can download a free PDF here (in German) in which Direk Simanek has compiled all the important information on the subject and which he has made available to us.