Font Embedding in Microsoft Office

Inside the Office feature of embedding fonts within documents.

Font embedding is when the font details are stored in the document itself so that anyone reading will see the same text as the creator.

Normally fonts are installed on the computer and used by whatever programs need them. If the font you want to use isn’t on other computers, you can embed the font to ensure that the document looks the same on any computer that opens it.

How to embed a font

To embed fonts in a Word or PowerPoint document go to Options | Save and look for ‘Preserve fidelity when sharing this document:”. Check the box ‘Embed fonts in the file’.

Word - Font embedding options.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

In Word 2003 and earlier the same options are under Tools | Options | Save

Word 2003 - Font embedding options.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

There is another choice to embed only the parts of the font needed, rather than the entire font. For example, if the only letters used in the embedded font are ‘H O M E R’ Word will only store the details of those five exact letters and no more. This reduces the size of the document but means that any changes to the characters using the embedded font won’t show up properly. For example, change HOMER to MARGE on another computer, the A and G won’t show up properly because those letters weren’t included in the embedded font.

‘Do not embed common system fonts’ is another document size saving option. Most Windows and Mac computers share a common set of fonts, either the same or very similar so Office usually doesn’t embed those fonts.

Document size can be a concern but not a big deal. Most fonts don’t take up a lot of space and the Office 2007/2010 formats compress the entire document anyway.

Once the embed options are on, save the document and then you can send it to other people.

If you don’t embed

If you don’t embed a font then the document may look quite different on another computer.

Microsoft Office will try to match the unavailable font named in the document with another font installed on the computer. Sometimes the match works well but other times it doesn’t. For example here’s a heading using the ’10 minutes’ font:

10 minutes font sample.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

And here’s how Word displays the same text on another computer when the font isn’t embedded nor installed on the computer:

Office - example of display when font not installed.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

As you can see, Word hasn’t come close to a visual match. In fact it’s reverted to Courier font.

The name of the font still appears in the font list even though the font isn’t available at all (ie not on the computer or embedded in the document).

Word -- Font displayed doesnt match named font.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

With Symbol fonts you can end up with a different symbol entirely. That’s because Office will substitute to Wingdings or similar which may have another character in that ASCII or Unicode position.

As worst you’ll get the dreaded box character – which happens when Word or Office totally gives up trying to match the font named in the document with anything available.

Box character with failed font substitution.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

Font incompatibilities are fairly common because each version of Windows and Office usually has new fonts. Calibri font was new in Office 2007 and became the default font. Any Office 2007 opened by someone with Office 2003 or prior would probably have Times New Roman automatically substituted.

There are also differences in the fonts available for different versions of Mac and portable devices too. However most of those are handled by Office with reasonably close font substitutions.

The majority of font problems come with third-party fonts – either purchased or free downloaded ones. It’s isn’t a faulty font, merely that Office doesn’t know enough about the font to choose an accurate replacement.

Fixing font substitution

If you’ve opened a document with a font error there are various options available, depending on whether you just want to view the document quickly, display or print precisely as the author intended or edit it.

Word - Font Subsitution button.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

Word 2003 - Font subsitution button.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

Under that button you’ll see and missing fonts and what available font has been used instead.

Word - Font Subsitution dialog.jpg image from Font Embedding in Microsoft Office at

You can change the substitution to another font or click ‘Convert Permanently’ to replace all the mentions of the missing font.

If you’ll be sharing the document with other people, let Word manage the font substitution. This leaves the font named in the document and only changes what you see or print on your computer.

‘Convert Permanently’ is the same as manually going through the document, selecting text with the missing font and reformatting to another font.

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