Color Font support in Microsoft Office - the story so far

Color fonts are coming to Microsoft Office and Windows but progress is slow and patchy.  Here’s a quick summary of color fonts and the occasional, erratic support in Outlook, Word and other Office programs.

What are color fonts

Since the beginning of Mac and Windows we’ve had single color fonts. Usually black but can be changed to another single color from the Home | Font Color selector in Office.

Color fonts can display multiple colors within the character like these symbols or emoji.

Almost all the fonts supplied with Windows and Mac are monochrome fonts  The exception is Segoe UI Emoji which has colored emoji. There are other color fonts that can be installed in Windows or Mac, such as the Brand Logo font.

Technically there are four different types of color font but OpenType-SVG fonts is the major format that’s prevailed in a minor format war.  OpenType-SVG color fonts are supported by Microsoft in Windows 10, Apple in MacOS 10.14 (Mojave, the current MacOS), iOS 12  and later. Windows 10 got some color font support in the late 2015 (Anniversary) release which was improved in the first 2016 update (Creators).

Color fonts should include a monochrome fallback version for when the program can’t display the full color character.  That’s vital when it comes to Microsoft Office, even the latest Office 365 for Windows.

Color font support

Just using a color font won’t make them appear in a document, email or program. The programs themselves must also be retooled to display the colors, as well as the operating system. Without development work at the program level, you’ll just see a black version of the character.

The need for program support is starkly visible in Microsoft Office which only has very limited support for color fonts.

MS Office support for color fonts could politely be called a ‘work in progress’.  Tony Roche’s term ‘omnishambles‘ is more appropriate.

Color fonts only in Outlook 365

At present, color fonts are visible in Outlook 365 for Windows and Mac.  The 365 version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint only show the monochrome versions of color symbols.

Copy a color font image (from Microsoft’s own Segoe UI Emoji) to Word and you’ll get a plain monochrome version instead.

However, that’s not consistent. As you’ll see later, some Segoe UI Emoji do appear in colored in a Word 365 document.

Color fonts in emails

If you added color emoji to an Outlook email, there’s no guarantee that the email receiver will see the color version or anything at all.

That’s because the Windows 10 emoji shortcut (Win + . fullstop/period) inserts symbols from Segoe UI Emoji font.  The receiver might not have that font or a color equivalent.

The Outlook 365 for Windows preview line doesn’t show color symbols. Here’s the preview line of an incoming email (left) and the reading pane view of the same message (right).

Outlook 365 for Mac has better color font support though there are inconsistencies and notable design differences.   Compare the pizza and ice-cream emoji between Outlook for Windows  (above) and Outlook for Mac (below).  The very different look of the emoji is because they are using different emoji fonts designed by Microsoft and Apple respectively.

Emoji in Outlook HTML emails

For anyone interested, here’s how Outlook inserts an emoji into a HTML email. In the CSS <style> block there’s a font definition with Panose type classification.

@font-face {font-family:"Segoe UI Emoji"; panose-1:2 11 5 2 4 2 4 2 2 3;}

In the message <body> the font ‘Segoe UI Emoji’ is specified. If that’s not available, then any san-serif font.

<span style='font-family:"Segoe UI Emoji",sans-serif'>&#128105;</span>

Segoe UI Emoji inconsistent between Office programs.

Even within the Office 365 programs with a Microsoft created font there are strange variations.

Here’s the same Segoe UI Emoji characters in Outlook and then pasted into Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher.  Only Outlook 365 shows full color for all symbols. It’s hard to know where to start with the inconsistences between Office programs in displaying a Microsoft supplied font in Microsoft programs.

It’s like one of those ‘Spot the difference’ puzzles with two drawings almost the same!  Just a few differences (feel free to find more):

  • Four ‘smiley’ emoji are blue in Word 365, Excel 365 and Publisher 365 but not PowerPoint 365.
  • The smiley’s should be colored in Word 365.
  • Excel 365 and Publisher 365 splits some symbols like Female Mechanic into two (a female face then a wrench)
  • Some ? marking ‘unknown’ characters.
  • Where does the female symbol come from?

Save to PDF

Exporting to PDF works well with color fonts, as it should.

A PDF made from Office should display the color fonts in the same way they appeared in the original document.

Use color fonts or not?

Color fonts will be a good addition to Microsoft Office.  But Redmond needs to do a lot of work to reach consistency across the Office applications. It’s especially hard to understand the color font display differences between Outlook and Word because they both use the same common-code editing features.

For the moment, probably wise to limit color fonts to stand-alone documents where you can control the output; either printed or saved to PDF.  Sharing documents or emails with color fonts may result in confused viewers/receivers who don’t see what you expect.

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