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Font Embedding in Microsoft Office

Inside the Microsoft Office (Word and PowerPoint) embedding fonts feature within documents. Font embedding adds the font into the document/presentation file 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.

Font embedding and substitution is suddenly a popular topic now that Microsoft 365 only has the new Aptos font family added and made the default for new documents.

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’.

Font embedding has been in Office for a looong time. Here’s the same feature and same options in Word 2003 under Tools | Options | Save

Embed only characters in use

There is another choice to embed only the parts of the font needed, rather than the entire font. This makes the document a little smaller (not a big issue these days with compressed Office files). Since there’s a lot more collaboration and sharing of documents, it’s best to leave this option OFF.

How it works. 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. Any changes to the characters using the embedded font won’t show up properly because the document doesn’t have any extra font information. 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. It’s the same problem if HOMER just changes to Homer or homer.

Do not embed common system fonts

‘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.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t publish a list of what they consider “common system fonts”. There’s no way to know what fonts will be embedded or not. Grrrrr.

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

Embedding is for that document only

An Office Watch reader asked whether the embedded fonts are installed on a computer so other docs and apps can use them. NO. Embedded fonts only appear for the document they are embedded in.

If you want an embedded font to use more widely, you’ll have to buy/download the font package and install it in Windows/Mac etc.

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:

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

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).

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. This should not happen often, or at all, in modern Office which has more robust symbol replacement.

Font incompatibilities are fairly common because each version of Windows and Office usually has new fonts.

Aptos is a new font family added to Microsoft 365 (in September 2023) and made the new default. Anyone with another version of Office (even Office 2021) can’t see the Aptos font unless it’s embedded.

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.

Go to File | Options | Advanced | Font Substitution to see what, if any, fonts have been changed.

And again, Font Substitution has been around for many years, e.g. Office 2003.

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

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.

Under the hood – what’s saved in the Office file

Exactly how is a font embedded into a Word or PowerPoint file? Mostly you don’t need to know but readers are sometimes interested in these details.

Any Office 2007 or later file can be opened up to view the contents, see How to look inside an Office document

The font information is saved as .ODTTF files in a folder called (surprise!) Fonts. We embedded Aptos and Aptos Display into a Word document and eight font files were included.

The fontTable.xml file tells Office that the font is embedded and exactly which font to use via the r:id code, e.g. <w:embedRegular r:id="rId1" ..../>

Is font embedding necessary?

Microsoft says that font embedding isn’t as necessary because fonts are saved in their cloud and downloaded as necessary. That’s only true in a very limited way.

  • Not all fonts are Microsoft Office cloud fonts.
  • Not all Office users have access to Office cloud fonts.
  • An Internet connection is needed to get a new cloud font (in Microsoft’s fantasy world everyone has 100% fast and reliable Internet all the time).

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