What is OpenType?
OpenType® is a modern font format developed by Adobe® and Microsoft® to provide users with an accessible and advanced typographic toolset. OpenType improves on PostScript and TrueType just as the DVD trumped the video cassette. When deciding what format to choose, using the latest technology simply makes sense, but let’s dig a bit deeper and explore the ways OpenType makes life easier for typographers and graphic designers.
OpenType is Efficient
One Style = One File
The PostScript format is limited to 256 characters per file. Metrics information and extra characters often need to be stored in additional files. This becomes especially unwieldy in a Windows PostScript font where a single typeface family can require hundreds of pieces.
Based on Unicode, an OpenType file can contain up to 65,535 characters or glyphs. This allows for extensive language support and makes room for advanced typographic features like ligatures, various figure styles, fractions, stylistic alternates, swashes, small caps, ornaments, borders, and so on. All these extras can live in one file instead of many. A single OpenType file contains all the information required for a typeface style: metrics, kerning, outline, hints, and bitmaps.
As a concrete example of the efficiency of the OpenType format, compare the multilingual PostScript version of FF Meta 1, a package of four type styles, with its OpenType successor. A folder of 360 files is reduced to 4 files, also reducing the possibility of missing files, corruption, and conflicts.
Narrow this example down to a single style (FF Meta Book), and we can see that the glyphs and metrics from several PostScript files are all included in one OpenType file.
Mac and PC Compatible
Best of all, OpenType is a truly cross-platform format. You can use the same font on Mac or Windows machines without converting the font or fearing that reflow. Everywhere you use an OpenType font, it is the same typeface, same kerning, same line breaks.
OpenType is Powerful
OpenType fonts will work in nearly any application on any modern operating system, but when you use a truly OpenType savvy application the format’s power is unlocked. Applications that support advanced OpenType features include Adobe InDesign CS, Illustrator CS, Photoshop CS, and Quark XPress 7. These apps provide easy access to typographic features, so you can convert figures and lowercase to true small caps, all without changing the font. Many features kick in automatically, like ligature substitution. As these transformations are made, the raw text stays untouched. You can spellcheck or paste the text into other applications and the original copy’s integrity is maintained.
Each OpenType font can include a variety of features. Some fonts have more extras and language support than others. Some foundries use the labels "Pro" and "Extra" to describe the feature-rich versions of their fonts. Unfortunately, there are no industry standards to define these terms, so we’ve made it easy to see what’s included in any OpenType font by listing those goodies in the gray sidebar on Font Detail pages and showing corresponding glyphs in the Character Set viewer. Here are the most common OpenType features along with visual examples of what they do:
Small Capitals and Case Sensitivity
Ligatures & Alternate Glyphs
Learn More About OpenType
- Intro to OpenType slideshow
- Adobe OpenType Tour
- FontFont Language Support (OT vs. Pro)
- FontFont OpenType User Guide (700KB PDF)