The Abbreviated Typographer

August 01, 2016 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

There are a lot of abbreviations which are commonly used in the world of typography, and especially digital fonts. Some relate to glyph sets and font formats, others to design traits and foundries, and so on. Their meaning may be obvious for the seasoned type user, but I can imagine that many type novices – and even regular users – can be confused by a good number of them. Here’s a comprehensive overview.

I think most abbreviations are included in my list, yet there are so many that I can imagine there must be one missing here or there. If you cannot find a specific abbreviation please feel free to contact me and I’ll add it to the list. Abbreviations for type styles and weights will be covered in a future post about type families.

Glyph Sets

Even though OpenType has taken over as the standard font format since the early 2000s and FontShop stopped offering them in 2012, PostScript fonts are still around – you will have a hard time naming any other software created 30 years ago that still functions on current operating systems! Thanks to last month’s release of Unicode 9.0 and the OpenType format, nowadays fonts can accommodate up to 128,172 characters. The PostScript Type 1 format – the previous professional standard – on the other hand is limited to 256 glyphs per file. This may have seemed sufficient back in the day, but actually it is barely enough for the alphabet in upper and lower case, numerals and punctuation, accented characters for a limited number of European languages, and some special characters like currency and mathematical symbols. So no refined features like small caps, old style numerals, additional ligatures, swashes, ornaments and so on. Those had to be stored in additional font files, which were identified by specific abbreviations. All abbreviations below are found in PostScript Type fonts only.

Exp | Expert Set

Depending on the foundry Expert Sets could hold different configurations of glyphs. The naming implied that those fonts provided all the characters missing in the standard fonts that a typographic expert may have need of. Originally Expert Sets included only small caps, oldstyle or hanging figures, additional ligatures, often super- and subscript letters and numbers, plus some additional special characters and sometimes swash variants. Normal height capitals were absent, and their slots were occupied by other expert characters. This made Expert fonts rather unwieldy, as converting capitalised words to small caps meant one had select the lowercase characters separately and switch them to the Expert fonts.

SC | Small Caps | OsF | Oldstyle Figures

Small Caps and Oldstyle Figures fonts were the solution to this problem. The Small Caps fonts had the exact same glyph set as the standard fonts, with small caps substituted for the lowercase characters, and oldstyle or hanging figures for the lining figures (or vice versa, depending on the foundry). This allowed for selecting complete words and sentences in order to convert them to small caps. Because in traditional typography no small caps were provided in italic faces – nor in bold weights in most cases – those styles only had an Oldstyle Figures variant. In the end days of PostScript “high-end” fonts had both SC (and/or OsF) fonts with the small caps and oldstyle figures, and Expert Sets holding the remaining expert characters. The system was an improvement but not ideal yet. To obtain oldstyle figures in a font which had a SC variant but no variant with OsF only, one needed to select all the numbers and manually switch them to the SC font.

LF | Lining Figures | TF | Tabular Figures

As I explained above there are not enough character slots in PostScript Type 1 fonts, so some choices had to be made. The first PS1 fonts only had tabular lining figures which had become the standard in photo typesetting. Emigre were the first to include proportional oldstyle figures by default in their text faces; see for example the 1989 classics Triplex and Matrix. FontFont also adhered to the philosophy that oldstyle figures should be the default, as they blend in better with the surrounding text in upper and lower case. Instead of needing OsF fonts those type families had to be augmented with Lining Figures and Tabular Figures variants.

Language support

Another downside of the limited character set of PostScript Type 1 fonts was that it could only accommodate accented characters for a limited number of languages. The “standard” fonts covered roughly all Western and Southern European languages, and the Scandinavian languages. But as soon as you start moving eastwards towards and past the central part of Europe new and different accents are needed, and Greek and Cyrillic even use different alphabets. This is why additional fonts were needed for those extra languages. The supported languages may have varied a little depending on the foundry. Some language denominations were written in full, others were usually abbreviated.

Western (standard character set)
Albanian, Breton, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian (+ Bokmål & Nynorsk Norwegian), Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, Swedish

Balt | Baltic
Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian (also included in CE)

CE | Central European
Albanian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Sorbian (Lower & Upper)

Turk | Turkish

Gr | Greek

CY | Cyr | Cyrillic

ML | Multiple Language
Depending on the foundry different languages were supported. MacCampus offered a range of language specific fonts, each with their own letter code.
BS | Basque
IC | Icelandic/Faroese
FR | Frühneuhochdeutsch (Middle High German)
Med | Maltese
PQ | Welsh/Irish
RO | Romanian
SA | Saami
TU | Turkish
Translit | Transliteration (accented Latin characters for transliterating languages using non-Latin alphabets)


LucasFonts use a unique lettering and numbering system for their OpenType fonts. The capital letter specifies language support, the number what type of figures are included, and the small letter what type of small caps:

Language coverage

A | Standard Latin
B | A + Central/Eastern European (+ 83 glyphs)
C | B + Latin Extended (+ 78 glyphs)
D | C + Cyrillic (+ 135 glyphs)
E | D + Greek (+ 71 glyphs)
F | E + Cyr Additional (+ 125 glyphs)
G | F + Lat Ext Additional (+ 240 glyphs)
H | G + Phonetic & Ext (+ 218 glyphs)
I | H + Arabic (+ 200-500 glyphs)
J | A (Std Latin) + Arabic

Default figure style

1 | Hanging Tabular
2 | Hanging Proportional
3 | Lining Tabular
4 | Lining Proportional
5 | Lower Lining Tabular (stands out less in mixed case setting)
6 | Lower Lining Proportional (stands out less in mixed case setting)

Small Caps

s | Small Caps included (in addition to lowercase)
c | Small Caps instead of lowercase (for office software that cannot access OpenType features))

Optical sizes

While most foundries spell out optical sizes in full in the naming of their fonts, some used a code to determine whether their fonts were meant for display or for text use.

D | Display (URW++)

URW++ identify their Display fonts by adding the letter D after the font name.

SB | Bodytypes (Scangraphic Digital Type Collection)

The Scangraphic Digital Type Collection offered all of their fonts in headline and body text versions, with about two thirds of them in both. Bodytypes were spaced and kerned looser than the Supertypes versions. Carefully added ink traps made sure the inside corners in Bodytypes didn’t fill up with ink and stayed “sharp”.

SH | Supertypes (Scangraphic Digital Type Collection)

Diacritics were positioned closer to the capitals in the Supertypes, and those versions also had a number of alternate capital forms with the accents integrated in the characters. This allowed for all cap headlines with very tight leading, specifically in German.

Font formats

PS · PS1 | PostScript Type 1 font

The PostScript Type 1 font format is pretty amazing. Of course it has certain limitations and OpenType fonts offer numerous advantages, but PostScript Type 1 fonts are possibly the only pieces of software developed more than 30 years ago that still work on today’s machines and operating systems.

TT · TTF | TrueType font

Because the cost of licensing the PostScript Type 1 format was considered very high at the time, Apple decided in the late 1980s to develop their own font format TrueType. Microsoft added TrueType to the Windows 3.1 operating system, and it became the preferred font format on PC systems.

OT · OTF · TTF | OpenType font

OpenType is the most recent font format, and emerged at the beginning of the new millennium. The format was initially developed by Microsoft, which were later joined by Adobe. OpenType fonts are cross-platform, and come in PostScript flavour (OTF) and TrueType flavour (TTF).

OpenType formats

All OpenType fonts have advanced typographic features and language support built-in, but some OpenType fonts are more equal than others.

Std · OT | OpenType Standard

OpenType Standard fonts support the basic range of languages. Some foundries use the abbreviation Std, while others simply use OT. In the latter case OT identifies both the font format and the language support. Some foundries do include Central European (CE) and Turkish in their Opentype Standard fonts.

Pro | OpenType Pro

OpenType Pro fonts support a broader range of languages than OpenType Standard fonts, typically Central European (CE) and Turkish, and sometimes Greek (Gr) and/or Cyrilic (Cyr). It is important to understand that Pro always includes all accents needed for CE languages, but does not guarantee the presence of the Greek nor the Cyrillic alphabet. Always check the complete character set and language support before purchasing a license.

Min | OpenType Minimum

FontFont offered OpenType Minimum fonts which were only available for display typefaces. They supported the same languages as OpenType Standard fonts, though some non-essential glyphs (such as mathematical operators and mathematical Greek characters) may have been omitted.

Offc | Office OpenType

FontFont offered Offc fonts, which were in TrueType-flavored OpenType format. They were intended to help customers working with non-OT-savvy applications and therefore can't use the OT layout features such as alternative figures and Small Caps. The fonts were style-linked, i.e. grouped together under a single item in the font menu, so as best to take advantage of the style selection shortcuts found in applications such as Microsoft Office. The default figure set was Tabular Figures (TF); Small Caps with Oldstyle Figures (OSF) were separate fonts. Most Offc fonts were also available in a Pro version, as explained above.

Com | Communication

Linotype offers OpenType Com fonts which have been optimised for international communication and for use with Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, … Those TrueType flavoured OpenType fonts are targeted to corporate customers rather than to the professional prepress market. Linotype defines an extended character set for these fonts, the Linotype Extended European Character set (LEEC) which supports 48 Latin languages.


Some foundries use abreviations in the names of their fonts. Additionally some foundries digitised fonts from other manufacturers. Although the abbreviations don’t really have an inherent meaning, they may be important when choosing which version of a font to purchase. A classic example is Futura, whose digitisation can be quite different from one foundry to another. The list below is not the complete list of foundries offered by FontShop, just of those abbreviations found in font names.

AS | Alphabet Soup

AT | Agfa Typography

BT | Bitstream

CC | Comicraft

CG | Compugraphic (formerly Agfa fonts)

EF | Elsner + Flake

F2F | Face2Face
The techno collection of the Linotype Library

FF | FontFont

FP | FontPartners

FTN | Fountain

ITC | International Typeface Corporation

LFT | Leftloft

LP | Letter Perfect

LT | Linotype Library (both capitals; do not confuse with Lt, the light weight of a typeface!)

LTC | Lanston Type Co.

MT | Monotype

MVB | MvB Fonts

ND | Neufville Digital

P22 | P22

PL | Photo Lettering

PT | ParaType

PTL | primetype library

RB | Richard Beatty

RTF | Rimmer Type Foundry

SG | Scangraphic

TC | Typesettra Collection
Toronto-based type house and foundry run by Canadian type designer Leslie Usherwood.

URW | URW++ (Unternehmensberatung Rubow Weber)

WTC | World Typeface Center
Independent design agency in New York, founded part by notable designer Tom Carnase.