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How Does PDF Handle Fonts and Maintain Consistent Text Formatting?

PDF or Portable Document Format files are immensely popular among every individual, irrespective of the profession. This popularity is due to its ability to capture a document’s elements as an electronic image for its readers to view, interact, navigate, print, and share with their peers. Unlike other file formats and software programs such as Microsoft Word, PDF files contain all the information relating to the file, thus creating the same view for the users opening or printing them on various platforms. Moreover, this file format is universal and requires no specific software application, hardware, or operating system for its creation, reading, and editing.

  1. Font Encoding
  2. Font Handling in PDF
  3. Font Embedding
  4. Font Subsetting
  5. How Does PDF Maintain Formatting?

Font Encoding

PDF is a page description language that translates the original document in a fixed format that looks the same for every user, regardless of the system and the device. Therefore. It requires the text fonts and the character encoding standard to represent the characters and elements in the file. The mapping of a character shape description to its character code is called font encoding. In PDF files, each font utilizes a specific type of font encoding. Following are the encoding types supported by the PDF:

  1. Standard encoding
  2. WinAnsi Encoding
  3. MacRoman Encoding
  4. MacExpert Encoding

Moreover, the users can define their custom encoding type using the “differences array.”

Font Handling in PDF

PDF files usually contain two font types, i.e., embedded and non-embedded. The fonts, including all the details of the font characters, are called embedded PDF fonts, while the non-embedded ones contain the font names only. The users usually use non-embedded fonts for common fonts such as Courier, which they expect every system would have in them because, with non-embedded fonts, PDF files look for the font information in the system.

Moreover, the inclusion of font information increases the size of the PDF files; therefore, it depends on the scenario and needs of the user to choose the font systems.
Additionally, if the fonts are not in the PDF file, many software, such as Adobe, substitute the font style using Multiple Master Fonts, i.e., Adobe Serif MM and Adobe Sans MM. So, even though the PDF file will not look the same as the original one, at least it will be there and will not reflow.

Font Embedding

In some scenarios, where the users work on projects that contain less-used fonts and have downloaded them on their systems to use in their designs, they have separate font files that they connect to their projects. So, whenever they send or share their work with their colleagues, they may or may not be able to have the same user experience because of the potential unavailability of these fonts on their systems. Therefore, the users mostly convert their files to PDFs containing the font copies so that other users can have the same view and render the files properly. This process is called font embedding.

Font Subsetting

There is also a little-known type of font handling called font subsetting. In this type, the PDF stores only the characters the user has used in his document instead of embedding the whole font style. Even though this font type significantly reduces the file size, it makes it complicated for the user to edit the PDF file because the user may try to add characters not stored in the file.

How Does PDF Maintain Formatting?

PDF format is mostly recognized for document distribution; therefore, the documents look the same as the original document visually. The users require the PDF files to maintain the original formatting, working links, and fonts to ensure the documents conserve their original structure and view. However, PDF converts the text into “page description format.” For instance, even though a paragraph is unbroken in the original document, PDF will add an “end line character” to the end of every line in the paragraph. Therefore, converting back to the original format from PDF can be a troublesome task.
Although Microsoft and other dedicated software such as Adobe Acrobat can usually preserve the original formatting effectively, the following are the best practices to ensure format preservation in PDF files:

  1. Choosing the Suitable PDF Format
  2. Removing Unnecessary and Complex Objects
  3. Choosing Appropriate Font Styles
  4. Verifying Hyperlinks
  5. Handling Complex Layouts

1. Choosing the Suitable PDF Format

It is important to understand and select the needed PDF format. For instance, if the user creates brochures and posters in their PDF file and may need to print them in their original colors and fonts, he should opt for PDF/X format for consistent color scheme and font embedding. Moreover, if users require long-lasting fonts, layouts, and images, they should opt for PDF/A format.

2. Removing Unnecessary and Complex Objects

Although PDF format can preserve most of the formatting, it is reasonable to remove redundant elements and complex objects in the file, which may or may not convert properly. It only increases the probability of converting accurately by decreasing the chances of format or layout breaking. Moreover, image or object optimization and compression can help the users to balance the quality and size, depending on their needs, because high-resolution images and multimedia can increase the file size significantly.

3. Choosing Appropriate Font Styles

As fonts are essential in creating an impact in a document, they are also complicated. Even though most applications embed the fonts while the user is converting the file to PDF, some may need help to do it or map them correctly. Therefore, if the different users have different PDF views, it is probably due to incorrect font mapping. Therefore, while creating or converting a PDF file, the users should either embed customized fonts, which may not be available on other devices, or use standard font styles, such as Courier and Times New Roman, to make the view consistent for each user.

4. Verifying Hyperlinks

Hyperlink verification in the document can confirm the working of the links and help them fix any broken or secure links before converting the file to PDF. Moreover, most applications will also automatically convert the links to workable links in PDF. However, in some scenarios, cross-references in the same document may sometimes not work properly, and the users may need to follow more steps to maintain their correct functionality.

5. Handling Complex Layouts

Suppose the users are converting some files to PDFs. In that case, they must pay attention to the page orientation, layouts, and size to avoid hierarchical discrepancies and maintain visual consistency.

Finally, it is essential to retain the original layout, formatting, and, essentially, the view of the PDF file in all the systems and devices. Even though most of the software can embed the necessary details and map the characters accurately, the users can now understand and correct any layout discrepancy or font breaking in the PDF files.


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