Taking a Butcher’s at Fonts

Fonts are fun.  When we (Lazy Bee Scripts) publish a stage play or pantomime, we pick a title font that says something about the content.  Usually it’s a feeling conveyed by the typeface (from chilling to frivolous); occasionally it’s suggested by the font name – so I have used a font named Gaslight for plays set in the late Victorian era.

So far, so good.  However, we distribute a lot of scripts as Word files and that brings some additional problems.  Obviously we don’t expect our customers to have the same fonts installed on their computers as we do, but Word provides a means of embedding TrueType fonts into the Word file, so that they are available to readers of that file who don’t have the font installed.  There are two options for doing this: embed the whole font file or only characters used in the file (which Word recommends as “best for reducing file size”).  We take the latter option.

When the customer opens the file, if they don’t have the font installed, they may see a message about restricted fonts.  Sometimes we use fonts that (for copyright reasons) are not freely distributable, however, if embedded, they will show up on-screen and may be printed.  What the customer can’t do is to edit a document containing a restricted font.  That’s fine.  Most of our customers do not need to edit our scripts.  (Not least because of the general point that you should not change a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder.)  However, there are occasionally good reasons for editing (embedding lighting cues for a specific production, for example).  In that case, if the customer saves an editable version, they will lose the embedded font and Word will substitute its default system font (which probably won’t look anything like our chosen font).

The next problem was pointed out to us by author Tim Cole when we sent him a copy of his script Butchers.  When he took a butcher’s *, he pointed out that there was a spurious square at the end of the title.

Usually, spurious squares are an indication that the creator of a font has not implemented some characters (usually punctuation marks).  In this case, the square appeared at the end of the line, in the position of the paragraph return.  Even more bizarrely, making the paragraph marks visible displayed the pilcrow (the printers’ end of paragraph mark, ¶ ) in the chosen font.  Somehow, when the pilcrow was supposed to be invisible, Word was trying to display a character that wasn’t in the embedded character set.

If you paid close attention to my second paragraph, you may have identified the obvious way around the problem: instead of embedding just the used characters, why not embed the whole font?  You’re right.  I tried that, and indeed the invisible character that isn’t embedded in the “used characters” is part of the whole font set and so if the whole font set is embedded, the problem disappears.  Unfortunately, there’s a cost to doing that.  Remember that recommendation from Microsoft that embedding just the used characters is “best for reducing file size”.  Embedding a whole font in a test document grew it from 98 kB to over 1.7 MB – so one invisible character cost me 1.6 MB of storage space.  The problem is prevalent in all non-installed fonts and, since we don’t know what our customers have installed on their computers, applying the fix to all scripts would cost us 10 GB of on-line storage.  (You can argue that this is not very much by modern standards; however Lazy Bee Scripts is a small publisher with small storage requirements compared to, say, YouTube.)

I found a different solution, which was to replace every return character in a script title with a return in the document’s default font.  Quite tricky to automate (and, because of thousands of scripts, it needed to be automated), but it removes the spurious square at no cost to the file size.
All this may well be a feature of the latest version of Word.  I had not come across it before, but then I don’t keep archived copies of different versions of Word just to test for Microsoft’s problems.

 

 

*     “Butcher’s hook”, rhyming slang for look.  Not many people see butcher’s hooks any more, but they were very useful to my grandfather.

2 thoughts on “Taking a Butcher’s at Fonts

  1. Two suggestions as a graphic designer… one would be to turn your word document into a pdf format of file. This aleays embeds the fonts, but is typically not editable. The other suggestion would be to make the title of the show as an image, in the design and font that you require and add it into the word document as an image. That way, the title prints in the correct font every time without the actual font needing to be embedded. Would be more than happy to help advise you if you want.

    1. Mikey,
      When we supply electronic copies of stage scripts, we supply in two formats: Word and PDF (see “Master Scripts for Copying” on our pricing page http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Orders/ScriptPricing.aspx).
      As noted in the original post, there are legitimate reasons for supplying an editable format. (Further examples: some of our scripts (pantomimes in particular) are designed to facilitate localisation, where productions can put in local references, replacing a generic “[insert local reference]” in the script. Some groups include people who would benefit from large print copies of the scripts, in which case they can change font size. Some groups – with the author’s permission through us – want to make larger changes – see, for example https://beewaxing.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/a-shaw-thing/)
      And yes, we could use images instead of title fonts. However, there are always trade-offs to be made. In this case, we needed a way to apply a fix to our entire published catalogue of scripts. Replacing title fonts with images at the time of publication requires a bit of work, but not an excess; however we judged that doing this retrospectively for the whole catalogue was labour-intensive and impractical.

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