Naming Typeface Families on a PC

What's in a name? Not much you might think, but when it comes to naming fonts on your PC, things aren't as simple as you might imagine...

Keeping it in the family

"A font family is typically a group of related fonts which vary only in weight, orientation, width, etc, but not design".1

So, for example, Futura Condensed, Futura Bold, Futura Semibold Condensed, are all members of the Futura family. The problem is that many PC applications, and Microsoft Word is one of them, have difficulty distinguishing between family members if they haven't been named in a PC-friendly way.

Font names

When I am talking about a font's name, I am referring to the font's internal name, as opposed to its filename (which can be easily changed). Inside a True Type font is a table that contains all the naming information. Three entries are of concern to us here: the Family (Futura), the subfamily (Semibold) and the full name (Futura Semibold). The convention is: full name = family + subfamily unless subfamily is regular, in which case full name = family name.

Hopefully that is clear so far.

I come from a large family

A particular typeface may have many family members, here is a list of the (standard) possibilities:
Width: Ultra-condensed, Extra-condensed, Condensed, Semi-condensed, Medium (regular), Semi-expanded, Expanded, Extra-expanded, Ultra-expanded.
Weight: Thin, Extra-light (Ultra-light), Light, Normal (Roman or Regular), Medium, Semi-bold (Demi-bold), Bold, Extra-Bold (Ultra-bold), Black (Heavy).

Remembering that any weight and width can be combined, and that each could also be italic or not. That leaves us with many, many possibilities! Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will find a typeface that has this many family members, typically there will just be a few, or several.

Adrian Frutiger (yes, designer of the Frutiger font) invented a numbering system2 (which I find particularly useful) for classifying the weight and width of typefaces. For example Univers 55 is normal Roman and Univers 63 is Medium Extended. See reference 2 below for more details.

Those damn PC's - get a Mac!

So what's the problem then? Well, say you have the entire Futura family of fonts, say that all of the fonts have Futura as their family name (internally) and that the subfamilies are all named appropriately. Install these fonts on your PC, then open Microsoft Word. You will find that you only have one Futura option on your drop down font selection. If you want Futura Regular, Bold, Italic or Bold Italic, that's fine (just use the bold and italic buttons). But what if you want to use Futura Condensed (which you are sure that you installed). It's not there!.

"But this is not a PC problem because I can select Futura Condensed using Adobe Photoshop on my PC".

True, but most PC programs will use the default process for enumerating fonts, which only can distinguish between bold, italic and bold italic family members.

If it doesn't work, why are fonts named this way?

We'll knowing this, you would think that nobody would name their fonts this way. I do not pretend to be an expert in typography, nor am I even a type designer, but years of experience in the printing industry has shown me otherwise. The only explanation that I can offer is that sometimes PC fonts were born on a Mac, and presumably this is not a problem on Mac's (another point to the Mac supporters). Upon conversion to a PC font, the names have not been changed to suit the quirks of your PC.

Solution please!

So you really need Futura Condensed - the client says Arial Narrow just doesn't look right! What do you do? Well if you only need the Condensed version, and not the others, then just install Futura Condensed. Otherwise you will need a font editor to rename your fonts. I don't know of any freeware program available for renaming fonts internally - there may be one out there. Let me know if you find one. PS: You can use my freeware font editor Type light, which was released after this article was written.

Rename them (use names from the font menu on Type 2.2) so that all the family members have a different family name.

Futura (family), Condensed (subfamily), Futura Condensed (fullname)
Futura Cn, Condensed , Futura Condensed

Just make sure that the family names are unique. You may have to change them several times on each font for the different language settings.

Hopefully this information will save you from some frustration. Bare in mind, that this is not a problem with most font families that you will use on your PC, and in fact, all twelve members of the Futura family on my PC are just fine (I was just using that as an example). But if, like me, you use fonts everyday, you don't want to be stuck when that impatient client wants their document produced using Futura Condensed, and they are adamant that the fonts worked fine for their designer (who converted the fonts from Mac to PC just for you).


To post a comment email:

  1. Character:
    September 09, 2007

    Nice work! Adam Twarnock as been developing a writeup on the same topic, in the Fontlab forum in MSN Groups...

  2. Ciaran O Duibhin:
    September 11, 2007

    I enjoyed reading your article... You asked about freeware programs which can rename fonts internally. I don't know of any, but I think that ttf_edit can do it (for TrueType fonts)... See

  3. Thomas Phinney:
    September 16, 2007

    It's fine as far as it goes, but it only covers name IDs 1, 2 and 4, and the Windows platform versions of those strings, and only for TrueType.

  4. Stephen Gonedes:
    September 19, 2007

    I am about to database my font collection ... so any hints about ordering or naming fonts are very helpful. You're article was insigthful, and for that I thank you. There is an open source version of a fairly descent font editor named fontforge. Checkout Also the adobe font sdk has some tools for dealing with this issue.

  5. Allan Murray:
    November 11, 2007

    Footnote: Futura was only used as an example and I have never had any problems with that particular font (because each style has already has a different family name).