Embedding fonts in documents

Most users need to switch devices and platforms a number of times a day. If a software application on one device does not have the same font as was used during the creation of a document on another, it substitutes the font. This is outside of the control of the sender of the document. The replacement font may look vastly different and could result in a messy document that may even convey a different meaning.

Font embedding is therefore an important feature when consistency in visual appearance and meaning matters. Open Document Format enables use of embedded fonts inside any document, so the look and feel of your documents can be the same everywhere.

Removing the hidden dependency on fonts

Being able to embed fonts makes the content in your documents not only more portable, but also more future proof.

What if the font that you are now using as a default in your documents, is no longer present in the application you might move to after your next procurement round? Or what if it looks awful on the tablets you will hand out to your entire staff in a couple of months?

Some fonts cost hundreds of pounds per user or install in licensing costs alone. Installing them on the device you need may not even be possible. So even though you might think that you are now able to use them for free, it may invisibly add significant cost and business liability to your organisation in the long term.

You should require applications that support use of embedded and remote fonts, including both the office application and also use on the web. Portability and future proofing are good reasons for doing this. You should set a clear policy on which fonts you use and make available to users.

The most logical thing to do as an organisation is to make sure your template files have any fonts they really need embedded. That way all your users are able to view your documents as intended everywhere.

If you need to add a font by hand, you can do so easily with Fontos, a handy open source tool that will allow you to see what fonts your documents are using and add them from the comfort of your web browser just by drag and drop.

Font licences

In Open Document Format fonts are embedded ‘as is’, meaning that technically the entire font file is put inside the document without making any changes to it. You can do it manually by following a few simple steps. Therefore, a user could take an embedded font and install it on their system if that is legal. ODF places no restriction on the user to embed or use any font, and leaves it entirely up to the user to deal with this power responsibly.

Note that while many fonts can be used for embedding without any issue whatsoever, some font files may be restricted by specific commercial licences. For instance the default typeface used in the recent versions of Microsoft Office (the sans-serif typeface Calibri) as well as the other fonts distributed alongside
the latest versions of Windows and Microsoft Office (such as Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia and Corbel) pose significant problems to users on other platforms including most smartphones and tablets. These fonts from the ClearType Font Collection should therefore be embedded (embedding is allowed according to the licencing information Microsoft has published on its site). Alternatively, the open font Car­l­ito is a sans-serif font that can be used as a drop-in replacement (as in: font-met­ric com­pat­i­ble) re­place­ment for Cal­ibri that can also be used on the world wide web and may be installed by the user without issue. In a similar vein, the so called Liberation fonts can be used to replace the previous generation of fonts used by Microsoft: Arial, Arial Narrow, Times New Roman, and Courier New. Note that none of these latter fonts may be embedded within any document at the time of writing.

For fonts produced by Microsoft itself, you can consult the website of Microsoft Typography for licensing information and how to check compliance.

Fonts licences are up to their creator, which can pose random constraints. The licence may for instance not allow you to install fonts on a mobile device or can place any other random restrictions on your usage. There are many fonts with a variety usage restrictions, but there are also many that you can use without any problems. From a legal point of view, _open fonts _are the most attractive. Open fonts are made available through a very generous license that will allow you to add specific characters (glyphs) you require or use the font or parts of it as the basis of another font.

Most Linux/UNIX distributions such as Debian, Fedora and OpenSuse offer a large collection of safe fonts out of the box that can be used by anyone for any purpose, including unrestricted font embedding in documents and on websites. Many open source office applications also offer safe open fonts, free for any usage.

There are lots more fonts available on the web, including not just open fonts but also freeware or shareware fonts. They are typically distributed for free, but the creator expects a payment when you start using them for business purposes.Such fonts may or may not be safe to be embedded, but in all likelihood may not be modified to for instance accommodate adding a new currency glyph or diacritics. If you want to use such a font because you cannot find a similar open font, you are advised to check the licensing conditions. Often these can be found with a simple search on the internet.

Good non-commercial resources for open fonts are the Open Font Library project and CTAN. Google offers a repository of open fonts as well through Google Fonts. All the fonts available for download from these sites can be copied and used without any issues.


We advise you to use fonts with an open license as your default fonts within your applications. This will avoid future headaches and give you additional control over how your documents look when they reach your users. It will also make your archives more accessible.

It makes sense to embed fonts by default, especially if your documents are used outside of your organisation. For enterprises, adding the font to their template documents is fast and effective. That way, your users do not have to worry about anything. Alternatively you can ask your vendor to natively support adding fonts by default.