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TrueType, PostScript Type 1, and OpenType: What's the Difference

TrueType, PostScript Type 1, and OpenType: What's the Difference



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Published by: act on Jul 21, 2007
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TrueType (TT), PostScript® Type  (Type ) and
OpenType® are all multi-platform outline font stan-
dards for which the technical specications areopenly available. “Multi-platform” means that bothfont types are usable on multiple sorts of comput-
er systems. “Outline font” means that they describe
letter shapes (“glyphs”) by means of points, which
in turn dene lines and curves. is representationis resolution independent, meaning that outlines, by their very nature, can be scaled to pretty much any 
arbitrary size. Depending on the particular program
being used and the operating system it’s run under,there may be upper and lower limits to the size thefont can be scaled to, but few users will ever encoun-ter these limits.An outline font must be represented by the dots
of the output device, whether it’s screen pixels or the
dots of a laser, ink-jet or wire-pin printer. e pro-cess of converting the outline to a pattern of dots onthe grid of the device is called “rasterization.
When there aren’t enough dots making up theglyph (such as at small sizes or low resolutions),there can be inconsistencies in the representation
of certain letter features, at a single size, due to dif-ferent rounding based on how the outline happens
to sit on the grid. A common form of this is thatthe widths of the letter stems can vary when they 
shouldn’t. Worse, key features of the glyphs can dis-appear at small sizes.
However, Type , TrueType and OpenType fontsall have a means of dealing with these inconsis-tencies, called “hinting.” is consists of additionalinformation encoded in the font to help prevent
these problems.
Brief History 
PostScript and the Type  font format predate
TrueType by about six years (with OpenType being
a much later amalgamation of the two formats). First,we had many dierent formats for digital fonts, noneof which were standardized. en Apple adopted the
Adobe® PostScript page description language (PDL)for its Apple LaserWriter printer in . is, com-bined with the introduction of PageMaker®, the rst
desktop publishing soware, sparked a revolution in
page layout technology.
Soon the PostScript language was adopted for use
in higher-end imagesetting devices, and became thenative operating mode and language of many graph-ics programs as well. e command structure of thePostScript language was publicly available, so it waspossible for someone to build a PostScript interpret-er to compete with Adobe’s rasterizing soware. But
it wouldn’t be able to interpret the hints in Type fonts. is was because the PostScript font speci-
cation for Type  fonts, which included hinting, wasnot publicly available. Adobe had only released the
specications for Type  fonts. Type  fonts were a
more general format, but Type  was smaller, faster,
TrueType, PostScript Type 1, & OpenType:What’s the Diference?
by omas W. Phinney
Version ., December , 
Copyright ©  by omas Phinney, but permission is granted to duplicate and re-distribute this document, as long asit is reproduced in full and unedited (including footnotes, copyright and trademark information). Please contact the author by e-mail (tphinney@adobe.com, tphinney@compuserve.com) prior to any publication or redistribution, to ensure that the mostrecent version is used. is document is only available in Acrobat  form. In the interests of full disclosure, note that the authorworks in the type group and Adobe. However, every eort has been made to make this an impartial document. Special thanks toDavid Lemon, Kathleen Tinkel, Jerry Hall, Tom Rickner, Chris Holm, Kaspar Brand and Vladimir Levantovsky (among others)for their invaluable feedback; however, any errors are the author’s sole responsibility. See endnote for trademark information.
·  ·
and had a native hinting structure (of which see
more below).
It rapidly became obvious to the major system
soware creators (Apple, Microso, and later IBM)that it was important to have scaleable font technol-
ogy supported at the level of the operating systemitself. is would allow much better screen display,compared to pre-made bitmaps which would only 
look good at a few sizes, and would be jagged at allothers. So in the late s, Apple developed its own
scaleable font technology, rst code-named Royal,
and later introduced as TrueType.
Apple traded the technology to Microso in
exchange for the latter’s TrueImage PostScript clonetechnology (which was buggy at the time, and never
used by Apple, although it has surfaced in various
later incarnations). e TrueType specications were
made public, and TrueType was built into the next
 versions of the Mac and Windows® operating sys-
tems, released in .
Adobe’s response started with the release of thelong-protected specications for the PostScript
Type  font format in March . is was followed
by introduction of Adobe Type Manager® (ATM®)soware in mid-. ATM scales PostScript Type fonts for screen display, and for imaging on non-
PostScript printers.In early , TrueType for the Mac became avail-
able, followed by the Windows . implementation
(the Windows scaler was and remains slightly more
accurate/ecient than the Mac version, though it’s
nothing a normal user is likely to notice). Now, witheither TrueType or ATM, Mac users (and later Win-
dows and OS/ users) could actually see on-screen at
any size what the font output would look like.
So now there were two widely used outline font
specications, one (TrueType) built into the operat-ing systems used by most desktop computers world-wide, and the other (PostScript Type ) the de factostandard for publishing and the graphic arts.
But as time goes on, the practical dierences begin
to blur. e new OpenType format (discussed later),
supports both TrueType and PostScript outlines.Support for TrueType (via Apple’s TrueType ras-terizer) is built in to virtually all implementations
of PostScript Level , and is standard in PostScript
. Similarly, Type  rasterizing technology is incor-
porated into Windows 2000, Windows XP, and MacOS X, side-by-side with TrueType and both avors
of OpenType. Indeed, Apple’s new Japanese systemfonts provided with the OS are in OpenType form,
albeit with some Mac-specic additions.
Technical Dierences
e rst dierence between TrueType and PostScript
fonts is their use of dierent sorts of mathematicsto describe their curves. OpenType fonts can have
either kind of outlines, with their respective advan-tages and disadvantages.
Some articles have said that TrueType fontsrequire more points than PostScript, or that they take longer to rasterize because the math is more
complicated. In fact, the math is simpler (quadratics
are simpler than cubics). Although a few shapes take
fewer points in TrueType than in PostScript (a per-fect circle takes twelve points in PostScript vs. eight
in TrueType), in practice the shapes in real-worldfonts all tend to take more points in TrueType, it’s
true that most fonts will end up using more pointsin TrueType, even if the kind of mathematics usedto describe the curves is simpler.
e primary advantage of TrueType over Type 
fonts is the fact that TrueType has the potential for
better hinting. Mind you, PostScript Type  hintshandle a lot: vertical and horizontal features, over-shoots, stem snaps, equal counters, and shallowcurves (“ex”). Several of these can have a thresh-
old pixel size at which they activate.
However, TrueType hints can do all that PostScript
can, and almost anything else, as dened by the very exible instructions of the TrueType language. is
includes controlling diagonals, and moving speciedpoints on the glyph outlines at specic arbitrary sizes
to improve legibility. is ability to move points at
a specic point size allows font production sta tohand-tune the bitmap pattern produced by the out-line at any specied size. Or at least it used to; morerecent divergences in TrueType rasterizing between
dierent players (including Apple and Microso)
make this a little more uncertain.
is dierence in hinting philosophy is really symptomatic of a larger philosophical dierence.
·  ·PostScript uses “dumber” fonts and a “smarter” inter-preter, while TrueType uses relatively smarter fonts
and a dumber interpreter. is means that PostScript
hints tell the rasterizer what features ought to be
controlled, and the rasterizer interprets these usingits own “intelligence” to decide how to do it. ere-fore, when someone upgrades their PostScript inter-preter, the rasterization can be improved.Contrariwise, TrueType puts all the hinting infor-
mation into the font to control exactly how it will
appear when rasterized. Some TT acionados prefer
to call TrueType hints “instructions,” partly in ref-erence to the full-featured nature of the TrueTypeprogramming language, but also to clarify the roleof this information. As Jelle Bosma of Agfa Mono-
type says, “I don’t
at what I want to happen—I
the font what to do.”
us the TrueType font producer has the poten-
tial for very ne control over what happens when the
font is rasterized under dierent conditions. Howev-er, it requires serious eort, expertise, and high-endtools for a font developer to actually take advantageof this greater hinting potential. Also, making majorchanges to the TrueType rasterizer while displaying
existing fonts at their best would seem to be di-
cult to manage.
Until recently, the other advantage of TrueTypewas that it was the font format supported directly 
by the Mac and Windows operating systems, whileType  required an add-on. ese operating systems
will rasterize TrueType fonts for the screen, and sendthem to printers, whether as bitmaps or in some font
format the printer understands.
Scaling either PostScript fonts, or OpenType fonts
with PostScript outlines, on Mac OS 8/9 and Win-dows 95/98/ME, requires the Adobe Type Manager
(ATM) soware, which handles the rasterizing to the
screen, and rasterizes or converts the fonts for non-
PostScript printers. (Technically, Mac users don’trequire ATM to use PostScript fonts on PostScriptprinters, but ATM is required to display the font
accurately on screen at arbitrary sizes.) ATM is freely available : the “Light” version is a free download from
Adobe’s Web site, and also comes with many Adobeapplications.However, in Windows  and XP, and Mac OSX, the PostScript Type  and OpenType CFF support
is built in, just like the TrueType support has long
been. So this former advantage is rapidly vanishing.A smaller, but consistent, advantage of OpenTypeand TrueType has to do with the physical storage of 
the fonts. OpenType and TrueType fonts have all the
data in a single le. PostScript Type  fonts require
two separate les: one contains the character out-lines, and the other contains metrics data (charac-
ter widths and kern pairs). On the Macintosh, MacOS . and earlier requires Type 1 fonts to have notonly the outline font, but also a bit-mapped screenfont in at least one size, which contains the metricsdata. For Windows systems using PostScript, a “PFB”le contains the outlines, while a “PFM” le carriesthe metrics.
e system-independent “AFM” metrics le can be
converted to a Windows PFM le upon installationby ATM, or can be used by a font editing programalong with the outline to create a screen font for theMac that includes any kerning pairs in the original.
On the other hand, PostScript’s pair of les are
oen smaller than TrueType’s single le. e size dif-
ference ranges from only a  savings for an average
font, to as much as a doubling of size for TrueTypefonts that actually have extensive “hinting” instruc-tions.
Also, most high-end output devices use PostScriptas their internal page description language. PostScript
fonts can be sent directly to these devices. It used to
be the case that TrueType fonts were either down-loaded as bitmaps or required that the TrueTyperasterizer be downloaded as a PostScript program,
which slowed printing a bit.
More recently, many PostScript Level  printers,(and all PostScript  printers) have the TrueTyperasterizer in ROM, built in. However, with some
Windows printer drivers the user must change theprinter driver settings in soware to take advantageof this feature (downloading TrueType as “Type ,”which is basically a PostScript wrapper around theTrueType data).

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