A word about font encoding

Font encoding connects keystrokes to font characters.

Font encoding is one of those sortof geeky terms that often gets thrown about among the font saavy. If you’ve worked with fonts for any amount of time then you will almost certainly have heard about font encoding. And though you may have heard about font encoding, what it actually  means may remain fuzzy to you.

“Font encoding” (or “Character encoding” as it is sometimes called) is basically a system of numbers (or “codes”) used by computers to know what character to show when you type a given key on your keyboard. Each character has a code, and each key on your keyboard has a code.

It’s a little like Morse Code – each letter in the English alphabet is represented by a specific series of dot and dashes (i.e. a code). But what would happen if I needed to telegraph someone in Korea using the Korean language? How would the dots and dashes get translated into something intelligible? in the same way, when I type on a computer keyboard using a Korean language font, how does the computer know what character(s) to show? Font encoding makes that sort of scenario possible.

Broadly speaking, font encoding utilizes a system of character maps that connect character codes to keyboard keys. using this system, computers can know what character to show in any language. As you can imagine, there are many differnt font encodings – Western Europe, Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, etc. As such, a font encoding should match the keyboard of the computer the font is being used on.

When the font encoding does not match the keys of it’s host computer, then you have font problems. Wrong characters show up with wrong keystrokes.

Usually this is not an issue – but with the movement towards OpenType as a font standard on Windows and Mac, it is a consideration when converting fonts between formats. Some older formats support only older English encodings, and others can handle many differnt encodings in a single font file.

FontXChange for Macintosh converts fonts to many formats (inculding OpenType) and handles font encoding automatically for you.

If, however, you would like to specify a certain font encoding when converting fonts then you can use the Preferences window in FontXChange to set the preferred encoding.


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