What are the Different Types of Font Files?

There are several different types of fonts that make up the majority of the fonts found today. The three main types are OpenType fonts, TrueType fonts, and Postscript (or Type 1) fonts.

Graphic designers need to be aware of the type of fonts they are using because of compatibility issues. OpenType and TrueType are platform independent, but Postscript is not. For instance, if you design a piece for print that relies on an old Postscript font, your printer must have the same operating system (Mac or Windows) to be able to read the font correctly.

With the array of fonts available today, it's common that you will need to send your font files to the printer along with your project files. This is an important step in the design process to ensure you get exactly what you designed.

Let's take a look at the three types of fonts and how they compare to one another.

1
OpenType Font

Dismantled keyboard on pink background.
Chris Parsons/Stone/Getty Images

OpenType fonts are the current standard in fonts. In an OpenType font, both the screen and printer font is contained in a single file (similar to TrueType fonts).

They also allow for an extremely large character set that can number over 65,000 glyphs. This means that a single file can contain additional characters, languages, and figures that might previously have been released as separate files. Many OpenType font files (particularly from Adobe OpenType Library) also include optimized sizes such as caption, regular, subhead, and display.

The file maximizes compression, creating a smaller file size despite all the extra data.

Additionally, single OpenType font files are compatible with both Windows and Mac. These features make OpenType fonts easy to manage and distribute.

OpenType fonts were created by Adobe and Microsoft, and are currently the primary font format available. However, TrueType fonts are still widely used.

File Extension: .otf (contains postscript data). Can also have the .ttf extension if the font is based off a TrueType font.

2
TrueType Font

A TrueType font is a single file that contains both the screen and printer versions of a typeface. TrueType fonts make up the majority of the fonts that have come automatically installed on Windows and Mac operating systems for years.

Created several years after PostScript fonts, TrueType fonts are easy to manage because they are a single file. TrueType fonts allow for extremely advanced hinting, a process that determines which pixels are displayed. As a result, this produces better quality font display at all sizes.

TrueType fonts were originally created by Apple and later licensed to Microsoft, making them an industry standard. 

File Extension: .ttf

3
PostScript Font

A PostScript font, also known as a Type 1 font, has two parts. One part contains the information to display the font on screen and the other part is for printing. When PostScript fonts are delivered to printers, both versions (print and screen) must be provided.

PostScript fonts allow for high-quality, high-resolution printing. They can contain only 256 glyphs, were developed by Adobe, and for a long time considered the professional's choice for printing. PostScript font files are not cross-platform compatible, meaning different versions exist for the Mac and PC.

PostScript fonts have widely been replaced, first by TrueType and then by OpenType fonts. While TrueType fonts worked well alongside PostScript (with TrueType ruling the screen and PostScript ruling print), OpenType fonts combined many of the best features of both and have become a leading format.

It is possible to convert many Postscript fonts to OpenType if needed.

File Extension: Two files required.

  • On Windows, .pfb (Printer Font Binary, the actual font outline) and .pfm (Printer Font Metrics, the metric data such as kerning).
  • On Mac, .lwfn (font outline) and .ffil (font suitcase). 
  • On Linux, .pfa (font file) and .afm (metrics).