Document Font Embedding

Fonts have been used to create and enhance published documents for hundreds of years. With the onset of computer publishing, fonts were distributed as part of the operating systems to enable document creation and publication. When type designers, foundries and software companies began offering additional fonts for the electronic publishing market they were typically licensed for use on workstations.

At the beginning of the electronic publishing revolution font users and font creators had to tackle the issue of fonts needing to be passed to service bureaus, print shops, and within companies to facilitate editing and printing of content. Document font embedding was seen as a solution to many of these issues. If fonts could be embedded within document files, then loose fonts would not have to be shared between users and companies.

Adobe introduced Acrobat and the Portable Document Format (PDF) and many font vendors modified their EULAs to allow document font embedding for print and preview purposes. Microsoft, working with the font community, defined embedding permissions for the TrueType font format (these definitions were carried across to OpenType). Embedding permissions are encoded within the font file itself and are described in some detail below.

Many applications, including Microsoft Office (Windows versions) and Acrobat Distiller respect the embedding permissions. However, in many cases embedding permissions need to be looked at alongside the written EULA, which may include details on what you can and can’t do with the document containing the embedded fonts.

Embedding permissions: what they are and what they’re not

The “fsType” bit in a TrueType and OpenType font allows the type designer/font owner to indicate embedding licensing rights. There are four primary embedding permission settings:

  • Restricted License: This font cannot be modified or exchanged or embedded in any manner without first obtaining permission of the legal owner.
  • Preview & Print: This font may be embedded and temporarily loaded with a document on a remote computer. No editing of a document is allowed.
  • Editable: This font may be embedded and temporarily loaded with a document on a remote computer, and the document may be edited and the changes saved.
  • Installable: This font can be embedded and permanently loaded on a remote computer for use with the document. The user of the remote computer acquires the same rights and obligations as the original purchaser of the font.

In addition to the above settings, there is the option for a font to be fully embedded (the entire character set), or a subset of the characters (to save memory).

More information about the fsType bit can be found in the OpenType specification.

What is a “document” and what is an “application”?

It is important to point out that there is a distinction between embedding fonts into documents and embedding or redistributing fonts with applications. Although OpenType does not define “document” Ascender Corp uses the following definitions.

  • “Application” means any software program which allows an End-User to create a Document or file or to change the selection of fonts used in any Document or file, including but not limited to server pages, web pages, Documents and/or web-based Documents. For the avoidance of doubt, an Application would allow an End-User to change a font used in a Document from Arial to Times New Roman.
  • “Document” means a computer file that is not an executable file and contains data for use by Applications in which an End-User is not permitted to change the selection of fonts independent of an Application.

For more information see Shipping Fonts with Applications


Please Contact Webtype if you have any questions on font licensing or to discuss your particular font needs.