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Embed or Subset Fonts in PDF files

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When generating a PDF, it is possible to include only those characters in a font that were used in the document. This partial font is called a "Font Subset". The threshold for font subsetting is made in the Distiller job options under "Subset fonts below XX%".

The primary advantages of subsetting fonts are that it not only reduces the PDF file size, it RIP's are forced to use the subset font even if the system has the full font available. This compact file has slightly higher integrity that other PDF files, and is less likely to encounter problems with substituted fonts.

Disadvantages of font subsetting are that it "locks" the file from ever being edited later in the production process if necessary, and when merging 2 PDF files with subsetted fonts can create differences among the required resources.

Question: Should I Subset Fonts When Making a PDF?

One of the good things about making PDF files is that you can send them to someone else without having to worry about whether he or she has your fonts, this is providing the PDF has been properly made. You can either embed or subset your fonts.

You might have seen the option to subset fonts when making PDF files either through your layout program or when making the PDF through Acrobat Distiller. So, perhaps you are wondering what does that option do, and will it affect the way my PDF files look on screen?

Answer: File size and file editing by recipient are two things you need to consider when choosing whether or not to subset fonts.

PDF Font Basics
The PDF file format supports the use of the following font formats:
bullet TrueType
bullet Type 1
bullet Type 3
bullet Composite fonts (Type 0): both Type 1 (CIDFontType0) and TrueType (CIDFontType2) are supported.
bullet OpenType: From PDF 1.6 onwards, OpenType fonts can be stored directly in PDF files. In prior releases OpenType fonts are embedded as either Type 1 or TrueType fonts. The ability to embed OpenType directly was added for the forms capabilities of PDF, it offers no immediate advantage for prepress users.

By preference any fonts that are used in a layout are also included in the PDF file itself. This makes sure that the file can be viewed and printed as it was created by the designer. There are two mechanisms to include fonts in a PDF:

bullet Embedding – A full copy of the entire character set of a font is stored in the PDF.
bullet Subsetting – Only those characters that are actually used in the lay-out are stored in the PDF. If the “$” character doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, that character is not included in the font. This means that PDF files with subsetted fonts are smaller than PDF files with embedded fonts. For subsetted fonts, the font name is preceded by 6 random characters and a plus sign.

Embedding Fonts
If you embed the whole font in the PDF, the person on the other end can make changes to it even if he didn't have your font, if he has the full version of Acrobat or another program with the capability of modifying PDFs. The file size of the PDF would also be bigger because you are embedding the entire font.

Subsetting Fonts
If you subset the font, the person who receives your PDF would need to have your same font in order to make changes to your PDF. The file size of the PDF would also be smaller because you are embedding only part of a font. When you subset a font, you usually just embed the characters you are using (obviously it depends on how you are subsetting your font). That's why somebody on another computer would have to have your same font in order to make changes.

Modification vs. View/Print
Don't get confused though: I am talking about how somebody else will be able to modify your PDF, not about how they can view it or print it. If you embedded your fonts properly and your fonts are not corrupted, then whether you subset the font or not will not affect the way somebody else can view or print your PDF.

Quick Reference

  • Full Font Embedding = Larger file size
    Recipient doesn't need the same font to view or edit the file
  • Subset Font Embedding = Smaller file size
    Recipient doesn't need the same font to view but does need the same font installed in order to edit the file
  • No Font Embedding = Smallest file size
    Recipient needs to have same fonts installed

In our PDF Compressor product, you can use -subsetfonts parameter to subset fonts in PDF file,

pdfcompressor.exe -subsetfonts C:\in.pdf C:\out.pdf

You can use following command line to embed all fonts into PDF file,

pdfcompressor.exe -embedallfonts C:\in.pdf C:\out.pdf

You can use following command line to embed all Windows fonts and into PDF file, and subset fonts to reduce PDF file size,

pdfcompressor.exe -winfont -embedallfonts -subsetfonts -compressfonts C:\in.pdf C:\out.pdf

Helpful links:
PDF Compressor Command Line Options
What is JBIG2?
What is JPEG2000? What is JPX/JP2 format?
Reducing the File Size of Scanned PDFs using Adobe Acrobat
PDF/A: PDF Designed for Archival
The PDF/A-1b standard (ISO 19005-1:2005) is a subset of the PDF standard, designed for long-term archival of documents.
PDF Standards and Your Business
PDF/A: PDF for Archving
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