Bitstream portable font resources for Web pages

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 20 Feb 1997 11:06:25 -0500 (EST)

[this is forwarded from w3c-font]

This comes from a web design list I subscribe to. Highly topical. The
author is Andrew Joslin <>. If you haven't already, see
also .


I do some of Bitstream's web work so I've had a chance to work with a beta
version of Netscape Communicator with the font embedding technology. Here's
how it works in beta at least:

The web author creates a html document and specifies fonts and sizes using
standard <FONT> tags including SIZE, COLOR etc. Any TrueType or Postscript
fonts installed on the authors system can be used. When the page is ready
for distribution the author "rolls up the fonts" using a web authoring tool
with a font "recorder" built-in. The recorder captures ONLY the characters
used on a specific page so that the entire character set of the font is not
included. A file called a PFR (portable font resource) is created by the
recorder. It contains the outline information for all of the different
fonts in one compressed file.

Where does the PFR go?
The PFR resides on the host web server with the html document and is linked
with a tag (meta I think). When the page is accessed by a browser, in this
case Communicator, the PFR is downloaded with the html file the same way a
GIF or JPEG would be. The viewer sees the typefaces displayed with
anti-aliasing in their browser window without the fonts being installed on
their system.

The PFR is extremely small, a sample document I worked on recently
displayed 7 different fonts on one page (including outline intensive
"picture/pi fonts") the PFR was 28k. The fonts are completely scalable,
using font size tags or cascading style sheets, designers can specify LARGE
point sizes with no bandwidth penalties. This won't eliminate GIF's for
typesetting but will reduce the need for them quite a bit allowing
additional bandwidth reduction.

At 18 point and higher the anti-aliased type looks great, the same or
better than Photoshop anti-aliasing. At smaller point sizes the type starts
to get fuzzy at the edges the same way it does with Photoshop, although
Bitstream is improving on that with special filters for small point sizes.
I'd rather spec known system fonts or specially "tweaked for the screen
fonts" like Verdana for body text (12 point and under) but I'll leave that
for someone else to argue. The web author doesn't have to roll up all the
fonts in a document if they don't want to, they can leave the body text to
the users browser default for instance or specify a font but not include it
in the PFR.

Browser compatibility (degradability)
The PFR is seperate from the text so that UNIX browsers like Lynx or
browsers that can't read PFR's would not lose any of the content of the
page. Also any text formatted with PFR's is searchable, retaining the
qualties of any HTML text.

The outline information in the PFR is encrypted to prevent piracy. Hackers
could conceivably crack the PFR's but they'd have to collect a lot of them
and do major tweakage in Fontographer before they could assemble a maybe
complete character set including redoing hinting, character mapping and
kerning (can you spell get a life?). I think the labor involved and
difficulty in assembling COMPLETE coherent character sets will make font
pirating from PFR's a miserable occupation. Web designers need to recognize
the highly skilled work and long hours involved in creating quality
typefaces and support the artists who gain their livelyhood from this work
by buying type from reputable distributers, type designers and foundries.

I hope this information is helpful, I'm not an official representative of
Bitstream or Netscape, this is all my own opinion based on my experience of
working with the stuff. If you want to see a screen shot of the sample I
worked on (hey, I didn't write the copy) here's the url:


Beware, the screen shot is a an overweight GIF at 69k or so.

Stay tuned as Microsoft and Netscape battle it out to see who will come out
and establish the standard for font embedding. It's here to stay and
Microsoft is going to want to control the market as will Netscape. The
partisans are sharpening their knives, this could get ugly.

-Andrew J.

Todd Fahrner