Using TrueType fonts with pdfTeX

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A closer look at TrueType fonts and pdfTeX

The most common outline format for TeX is Type 1. The TrueType format is slightly different from Type 1, and getting it right requires some extra work. In particular, it is important to understand how TrueType handles encoding and glyph names (or more precisely, glyph identity).

We start with Type 1, since most TeX users are more familiar with it. In the Type 1 format glyphs are referred to by names (such as /A, /comma, and so on). Each glyph is identified by its name; so, given a glyph name, it is easy to tell whether or not a Type 1 font contains that glyph. Encoding with Type 1 is therefore simple: for each number $n$ in the range 0 to 255, an encoding tells us the name of the glyph that should be used to render (or display) the charcode $n$.

With TrueType the situation is not that simple, since TrueType does not use names to refer to glyphs, but uses indices instead. This means that each glyph is identified by its index, not its name. The indices are numbers that differ from font to font. The TrueType format handles encodings by a mechanism called cmap, which (roughly) consists of tables mapping from character codes to glyph indices. A TrueType font can contain one or more such tables (each corresponding to an encoding).

Since glyph names are not strictly necessary for TrueType, they are not always available inside a TrueType font. Given a TrueType font, one of the following cases may arise.

  • The font contains correct names for all its glyphs. This is the ideal situation and is often the case for high-quality latin fonts.
  • The font contains wrong name for all or most of its glyphs. This is the worst situation that often happens with poor-quality fonts, or fonts converted from other formats.
  • The font contains no glyph names at all. Newer versions of Palatino fonts by Linotype (v1.40, coming with Windows XP) are examples of this.
  • the font contains correct names for most glyphs, and no names or wrong names for a few glyphs. This happens from time to time.

One may wonder why things can be so complex with glyph names in TrueType. The reason is that Type 1 fonts rely on correct names to work properly. If a glyph has a wrong name, it gets noticed immediately. As mentioned before, TrueType does not use names for encoding. So, if glyph names in a TrueType font are wrong or missing, it is usually not a big deal and often goes unnoticed.

The potential problem with using TrueType in pdfTeX is that we are so used to the Type 1 encoding convention, which relies on correct glyph names. Furthermore, most font tools rely on this convention and all encoding files (.enc files) use glyph names. But, as explained above, glyph names in TrueType are not very reliable. If we encounter a font that does not have correct names for its glyphs, we need to do some more work.

If glyph names are not correct, we need a better way to refer to a glyph in TrueType fonts, rather than using names. The most reliable way seems to be via Unicode: most TrueType fonts provide a correct mapping from Unicode value to glyph index. This is something we can count on, since it is required for a TrueType font to be usable.

From version 1.21a pdfTeX supports the naming convention uniXXXX in encoding (.enc) files. This only makes sense with TrueType fonts, of course. When pdfTeX sees for example /uni12AB, it will

  • read the table <unicode> -> <glyph-index> from the font,
  • look up the value '12AB' in the table, and if found then pick the relevant glyph index.

ttf2afm also does the same lookup when it sees names like uni12AB.

Now let us review the minimal steps to get a TrueType font working with pdfTeX:

  • generate an afm from TrueType using ttf2afm. Example:
ttf2afm -e 8r.enc -o times.afm times.ttf
  • convert afm to tfm using whatever tool suitable: afm2tfm, fontinst, afm2pl, etc. Example:
afm2tfm times.afm -T 8r.enc
  • create the needed map entry for the font. Example:
\pdfmapline{+times TimesNewRomanPSMT <8r.enc <times.ttf}
\font\f=times \f Hello this is Times.

The above deals with the easiest case: when glyph names are correct. Now let us consider a font where we cannot rely on glyph names: Palatino by Linotype version 1.40, for example. Let us assume that we want to use the T1 encoding with this font. So we put pala.ttf and ec.enc in the current directory before proceeding further.

The first attempt would be:

ttf2afm -e ec.enc -o pala.afm pala.ttf

However, since the names in ec.enc are not available in pala.ttf (in fact there are no names inside the font), we get a bunch of warnings:

Warning: ttf2afm (file pala.ttf): no names available in ''post'' table, print
glyph names as indices
Warning: ttf2afm (file pala.ttf): glyph ''grave'' not found

and the output pala.afm will contain no names at all. Instead of glyph names in ec.enc, we get weird things like index123. And glyphs are not encoded:

C -1 ; WX 832 ; N index10 ; B 24 -3 807 689 ;

We try again, this time without giving an encoding:

ttf2afm -o pala.afm pala.ttf

Since this time we did not ask ttf2afm to re-encode the output afm, we get fewer warnings:

Warning: ttf2afm (file pala.ttf): no names available in ''post'' table, print
glyph names as indices

and the afm output is the same as in the previous attempt. This is not very useful, since there is little we can do with names like index123.

So we try to go with Unicode:

ttf2afm -u -o pala.afm pala.ttf

This time we get a different bunch of warnings, for instance:

Warning: ttf2afm (file pala.ttf): glyph 108 have multiple encodings (the
first one being used): uni0162 uni021A

At first sight it is hard to understand what tfm2afm is telling us with this message. So let us recap the connection between glyph name, glyph index and Unicode value:

  • TrueType glyphs are identified internally by index.
  • <glyph-name> -> <glyph-index> is optional, and not always reliable. Likewise <glyph-index> -> <glyph-name>.
  • <unicode> -> <glyph-index> is (almost) always present and reliable.
  • <glyph-index> -> <unicode> is not always reliable, and need not even be a mapping, since there can be more than one Unicode value mapping to a given glyph index. Given a glyph index, there may be no corresponding Unicode value, or there may be more than one. If there is none, the glyph index will be used (index123, for example). Now suppose that there are more than one, as in the case above (where 0162 and 021A are both mapped to glyph index 108). We have asked ttf2afm to print glyphs by Unicode, and ttf2afm cannot know for sure which value to print in this case. Hence it outputs the first Unicode value and issues the warning.

Now if all we want is to use pala.ttf with T1 encoding, probably the easiest way is to create a new enc file ec-uni.enc from ec.enc, with all glyph names replaced by Unicode values. (This simple approach won't handle ligatures; see below.) This can be done easily for example by a script that reads the AGL (Adobe Glyph List, available at and converts all glyph names to Unicode. Assuming that we have ec-uni.enc, the steps needed to create the tfm are as follows.

ttf2afm -u -e ec-uni.enc -o pala-t1.afm pala.ttf
afm2pl pala-t1.afm

We could then use the font as follows.

\pdfmapline{+pala-t1 <ec-uni.enc <pala.ttf}
This is a test of font Palatino Regular in T1 encoding.

If we want to do more than just using pala.ttf with T1 encoding, for example processing the afm output with fontinst for a more complex font setup, then we must proceed slightly differently. Having an afm file where all glyph names are converted to uniXXXX form is not very useful for fontinst. Instead, we need an afm file with AGL names to use with fontinst. We can do this as follows.

  • Generate an afm with glyph names in form uniXXXX.
ttf2afm -u -o pala.afm pala.ttf
  • Convert pala.afm to pala-agl.afm, so that pala-agl.afm contains AGL names only. Again, a simple script can do that.
  • Process pala-agl.afm by fontinst as needed.
  • In the final stage, when we already have the tfm's from fontinst and friends, plus the map entries (generated by fontinst, or created manually), we need to replace the encoding by its counterpart with uniXXXX names. For example, if fontinst tell us to add a line saying
pala-agl-8r <8r.enc <pala.ttf

to our map file, then we need to change that line to

pala-agl-8r <8r-uni.enc <pala.ttf

where 8r-uni.enc is derived from 8r.enc by converting all glyph names to the uniXXXX form.

The encoding files coming with TeX Gyre fonts cover almost everything a typical TeX user might need. Those encodings have been converted to the uniXXXX form for your convenience and are available at http:/\!/ and are named like q-ec-uni.enc etc.

Another problem that happens from time to time is the case when we are totally sure that a glyph exists inside a font but we don't get that glyph in the output of pdfTeX. The likely reason of this problem is that the glyph is referenced by different names at various places during the process of creating support for the font, like tfm, vf, enc or map files. For example the names dcroat, dbar, dslash and dmacron can all refer to the same glyph in a TrueType font. The origin of a glyph name can come from several sources:

  • the name comes from the font itself.
  • the name comes from a predefined scheme called the standard Macintosh ordering of glyphs. Unfortunately the TrueType specifications by various companies (Apple, Microsoft and Adobe) are not consistent in this scheme and there are small differences; one example is dmacron vs dslash.
  • the name comes out after conversion <unicode> -> <glyph-name> according to AGL.

In such situation, probably the easiest and safest way to get the glyph we want is to use a font editor like FontForge, look into the font to find out the Unicode for the glyph and then use the uniXXXX form to instruct ttf2afm and pdfTeX to pick up that glyph.

Another way to get a problematic TrueType font to work with pdfTeX is simply to convert the font to Type 1 format using FontForge. While it sounds like a quick hack, it can be a simple and effective workaround.