DescriptionA font file format with near universal support across operating systems and applications
AvailabilityIndustry and ISO standard


Throughout the history of digital typography, the evolution of font formats has seen periods of intense competition, often referred to as the ‘font format wars’. Amidst the battles, one format has risen above all others and has remained a pillar in the industry for over twenty-five years: OpenType. Its longevity is a testament to its flexibility, innovation, and constant adaptation, making it the near-universal standard font format of today.

The History and Evolution of OpenType

OpenType was developed jointly by Microsoft and Adobe Systems in the mid-1990s as a successor to their earlier font formats, TrueType Open and PostScript Type 1/CFF, respectively. Their initial goal was to create a format that could be used equally well on all platforms, simplifying font use for both developers and users.

Over the years, OpenType has evolved through various extensions and enhancements, but crucially, it has always maintained backwards and forwards compatibility. This ensures that fonts created to earlier versions of the OpenType standard can still be used in newer software, and that newer OpenType fonts can still be used in older software – a feature that is vital in a design industry marked by both legacy requirements and constant innovation.

Advantages of OpenType

One of the reasons OpenType has managed to stay relevant is the advantages that it offers. OpenType fonts are single-file fonts, meaning that one file contains all the font’s information, including glyphs, metrics, and layout features. This significantly improves upon earlier formats which required multiple files to deliver the same information. A single-file format simplifies font management, making it easier for users to install, delete, and transfer fonts.

OpenType also fully supports Unicode, and a single font file can contain over 65,000 glyphs, making it an ideal format for multilingual typesetting. This expanded character capacity opened the door for true international typesetting and communication using diverse writing systems.

OpenType as an Industry and ISO Standard

OpenType's widespread adoption led to it becoming an ISO standard. In 2007 OpenType was adopted as ISO/IEC 14496-22 (where it is known as the Open Font Format), further cementing it as the font format of choice in digital typography. As with most standards, the ISO version lags behind the actively developed standard maintained by Microsoft.

Having an industry-standard format offers considerable benefits. It fosters consistency, compatibility, and interoperability across different systems and software, and it ensures a measure of stability in the face of rapid technological advancements, providing a solid foundation upon which innovation can be built.

File Extension

OpenType font files can have either a .otf or a .ttf file extension. This can cause confusion as .ttf was also the file extension for TrueType font files, and users can assume that what they have been given is a TrueType file not an OpenType file. In practice, the .ttf extension is used for OpenType fonts when they are also TrueType compatible, allowing for easy installation on legacy systems. You can spot that it is, in fact, an OpenType font file by the O in its icon.

What About The Web?

There are three main font formats that have been used on the web since the early 2000s, EOT, WOFF, and WOFF2. It might be tempting to think that OpenType has clearly lost out on the web, but the opposite is true. All three of these formats are data compression schemes specifically for OpenType files, which allow for faster file transfers on the web – where file size is the most important metric. Each of these formats is decompressed by the browser into an OpenType font ready for use on the page.

The Reign of OpenType in the Font Industry

The journey of OpenType, from its inception to becoming the near-universal standard font format, is a testament to its design and adaptability. Despite the many other font formats that have emerged over the years, OpenType's dominance remains unchallenged. It has emerged victorious from the ‘font format wars’.

OpenType continues to reign supreme in the font industry. Its rich feature set, combined with its adaptability and widespread acceptance as an industry and ISO standard, makes it an indispensable tool in digital typography. Whether you’re a print designer crafting precise layouts or a web developer seeking smooth, cross-platform font performance, OpenType delivers. And it looks set to continue doing so for many years to come.

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