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Gone are the days when you knew what you were getting when you bought a font -- back when fonts could hold about 225 characters (PostScript Type 1s, for example). Now we're in the era of OpenType fonts, which can contain tens of thousands of characters and even do tricks with these characters, such as automatically substituting one for another.

Some font companies charge more for these tricks. We don't begrudge them the price hike -- it does take more work to extend a font's capabilities. But if a particular OpenType font looks and acts just like an old-fashioned font, you wouldn't want to pay extra for it. Once you understand what OpenType fonts have to offer, you can make sure you buy only fonts that have exactly the features you need.

What Flavor to Choose?

OpenType unites the two main competing font formats: PostScript and TrueType. An OpenType font can hold either TrueType or PostScript font data (that is, the scalable drawings describing all the characters a font contains). TrueType fonts use one technology for these drawings; PostScript fonts use another. From an artistic point of view, there's no reason to choose one over the other, and you can edit both in drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator.

However, there are important differences between the two font types.

Character outlines are filled with pixels for on-screen or print display. Because it's hard to reproduce character shapes faithfully with few pixels (as on computer monitors), instructions called hints are written into fonts to ensure that an optimal arrangement of pixels is displayed.

TrueType fonts use a more sophisticated hinting scheme than PostScript fonts, so fastidious designers of pages that will be displayed on monitors or TVs tend to favor TrueType fonts or OpenType fonts that use TrueType outline data.

Among print designers, a bias against TrueType fonts lingers. This bias is based on problems -- now long gone -- with using TrueType fonts on high-resolution imagesetters. Don't let that outdated prejudice sway your buying decision. For imagesetter output, it doesn't matter which kind of outlines your OpenType fonts contain.

Do You Need a Hint? Font vendors rarely advertise which kind of outline data their OpenType fonts have, but most (including Adobe and Linotype) favor PostScript. If you need to know this information, you'll probably have to ask.

A Question of Character Set

The character sets of the vast majority of OpenType fonts vary little from those of older PostScript and TrueType fonts. Most type foundries simply convert their libraries to the new format with a minimal face-lift; they may also roll auxiliary expert-set fonts into the principal font. For example, when Adobe converted its entire font library to the OpenType standard format, it added fewer than two dozen new characters. OpenType fonts from Linotype Library have similar standard character sets.

Other font vendors are planning a high-end line of fonts with larger character sets. Popular additions include true small capitals, old-style numerals, fractions and fraction-building numerals, and more ligatures. Some plan to add Cyrillic and Greek characters for full Western-language support.

Pick the Right Characters There are a couple of ways to determine which extra characters are in a font. Scour company Web sites for content descriptions. On the Adobe and Linotype sites, for example, icons indicate extras such as titling capitals, proportionally spaced numerals, and ornaments. Also, you can often request that a type foundry send you a brochure or sample book that shows exactly what's in a given font.

Layout Features

OpenType fonts can include instructions that describe various layout features, which allow them to do more than just serve up a character when you press its key. These features are optional and vary from font to font.

Most layout features relate to non-Latin scripts, but the most significant one for Western Mac users controls how a single character can be represented by alternate glyphs. This means that an OpenType font can, for example, automatically provide old-style numerals (1, 2, 3, 4) instead of the familiar, bulkier lining numerals (1, 2, 3, 4). Or the font might substitute small capitals, fractions, or ligatures.

Another layout feature allows an OpenType font to include several sets of character outlines for use at specific size ranges. Smaller type could be heftier for better legibility, while larger type could be more delicately rendered.

Find the Features You Need When you want font-substitution capabilities, search the marketing material for terms such as "automatic character substitution." Fonts with alternate outline designs may be called "opticals."

OpenType and Applications

To benefit from the snappy layout features in some OpenType fonts, your programs must be OpenType savvy. Only a handful of programs fully support OpenType's layout features, and most (InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator) come from Adobe. Quark hasn't pledged such support until QuarkXPress's next major upgrade, probably version 7.0. However, OS X's Character palette grants you access to all OpenType characters, and Font Book can show you the entire character set in a single window (choose Repertoire from the Preview menu).

You Can Avoid Sticker Shock

When you buy a new car, you can read the window sticker to see all the bells and whistles it offers. Unfortunately, font vendors don't yet agree on a way to describe the contents and features of OpenType fonts. Doing your own research requires more effort, but the rewards are worth it.

Stream Flash on the Mac

Because Macromedia's Flash Communication Server MX 1.5 runs only on Windows, Mac users who wanted to stream Flash content that included video had to buy a PC -- that is, until Macromedia teamed up with VitalStream to create the Macromedia Flash Video Streaming Service.

Price depends on several variables. To get a price quote for the service, go to http://www .vitalstream.com/macromedia/streaming-signup.asp. To try before you buy, head to http://www.vitalstream.com/macromedia/streaming-trial.asp. You can also call 800/254-7554 for a quote or a free trial. -- terri stone

New Tool For Packaging

In the past, creating prototypes of three-dimensional packages has been low tech (paper, scissors, and glue) or high tech (expensive, complicated 3-D programs). Either way, it hasn't been quick and easy.

Comnet (http://www.comnet-network.co.jp/eng) hopes to change that with a $379 plug-in for Adobe Illustrator called FoldUp 3D. It's available from ThePowerXChange (877/940-0600, http://www.thepowerxchange.com) and Publishing Perfection (800/782-5974, http://www.publishingperfection.com).

Once you've imported a two-dimensional template or created one in Illustrator, FoldUp 3D lets you fold the template into a three-dimensional object. You can rotate it, try different colors and patterns, and tweak other aspects, such as package openings.

FoldUp 3D runs in OS 9 and OS X, and it's compatible with Illustrator versions 8 through 10 and Illustrator CS. -- terri stone

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