Have you ever received a PowerPoint file and the text didn’t look quite right? Perhaps the font looks like Calibri, but when text is selected the font picker shows a different font name? Or conversely, you’ve sent someone a file and they report that there are odd word breaks or that text is wrapping beyond the slide area.

Font substitution is often ugly and can change the tone or impression of a beautifully crafted presentation. It’s promising to see that Microsoft is making strides in this area via their font service.

Cloud fonts refresher (Office fonts, Office Cloud fonts)

As I stated in my earlier post, Cloud fonts (aka Office fonts, or whatever Microsoft is calling them today. Office fonts = Cloud fonts. New name, same fonts.) are hosted in the cloud by Microsoft and are available to Microsoft 365 subscribers. When you apply one of these Office Cloud fonts in your PowerPoint file (or Office document), Microsoft downloads the font in the background and applies it to your text. And when someone else views your file, the same is true on their end.* Any missing cloud fonts will automatically download from the font service and text renders as it was authored, without embedding. You have hundreds of fonts to choose from when creating new content. By choosing Office Cloud fonts, you can share files with others and not worry about font substitution.*

*Cloud fonts are available to Microsoft 365 subscribers. When someone opens a presentation with Microsoft Office 365, Office 2019 or 2021, PowerPoint Online, or PowerPoint Mobile, missing fonts will automatically download from the font service. The file renders the same as it was authored, without embedding.

What are compatibility fonts and why are they supported?

Microsoft is now supporting additional fonts via this same cloud-delivery service to help maintain file fidelity on the receiving end. These additional fonts are called “compatibility fonts” and include many popular open-source font families like Lato, Open Sans, Oswald, and Roboto, just to name a few. Many other fonts are supported, but there is no definitive list as the service is still growing. To be clear, these fonts are automatically downloaded on the receiving end when a file is opened on another system. The intent is to prevent font substitution—helping to ensure files look the same when opened on another system or device—rather than providing these fonts for use in creating new content. Microsoft is not offering these fonts for you to download.

How do compatibility fonts work beyond my system?

What does this mean for PowerPoint templates and shared PowerPoint files, exactly? I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that your company brand specifies the Lato font family for typography. Lato is an open-source font family and readily available for download from Google Fonts and other free font sites. You download and install TTF files for the styles you’ll need, and perhaps your IT department pushes out the fonts company-wide. You then construct and distribute a new template with Lato Black and Lato Regular defined as the theme fonts. Many presentations are subsequently created with this new template and all of them include Lato fonts.

Now what happens when files are shared beyond your company? PPTX files are saved (without font embedding), stored and shared in a variety of ways: via SharePoint, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other onsite storage; attached to an email; or shared via another method of file transfer. The files can be opened with the desktop app, PowerPoint Online, or PowerPoint Mobile. In all of these scenarios, Lato fonts are automatically downloaded and the slides will look as intended with no font substitution. (Note: this does not mean that when you view a file directly on Dropbox that all fonts will render properly. Open the file stored on Dropbox with PowerPoint Online or desktop, and the fonts will be applied.)

“The text looks strange” or “This font kerning is messed up!”

It can take a beat for cloud service fonts to render properly. When someone opens a file with missing fonts, text kerning or spacing might look odd while the fonts are being downloaded. Sometimes you’ll see the text rendered in Calibri before it switches to the proper font. The download can take a second, a few seconds, or longer depending on connection speeds. If it seems to be taking too long for missing fonts to apply to an open presentation, try closing and restarting PowerPoint. That can help kickstart the new fonts into gear. If the text never looks right, or spacing always appears odd, then your font is probably not supported.

How can I find out if my open-source font is supported?

Test. Test. Test. You have to test it out or take the risk of substitution. It’s always best to test your fonts early in the process, before you construct and distribute a template or presentation file. Following our example, if you will be using Lato fonts then you should have the fonts installed on your system. Build a test file with the fonts and styles needed, such as: regular, italic, bold, and bold italic. Include a slide with an active text box for each style, along with a picture of how each style should appear. Save your PPTX file (without embedding fonts).

Screen capture of Lato font test

Now you can test that file a few different ways. The easiest method is via PowerPoint Online.

  1. Upload the file to OneDrive (or Sharepoint) and open in PowerPoint Online.
    1. Check to see if the active text matches the picture of the text.
    2. Select the active text, open the font picker and hover on the font name applied to that active text.
    3. If you see an (i) icon to the left of the font name, hover on the icon and read the tool tip.
    4. If the tool tip reads “Compatibility font” then you know it will be supported on other systems.
    5. If you see a (!) warning triangle icon to the left of the font name, the tool tip will read “Missing font” and you know the font is not supported and will be substituted.
    6. Click on either icon to open the task pane to see more font information.

Other methods to test your file:

    1. Set up a test system or virtual machine without any additional fonts installed. Open the PPTX file on this clean setup, give it a beat to download any fonts, and then check to see if the active text matches the picture of the text.
    2. Send it to a friend or colleague who can confirm that the fonts have never been installed on their system. Have them take a screen capture of your test slide so you can see the results.
    3. Upload to OneDrive and then open the file on your phone with the PowerPoint Mobile app.

    Learn more about the Modern Font Picker in Office

Microsoft is making many improvements to the font experience in Word Online and PowerPoint Online. The modern font picker shows your fonts grouped into families, has flyout menus with all available font styles, and it includes sections for most recently used fonts, pinned fonts, and Office fonts. You can hide sections, as you wish.

Fonts may also include an information icon (an i inside of a circle) and when you hover on the icon it will display more information such as “Theme font” or “Embedded font” and “Compatibility font.” When you click the same icon, the task pane reveals more information “About this font.”  (During your font testing, if you see “Compatibility font” then you know the font will display properly for others without embedding it.)

I want to shout this one: we finally have a warning for missing fonts! If a font is not available, you’ll see a yellow warning icon (! Inside of a triangle) that will display “Missing font” when you hover on the icon. Clicking this icon opens the task pane with more information about missing fonts. This explains that your fonts will be substituted when viewed by others who haven’t installed them.

I’m impressed with all the new features in the font picker and hope they come to the desktop app soon!

Read more about the Modern Font Picker in Office.