Converting Text to Outline
by Ilene Strizver
Today’s design software makes it both possible and easy to convert type to outline. In essence, converting to outline means turning text into a graphic image. Once text has been converted, the actual font software is no longer necessary for viewing and printing that part of a document (or the entire document if all the text has been converted).
Like any graphic, the type in a layout that has been converted to outline can be resized, colorized and printed. However, because the type is no longer a font, after conversion it is extremely difficult (if not, in a practical sense, impossible) to edit the text itself.
Outline conversion can be a solution to the kinds of font problems that crop up when you send a file to an outside printer or a co-worker — like those surprise appearances by the dreaded Courier (or other default font) when the file’s recipients don’t have the necessary fonts installed! Even so, conversion is not always advisable. Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether or not to convert.
Reasons to convert:
- Converting display type to outline makes it easier to do custom “type tailoring,” such as overlapping characters.
- Converting to outline is necessary if you want to add color to only parts of a character, such as the counter of an ‘o’ or the dot of the ‘i’, or to sections of an ornament, border, or image character.
- Converting type to outline makes the type slightly heavier, which is most noticeable in text. Use this effect to your advantage when you want to thicken type for production reasons, such as beefing up serifs and thin strokes for tinted type, or when reversing type out of dark backgrounds. Converting to outline also helps “punch up” light type for web images.
- Converting to outline can be helpful if you need to repurpose the layout in other applications. This is especially useful for logos, nameplates and the like, which will be widely used by people who may not have all the original fonts available to them.
When not to convert:
- Resist the temptation to convert all text to outline when sending a job to the printer. Last-minute changes to the text will be nearly impossible to execute without going back to the unconverted file.
- Don’t convert unless you don’t mind gaining weight! As mentioned above, converting type to outline makes it slightly heavier. The smaller the type, the more noticeable this change will be, especially in type designs with thin strokes or a marked weight contrast. Even if you don’t mind this slight distortion in color, remember that converted text will not match type that has not been converted to outline.
- It may be stating the obvious, but if you do convert a layout to outline, always keep the original unconverted file! Even after everyone involved has signed off on a job, typos can discovered and last-minute corrections to copy may show up. Be prepared.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.