OpenType is the current, professional-standard font format that has succeeded the Postscript and TrueType formats. First introduced in 1997, OpenType incorporates elements of both legacy formats while addressing many of their shortcomings.
There are several advantages to OpenType fonts.
OpenType fonts are completely cross-platform compatible and the same single font file can be used on either Macintosh OS X or recent Windows operating systems. (For information about OT support in older systems, see our Font Formats page.)
Expanded Character Sets
Whereas the previous formats were limited to 256 characters, OpenType fonts are capable of accommodating up to 65,535 characters. As a result, variant forms and alternates — like small capitals, different figure styles, or stylistic alternates — can now coexist in a single font, instead of being separated into several different fonts.
A larger character set also opens the possibility for including additional language support — like Central European accents, for example — in a single font.
Full character sets are shown on the Characters tab of each font family page.
OpenType Layout Features
OpenType is a so-called “smart” font format and may contain OT Layout Features, bits of programming that provide the user with integrated access to certain typographic refinements — like small caps, alternate figure styles, or stylistic variants — without changing fonts or disrupting the underlying text encoding.
Any application can use OpenType fonts, in the most basic sense. However, a font’s OT layout features may not all be accessible or supported in all applications. Professional design applications, like Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress, support the broadest range of typographic features. Other graphic applications, like Illustrator or Photoshop, may support fewer. Word processing and office applications, like Microsoft Word, tend not to support many discretionary typographic features. Please consult your specific software’s user guide for information about accessing OpenType layout features.
Not all Font Bureau OpenType fonts will necessarily contain extra characters or extended features. Older font families may still have separate Small Caps fonts and minimal features, for instance. Over time, though, new releases and updated FB fonts will take fuller advantage of the capabilities of OpenType.