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OTF vs. TTF Fonts: Which Is Better? What’s the Difference?

OTF vs. TTF comparisons generally favor OTF. However, the comparison is not that straightforward.

If you’ve ever played around with typefaces or fonts, chances are you’ve asked yourself, “What’s the difference between OTF and TTF?” when deciding to download fonts for your system. Why is something as simple as a few pixels on the screen so complicated?

Fear not, MakeUseOf has you covered. Today, it is time to sit down and analyze some of the key differences between OTF and TTF fonts. Read on to discover the differences, which font format is better, and when it’s appropriate to use one over the other.


What Is a TrueType Font (TTF)?

Let’s start with TTF because it came first. Well, that’s not entirely true. PostScript pre-dates TTF by several years, but it’s not incredibly common today, so we’re going to skip it for the sake of relevance.

TTF was a joint effort by Apple and Microsoft in the late 1980s. The purpose was simple: they needed a format that both Windows and Mac could use natively, as well as a format that could be read by default by most printers. TrueType Fonts fit the bill.

The package containing the font included both the screen and the printer font data in a single file. This made it easy to install new fonts and served as an early cross-platform font format usable by most consumer devices.

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What Is an OpenType Font (OTF)?

OTF was also a joint effort, except this time between Adobe and Microsoft. Much like TTF, OTF was cross-platform and included the display and printer font data in a single package, but that’s where the similarities end.

OTF extended TTF by offering many capabilities that the latter wasn’t capable of providing. For example, OTF featured a format that allowed for the storage of up to 65,000 characters.

Obviously, there are only 26 characters in the alphabet (A-Z), ten numbers (0-9), and a handful of extras, like punctuation, currency signs, and various others (@#%^&*, etc.). However, this was especially beneficial to font design and creation.


Since the format offered additional storage for characters that far exceeded the number of characters that the average user would ever need, designers had the ability to add extras like:

  • Ligatures
  • Glyphs
  • Small caps
  • Alternate characters
  • Old-style figures

Previously, these additions had to be added as additional fonts using TTF. With OTF, they could reside in the same file as the default typeface and remain easily accessible to designers and the like.

The Differences Between OTF and TTF

So, onto the main question: what is the difference between OFT and TTF?

For designers, both amateur and professional, the main useful difference between OTF and TTF is in the advanced typesetting features. In addition, OTF features embellishments like ligatures and alternate characters—also known as glyphs—that exist to give designers more options to work with.


For most of us non-designers, the additional options will likely go unused.

In other words, OTF is indeed the “better” of the two due to the additional features and options, but for the average computer user, those differences don’t really matter.

You can’t, for example, just decide to use a different version of an “F” in Facebook or embellish common connecting letters like “TH” to make them look like ornate typography. Those that use these will typically do so in Adobe Creative Suite and for the sole purpose of making subtle tweaks that make text look better for print or on the web, or perhaps to turn their handwriting into a unique font.

Let’s flesh things out by looking at three of the most common additions to OTF packages.

Glyphs

Glyphs are alternate characters that you can change to when you’re looking for something stylistically different from the default. Traditional characters might look something like this:

For example, if you need a different “A,” you could elect to use a glyph that displays an “A” with different stylistic qualities or one that is used as the default in other alphabets and languages. For example:

Ligatures

Ligatures are strictly a stylistic addition. These are most common with script fonts, but they appear in nearly all high-end packages. Cheaper fonts, or those fonts you can find for free online, are less likely to have many glyphs, ligatures, or other extras.

Ligatures are typically combinations of two different letters that meld together to become a stylistic two-in-one entity. When letters are combined like this, they typically end up with embellished designs or adjusted spacing between the two.

Alternate Characters

Alternate characters are just what they sound like: alternatives to non-alphanumeric characters. Think of them as glyphs for the non-number and non-letter characters in a font set. They allow designers to select a stylistically different version of the characters they want to use.


Let’s look at some examples. A typical character might look something like this:

While the alternate version will look slightly different, like this:

For most of us, the difference is minimal, and we probably won’t care all that much which version to use. However, if you’re laying out text for a magazine, these small changes can be the difference between good and bad design.

What Is WOFF?

The Web Open Font Format is a little different in that it is a container for OTF and TTF, compressed and packaged with other information for use on the web. WOFF files are useful when a website wants to use a custom font that the user is unlikely to have stored on their machine. Instead, the web developer can store a WOFF file containing a compressed version of the OTF or TTF, along with licensing information, compatibility information, and so on.

What makes WOFF files useful is that they’re compressed, reducing their overall size. When a user loads a page that uses a WOFF file, theoretically, the user should experience reduced latency.

The WOFF format was originally developed by Mozilla, Opera, and Microsoft, though the original version was superseded by WOFF2 in 2018. WOFF2 offers around 30 percent better compression than WOFF and is supported by all major browsers.

OTF vs. TTF Fonts: Which Is Better?

OTF is undoubtedly the more robust of the two options. It has more features intended to allow typesetters and designers flexibility to provide incremental changes designed to improve the overall look of a piece.

That said, for typical end-users who probably aren’t using most of these features anyway, it’s not going to make a bit of difference. If you have the option, OTF is always the better of the two. But if you’re in a pinch and can’t find the OTF version of a font, there’s nothing wrong with TTF.




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