Surviving Template Design 1: Font style linking

Here is what I really wanted to teach you…how to build a super swell template for your team in PowerPoint. But I sat down to write an outline of all the things you needed to know and the list kept growing, and growing and growing. So ya know what I’m going to do, I’m going to divide this up in little bite size chunks. Tasty little morsels of how to survive template design. And we are going to start with the something that I think will make every designer, typography buff and art director tremble with fear…font style linking in Office.

So lets be honest, you could read about font style linking somewhere else. But many of the sites that cover style linking are older and I’ve noticed many are AWOL. You can still check out the basic info from Adobe, but even that is dated. Most importantly, I don’t think the available sites speak to designers and I’m not even sure they present a solution for the average designer.

So here are the basics: most fonts (especially the well formed ones) have a bit of encoding in them that links the basic weights together. So imagine you are using Time New Roman, and you want to emphasize the word Bold. You hit the “B” button, and Times New Roman Bold screams from the sidelines “Tag me in coach!” Your application switches the fonts for you, and there is none of that pesky fake bold or italic. Great concept right? It works in just about any application, and your savvier apps (think Adobe) will refuse to fake bold or italic a font that doesn’t have a style linked partner.

Easy right? Yeah…not so much. Window’s font menus looks at this tag in and says “oh look—a font family, you don’t want all those pesky fonts in your font menu, now do you? Here, let me remove some of those.” Next thing you know; you have no bold, italic or bold italic fonts in your font menu. To the average Microsoft user, that’s fine. Clean, simple font menus.  So for a family of 4 weights, you get one logical font in the font menu and you use your “B” and “I” buttons to enable the others. All is right with the world…but here comes the Catch 22. For a family with 26 weights, you might see only see 7–8 weights in the menu. Without a thorough knowledge of the available weights AND how they are style linked, you are now completely in the dark. You have no idea what is missing and what to choose. Why-oh-why Windows can’t you just nest your font families like any other respectable application? But, font menus are another post…we are here to talk about templates, remember?

So, here you are designing your company’s new ppt template on a mac. You decide you want the headlines to be Helvetica Neue Lt Std 95 Heavy, you choose the font and go about your business. A few days later, you open your file in Windows to test it and your font is…missing! So the take away here is you have two choices: design everything on Windows and just take a stab at which font you should be using; or do a bit of research, have a plan and then use which ever platform you want.

So here is that solution I promised. There are some really techy ways to figure out the tags, but since this is something you won’t need that often…I suggest you go window shopping. Here is what ya do; take a quick visit to most font stores, find the weight in question and check the tech specs. Each site’s verbiage will differ, so be prepared to use your powers of deduction. Most often you are looking for the family name and an indication of whether to hit bold, italic etc. The key here is the family name, it isn’t always obvious (like to get to black, you choose medium??)

Image of tech specs from

Tech Specs for Helvetica Neue Lt Std 95 Heavy at

Now that you have that concept under your belt, go back to your ppt, and change all your fonts (and font themes) to the correct font family and press that big ole “B” button. This way no matter which platform your ppt is opened on you have beautiful fonts. That’s it. The basics are that simple.

Extra credit:

  1. Adobe has its own font management/engine for its apps. So Adobe font menus behave the same on Windows as they do on Mac.
  2. Luckily, if you use font themes in PowerPoint, as you should, the font used in the theme are always up at the very top of the menus. I have found using these seems to go against human nature, people just like to go down and select the exact font. So when I train, I point out to mac users they should use these theme fonts at the top of the font menu, and not deviate—especially when collaborating with windows users.
  3. Have a font that isn’t behaving correctly? Make sure you have the most up to date version of the font (yup, fonts get updates, make sure you stay current on those bad boys) or contact the designer. Hopefully, they are willing to fix the font and are appreciative for the heads up. If possible in your workflow, you could try a TrueType instead of OpenType (Microsoft support for OpenType is lackluster at best.) If all else fails, there is an affordable tool you can use to fix these yourself called TransType by the great guys over at FontLab. But please consider it a last resort (obviously check your EULAs first before proceeding.)
  4. Test, test test, and then when you think you’ve tested everything, double check yourself. Work with your IT team to test every conceivable version of Office you can get your hands on before deploying your template. Test your template in new versions of Office before your company deploys them, I found an issue with Trade Gothic in Office 2013 we had never seen in previous versions. In that instance, contacting the foundry for an updated font did the trick. See No. 5 though for a different result.
  5. Intrigued? Font style linking is somewhat hard to track down. As I mentioned earlier, I feel like I used to have more resources on the subject. I might be imagining, or it may be because a lot of it was on Typophile’s forums (which is still down, I’ll append this post when they get the new site up.) It also may have been on the Adobe sites from Thomas Phinney’s tenure there. The best advice I can give you is search the sites that have forums for typography lovers and creators, such as these strings at Adobe, FontLab, and Typophile. Using Google will usually just send you in circles.
  6. Font linking does not work correctly in Office 2016 for mac for many fonts. I’ve tested on multiple computers and tried every common font troubleshooting trick. No go. I have a ticket in with them, and there are others complaining in forums. At first glance Office 2016 for Windows is fine, but it’s still in preview so we’ll see where that nets out. We are waiting to roll out Office 2016 until this bug is fixed.


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