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Unicode Transition Training

How to Identify Legacy and Other Fonts

Looking at Legacy, Symbol, and Unicode Fonts

Joan Wardell, 2005-07-26

Goals for this procedure

This procedure explains how to use the Microsoft® Font Properties Extension utility to identify Symbol and Unicode fonts.You will learn to tell whether a font is a Symbol font or a Unicode font, by looking at the Courier, Courier New, and WingDings fonts. This will give you the knowledge and tools that will allow you to identify whether a font is a legacy font.

This page is part of the procedure How to Write a Conversion Mapping for your Legacy Font.

We are using the term legacy to refer to any older font that contains characters not in the original standardized set. Generally these fonts were developed to allow typing in languages other than English (and a few others). These fonts are often referred to as hacked fonts and are also known as custom encoded fonts.

To complete this procedure, you need to be using the Windows operating system and have a font you wish to identify.


Install the font utility

If you haven't already done so in the How to Setup Your Computer to do a Conversion Mapping, download and install  Font Properties Extension. This is a Microsoft utility that is very useful for finding out information about fonts. Installation instructions are found at the bottom of the download page under the heading "Download instructions".

Using the font utility

There is a slight variation in usage under Windows XP and Windows 7.

Usage in Windows XP and Windows Vista:

Right click on a font file and choose 'Properties' from the menu.

Usage in Windows 7:

The Windows 7 fonts folder displays a mixture of individual fonts and font families. In the example shown here, "Cambria" is a font family, while "Cambria Math Regular" is an individual font. Note the difference in the icons.

You can right click on an individual font such as Cambria Math Regular, and select 'Properties'. But if you right click on Cambria, you will see that you cannot display properties of the entire family. You must first double click on the font family in order to display the font family details:

You may then right click on a specific font from the font family and choose 'Properties'.

A Legacy Font

Once the utility is installed,
Take a look at this display:

Not Symbol Font

This is a listing from an older (1998) font. However, note that the Font Encoding Type is "Unicode (ISO 10646-2)". That does not mean that it was developed or updated since the Unicode Standard was released. In fact, it may be a very old font. But because this font contains characters in the first 256 locations, it is automatically considered compatible with Unicode. And it is assumed that it is a Basic Latin font (containing English and certain other characters). But that can't be determined without someone actually looking at the characters in the font. In this case, the font contains no English characters at all. It is a legacy font.

A Unicode font

Now compare this display with the Courier New font.
Go to your Fonts folder. It is likely called C:WindowsFonts.

Right-click the Courier New font icon or name.

Select Properties.

Font Properties - General

Click the  CharSet/Unicode  tab at the top.

Courier New Font

The Font Encoding Type will say "Unicode (ISO 10646-2)".

This is also marked as a Unicode font. But because it contains more than the Basic Latin/Latin-1 Supplement sets of characters, this indicates that it has actually been updated for Unicode. You can assume that the Latin set is also correct.

A font with more than Basic Latin/Latin-1 Supplement listed can be assumed to be a Unicode font. It should have the correct characters in the Basic Latin and Latin-1 Supplement sections.

Close the window by clicking  OK  or  Cancel .

An unknown type of font

Let's look at another font. Right-click the Courier icon or name.

Click Properties.

Courier Font

This file is not a TrueType font. Very little information is available. There are very few tabs available. There is no way to know what is in this font without looking elsewhere. One way to check is to see What's in Your Font. (This routine comes a bit later.) If the entire font matches what is in the first 256 codepoints of a standard Unicode Latin font, like Courier New, then this font is compatible with Unicode and it is safe to use. However it is actually a "bitmap font", an older style font. There are newer fonts that would be more appropriate for general purpose usage.

Another, more reliable, way to check the font is to use SIL ViewGlyph. This will be discussed below.

You may have other types of fonts installed on your machine which are not addressed here.

A symbol font

Now do the same procedure for the WingDings font.

WingDing Symbol Font

The Font Encoding Type will say "Symbol". This is not a Unicode font. This is a legacy font. Symbol fonts were originally created to hold symbols (icons or graphics), like this: or this:

It was appropriate to use a Symbol font for this type of data (graphics).

However, many other fonts were created as Symbol fonts, because doing so prevented applications from assuming anything about the data. For instance, an application would not attempt to capitalize data that was typed with a Symbol font. But it is no longer appropriate to use a Symbol font for data that you read and pronounce (orthographic data).

Data entered with a Symbol font may not display or behave correctly in many applications, particularly ones that can do line-breaking, justification, or spell-checking. Also, there is no way to display the data if the font is lost, separated from the data, or uninstalled. This is why you want to consider converting your important orthographic data to Unicode, and avoiding symbol fonts in the future.

Be Advised:

The Unicode Standard has assigned new numbers to many symbols. None of these are in the 0-255 (hex 0000-00FF) range. We recommend using an actual graphic or the correct Unicode encoding for true symbol data. Important data in fonts such as "WingDings" or "Symbol" needs to be converted to Unicode.

A look at your font

Now check the Properties on your unidentified font. Is it a Symbol font? If so, this is a legacy font. Or does it appear to be a standard Latin Unicode font? Let's take a quick look at the contents. You can't see the contents of the font using the Font Properties Extension. Click  OK  or  Cancel . Now double-click the font name or icon to get a look inside.

Times New Roman Font Phrase

This display will show you a phrase, such as "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." in several sizes. It will also show you a-z and A-Z and some font information. If the alphabet and phrase are not English, this is a legacy font. But even if they are, you may still need more information. Exit this window.

Get More Info on Fonts using ViewGlyph

You may not be able to find out all you need to know about a font using the techniques above. Another useful program is the SIL ViewGlyph — Font Viewing Program. Here are instructions for just the basics about fonts using the ViewGlyph program.

  1. If you haven't already, double-click the ViewGlyph installer file and install it.
  2. Start the program by double-clicking the ViewGlyph shortcut or selecting it from your Programs menu.
  3. In the first box (Font:), click the drop-down arrow and change the font to your legacy font.
  4. In the box below Font (View:), click the drop-down arrow and select "Windows Unicode". Select "Windows Symbol" if "Windows Unicode" is not on the list.
  5. The large window should now show a chart of your legacy font similar to the one you created in What's in Your Font?. You can drag the lower-right corner of the ViewGlyph window to make it display 16 columns, so it should match your chart exactly. In fact, if there is a difference, ViewGlyph will give the correct information. Word, on the other hand, will substitute characters it thinks are missing whenever it displays the YourFont chart or your legacy file.
  6. Some fonts will have more than 255 glyphs. ViewGlyph will display these, whereas the YourFont chart stops at 255.
  7. Note the top row's center box will say "Symbol" if your font is a Symbol font.

See the documentation when you want more information on how to use ViewGlyph.


Is my Font a Legacy Font?

Here is a list, from easy to difficult, of how to determine if your font is a legacy font.

  1. Right-click your font and select  Properties . Select the tab "CharSet/Unicode". If the Font Encoding Type is "Symbol", your font is a legacy font.
  2. Select the tab "Version". If the Version contains the phrase "the SIL Encore Font Compiler", it is probably a legacy font.
  3. If you double-click your font name, and the display does not show you standard a-z, A-Z, and an English phrase, your font is a legacy font.
  4. In Viewglyph, if you can select "Windows Symbol" in the View box, your font is a legacy font.
  5. In Viewglyph, if you can select "Windows Character Set" in the View box of ViewGlyph and the chart of characters does not match the chart below or a standard Unicode font, such as "Courier New" for the first 255 characters, your font is a legacy font. (Note that you may not be able to get identical views of both fonts, making this comparison a bit difficult.)

Standard first 255 characters of Courier New Font

Note that this chart is from a machine with a default language of "English". Your results may differ. Use ViewGlyph to compare the CourierNew font and your font if you are not using English.

Is my Font a Unicode Font?

Here is a list, from easy to difficult, of how to determine if your font is a Unicode or compatible font.

  1. Right-click your font and select  Properties . Select the tab "CharSet/Unicode". If the Font Encoding Type is not Symbol and the Supported Unicode Ranges list anything besides or in addition to Basic Latin and Latin-1 Supplement, your font is a Unicode font or is compatible with Unicode.
  2. In Viewglyph, if you can select "Windows Character Set" in the View box of ViewGlyph and the chart of characters does match a standard Unicode font, such as "Courier New" for the first 255 characters, your font is a Unicode font (or compatible). Again, note that the Courier New chart above is for a machine with English as the default language.

Page History

2008-02-27 JW: reviewed

2005-07-26 JW: Page created

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