Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Read-Only Embedded Fonts.

Read-Only Embedded Fonts

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 15, 2013)

Bernie wrote about a problem he has with some old files created in Word. It seems that when he tries to open them now, he sees a message that says "This document contains read-only embedded fonts," and that he cannot make changes in the document.

This behavior, believe it or not, is by design. TrueType fonts, which are installed on so many Windows machines, can possess properties that define how they can be used. Some fonts can be freely used on any system, while others cannot. In fact, the font can have any of the following properties set:

  • Installable. Embedding allowed; fonts may be embedded in documents and permanently installed on the target system.
  • Editable. Embedding allowed; fonts may be embedded in documents, but must only be installed temporarily on the target system.
  • Print and Preview. Embedding allowed; fonts may be embedded in documents, but must only be installed temporarily on the target system. Documents can be opened read-only.
  • Restricted License. Embedding not allowed; font may not be embedded in document.

The properties assigned to a font cannot be changed by a user, but are specified by the font developer. These attributes control how a font can be embedded within a Word document. You (as a document author) can control whether a font is embedded in a document by choosing Options from the Tools menu and displaying the Save tab. The Embed TrueType Fonts control specifies whether the TrueType fonts used in your document should be embedded within it or not.

What effect does this have on you? None, other than your documents are a bit larger than they would otherwise be. It can have a huge effect on someone else, on a different machine, however. If they try to open your document—the one with embedded fonts—then exactly what happens depends on the properties of the fonts within the document and the configuration of the user's machine.

If the target user has the same fonts installed that were used when the document was created, then they will have no problem opening and using the file. If they don't, then Word tries to "install" the embedded font on the user's system, based on the properties of that font. If the font properties are "installable" or "editable," then the user has no problem and can use the document normally. If the font properties are "print and preview," the user sees a message just like Bernie did. The document can be opened, but only to review and print—it cannot be edited.

There are a couple of solutions to a problem such as this. The first solution is to install the licensed TrueType fonts on the target machine. If you don't know what the fonts are, then you can ask the document's author what they are, or you can ask the author to turn off font embedding. (If a document is saved without font embedding, and the specified font is not on the target system, then Word performs font substitution to approximate the original document.)

If neither of these approaches is practical, you can try to open the document in WordPad and save it under a new name, or you can open the document using Notepad, extract the text, and save it in a new document that you need to format from scratch.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (72) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Read-Only Embedded Fonts.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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