Peculiar Font Differences

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated September 26, 2020)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003

You may work in an office where you have different people using different versions of Word. Or, you may produce a product for different versions of Word. If you have ever opened up a document in those different versions, or you have ever created a document based on a single template, you may be curious as to why the document doesn't paginate the same on the different systems. For instance, the document may have X number of words per line on one system, but Y number of words on another.

The answer to this problem is actually quite elusive. The reason is that Word, in all its various versions, is quite dynamic in how it approaches the composition of text for both the screen and the printer. There are several factors at play here, which I shall label as program, resolution, font, and printer.

By program, I mean that Word will compose a page differently from one program version to another. This can be seen by simply installing two different versions of Word on the same physical computer system. Load the document up in one of them and you may get different results than what you see in the other version. You can mitigate some of these program-centric differences by modifying the compatibility options used by Word. Here's how you access the options:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Make sure the Compatibility tab is selected.

The controls allow you to specify how your current version of Word emulates the behavior of other versions. Part of this behavior that is controlled this way is related to printing. For instance, the Use Printer Metrics setting determines how (at least in part) Word lays out a page.

The second factor is resolution. Word will often lay out a page differently based on the resolution of your screen, or the capabilities of your video card. If you have a high-resolution display, you may notice that Word (or Windows at the bidding of Word) may smooth fonts more to give a crisper image on the screen. The result is that some information may slip from one line to another, when compared with layout on a different system.

Next, font is a factor. If you create a document on one system that uses a particular font and then open the document on a different system, what you see depends on how fonts are set up on that other system. If the particular font you used is not on that other system, then Word performs a font substitution using a font it thinks is close to the one you specified. Even if the same font is on both systems, different versions of the font may be in use or the fonts could have come from different vendors. The bottom line is that different font metrics are being provided to Word, so it lays out the page differently.

Finally, the printer you are using has a big impact on how Word lays out a page. Word does the vast majority of its formatting and layout operations in reference to how the printer will render the document. This is known as the "device context." In other words, Word is constantly interrogating the printer driver about how things will print so that it can accurately display that on the screen. Word is said to be "printer-dependent," in distinction from, say, Excel, which is really interested only in how things display ("screen-dependent") and couldn't care less about how things will print. (Excel actually uses a rather unsophisticated method to print its worksheets.) For Word to be as WYSIWYG as possible, it works intimately with the printer driver and will also bypass the driver and manipulate the printer directly when necessary. Thus, if you are using a printer driver for printer A on system B, then the document may very well look different than when it is opened on system C that uses printer D.

The printer problem is even deeper than that, however. Even if you have two systems that share the same printer, and they are using the proper driver for that printer, you may get different layout results. Why? Because the printer drivers used on each system could be different versions. Different versions of printer drivers means that the driver may provide differing printer metrics to Word, and therefore different layout decisions are made.

Another printer consideration is resolution. This is semi-related to the screen resolution problem already mentioned. Printers have different output resolutions, as well. It is not unusual for printers—particularly laser printers—to be able to print information at two or three different resolutions, depending on settings in the printer driver or on the actual printer controls. If one system is printing at 600 dpi and the other at 300 dpi, Word knows this and compensates in the page layout to give the best looking output possible at that resolution. Of course, this means that the layouts may very well be different.

A final printer consideration is also related to fonts. Many printers have resident fonts or allow fonts to be stored in non-volatile memory or hard drives in the printer itself. These fonts may well differ from the fonts that are loaded in your computer. Thus, the output created on the printer may look slightly different because it is using a different version of the same typeface you used when composing the document.

The bottom line is that the layout consistency problems may not be solvable. The best way to approach a solution is to use the exact same computer, with the exact same video card and monitor, the exact same font files, and the exact same printer drivers printing at the same resolution. Don't forget that each system must be running the same version of Word with the exact same configuration settings. Then, and only then, can you hope to get the exact same output. (And only then on alternate full-moon Tuesdays when the layout gods are smiling kindly on your efforts.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (840) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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