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On a Mac, when I'm downloading fonts am often given the choice between OTF (OpenType Format) and TTF (TrueType Format).

Is there any difference in the way ligatures work or anything between the two formats?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 87 down vote accepted

OTF is more likely to be a “better” font, as it supports more advanced typesetting features (smallcaps, alternates, ligatures and so on actually inside the font rather than in fiddly separate expert set fonts). It can also contain either spline (TTF-style) or Bezier (PostScript Type 1-style) curves, so hopefully you're getting the shapes the font was originally designed in and not a potentially-poorer-quality conversion.

On the other hand, if you're downloading free fonts from shovelware sites, you're unlikely to get any of that. Indeed, you may simple be getting a TTF font renamed to OTF.

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That's interesting - I'd assumed OTF. Is it actually an open format? –  Rich Bradshaw Jan 15 '10 at 22:35
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Yes, it's ISO14496-22. See microsoft.com/typography/otspec . TrueType might also be considered open, for values ‘x’ of ‘open’. See developer.apple.com/textfonts/TTRefMan/index.html (and the OTF spec is also relevant as it builds on TTF). However, there is no public patent grant associated with either format and there have been patent issues in the past (see FreeType and the TT hinting bytecode instruction set). –  bobince Jan 15 '10 at 22:41

OTF is a more recent format than TTF, so OTF has some features that TTF doesn't. (Which is a moot point if the font's creator didn't use them.)

One note from personal experience however: depending on what you're going to be doing with these fonts, I've found it's much easier to get tools that work with TTF as opposed to OTF. If you're just using them for desktop publishing / word processing, either will work fine, but if you're going to be doing anything programmatic, I'd recommend TTF just due to the higher number of tools / libraries out there.

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That's a good point actually - seems that imagemacgick works better with ttf for instance. –  Rich Bradshaw Jan 16 '10 at 8:59

Please note that when file endings are converned, both .otf and .ttf may denote fonts in the OpenType format. (See OpenType in Wikipedia – actually, this is more accurately pronounced in the German version.)

This comes a little confusing as some .ttf font files may look as if they are in legacy ANSI-Windows TrueType format, whereas in fact they may be full featured OpenType fonts.

The main difference between both flavours being that .ttf style fonts use quadratic Bézier splines whereas .otf style fonts use cubic Bézier splines. (Historically, quadratic Bézier curves have been used for the ‘legacy’ TrueType format; cubic Bézier curves have come from a PostScript background.) Cubic Béziers are potentially more accurate (every quadratic Bézier curve can be exactly reproduced with a cubic Bézier curve) but may be approximated with smaller segmented sequences of quadratic Béziers. (Also note that neither cubic nor quadratic Bézier splines may exactly reproduce a circle. There is always some approximation error.)

Another minor difference in the specification seems to be that ttf flavoured OpenType fonts may address the same glyph with several code points. Therefore, this saves some space, if e.g. the upper case versions of b, β and в (read: latin, greek and cyrillic ‘B’) have the same shape.

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Bezier splines can never reproduce a circle, this has nothing to do with it being quadratic or cubic or quartic or quintic... –  Pacerier Feb 24 '13 at 6:36
    
Yes, that’s also true but doesn’t matter that much in this case. –  Debilski Feb 24 '13 at 15:34

I don’t agree with those who say it is best format OTF. TTF format offers the possibility at the designer of treat more thoroughly the details of the rasterization on screen and in print (if the designer knows how to do it)

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Details please.. –  Pacerier Feb 24 '13 at 6:37

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